My mag

Did you come here looking for In the Vale magazine? Sadly it is no longer published; the last issue was distributed in November 2009.

To find out more about it and why it had to close please read on.

In The Vale magazine – the story so far:

I first started publishing a magazine called Community Times In The Vale in August 2007. It was a franchise publication, publishing under the Community Times banner, but I took it far from the Community Times model by eschewing the generic celebrity/motoring/travel articles that Community Times wanted me to use. Instead I concentrated on printing unique local editorial, for and about the local community – because to me, that’s what a magazine called COMMUNITY Times should be about, the community!

I soon found that the franchise company wasn’t living up to its promised business package – there was little in the way of training or support, for example – but I carried on with the magazine without their help, and it gradually built up a good reputation for offering interesting and informative articles about local people, places, events and organisations. The magazine promoted local charities and organisations, showcased local artists and offered low-cost advertising to local businesses.

In June 2009 I heard that Community Times – the franchise company – had gone into liquidation. It emerged that Community Times owed over £600,000, a third of which was due to printers … I was shocked because all franchisees, including me, had to pay for printing costs upfront – but this money wasn’t being passed on to the printers. The directors, Mike Dickerson and Jonathan Gibbs, started a new company with a very similar name, ditched the debts and transferred all the assets – including the franchisees’ contracts. They then told the franchisees that there would be a new company name because they had “restructured” – not a word about liquidation. (This was all done above board and within the law – it’s incredible what businesses can get away with. However, since then the original company has been wound up and the directors are the subject of an investigation by the Official Receivers’ Office.)

My problem came with the termination clauses in my contract. My original contract simply stated that I wasn’t allowed to use the term “Community Times” in any other venture, which was fair enough. In summer 2008 I was meant to renew, which meant paying them another £750 (on top of the initial £5000 franchise fee and a monthly “management” fee of £150). I was planning on carrying on alone, but they “kindly” extended my contract to three years as a “reward” for the hard work I’d put in. Fool that I am, I only checked the sections they said had changed, and only after signing and returning it did I notice a whole chunk stating that I couldn’t be involved with any publication for 6 months after termination, 12 months in my local area. I was stuck.

Following the news of Community Times’ liquidation I, together with a few other disenchanted franchisees, decided that we’d had enough – their business model – building up and dropping debts – wasn’t ours, and we made efforts to break away from them. Legal advice was sought, legal letters were sent and eventually a teleconference was held, followed by a series of conflicting emails from the Community Times director Mike Dickerson, one stating that he didn’t want any kind of legal action and understood our position, the other threatening legal action if we continued to publish. However, our appointed lawyer felt that the director had effectively agreed to turn a blind eye to our carrying on publishing independently whilst taking steps to ensure that other licensees didn’t take similar action – on condition that we did not speak out against Community Times publicly.

So I carried on with my magazine, renaming it In The Vale magazine. My advertisers and contributors were very supportive of this, but the recession affected revenue over the summer of 2009 and it became increasingly difficult to cover printing and distribution costs. In October I decided that it was time to call it a day but, with the help of some lovely people on the 4Networking business networking forum (www.4networking.biz) I would do one more issue and hopefully put any profit into developing the magazine in 2010.

Then the final straw came. I heard, from one of the other disenchanted franchisees, that Community Times had instructed their lawyers to take out legal action – an injunction – on me, if I continued publishing independently. I was to contact them by November 5th to prevent court action. (Incidentally, I haven’t actually SEEN this letter yet, as the lawyers sent it to the other licensee, along with a third letter for someone else entirely. How unprofessional is that?! They did eventually email it to me.) I have also heard, from some of my advertisers, that Community Times plan to relaunch their (my?) magazine Community Times In The Vale in November 2009.

With no money to fight a legal battle and feeling demoralised and demotivated because of the situation, I finally decided that there was no other decision than to stop publishing, for the time being at least. More than that, I feel extremely upset and angry about the whole situation. As far as I am concerned Community Times breached their contract with ME when they went into liquidation. My contract was with Community Times Ltd, who now no longer exist, not with Community Times UK Ltd, the new company. I’m still not convinced that the contracts were properly transferred from one company to the other – all I’ve been sent (after repeated requests) is a hastily constructed document, like dozens of templates on the internet, which was signed and witnessed by … the two directors of each company, who are the same people – no independent witnesses. Further documentation has shown that the contracts – and there are somewhere between 100 and 150 of them – were transferred for a sum of £100 – total. These are contracts that earn CT a fortune … the franchise fee is now around £7000, monthly management fee of £150, three-yearly renewal fee of £750 …

I could fight them – I’ve been told the chances of them succeeding in their bid for an injunction are small – but to be honest, I have neither the money nor the stomach for it. I may relaunch the magazine in 2010, when the threat of legal action is no longer present and the economy is (hopefully!) in a better shape. On the other hand, I may never have anything to do with publishing again. However, Community Times haven’t won – so many of my advertisers have vowed to support me if the magazine is to return in the future, and Community Times will find it incredibly difficult to produce a magazine that wins over advertisers, contributors and readers quite as well as In The Vale did.

If you would like to be kept informed about any developments regarding a relaunch etc please sign up to the newsletter In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has supported the magazine over the last two years … you are fab, all of you.

Since announcing my sad decision to stop publishing the magazine, I have been really touched by the lovely emails of support that I’ve received. Here are just a few. Please do leave any comments below.

Sorry to hear the news especially after all the efforts you put into the new venture. I appreciate the ads you ran for us and enjoyed reading the magazine.

Oh dear I was very surprised and saddened to hear that your excellent publication is having to be wound up. How disappointing and horrible for you – the magazine had become a really interesting and user friendly local newsletter – thanks to your hard work and dedication. Keep your chin up – you have done a really great job. With all good wishes for the future and thanks for all you have done for the community.

We are really, really sorry to hear this news. We’d just like to thank you for all your support to [our organisation] over the last few months and wish you all the best with whatever you decide to do next! If there’s anything we can do to help you please let us know.

This is sad news – the magazine will be a great loss to the community. I very much enjoyed researching and submitting my (rather erratic) contributions, and would like to thank you for the advertisements you ran on my behalf. I wish you every success with your alternative ventures.

So sorry to hear the news, we will miss the mag, both from the point of view of a good read and from the fact that you were helping the community by putting our notices in you mag. There are so many of this type of people around at the moment that a only think of the money that they can make from other people hard work. I hope that you will not be put of trying to make you own way work, again thank you and let’s hope the crooks get whats coming to them.

We were sorry to hear about the problems you have had with CT, we certainly won’t be spending any of our money with them. It would be such a shame if you are unable to continue with a magazine some guise or other, please keep us informed.

I am sorry to hear about your problems with continuing the In The Vale Magazine, just when I had found a good medium for advertising my new business.

Just read of your silly problems & went online for your full rant. So sorry to hear this – you’ve done fantastically well in producing by far the best of the free mag bunch – and I know you can’t keep a good gal down! Here’s looking forward to the day when you can start up again.

I am so sorry to hear this news, it must be very soul destroying for you after all your hard work and dedication to the Vale magazine. Sad news! I’ll take this opportunity to wish you every Good Luck for the future and hope you’ll find something else to be involved in…….. Thank you for all that you have achieved. I’ll miss reading the Vale like many others.

Sorry to hear this news. It was a lovely mag.

I am so sorry to hear you are no longer going to be publishing In The Vale. What a great pity as it is the best magazine of its kind. Both my mother and mother-in-law are going to be very disappointed, I send them both a copy each month. Best of luck for the future. Be sure and let me know what you will be doing, especially if it is with another magazine.

Thank you for your email and being so honest with all your advertisers, I am sorry that your magazine has not been a success for you and I hope that you get everything sorted out as soon as possible. I wish you all the best for the future and if there is anything I can do to help please do not hesitate to ask.

That’s sad news, but thanks for letting me know. If you find yourself in the position where you are back in business, please give me a shout. Good luck with your future endeavours.

I’m so sorry to hear that. I have only been living in the area for 18 months but have found the ‘in the vale’ magazine a lifeline for finding out about the area and what is going on. I hope this is not a forever thing and you might find a way to re-establish the magazine when the market picks up again. I really do think it will be missed!!! I know I will miss it.

Sorry to hear you’ve had to make a tough decision, but it’s often harder to accept (temporary) defeat than to plod on regardless – Onwards and upwards….

Thank you for the mail, although I’m really sorry to read the content. I know there must have been a lot of hard work involved over the past few years developing the business. Now ought to be the time that you were reaping the rewards of your labours so I’m really sorry it’s come to this. Good luck with whatever venture you turn to. You can count on our support if you are developing a new magazine type venture at some point.

Thanks for the prompt reply, sorry to hear you are having to stop such a great magazine. Some people can be so petty, threatening court!!!!

So sorry to hear your having to give magazine up, I always enjoyed reading it.

Gutted about losing the advertising for [my business], as of all the local papers yours was easily the best. Best content and best delivery. So well done anyway!

You do have my deepest sympathies and I share your sense of loss. The Vale Of White Horse will be distinctly worse off without this monthly magazine to enhance our sense of community. It was a treasured “little read” to all I knew received it.

I’ve just read your sorry tale ref Community Times in the Vale. What a pain in the neck! I knew there were problems … but things seem to have gone from bad to worse. The more I hear of franchise schemes, the more I realise that so many of them are about putting lots of £’s in the originator’s pockets and little in the franchisees. I’m not convinced of this whole market drive to create franchise businesses – esp as they don’t seem that ethical to me.I hope that you can get another journal up and running next year – the quality and content you provided was always excellent.

I’m really sorry to hear your news. We have really enjoyed working with you and if you embark on a similar venture in the future then please do not hesitate to contact us.

I am so sorry to hear this – I think the magazine is great – looks good and very informative. What will you do now?
If you move on to do anything similar, let me know. Always happy to support you. Good luck for the future.

I am really sorry to see you have to give in when you have worked so hard on this and really put your heart and soul into it. There is something really wrong when people like you are allowed to fail like this when you have really done nothing wrong. I am glad that you aren’t giving up altogether and truly wish you every success on your relaunch. Sorry if this is not politically correct but I hope the buggers truly get what is coming to them. They spoil it for all small businesses playing by the rules and they have broken your trust and that of the other franchisees. Good luck with the future and let me know if there is any thing I can do to help!

I have been a distributor of In the Vale since it started and am proud to have been involved with such a great little publication. People have only been complimentary about it, and have welcomed the arrival of each new issue. I am so very sorry that you have been forced into this decision. You are just the kind of franchisee that a company should welcome, to raise their profile with a quality product and encourage others, but instead they have screwed you and other editors, and their printers, to line their own pockets. I sincerely hope that somewhere along the line, and soon, they will get what’s coming to them big time.

If you do relaunch in the future I’ll be delighted to be there alongside you. In the meantime I wish you every success elsewhere.

Sorry to hear this news. It is scandalous that UK law allows this sort of thing to happen. Good luck in whatever you decide to do in future.

12 thoughts on “My mag”

  1. As a novelist and writer I wrote a monthly article for Alison and was proud to be associated with a magazine that worked very hard to serve the Community and to provide REAL content in a society obsessed with advertising revenue. The Law in this country is (to quote Dickens) “An Ass” – and allows free reign for those intent on making everything in our life a little worse and a little cheaper. Other magazines that fall through my door are full of rubbish and adverts – they don’t even make it passed the doormat as my recycling box is conveniently placed near the front door. Any new “Community Times” that appears on my mat will receive the same treatment – I would not want to be associated with a magazine “franchised” by people who behave in this way.

  2. You’ll still get the In Yer Bike article … November issue is with me and being distributed over the weekend!

  3. Good stuff Alison – a lot of the guys who were reading them were accessing the online version – in USA/Canada/Australia – will put it on the Blog – in the meantime lets hope you get it back next year!

  4. Hi Alison,

    I’m not entirely surprised but a bit miffed that all this is still going on. On the one hand I’d like to cary on trading as a CT editor, havign spent 2 1/3 years building up the business to be a reasonable success, yet to walk away or re-brand seems to be starting over again.

    What I’m uncomfortable about is handling over monies for print that may one day not be honoured and leave me a few grand short, I could do without all that. I was aware that they had introduced some changes to the Agreement, having been offered a similar deal to you. I felt at the time it was not sustainable to them, but hey ho.

    I just feel that for all us editors out there who have worked so hard to build up our businesses, we need to be protected from being associated with the suspicious kind of behaviour CT have engaged in.

    Anyway, not sure where i go from here, especially since the print prices have gone up without any formal warning. I suspect the end is nigh, question is, where do all us franchisees go from here???

  5. PS Alison,

    forgot to say, wishing you all the best for your new ventures and hope that you would consider running your own independent mag again in the near future.

    Feel free to keep in touch and keep me up to date with any new info…

    kind regards,

    Dan

  6. Thanks Dan. I think if you can somehow let people that you’re rebranding and that other than the name the mag will essentially be the same, it won’t cause too many problems. My advertisers and readers were all very supportive when I took my mag independent, albeit shortlived!

  7. Just wondered if you had any further updates regarding Community Times and their liquidation?

  8. No and to be honest I’m really not concerned nabout them any more. I’m far better off not dealing with them!

  9. Hi Alison,

    I am so sorry to hear about your experience with CT.

    I used to run a CT franchise back in 2007. I found their support and general business flawed. I also did not use their generic content as it was of little interest to the local community.

    As you probably know by now the entire CT franchise has collapsed and their new Community Times (UK) now long gone, so you and all other franchisees are free from the clutches of these two nasty directors who (in my opinion) carelessly played with peoples lives and money.

    I now work for a magazine printer and assist similar people get back on their feet. From my experience you are one of many CT franchisees who have been very poorly treated.

    I hope everything works well for you

    Kind regards

    Rob Andre

  10. Thanks for the message. I know many people who were caught out by the CT guys ….. and have learnt my lesson about bad franchises! Hope things are going well for you now.

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