The Kent Messenger Group has announced plans to close its two loss-making weekly free titles in south-east London, and has entered into consultation with 30 affected staff.
The Bromley Extra and Bexley Extra have been earmarked for closure as part of a restructure of the Kent Messenger business, which it said was designed to focus its efforts on core, profitable areas.
The two papers – part of the group’s network of 17 countywide Extra titles – have a combined audited distribution of 167,000. Both papers have their own dedicated editorial and advertising teams, led by editor Sandra Hembrey from offices in Foots Cray.
In a memo seen by Press Gazette, KM Group managing director Chris Bisco said: ‘Despite the excellent efforts of the very good team we have in those areas, we can see no prospect of growing revenues in a declining market to a level where profits can be made.”
Bisco told Press Gazette the group was entering into a 30-day consultation period with staff and said efforts would be made to move ‘most of’them to other vacancies elsewhere in the KM business.
The group has also announced plans to stop distributing a third title in the series, the Sevenoaks Extra, but said it was not expecting any staff changes as a result.
Since their launch in 2004, the Bromley and Bexley titles have faced fierce competition from three rival free titles: Newsquest’s News Shopper, Archant’s Bexley Times and the independently published monthly, the Bexley Chronicle.
The Times adopted a part-free strategy in 2006, after Archant merged its local Leader freesheet with the paid-for title. A senior source at a rival title believed this approach had squeezed the KM Extra out of the market.
‘It really set its heart on getting the Extra out of the way,’the source said. ‘It has revved it up a bit and it has managed commercially to get it together and make an impact.”
The proposed closure comes as the KM Group looks to focus its resources on what it describes as ‘core local markets”. The company said it had begun a programme of market research and has brought in an external consultancy, Acorn Coaching and Development, to help it ‘refine’its organisation.
‘Changing the way an organisation operates is always a challenge, especially when it has such a strong history as the KM Group,’Bisco said.
‘We are not yet organised properly to make the best of our opportunities.”