Independent News & Media Chairman Leslie Buckley has called for further consolidation in the newspaper industry to cut costs.
Speaking after a shareholder meeting, Mr Buckley said INM is now in a position to spend up to €100m on acquisitions in Ireland and the UK, reports the Irish Independent.
Pressed on whether INM was interested in acquiring either TV3 or a newspaper group, Mr Buckley declined to speculate on which media companies INM might buy but said the company was interested in “everything”.
INM recently sold a stake in Australian media group APN and used the cash to pay off all remaining debts. The company now has around €30m in the bank and could borrow more.
Mr Buckley called specifically for further consolidation within the newspaper industry in areas such as distribution, IT and printing while maintaining editorial integrity, adding that newspapers are competing with other media such as online.
Consolidation is inevitable “one way or another”, Mr Buckley said. “We should take leadership on that,” he added. “Our competition is not the other newspapers.”
Questioned about the relationship between businessman Denis O’Brien and INM, Mr Buckley said coverage of the businessman in recent days had been completely unaffected by Mr O’Brien’s position as the largest shareholder in INM.
“I don’t know why you would even ask the question,” he said before noting that the Irish Independent has carried opinion pieces that were hostile to Mr O’Brien and reported on his dispute with RTE in several front-page stories.
“This view that in some way Denis O’Brien is an influence editorially is nonsense,” he added.
The INM chairman said the company is still seeking two voluntary redundancies as part of a programme to reduce the editorial side of the business by 30 people but noted that the company is also hiring graduates and online reporters.
The company’s website, which has the highest readership in Ireland, does not plan to follow competitors by introducing a so-called pay wall which would charge readers for stories.
Such a pay wall is possible at some later date but INM is currently seeking market share and advertising, INM chief executive officer Robert Pitt said.
Earlier, Mr Pitt hailed “quite a dramatic change in the picture” for the company which owns this newspaper as well as the Sunday Independent, The Herald and the Sunday World.
Mr Pitt told shareholders that 2015 had started well and trading was in line with expectations. INM is “very well positioned for recovery”, he added.
INM has cleared its debts and advertising has risen year-on-year for the first time since 2007, he said. “The Irish Independent now has, for the first time ever, more than 50pc of the market,” he said.
Mr Pitt also praised the “very strong performance” of the digital business includingIndependent.ie.
INM sold the last tranche of its shareholding in APN last month.
The proceeds were used to clear the last of INM’s debts which just three years ago stood at €420m.
Yesterday, Mr Buckley said INM had been “lucky” because the share price in APN has fallen since the company announced the share sale in March.