Bottom Line: Emap sticks with the train-spotters

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER stonking set of results from Emap delighted the publishing company's City fan club yesterday, buoying the share price on a day when all around appeared to be losing their nerve.

The group's performance throughout the recession has indeed been remarkable. Emap has demonstrated a rare talent for combining ruthless cost control with continued expansion - this year, for instance, it has spent almost three times as much on new launches as last year.

That is bearing fruit as the light progressively brightens at the end of the economic tunnel. Turnover in the first half was up 16 per cent and operating profits 12 per cent.

But as the cycle enters its next phase, the question for its followers must be how the management will respond to the new climate. Undoubtedly, as the cash begins to flow again there will be temptations. And with deregulation of television, radio and newspapers all in the air, the serpent is undoubtedly already whispering in Emap's ear.

Yet much of Emap's success lies in its ability to service the train-spotters of this world. Its strongest arm by far is its consumer magazines division, which specialises in niche marketing - everything from Fishkeeping Answers and Trail Walker to carefully targeted women's magazines.

As a result, consumer magazines provided more than two-thirds of group profits but only half its turnover in the six months to 2 October. Business publishing is performing poorly, local newspapers still look sickly, radio is tiny, while exhibitions are having a very rough time of it.

There is interest in diversification, especially in radio, which Emap sees as an easy way to learn some of the rules of the non-print media game without the high-profile risks of television.

But the game plan will continue to be focused on the consumer division. Providing the one area of danger - overseas expansion - to which Emap seems to be leaning is kept under control, the fans will be kept entertained.