The owner of the Daily Mail has bought the i for £49.6m, promising to maintain the publication’s “politically neutral approach” as consolidation in the British newspaper market gathers pace.
The purchase from JPI Media will add a title with a weekday newspaper circulation of roughly 170,000 to Daily Mail and General Trust’s stable, which also includes the Mail on Sunday, Mail Online and Metro.
DMGT chairman Lord Rothermere said there were plans to invest in the title’s website, inews.co.uk, calling it a “growing digital media asset” with approximately 300,000 daily browsers.
The sale of the i — for more than double its price tag in 2016 — is part of a broader shake-up under way in the British newspaper industry, which has been hit by falling print advertising revenues.
Reach, which was formerly known as Trinity Mirror, has been a prolific acquirer of regional and local titles and last year bought the Express and Daily Star tabloid newspapers for £127m.
Meanwhile the Barclay brothers are considering a sale of the Telegraph Media Group, with Belgium’s Mediahuis this week saying it was potentially interested. Mediahuis acquired Irish newspaper group Independent News & Media this year for €145.6m.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, criticised the i sale on Friday, saying: “Two billionaire press barons now own half of the top 10 daily newspapers.”
DMGT will have a near 30 per cent share of the national newspaper market after the deal. Rupert Murdoch’s News UK owns The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and The Sun on Sunday.
The i was launched in 2010 by Russian businessmen Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev as the sister paper of The Independent and was sold for £24m six years later to Johnston Press when The Independent became a purely digital outlet.
The Johnston Press business was rescued out of administration by creditors late last year, and rebranded as JPI. The creditors agreed to cut the group’s senior secured debt by £135m to £85m.
The i sale is the first deal to come out of the lengthy bidding process for the newspapers of JPI, which is also attempting to sell The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and roughly 200 other regional titles.
The future of JPI’s other titles remains uncertain after Reach, the group tipped to buy them, on Friday confirmed it had pulled out of the race.
Citi analyst Natasha Brilliant said the news group’s price expectations for the regional titles had been “too high”.
The i was named British National Newspaper of the Year in 2015 and generated £34m in revenues in 2018.
A note circulated internally from JPI chief executive David King said the i’s editor, Oliver Duff, would remain in place and that staff’s “terms and conditions of employment” would not be affected by the sale.
The deal, which will grow DMGT’s share of the national newspaper market, is expected to be reviewed by the UK’s competition authority.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the i used to be called The Independent