If consistently growing digital audiences were the only measure of a legacy media company’s success then Trinity Mirror would be doing gangbusters. As it is, even with falling print ad and circulation revenues, it’s still doing relatively well, making a £102.3 million profit before tax during 2014, a 1 percent increase on the previous year despite a 4 percent fall in revenue overall.

In its annual report announcement Trinity Mirror ascribe that increase to a 50 percent growth in its digital revenue during the course of the year to £32.4 million. That’s still a relatively small proportion of the overall revenue of its publishing section – its print revenue for the same period came to £526.3 million. But while print revenue is down on last year’s total (though the fall slowed this year compared to that between 2012 and 2013) the opposite is true for the digital revenue:

trinity-mirror-print-split.jpg

Digital revenue grew 47.3 percent to £32.4 million, while the print decline was 6.7 percent, a total of £34.8 million, demonstrating that while digital revenue is growing quickly for Trinity Mirror, it’s not enough to cover for the reduction in print. That overall fall in revenue from print contributed to a reduction in Trinity Mirror’s publishing arm’s operating profit in 2014, down from £118.5 million in 2013 to £113.5 million this year. 

Here’s how that falling print revenue broke down over the last few years:

trinity-mirror-sources.jpg

As expected, print advertising reduction was far and away the section most responsible for overall revenue fall.

It’s very clear from the rhetoric Trinity Mirror employs in its annual report that growing its digital audience is an attempt to outpace that falling print revenue. Based on recent news about the proportion of the Daily Mirror’s audience which is digital and mobile and the overall success of its Facebook sharing strategy, it’s very possible that Trinity can achieve that with its national paper – over the course of 2014 the Mirror group’s traffic grew faster than any other UK national newsbrand, and in December UK average monthly visitors to Trinity Mirror group websites as a whole were second only to Mail Online.

Stormclouds

But despite the 1 percent growth in overall profit – and despite Trinity Mirror CEO Simon Fox reiterating that the group was now “effectively debt free” as a result of moves throughout 2014 – there are still some stormclouds on the horizon.

Fox set out four objectives that the group needs to focus on in order to achieve sustainable growth in revenue and profit – and all are far from easy to achieve:

“Firstly, to outperform the print market both in terms of circulation and print market advertising trends. Secondly, to replace declining print with growth in digital revenue. Thirdly to carefully manage our cost base in line with declining print volumes. Finally, to launch or invest in new business opportunities.”

All sound obvious, but are easier said than done. Even the goal of outperforming the print market that could be interpreted as simply ‘fail more slowly than our competitors’ is far from a given considering the fate that’s befallen some of Trinity Mirror’s regional titles. 

Additionally, ahead of a hearing for eight civil claims against Trinity Mirror for phone hacking which begins on Monday, the publisher has set aside £12 million in preparation for potential damages awarded against it, triple the amount it had initially set aside. 

It all speaks to a legacy publisher which is very aware its continued success is in making a swift transition to digital revenue sources, even as the print advertising revenue gradually fades away.