ONE OF Dog World’s regular columnists, Steven Seymour, regularly writes about what he sees as the autocratic actions of the UK Kennel Club and he equally regularly calls for the KC to become more democratic and to listen and take notice not just to its members but also to the huge number of people involved in the sport.
An example of this autocratic approach was the announcement late last year that the KC was to cease publication of the monthly Kennel Gazette a magazine that had been in production for more than 130 years. There was a claim that the decision to cease publication of the Gazette was one on which members had been consulted – the only trouble was none of the members I know could recall that consultation process!
Anyway in December the last edition of the Gazette was produced, it was replaced with something called The Journal, which is available online but people were not happy. One of those was Dog World’s Associate Editor Simon Parsons who felt so strongly about the demise of the Gazette that he proposed a motion for last week’s KC annual general meeting that the Gazette should be reinstated. For once, people power triumphed and Simon’s motion was successful.
The debate was characterised by impassioned speeches calling for its return, Simon’s proposal that publication of the monthly magazine should be resumed prompted lengthy discussion.
Simon and others argued that at least the decision should have been left to members, and not made by the Committee alone his proposal was carried by 312 votes (71 per cent) to 130 votes (29 per cent).
Simon said he believed that an organisation with the ‘prestige and history’ of the KC should publish its own printed publication which should be ‘sufficiently interesting and well-produced’ to attract serious dog owners.
Rebutting his suggestion ahead of the meeting the KC said that at the time of closure the Gazette was making a loss of £128,000 a year and had been ‘deemed unsustainable in the future’.
A ‘leading marketing publishing company’ had reviewed the magazine, the General Committee said, and had estimated it would cost more than double the cost of the previous Gazette to produce a magazine which would have broad appeal as informative and educational.
In papers sent to members ahead of the meeting the Committee reminded them that at the last AGM there was a loud complaint at the proposal to increase their subscription fees, with a demand that instead the KC reduced costs – ‘which is what we have done’.
At the meeting Mr Parsons said it seemed ‘a great pity’ to end the club’s honourable 130-year tradition of producing a printed Gazette without a very good reason.
“Its online replacement with, for some unknown reason, a different title is, apart from the chairman’s comments, utilitarian to put it very kindly,” he said.
“If we wish to encourage associate and affiliate membership and to involve them in the future of the club, we have to keep them interested and to offer them value for money. Indeed, the same applies to many actual members, especially those of us who can seldom get to London.
“And finally, in today’s climate it is vitally important for the KC to reach out beyond the membership to dog people in general and to the public at large. Yes, producing a regular printed publication costs money. But in my view communication should play a significant role when the club’s budget is decided on, and I think this would be money well spent.
“Yet the publication does not need to be as expensively produced as it has been in recent years. Nor does it need to include all the dreary detail – online is the right place for that. What it does need to do is to interest and catch the imagination of dog people as a whole.
“If savings need to be made, cannot they be made by putting online the records supplements, perhaps the ‘red book’, and certainly by where possible using email for much of the correspondence which we all receive on a regular basis?”
Concluding, he said the Gazette had for well over a century been a significant part of what the members received for their subscription.
“I beleive it should be down to them, to us, whether or not it continues to be,” he said.
Seconder Geoffrey Davies agreed that the decision should have been decided by the membership.
“Following the KC’s review of publications they identified one of the primary reasons for disbanding the Gazette was one of cost,” he said. “Let me place on record the face that I am against any form of waste. However, by more prudent control of expenditure, particularly staff costs at £7,075m, grants and donations at £1.14m and external relations/marking at £1,095m, a simple reduction of 1.5 per cent on last year’s expenditure in these three categories would more than pay for the cost variance of £128,000 identified by this review.”
Reports made by marketing publishing companies – or any company – were open to interpretation, he said.
“I could commission a leading marketing company that would paint a completely different picture for you on the viability of the Gazette. While the KC highlights the negatives of this report they make no mention of the positive action that could be taken to make this publication self-financing, if not profitable. “Additionally, no mention is made of the importance of continuity, tradition and standards.
“The Journal is amateurish, unprofessional and tarnishes the image of the KC. When members voted to reject the suggested membership fee increase at last year’s AGM they cannot have been aware that in doing so they would lose their much-loved Gazette in print format. We must not underestimate the value of the Gazette in its previous format in making all people with an interest in KC matters feeling that they are part of the organisation.
“Basic news can continue to be sent out promptly online. The KC is spending much larger sums of money on a wide variety of projects. Investment in effective communication through a printed publication should be given top priority.
“The Gazette in printed format is something that members receive in return for their subscription. It should be for the members to decide the future of that publication.”
Wilson Young spoke on behalf of the General Committee and said the Gazette was a luxury the KC could not afford. The finances involved had to be looked at, he said, and that a review of the magazine had predicted that losses would rise to £400,000.
All the information which needed to be given to the membership was in the online Journal, he said.
“The crux of the matter is cost. An improved Gazette might attract new readership but it is a highly competitive area,” he said. “The canine papers have to work hard to survive and there are four dog magazines.
“Revenue from the Gazette has fallen along with readership. We would be facing an annual loss of £250,000. This is a gamble I would not be prepared to take. As a member of the General Committee I would be gambling with your money.
“Your KC has generated £1m for charities, and this would be a better use of potentially £250,000. It comes down to cost benefit analysis and I would say the Gazette is a luxury we can’t afford.”
Discussion was opened to the floor and Alan Pickett said he agreed with the KC’s decision.
“Much of the monthly news and features are out of date by the time they reach the members and would have already been covered in the news in Dog World and Our Dogs on a weekly basis,” he said
“I think the committee is right to discontinue publication. It is well covered in the Journal which doesn’t profess to be a glossy magazine.”
Paul Bartlett pointed out the KC’s publications brought in a profit of £16,000. Chairman Steve Dean said that was created by its publications combined, including the Breed Records Supplement. “The Gazette was losing money, as indicated,” he said.
Jane Lilley supported the proposal calling the Gazette the ‘beating heart’ of the KC. Her comments on the subject in her Dog World column had prompted response she likened to a tsunami, she said.
“There was shocked disappointment at the magazine’s demise. There was not one voice of approval for the online version,” she said. “Why were members not consulted on this issue?
“I gave the Journal the benefit of the doubt for the first few months but the first edition was a depressing reminder of what we have lost. Rather than being proudly on display as was the case with our beloved Gazette it is now not only difficult to keep all the pages together but one has to hide it from sight… It is clearly not up to the high standard of publication we have come to expect and which we respected.
“Many said the Gazette was one of the main advantages of membership; now we have little or nothing worthwhile.
“With careful editing costs could be reduced. I only hope the Gazette, which was not only a pleasure to read but tantamount to the beating heart of the KC, can be restored to its former glory.”
Phillipa Gilbert said that the KC could seek other quotes in a bid to lower publishing costs.
“You should be able to get a better price,” she said. “I don’t know how many companies you have gone to but printers are desperate for work.”
Gay Robertson said she was ‘a fervent supporter’ of the proposal: “It’s not the first time the KC has ignored the expertise of many of its members,” she said. “I am not only a member but one with expertise in media matters. I’m sure Simon Parsons would have no problem in getting a group together to present to the KC how a publication we could be proud of could be produced for less cost.”
Pat Brigden asked if there was not ‘a middle way’: “Can’t we just make the Journal more attractive and easier to read?” she asked. “It is so helpful and contains all the information one requires.”
Ron Stewart asked whether there were other ways in which savings could be made which would allow the KC to keep the Gazette: “Before everything historical is sold out there should be a complete re-evaluation of how savings can be made,” he said.
All the speeches by those in favour of the proposal were greeted with applause. Bill Harding supported the Committee and said he would have been more supportive towards the motion had the members agreed to put up the subscription last year. Jean Lanning said she would like to see the return of the Gazette but did not think it had provided value for money.
And in the end the vote went in favour of the reinstatement of the publication which is seen as a standard bearer, or as Jane Lilley put it, ‘the beating heart’.
We wait to see what steps the KC will take to bring it back. They claim losses on it could climb to £400,000 but speaking as a publisher myself only a fool could lose that amount of money on a magazine that appears 12 times a year and is primarily aimed at the KC’s own membership.