Thursday, March 31, 2005

Taking the long view with PMB

Comparing the just-released (2005) Print Measurement Bureau readership data for English magazines with the years since the switch to Recent Reading provides some interesting items:
  • The median readers-per-copy figure for all participating English magazines is 5.3. It was 5.7 in 2002, 5.9 in 2003.
  • Toronto Life still has a respectably large audience, but since 2002 has seen total readership decline 8.8% and its reader-per-copy (RPC) figure decline from 10.1 to 9.4.
  • Outdoor Canada retains its status as having the highest current RPC at 20.5 but its total readership since 2002 has slipped by 11.7%
  • Fashion magazine has seen a steady growth; since 2002, readership has grown by 8.5% (largely because of its creation of Montreal and Vancouver editions). Its RPC has also gone up, from 11.5 in 2002 to 13 this year
  • Flare, Fashion's fierce rival, has maintained 1.8 million readers but its RPC has increased only marginally, from 10.5 to 10.9
  • Even while Today's Parent has increased its circulation by 9.1% between 2002 and now, its readership has declined by 13.8% during the same period
  • Since 2002, TV Guide has lost more than a million readers (26%)
  • Bouncing back from a disastrous redesign, Report on Business magazine has seen its readership increase by 95% in just two years. Its rival, National Post Business edged it in RPC, however (5.4 versus 5.0) this time around.
  • As expected, based on only 1 year of results, Cottage Life has roared up as a front-runner, with total readership of 1.14 million and an RPC of 16.3.
  • Perhaps not as expected, TORO (again, based on only 1 year of results) had a disastrous RPC of 0.9 -- meaning it prints 189,000 copies and gets only 172,000 readers. Even for a newspaper-distributed, controlled book, this is a real shocker.
  • Maclean's has seen its total readership decline by 11.2% since 2002, though it maintains a solid 6.3 RPC.

Steady as she goes?

Ken Whyte, the new Editor/Publisher of Maclean's, had an easy time of it this morning on The Current on CBC, as Anna Maria Tremonti lobbed softballs and he batted them to the bleachers (block that metaphor). Mostly, the interview was a retrospective about Alberta Report, Saturday Night, the National Post and Conrad Black with only a couple of questions about what happens now.

He said essentially said that he wasn't going to do anything surprising or radical, that he thought there was lots of room in the market for a magazine like Maclean's, interested in Canada and world affairs. "Editing is all about picking your spots," he said. Being Publisher and Editor is good for the magazine, he added: "Nobody is in a better position to protect editorial integrity as an editor who is also publisher. When it comes to making a choice between business imperatives and editorial imperatives, the editor must be in a position to strike that balance."


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Past glories

Who wins what is always interesting. The American National Magazine Awards now offers access to a searchable database of past winners. Go to and click on the American Society of Magazine Editors tab (ASME).

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The cultural literary heavyweights

Sometimes a weird factoid emerges while you were looking for something else. But if evidence were needed that Toronto is, indeed, the centre of the universe when it comes to literary and cultural publishing in this country, consider the following table. It lists the top 10 Ontario recipients of combined money from the Canada and Ontario Arts Council in 2003 (the last complete year available).




Canadian Art



C international contemporary art









Quill & Quire












This Magazine



Opera Canada



The geography is even more clearly defined by the admittedly quirky facts that all of the recipients come from Toronto and, in fact, from two, federal ridings (Trinity-Spadina and Toronto Centre) and several of them are published in the same building (401 Richmond Street West). The 10 publications account for 78.5% of the combined Ontario grants from these two agencies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Onwards and upwards with magazines

Some people outside the magazine industry seem surprised and puzzled by the number of launches in the March issue of Masthead magazine and its Tally 2004 cover story. It detailed 124 new magazines of all types and styles, consumer and trade.

The generally accepted myths of the marketplace are that magazines don't make money, that magazines and print generally are sunset industries, that young people don't read, and so on.

Yet there has been a steady, solid increase in interest over the past few years, with an amazingly diverse group of people, younger and older, taking courses, looking for opportunity and starting magazines. Howcum? A number of reasons:
  • There is a growing, highly media-literate population out there -- university- and college-educated young people who are receptive and full of ideas.
  • They want to make a living in something that excites them and gives outlets for their creativity. This is something that is very important to them.
  • They want into businesses which they consider creative and fun, either as employees or as entrepreneurs.
  • Magazines are "cool" or "hot", depending on your perspective, because they are approachable, understandable technology with a relatively low threshold for entry.
  • Technology, particularly in desktop publishing and database management has become very inexpensive, readily available and extremely powerful. One less barrier to entry.
  • The newsstand has increased its titles by about 400% in the last 10 -15 years; a huge variety of magazines are just more available and visible as inspiration.
  • Controlled circulation allows startups to avoid the labrynthine coils of Canada Post. It's interesting to note that 70% of the startups that Masthead identified went this route.
  • Younger readers are nationalistic, much more so than their parents, and like to see their own views reflected in their own magazines.
  • The trend towards "niche" or "vertical" publications is unstoppable -- people are understanding that it's not print and paper but specific audience and savvy branding that drives success.
  • There are lots of gaps remaining to be filled, in consumer and trade and particularly in areas where younger people invest their interest: health and wellness, alternative therapies, entertainment and lifestyle, adventure travel and extreme sports.
  • There continues to be a proportion of the population -- maybe 15 - 20% -- who have a strong appetite for art, design, fine writing and the clash of ideas. This appetite must be fed.
  • And there is a climate out there for "finding your passion" (watch "Oprah" some time) that many people find can be satisfied by producing beautiful, tightly focussed publications.
Whether it is a hyper-specialist magazine like Chasing Plastic (for Ultimate Frisbee players) or a reader-written book like Our Canada (which grew to 200,000 paid in one year) or a long-form-journalism outlet like The Walrus or Saturday Night, there seems to be no end of audiences ready to support magazines of quality that speak to them in a voice they recognize and value.

The only question is how the advertising industry, which pays 60 or 70% of the freight on consumer magazines and 90% on trade, will respond to this boom.

Will they see this as an opportunity and make a bigger investment, or simply carve up the pie differently? The adshare of magazines seems to have been growing. Tim Hughes of MindShare told a group of magazine people the other day that, often, agencies don't even know that these new magazines exist; so it shouldn't be assumed that they don't want to work with them. His firm has had great success (for instance, Absolut Vodka) targetting hard-to-reach small, specialized audiences through small, specialized magazines.

There is a potent combination of ambition, entrepreneurial spirit and youthful energy out there and it's creating a very interesting outlook for the industry.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Paper chases profit

While the various mills and paper-makers have long lamented that magazine paper prices were depressed, publishers and printers could have been forgiven for hoping that condition would continue for years. However it seems the combined effects of shutting down capacity, higher energy prices and the growing hunger for finished pulp and paper from China and India has finally done its work. Publishers have been startled to receive notes from their suppliers that prices are going up in the range of 5.5 - 7.5%. For instance, rolls of Weyerhauser's Husky Offset are going up 5.5% effective this week and many Domtar papers are going up by $3 a hundredweight. That's for people putting in orders starting this week or publications that order paper as they go; pre-ordered paper won't be affected, yet. But the ripple effect will be felt fairly soon by everyone in the business.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The race for the Ellies


The American Society of Magazine Editors today announced the finalists for this year's U.S. National Magazine Awards. (The U.S. awards are given to magazines, rather than to individual writers, photographers and illustrators and the prize is an "Ellie" sculpture by Alexander Calder. Canadian awards nominations from the National Magazine Awards Foundation are due to be announed next month.)

Conde Nast Publications' The New Yorker received 10 nominations including one for General Excellence. Other magazines receiving multiple nominations include another Conde Nast title, Vanity Fair (seven), and The Atlantic Monthly (five).

Five magazines received three nominations apiece: Fairchild Publications' Details; Hearst Magazines' Esquire; Time Inc.'s Fortune; Conde Nast's Gourmet; New York Magazine; and Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated.

Among the magazines recognized this year are some first-time nominees, which are darlings of magazine insiders, such as the smart-set journal The Believer and an advertising-free title for the food-obsessed, Cook's Illustrated.

New York, which revamped significantly last year under new ownership and a new editor, Adam Moss, received multiple nominations for the first time since 1993.

Nominees for the industry's most prestigious award, General Excellence, by circulation:

Circulation under 100,000:
The American Scholar, The Believer, Print, ReadyMade, The Virginia Quarterly Review

Circulation of 100,000 to 250,000:
Baseline, Dwell, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Magazine, Teacher Magazine

Circulation of 250,000 to 500,000:
The Atlantic Monthly, Cure, Details, Martha Stewart Weddings, New York Magazine

Circulation of 500,000 to 1 million:
Cook's Illustrated, Esquire, Gourmet, Vibe, Wired

Circulation of 1 million to 2 million:
Fortune, Men's Health, The New Yorker, Real Simple, Vanity Fair

Circulation more than 2 million:
Glamour, Good Housekeeping, National Geographic, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Strong showing by Toronto Life

The whole is greater than the sum of parts when it comes to the new Toronto Life. Despite the quibble about the logo (see below), looking at the entire April issue is a real pleasure.

Carol Moskot has always shown commendable restraint and an elegant sensibility in typography. This is clearly so here with the two typefaces used, Farnham for the body and some display and Grange for other display. But there's so much more.

There are distinct whiffs of the resurgent New York magazine, which is only to be expected. The architecture of the magazine has not been changed, so much as some of the furniture of the magazine has been regrouped. And it works very well. The departments are strong, such as This City, This Month, Restaurants and so on. The column treatments (for instance Politics) ditto. Moving the listings to the back is so sensible it's a wonder it wasn't done sooner.

The feature treatments are a subtle change from what went before, but the new typography makes them snappier; for instance the Gerald Hannon feature on Eddie Greenspon. The photo feature on St. Michael's Hospital emergency room is an examplar of the way white space has been judiciously used in the new design.

Particularly interesting is the larger, single photos on shorter pieces like the Pop Culture column on Mike Holmes.

Sorry to see the demise of the "newsphoto" approach to the contents page, but it's a price worth paying for this solid redesign of one of Canada's most important magazines.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Internal needs

Magazines are getting pretty good at taking advantage of interns on the editorial side -- some taking more (unpaid) advantage than others -- but there is apparently a paucity of places for young, up-and-hopefuls on the art side.

Barbara Solowan, the Art Director of Canadian Art and MoneySense magazines, urged participants in the CMPA's Professional Publishing Program in Niagara on the Lake to build some money (and some honoraria) into their budgets for art interns. (That includes having a spare workstation available for the intern.) Without such a forward-looking system, she fears, there is going to be a shortage of good people in years to come with practical experience putting out real magazines.

As more and more magazines (including Canadian Art and MoneySense) rely on freelance art directors and freelance or just-in-time art staff, having interns aboard brings enthusiasm and energy to the whole business -- plus ensuring that we have a ready supply of experienced art directors in the years to come.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Toronto Life, the universe and everything

Toronto Life's new look, at least the cover, was unveiled today in mastheadonline, the web page of the magazine industry trade book. We can see how they wanted to keep some of the Ken Rodmell's '70s look, but that means that the new 'all on one line' logo looks, um, very '70s.

It will allow for better use of the cover, including full bleed images and dropouts. The James Chatto cover story on Where to Eat looks charming and inviting.

However the unfortunate letter forms of the all-cap logo means that the word 'Toronto' (and those big honkin' O's) is like some sprawling fat guy taking up all the space on a park bench, while the little word 'Life' is squished up, with one cheek hanging off the end.

The main reason why they didn't stray too far from the original logo and its successor (except for banishing the ubiquitous red box) may have been that TL has such an established brand, on every restaurant window in town, that they didn't want to mess with success.

My, what a long way you've come

Travel buffs and fans of the peripatetic Ian Wright have had an opportunity in the last few days to hear him talk about his travels in a series of lectures across the country, culminating in a big splash at Convocation Hall at U of T on Friday 18th. The lecture tour is being presented by Outpost magazine, a little title that has steadily grown over the past 8 - 9 years by understanding the imperatives of its audience. The emphasis on marketing and cross promotion, on branding, is the direct result of excellent editorial but also the high-energy style of Publisher Matt Robinson. His legendary hustle has so impressed Ian Wright (a regular columnist for the magazine as well as a worldwide TV personality) that he retained Robinson as his North American agent. Hence this extended tour: good for Wright, good for his fans and above all good for the magazine.

Guess what I'm thinking

A recent memorandum from newly arrived Maclean's Publisher and Editor Ken Whyte to all staff:

Hello Everyone - As I mentioned on meeting most of you a couple of weeks ago, I'd like your input on how we can continue to improve Maclean's. Please send me your thoughts on any or all aspects of the content and operations of the magazine. I am committed to maintaining the title, the weekly publishing schedule, and the current-affairs mandate, but for the purposes of this exercise let's consider everything else up for discussion.

You might have suggestions for a new regular feature or a better way to organize our production schedule. You might prefer another headline font, more sports, less Canada, more intelligent readers, less columnists. Take a close look at some recent issues and be as nitpicky or as sweeping as you please. I don't want to give you the impression that I'm about to change everything at the magazine, and I can't promise I will act on all suggestions. I'm leaving this exercise as open-ended as possible in hopes that you'll speak freely and candidly about what we're doing. It's an opportunity for me to learn more about you and Maclean's and to set priorities for the weeks and months ahead.

No one knows the challenges and opportunities of this magazine better than the people who make it each week. I promise to read and give serious consideration to all of your comments. I would like to hear from you by the end of next week. Meanwhile, I'm very excited about joining you all on Monday. Best, kw

Friday, March 11, 2005

Waiting for Whyte

That sound you hear is the skittish murmuring on the editorial floor of Maclean's as the staff at the Rogers "campus" await with hushed expectancy the Monday 14th official first day of Ken Whyte as Publisher and Editor.

Whyte's been dropping in and out, having discreet meetings with individuals. But nobody knows if he'll hit the ground running or take a measured and cautious approach once he starts full time. Probably the former, since the brass at Rogers will be pushing for big changes and big improvements. It's now clear that Tony Wilson-Smith, Whyte's predecessor, was surprised at how agitated his bosses were. Watch for Whyte to bring in an outsider as managing editor (a position unfilled since Goeff Stephens was fired under the Editorship of Bob Lewis).

(Whyte's decision to start on the first Monday of March break in Toronto has changed some plans and disrupted long-planned family vacations as senior managers want to be sure to be in their seats when he arrives. )

Thursday, March 10, 2005

CMPA bares its teeth

The Canadian Magazine Publishers Association (CMPA) has always been known as an efficient member-service organization, meeting the needs of its large membership, made up mostly of small- to medium-sized magazines. It was also an effective, but behind-the-scenes, lobbying organization on important matters such issues as postal, trade and goverment funding.

What it has not been known for is acting the way it did this week when it took off after Food & Drink, the glossy controlled magazine published by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

The CMPA says in a submission to the LCBO brass that F & D has unfair leverage with beverage alcohol suppliers and also hoovers up millions in lifestyle consumer advertising; both of which might have gone to other, legitimate commercial publishers (let alone magazines with a wine and spirits emphasis).

Essentially F & D spends more than $6 million to get slightly more than $3 million in advertising and the LCBO subsidizes the remainder, rationalizing the subsidy by claiming that the magazine is responsible for a $10 million bump in sales at LCBO stores. Trouble is, says the CMPA, there is no evidence that this is true and, even if it were, it's not right for the government to use its monopoly and divert revenues from sales into competing with existing magazines.

It's good to see the CMPA standing up for its members and for the principle that government should get out of the publishing business (or, rather, leave the publishing business to the publishers). There can be no argument there. CMPA always stood up for its members, but always made nice. Perhaps it took an example of such egregious behaviour to get it to bare its fangs. But good for it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The haze on the digital frontier

Digital publishing is like nation building, something that is always talked about in vague, general, feel-good terms. The proliferation of web pages, e-letters and e-bulletins by both consumer and trade publishers seems predicated on the belief that these things will pay for themselves imminently or eventually and, for now, are a cost of doing business in the modern wired world. Be there or be square, that sort of thing. [This doesn't include companies, like Thomson or Reed Elsevier, which have specialized in data-based publishing for a specialized, professional audience.]

Isn't it curious that there doesn't seem to be much -- if any -- evidence that anybody in consumer or trade is making money on anything but the old-fashioned business of putting advertising in printed magazines.

Part of this is due to the lamentable reporting capabilities this industry has in Canada. Because the industry is relatively small and closely held, nobody wants to reveal their secrets, especially financial ones. While, internally, publishing groups may track their digital operations quite closely, the results are aggregated with all other publishing whenever results are talked about.

Reading the public record, the annual reports of public companies (Transcontinental, Rogers, Quebecor, Hollinger) and try as you might it is almost impossible to winkle out what costs and revenues were and what profit on websites and digital publishing. Let's hope that the directors of these companies aren't simply relying on faith. While it is contended that the (, etc.) stable of websites and mini-sites is hugely successful, sez who? Trade publishers like the Business Information Group promote their electronic publishing as valuable line extensions of books like Hazardous Materials Management. And, maybe, the readers do value these and pay market rates for them. But try to find any scoresheets.

Is digital and web publishing simply an exercise in feel-good added value, without much offsetting incremental revenue? Or are we in a transition period, with the balance soon to tip in favour of digital publishing? If this is the future of today's consumer and (perhaps especially) trade print publishers (and many say passionately that it is), wouldn't you think someone would be a market leader, say so and back it up with some proof?

Big assistance for big publishers

The recent conference in Ottawa hosted by the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association and Magazines du Quebec, called Creating Canada, had a number of objectives, apparently: among them to get the post office to be more reasonable; if necessary to get the federal government to pressure Canada Post to be more reasonable; and to safeguard and (perhaps) to enhance the current federal postal subsidy.

Much of that subsidy (63%) goes to large companies for whom publishing is a relatively small part of their business: Publishing is a significant, but relatively small part of the printing empire that is Transcontinental. Rogers is part of a huge wireless and cable empire. TVA is part of the Quebecor Inc.

An analysis of the Publications Assistance Program (PAP) shows multi-title publishing groups are given the majority of the $38 million that is made available to paid circulation consumer magazines. This makes sense in many ways -- these companies publish so many titles and have such a huge share of total circulation.

(There are also some curiosities, such as the fairly large subsidies given to religious publications such as the Catholic Register, Anglican Journal and United Church Observer. Sceptical minds might enquire whether such publications are mere house organs, largely unread by non-adherents; it must also be nice to have tax exempt property and a cheque from the government to disseminate your views.)

Here is the latest published data on grants given out to some publishing groups by PAP as of April 2004. Imminently, the government will be deciding how much money Canadian Heritage will have to give out this year.



% of total grants







Reader's Digest



House & Home Media



TVA (Quebecor)



St. Joseph



Canada Wide



Quarto Communications





Monday, March 07, 2005

Blooming puzzling

If you want to witness the peculiar pricing and economics of the Canadian newsstand spring is a good time to look at gardening books.

On a typical news rack, you will find U.S. titles Horticulture and Fine Gardening selling for C$7.99. Right next to it you will find Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life, both published in Canada, selling for $4.95. That's a $3.04 cent difference; the U.S. books are selling for about 61% more than the Canadian cover price.

You'd be hard-pressed to explain this gap in terms of editorial quality and value or even number of pages. The Canadian books would seem to have the edge with readers because they quote and refer to Canadian sources and Canadian growing zones.

So, why are such excellent magazines as Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life selling single copies at such a relatively low price?

(In its domestic market, Horticulture sells for US$5; Fine Gardening for US$6.99. It would seem that Fine Gardening Canadian pricing is closely calibrated to the current difference in exchange rate. Horticulture, on the other hand, still seems to think the Canadian dollar is $0.63!)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Dated data

It will be in April when Statscan finally gets around to publishing data about the Canadian periodical industry through 2003. The industry has been relying on 1998-99 data since it was released March 18, 2002. A lot has happened in 7 years.

(That 1998-99 data left something to be desired because, for some reason, Statscan 'found' about 500 titles that it hadn't found in 1996-97, thus making comparison iffy or inadvisable not only with that round, but with the data of the previous 10 years.)

At least this time around, the questionnaire asked for the total number of pages, broken down into text, revenue and non-revenue, for the entire reporting period. This is an excellent improvement and will allow revenues and costs, to be analyzed by pages, as it never has been able to in the past. (Previous research asked for the number of pages in a "typical" issue.)

This may be the last time that a comprehensive census of the industry will be done. Statscan is reported to have decided it costs too much and is not a priority.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Rabble, the next chapter has always had an admirable spunk and a pithy approach to the news. While not a magazine in the traditional sense, it has marked "magazine" qualities (noble, steadfast and true) and it's worth noting the passage this site is going through. After four years depending on sponsors like Alternatives and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Rabble is now a non-profit corporation, with its own board. The board is buttressed by having Duncan Cameron agree to lend his very extensive lefty credentials to the position of Associate Publisher (presumably at a distance, since he's moved from Ottawa to the west coast). Judy Rebick remains Publisher.The site has $40k in a nest egg raised from its supporters and it intends to be self-sufficient, bolstered by some marketing and merchandising and advertising. Read more at the link below. And wish them well.

Ask and ye may be given

It's always assumed that if small magazine publishers are good at anything, it is taking maximum advantage of support programs for which they are eligible. But is that the case?

Taking just one program, in one province, which is the home to many literary and cultural magazines, here is the record of grants given out by the Compass mentorship and technical assistance program of the Ontario Arts Council.

According to information on the OAC's website, of 123 grants and nearly $1 million given out to various arts organizations in the past two years, about 2.5% went to cultural magazines. There is no information on how many applied.

Fair disclosure: the author of this log has received funds from some of these magazines as the result of this program.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

New look coming for Toronto Life

Magazine people are itching to see the "major" redesign that Toronto Life will launch with its April issue, the first in more than a decade. Look for a new logotype with echoes of the present one, a different cover architecture, a shuffling of elements inside and some surprises. The redesign is being driven by Editor John Macfarlane and the new Art Director, Carol Moskot (who helped with the redesign of Maclean's a couple of years ago).

Redesign enthusiasms, anticipated or not, are not always shared by single copy buyers; witness this from a MediaWeek article Feb. 14, reporting on the latest ABC numbers:

New York magazine has yet to gain real traction with readers since editor Adam Moss began a redesign last February. Paid circ dipped 1.2 percent to 432,094, and newsstand sales fell 9.3 percent.

Converting from paid to controlled

More on the controlled/paid front: The current issue of the newsletter of the Circulation Marketing Association of Canada(CMC) has an article by David R. Livesey of Rogers Media on Profit magazine's choice to change from paid, to controlled.

After a constant struggle to maintain a paid base, Rogers's Profit decided to convert to controlled (or, rather "request") in the fall of 2002. Doug Dingeldein, the group circulation director at Rogers, said that controlled books "are not about the increase of subscribers but more about serving the market." Translation: our advertisers like this.

Kerry Mitchell, publisher of Profit at the time of the decision said: "Controlled circulation is a strategy to ensure highly qualified distribution for a vertical title. Profit's controlled distribution allows us to deliver very specialized content to our target market; the leaders of Canada's growth companies." Translation: our advertisers like this.

The newsletter article said the net result for Profit was that readers-per-copy (RPC) improved by more than 30%. This seems to contradict the conventional wisdom that controlled books should have RPCs considerably lower than paid.

The article also implied that, while postal subsidies are not quite as generous for "request" circulation like Profit, the magazine made up for it by saving the cost of acquiring new readers.