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February 9, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:01am

Archant sells off specialist titles as private equity owner gears up for sale

By Charlotte Tobitt

Local news publisher Archant has offloaded several specialist brands to Kelsey Media ahead of an expected sale by its private equity owner.

The Norfolk-based publisher has sold the magazines Agricultural Trader, Country Smallholding, Canal Boat, The Tillergraph and Pilot, plus general aviation website UKGA which it had bought in 2015.

Specialist publisher Kelsey’s existing brands are mainly in the automotive, farming, active living, hobbies, and transport markets.

The acquisition, which also includes the brand Your Chickens which was incorporated into Country Smallholding several years ago, is due to complete on 18 February. The Tillergraph is a small free title produced by the Canal Boat team, while UKGA is linked to the Pilot brand.

In a message to staff, seen by Press Gazette, Archant chief executive Lorna Willis said: “As we drive forwards and accelerate out of Covid, it’s important all our titles have the best possible opportunity in which to grow and thrive…

“Specialist content is Kelsey’s core business hence this is an excellent fit for these titles which are much loved within their specialist communities. I have no doubt they will go from strength to strength.”

Kelsey Media chief executive Steve Wright said Agricultural Trader would be a “perfect fit” for the company’s farming B2B division, which already publishes Crop Production Magazine, Profi International, South East Farmer, Farm Machinery and Vineyard.

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“Similarly, Canal Boat, Country Smallholding and Pilot, will find good homes within our specialist consumer divisions,” he said.

As well as its regional “Life”, “Resident” and “Bride” brands, this leaves Archant with fewer than ten specialist magazines including Air Gunner, Airgun World, France, French Property News, Rifle Shooter and Sporting Shooter.

In August last year Archant sold South West titles the North Devon Gazette and Torbay Weekly newspapers and their websites, plus the Exeter Life magazine, to new publisher Clear Sky which is led by its former executive chairman Simon Bax.

It comes amid reports that private equity firm Rcapital has put Archant up for sale after 18 months of ownership.

Sky News reported on Monday that rival local publisher Newsquest, which is owned by US news giant Gannett, has secured a period of exclusivity in which to strike a deal for Archant’s newspapers. Sky reported that there had previously been interest from Reach, the UK’s largest commercial publisher, and David Montgomery’s National World, which bought JPI Media at the end of 2020.

Rcapital bought the 177-year-old Archant, the UK’s fourth biggest local newspaper publisher, in August 2020 taking a 90% stake in the company.

At the time, then-chief executive Simon Bax told staff that the new owners would invest in the business and provide a “sustainable financial platform upon which the company can continue its transformation”.

Archant owns around 50 newspaper titles across the South West and South East of England, including the Ham and High, Islington Gazette and Romford Recorder in London, as well as the East Anglian Daily Times and Eastern Daily Press.

Kelsey Media has bought the likes of World Soccer and Amateur Photographer from Future and gadget magazine Stuff from Haymarket in recent years. It closed around ten magazines towards the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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