Johnston Press must maintain the price and quality of the i to retain its position in the market, retailers and analysts have warned.
It follows confirmation last week ESI Media – the commercial arm of the Independent, i and the Evening Standard – is selling the i to Johnston Press for £24m and the last editions of the Independent and Independent on Sunday will be printed in late March.
One of Johnston Press’ first moves, according to analysts, will be to raise the i’s cover price and cut retailers’ 25% margin.
Alex De Groote, a media analyst at stockbroker Peel Hunt, said: “Publishers have two weapons in this market – one is to raise cover prices, and the other is to cut retailer margins. Johnston Press has a history of doing this, and this is one of the first things it’ll do.”
Mr De Groote cautioned this could weaken the paper’s competitive edge. “It’s up against national publishers with massive pockets,” he added. “I think there will be cut-price newspapers launched in the next two or three months.”
Publishers have two weapons in this market – one is to raise cover prices, and the other is to cut retailer margins. Johnston Press has a history of doing this, and this is one of the first things it’ll do.
Douglas McCabe, analyst at Enders Analysis, also predicts the price of the i will increase, but added “Johnston’s ambition will be curtailed by the positioning of the i as the cheap quality newspaper”.
Meanwhile, retailers have warned that a rise in cover price would see the i struggle against stronger daily nationals unless it grows its value and quality.
John Vine, of News World in Shropshire, said: “I sell 50 copies of the i per week, but if the cover price rises, sales will suffer, particularly at weekends, unless it adds TV listings and extra value.”
Graham Walker, of Walkers News in Norfolk, said: “Johnston produces a local publication here, and it has been pretty good at protecting retailer margins. I think the maximum price rise they could get away with is 45p. Any higher, I doubt it could compete with other daily titles.”
Johnston Press declined to comment.