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Free Kent on Sunday pays ultimate price

December, 2017

For the first time in more than 15 years, there was no edition of Kent on Sunday this weekend after its owners, Archant, took the decision to close it. Andrew Metcalf, director of Kent PR agency Maxim, looks back at the rise, and unfortunate fall, of the award-winning newspaper.

There are those meetings that live long in the memory, and 15 years ago we had such a meeting at Maxim.

As an agency we had grown quickly and we were delighted to welcome Paul Stannard, managing director of KOS Media, and publisher of what was to become Kent on Sunday, when he arrived for our meeting.

Paul was launching a new weekly newspaper, which was ambitious given the likes of the competitors such as Kent Messenger Group and the Kent & Sussex Courier. He talked us through the editorial position of the new publication and the advertising proposition.

What made the meeting so memorable was when Paul was wrapping up, he quietly said: “Oh and by the way it’ll be a free newspaper.” The timing was brilliant, and left us flabbergasted. And while the cover charge only makes a small contribution to a newspaper’s costs, it showed the commercial confidence Paul had in his product.

And for 15 years, with the exception of a brief experiment as a paid-for, it’s remained the case until 24 November when Kent on Sunday printed the last of its 792 editions. It has not all been plain sailing for KOS Media, and like all other local newspapers it was hit by the 2008 downturn and move to online advertising.

Good old fashioned print

To all intents and purposes it launched during pre-internet days for the media, and pre-iPhone or iPad for readers of news, and its delivery was in good old fashioned print. You could still get your Friday fish and chips wrapped in a previous week’s edition.

Paul was one of the first in the industry to recognise the value of having an online presence and published Kent on Sunday online, as an integral part of www.kentnews.co.uk, using page-turn technology thanks to Pagesuite. It was also the first newspaper in the county to provide an iPad edition.

KoS Media, like many businesses, had its growing pains, notably when it tried to produce weekly free editions – the ‘Your’ series – across the whole of Kent, putting it up against the KM Extras. It quickly retrenched to three sub-regional online editions, with printed copies available at stations aimed at commuters, DIY sheds and other places with strong Sunday morning footfall.

As we all know, most free local newspapers went the way of the VHS recorder and Walkman, but Kent on Sunday remained alongside a small number of KM Group’s Extra titles. Paul later sold his remaining stake to Archant, which had been a longstanding shareholder, but even this major player hasn’t been able to make the financial model work.

Final words

During Local Newspaper Week in 2016, we asked Kent on Sunday’s editor Chris Britcher why local journalism is so important.

He said: “Local media remains an essential service that should be cherished and would be sorely missed.

“The local newspaper is that tangible critical friend of all our communities, celebrating the good and highlighting the bad; crafted by those who live in the local area and who care passionately about what they do.

“No one wants to read a collection of topped and tailed press releases, but quality content does not come cheap and nor should it. So keep picking up your local paper, keep telling traders you visit you saw their ad in their pages, and keep interacting with them.”

 

Andrew Metcalf - Director

Andrew Metcalf

Maxim / Director

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