Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Deeper discounts on subs

Rogers Magazine Service is a division of Rogers Media and every once in a while, it teams up with the Bank of Montreal MasterCard division and makes a special offer on magazine subscriptions -- its own, and others, including U.S. titles from the giants like Hearst, Rodale, Conde Nast and Meredith Corporation. The latest just arrived in the mail with the credit card bill.

It's interesting to see what they offer both in the flyer insert and online (you can see all the titles for yourself by going here). It's also interesting to see who the biggest discounters are. It's generally Canadian titles that lead the way.
Maclean's (84%)
Toronto Life
+ Fashion (82%)
Today's Parent
Canadian Business
TV Guide
The Hockey News
Inc. (64%)
Style at Home
Ontario Out of Doors
(English and French) (62%)
(French) (61%)
Canadian House & Home
(57 %)
Outdoor Canada
(56 %)
The Walrus
(56 %)
Bicycling (54%)
Fitness (54%)
As can be seen, 9 from this list of the top 20 discounters are Rogers titles, led by Maclean's; 4 are from Transcontinental and only 3 from U.S. publishers. Of course this is not an exhaustive list of titles, and not all publishers are included, only those who have agreed to participate. But the list is still a long one, with 46 titles in the brochure. These include many of Canada's largest titles and some of the best known U.S. titles that circulate here. There are a total of 73 titles, Canadian and U.S., offered on the Rogers Magazine Service website.

In almost all cases, the discounts are considerably deeper than a similar offer from the same source, three and a half years ago (June 2002).

The percentages are all in Canadian dollars and the discount is based on a comparison with the magazine's stated cover price.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Buy three, give one free

An interesting variant on volume discounting: A magazine in the U.S. called DiversityInc. gives advertisers one, free "pro bono" ad in support of the cause of their choice for every three regular ads they buy on the rate card. Here's a longer story about it from Media Daily News.

When stories are interview-free

Simon Houpt, the New York columnist for the Globe and Mail, writes today (subscription req'd) about the ethics of the "write around", wherein a magazine does a story without an interview being granted by the central subject. Are magazines under some sort of obligation to disclose this? Provided the information is correct and the story a good and entertaining read, what beyond that is the magazine obliged to provide? There are some who would argue that the extra effort required to work around the non-cooperation of some star with a pneumatic sense of themselves can sometimes result in a better story. Discuss.

Organizing freelancers? Maybe. Maybe not

If you haven't had the opportunity to see it, there is some interesting analysis in Julie Crysler's article "Unite the Write?" in the November-December issue of This Magazine. It explores the implications of and impediments to the unionizing of freelance writers. The movement surfaced in August.

The Canadian Utne nominees

It's an honour just to be nominated, they say (and in this case, it's true). There are a number of Canadian titles among the finalists in the Utne magazine Independent Press Awards. These aren't applied for, but selected, from among the 1,300 odd titles that are scanned every year by the magazine's staff. As a result, an Utne nomination is highly prized. The winners in each category will be announced in the magazine's January/February 2006 issue. The complete list is available here. The Canadian nominees are:
  • Best writing
    • Maisonneuve
  • Best spiritual coverage
    • Ascent
    • Shambala Sun
  • Best personal life coverage
    • Outpost
  • Best local coverage
    • Up Here
  • Best environmental coverage
    • Alternatives Journal
This is the fifth year running that Ascent has been nominated for spiritual coverage, winning the category in 2003. Quite an accomplishment.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Geez keeps the faith

A new quarterly magazine, one with North American ambitions, is due out from its Winnipeg base on December 5. It's called Geez and it promises to anneal political activism to discussions about religion and belief.

It sold its first 200 subscriptions by offering them at half price (sorry that offer ended once they reached 200) and it costs $25 a year for 4 issues. Cover price is $7.

The magazine's tag line is "An alter call from the fringes of faith". The first issue is described as "Ninety-six ad-free pages of holy mischief in this age of fast faith. It is a journey into conversation -- from the crusading 'altar calls' of Billy Graham to the 'alter calls' of folks like Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero."

Publisher and managing editor is Aiden Enns, former managing editor of Adbusters. Editor is Will Braun, a writer who has written for Sojomail, and Radical Grace magazine. Art Director is Darryl Brown, a designer and illustrator in Oregon.

Geez describes its audience as: "Christian peacemakers dodging Rumsfeld's bombs, gung-ho student organizers, edgy nuns, a few right wing spies and non-church folk who want to peek past the stained glass. "

"Geez will mix the activist kick and visual pull of Adbusters, the intelligent critique of Harper's and the subversive elements of contemplative communities," said Enns, 43, who holds graduate degrees in religion and journalism, and has worked eight years with the church press. "There's an array of social justice magazines out there -- Mother Jones, Yes!, Clamor, Z Magazine and more -- but they rarely tap the spiritual core of social action," said Enns. "At the same time, I see religious magazines getting stuck in self-indulgent piety or personal enlightenment and ignoring wider political issues."

The magazine is throwing a launch party in Winnipeg for its premier issue next Friday at 7:30 (if you're in the neighbourhood, it's at Augustine United Church at Osborne and River. Come in the side door.)

Among the magazine's gimmicks are funky postcards, very similar to the kind of thing that Adbusters did and does to promote itself. They can be dowloaded from the website.

To find out more, go to their website or e-mail the editor

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

And that would be a good thing

Martha Stewart Omnimedia is to launch a new magazine this spring called Blueprint, for 30-something first-time homeowners. This, according to Advertising Age.

Election-time, you think?

The Department of Canadian Heritage has announced a major injection of cash ($306.5 million over three years) that will double the appropriation for the Canada Council for the Arts. In addition, there is increased support for some significant major performing arts organizations such as the National Arts Centre.

In-flight mags taking off in U.S.

Based on an admittedly self-serving source, one of the U.S.'s major in-flight magazine publishers, Media Post reports that this sector is strengthening and about to pass the US$1 billion mark in advertising sales. (As a comparison, ad sales for Canada's leading in-flight, enRoute, is about $8 million a year.)

Auditor wonders about impacts of Heritage decisions

The Office of the Auditor General yesterday released a report that included a review of the activities of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Most of the emphasis was placed upon governance and accountability issues related to the Canadian Television Fund which Heritage administers.

Perhaps of particular interest (but no surprise) to the magazine industry, the report referred to the fact that Heritage is managing programs like the Publications Assistance Program (PAP) without knowing, or having a way of estimating, what the impact of its decisions will be (boldfaced emphasis added):
5.112 Long-term impacts. The Department does not have information about the long-term impacts of its programs (Exhibit 5.5). Information of this type is generally produced as part of a Department's program evaluations.

5.113 Canadian Heritage evaluated the Book Publishing Industry Development Program in 2004 and presented the results in its 2003–04 Departmental Performance Report. In 2005, it evaluated its Publications Assistance Program. It is currently completing an evaluation of the Canadian Television Fund program and is preparing to evaluate the Feature Film Policy.

5.114 Our analysis of the two completed evaluation reports showed that the Department found it very difficult to measure the programs' performance because it did not have the necessary data available at the time of the evaluations. The evaluation of the Book Publishing Industry Development Program recommended that the Department needed to improve its ability to measure progress on the program's cultural objectives. The evaluation of the Publications Assistance Program revealed a lack of clarity and consistency among various stated program objectives, and a lack of valid and reliable performance data at the time the Department conducted the evaluation.

5.115 We recognize it is difficult to measure the long-term effects of cultural industry support programs and to know to what extent any observed progress is attributable to departmental programs. However, this difficulty does not diminish the importance of continuing research and evaluation efforts. Program evaluations should allow the Department to obtain a clearer picture of its performance and the results it has achieved, and should allow the Department to determine the best way to improve its programs.

The recent shocks to the industry concerning PAP were thought to be carried out without much of an idea about what impact they would have on individual titles, certain types and sizes of magazines and magazines in certain sectors. Now, it seems, the Auditor General confirms this and suggests something be done about it. But would more robust evaluations of the "cultural objectives" call into question the whole rationale for such things as a postal subsidy and the Canada Magazine Fund?

The report on Support to Cultural Industries was carried out under the supervision of Assistant Auditor General Richard Flageole.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Walrus wins charitable status

The Walrus Foundation, according to a report in today's Globe and Mail has been granted charitable status. This clears the way for it to receive transfers of much-needed cash from the private family Chawkers Foundation. Publisher Ken Alexander is due congratulations for a) his perseverance and b) his faith. Presumably, he will be able to recover some of the reported $2 million in personal assets that he has advanced to the magazine while the turndown for status was appealed. It's not known if the Canada Revenue Agency will treat this decision as a precedent, but it is quite probable that a number of other magazines, including Maisonneuve from Montreal, will be at the agency's door waving it as though it were.

Freelancers, unite

Mastheadonline has an update on the creation of the Canadian Freelancer Union, which will apparently hit its stride next year. You can read it here (subscription required*).

*If you're interested in Canadian magazines, it's no hardship to become a subscriber to Canada's only magazine trade magazine and/or its website. Fair disclosure: with its November/December issue, I have begun a small column in Masthead. But I'd say to subscribe, anyway.

Magazines we like -- Backbone

In a world of failed and faltering tech magazines, Backbone seems to have found its mojo. The 6-times-a-year magazine, published out of North Vancouver by Publimedia Communications Inc., reaches most of its readers through controlled distribution in the Globe and Mail. (The total circ, according to its December 2004 latest CCAB audit, is 123,000, of which 104,000 approximately are controlled (92,000 in the Globe; the rest to a selected list of Backbone customers) and about 20,000 paid subs. Next issue, Backbone celebrates 5 years of publishing.

Its November/December issue lives up to its tagline: Business/Technology/Lifestyle, because it provides some of each. It's a handsome magazine, with articles that could teeter on the brink of advertorial, but do not (at least as is apparent to a casual observer). Not surprisingly, it is complemented by a good, solid website. The theme of the current issue is data security, and some of the factoids they provide are truly frightening. Such as that it takes 54 days between the appearance of a vulnerability and the release of a vendor patch for the problem.

The issue contains some very interesting features, even for the layman:
  • How the Canadian Football League has sped up the provision of online stats so that the serious sports fan waits 2 minutes, not a whole day for something official;
  • Why it's tough to pick tech stocks that will make you money;
  • How a little company sells drums online, making half as much and keeping twice as much as when they had a retail store;
  • The issues of ownership of websites and their designed
  • A story about black box techonology and what it means to today's cars (including saving on insurance)
  • And a piece about some eccentrics who play with radio-controlled planes, cars and boats (some of which cost $US 26,000).
The magazine is bulked up by a 5-page advertising supplement, properly labelled, that contains information on "Locking up your digital assets".

Being Christmastime and all, there is a "toys for the boys" section, promoting glasses that help golfers find their balls and a cunning little security card that screams its head off if anyone moves your laptop.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thinking better about crossing the line

Rance Crain, the Editor in Chief of Advertising Age, has an interesting column apologizing for a recent gaffe. The magazine sold an ad page that was a phony Ad Age front page, with headlines that talked about the advertiser in a design that looked a lot like the magazine. Even though the "advertisement" slug was at the top, Crain says, the ad stepped over the invisible and increasingly blurry line between advertising and editorial.

A question of perception and value

From Digital
Video may have killed the radio star, but the Internet hasn’t yet killed the paperback hero according to a new study by the Canadian Internet Project (CIP).

While many believe the growth of the Internet will eventually relegate hard-copy media to the recycling bin, it turns out Internet users put more value on traditional sources of media than non-users do.

The study says Internet users are more apt to place importance on magazines, newspapers, radio and books as reliable and valuable sources of information. Non-users, however, place more importance on TV than Internet users do.

What has surprised many analysts is that the survey results, published November 2, revealed Internet users still spend a significant amount of time perusing offline sources of info, and use the Internet to supplement media they already enjoy.

The study found that 72 per cent of Canadians use the Internet, the average user spending 13.5 hours online each week. Email is the most popular reason for using the Net, though most users have made purchases online as well. CIP says usage will only expand.

“The emergence of new Internet-based digital content and distribution channels is influencing social, political, cultural and economic behaviour and ideas everywhere,” says Professor Charles Zamaria, co-director of CIP and Radio and Television Arts professor at Ryerson University. “We believe that by studying the Internet and other emerging technologies as they develop over time, we can better understand their implications for society.”

The study surveyed 3,014 Canadians aged 18 and up, who answered questions via telephone in May and June 2004. The study is the first to come out of Canada, and is part of the World Internet Project which involves more than 25 countries. It is part of a series and will be conducted in Canada every other year. The study is representative and has a margin of error of 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

We trust he is going first class

Anthony Wilson-Smith, the previous editor of Maclean's, started his new job today as Special Advisor to Moya Greene, President and Chief Executive Officer of Canada Post.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Are those crocodile tears at newspapers?

An Associated Press story by Seth Sutel dissects the laments and hand-wringing of the U.S. newspaper industry and finds that newspapers are still very (some, very, very) profitable, though revenues are faltering. Hence job cuts and trimming newspaper sizes to try and retain those fat profits as long as possible and buy time to figure out how to get equivalent profits from the internet.

Quote, unquote

I don't have kids yet, but when I do, according to Cookie, if I have enough money, it's going to be a fashionable experience in which I will remain a size six.
So says Rachel Lehmann-Haupt in her Magazine Rack review (free sign up required) of the just-launched Cookie magazine in Media Post (see earlier item about this magazine).

Mags on TV: when the magic doesn't work

Coup de Pouce (the French arm of Transcontinental's Canadian Living magazine) has found that the crossover to television can be fraught, according to a recent article in Marketing magazine. Writer Danny Kucharsky contrasted Coup de Pouce's lagging performance in its second venture onto the small screen with the success of such magazine shows branded by Canadian House & Home and Clin d'oeil. Apparently, this TV thing isn't as easy as it looks, even for a magazine with the kind of market penetration and brand recognition of Coup de Pouce (which has a readership of 1.4 million, according to PMB 2005).

Transcontinental Media president André Préfontaine said the television venture, launched on Radio-Canada in September, "(is) part of our strategy to extend our brands and deliver our content on a 'multi-channel' platform by establishing partnerships with companies who are experts in their fields. This program will be a highly useful and interesting supplement for our readers and advertisers."

The Coup de Pouce TV show is broadcast Monday to Friday at 9 a.m., hosted by Elaine Ayotte. The show features advice from various segment hosts. For instance, a fashion and beauty segment is fronted by eTalk Daily's Sophie Grégoire, who recently married to Justin Trudeau.

Noting that the magazine tried once before, in 2002, with a show on Canal Vie that drew 17,000 viewers, the Marketing article said:

While it was expected the show would be beaten by popular TVA show Deux filles le matin, it's actually being trounced. In its debut episode on Labour Day, Coup de Pouce had 57,000 viewers, far behind the 380,000 viewers who tuned in for Deux filles le matin. The show is now averaging 54,000 viewers, even less than the 87,000 viewers for the Radio-Canada morning show C'est dans l'air, which Ayotte hosted last year.

Caroline Gagnon of the ad agency Marketel compared the readership and viewership profiles of Coup de Pouce magazine and TV and found the news is even worse. There are "flagrant differences," with 51% of the TV show's viewers age 60 and over, far older than the magazine's readership. The article went on:

For advertisers seeking to integrate content to a greater extent, the potential for integration would seem high, at least in theory, says Gagnon. But the numbers don't follow. "It's uninteresting and inappropriate to conduct an integration program in the magazine. It's not strategic to do a follow-up on the TV show when you look at the profile they'll obtain. The link between print and broadcast is just not happening."
Things look better for the TV version of Clin d'Oeil magazine, which has been running on TVA at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for the past few summers. (It wrapped up this year at the end of August.) Last summer, an average of 605,000 people watched the TV show, while the magazine has a circulation of 885,000.

But once again the profile of the magazines and TV show aren't in synch. The magazine's readership is mostly young-it's strong with both the 18 to 49 and 12 to 24-year-old age groups-while some 80% of the viewers are 35 and older.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Innocence abroad?

On October 31, Liza Frulla, the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced $4.8 million in funding to the Association for the Export of Canadian Books (AECB). The purpose? To help Canadian publishers penetrate international markets by providing $3.9 million in direct assistance for marketing of books, marketing of rights and hiring expertise.

The minister noted that books represent 21 % of Canadian cultural exports: "I congratulate members of the AECB on the work they do. They provide professionals in our book industry with substantial assistance so they can represent us abroad and better promote Canada's creativity and rich cultural diversity."

Now, just for fun, substitute the word "magazines" for "books" and see how it looks. For years, this industry has made excuses that Canadian content is not of interest to Americans, that the economies of scale are too overwhelming, that the industry lacks the capital necessary to penetrate the American market and that the magazine industry is so much different than the book industry (they have rights and inventory, we do not, for instance). Is this true? Are Canadian magazines un-exportable? Inquiring minds*
want to know.

*Minds which have hitherto simply accepted that the border is porous, but the flow is only one way.

Masthead weighs in

Mastheadonline reports today on the Maclean's party celebrating its 100th, noting that only Ted Rogers and Ken Whyte actually mentioned the magazine during the highly scripted event.

I'm on another line, trying to get dinner

Recipe hounds have yet another way to morph ingredients into meals, courtesy of Chatelaine. They can sign onto a free wireless service that will send a suggested recipe and list of ingredients to their cell phones. No advertising yet, but wait for it. The story was carried in Media in Canada.

Right, n. Not left

This is off topic sinceI can't claim it has anything to do with Canadian magazines, but it's fun, so indulge me. The Editor-in-Chief of The Nation (and, now, its Publisher, too) has compiled the Dictionary of Republicanisms. Here are some of the hundreds of tongue-in-cheek (or knife-in-the-back) definitions, sent in by The Nation's loyal readers.

Dick Cheney
, n. The greater of two evils [Jacob McCullar, Austin, TX]
Extraordinary Rendition, n. Outsourcing terror [Milton Feldon, Laguna Woods, CA]
Healthy Forest
, n. No Tree Left Behind [Dan McWilliams, Santa Barbara, CA]

Voter Fraud
, n. A significant minority turnout. [Sue Bazy, Philadelphia, PA]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Grand it's not

It is a truth universally acknowledged that newspapers always think that they can publish magazines. And they're usually wrong, in the process giving a bad name to magazines. They think that newspaper editors can morph painlessly into magazine editors; they think the same old, superficial approach of the newspaper can suffice as long as it's printed and bound expensively.

Grand is a terrific name for a brand new magazine that is to serve the Grand River valley and its communities of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo. And, on first glance the publication, produced by the City Media Group, a subsidiary of Torstar Corp. which also publishes the Record, based in Kitchener, is a perfect-bound, glossy, colourful book, fat with advertising.

Editorially, however, it is all over the map. Most pieces, with the exception of the food spreads hosted by Rose Murray, look and read like ads. Pictures are posed and stilted, with a strong whiff of the advertorial about many of the articles. Display is a series of labels, rather than headings and decks. The content is generally presented more like catalogue copy than stories or journalism.

To whom it goes is a mystery, since neither the magazine, nor its website publishes circulation information. It's promoting subscriptions at $24.95 for 6 issues. Cover price is $4.95.

Gimme shelter...or golf

An analysis by Oxbridge Communications of the past 10 years of listings in its National Directory of U.S. magazines says that there has been a profound shift away from magazines about religion, alternative sexual lifestyles, ethnic cultures, and business--and significantly more magazines about matrimony, the home, golf, and pets. Stating the obvious, the report says that publishers also appear to have lost interest in general interest publications. The findings are published in Media Daily News.

Up were wedding magazines (+176 per cent), interior design and home magazines (+109 per cent), golf magazines (+89 per cent) and dog-related titles (+65 per cent).

Down were general interest (-77 per cent), gay/lesbian (-41 per cent), religion (-38 per cent), business magazines (-35 per cent), and ethnic titles (-16 per cent).

Our flop is not part of our particularization

Beleaguered TV Guide in the U.S. has closed its barely-six-month-old Inside TV magazine. That's actually not news, since this has been widely speculated about recently. Inside TV’s last issue will be on newsstands Nov. 17. Gemstar-TV Guide expects it will cost from $2 million to $5 million just to shut it down.

Thanks to a friend in the business for pointing out this example of the kinds of blowhard management mumbo-jumbo that is afflicting magazine publishing in some quarters. The statement was issued by Rich Battista, the CEO of Gemstar-TV Guide: (boldface added)

“We are now pursuing a more focused strategy of building upon our company’s considerable core assets, including the TV Guide brand, to achieve the goal of being the leading consumer brand for video guidance and enabling transactions across multiple platforms....Inside TV is not central to this strategy, and it has not been performing as well as we had initially expected.”

It was quite a party

Maclean's celebrated its 100th anniversary with a gala party at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts on Tuesday evening. There were about 500 seats crowded onto the stage, half filled with current and former Maclean's staffers and executives; about half filled by the most eclectic collection of Canadian muckety-mucks imaginable, a miscellancy of political, business, legal and showbiz personalities. The evening was produced by Garth Drabinsky, and featured some splashy, and occasionally spectacular, entertainment. For the details and the dishing, I'd suggest you go to Antonia Zerbisias's blog at the Toronto Star. [UPDATE] And for a review of the night (and a few well-placed questions about the content), go to Martin Knelman's article, also in The Star.

In his brief concluding address, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Ken Whyte acknowledged a number of luminaries and his bosses at Rogers and singled out former Editor-in-Chief Peter C. Newman, who has been involved with the magazine for more than 40 years. Curiously, Whyte did not acknowledge two other former Editors of Maclean's who were there: Bob Lewis and Kevin Doyle. Of all the people in the room who would have empathized with what he is trying to do with the "new" Maclean's (also contains lanolin), they would.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Two more gone at St. Joseph's

More changes at St. Joseph's. Bill Wolch, a senior sales guy and a longtime associate of former St. Joe's President Greg MacNeil, has been laid off. He handled Toronto sales for The Look, the fashion extension of MacNeil's pet project Elm Street that has, so far, outlasted its parent (closed a couple of years ago). And, in a somewhat more surprising move, the longtime assistant to Toronto Life Editor John Macfarlane, Nina Kootnekoff, has also been laid off.

Celebrity sells

It augurs well for the recently launched Weekly Scoop (out of Torstar) that celebrity titles are soaring in newsstand sales south of the border, according to a story in Media Daily News.

The new Maclean's

The only people Maclean's has to please are a) its current readers, b) its potential new readers and c) the national agencies and advertisers. The only way we'll know if it has achieved liftoff with a), b) and c) is when hard, objective results come in the form of audited circulation numbers and ad page counts. It's redesign (the way it reads and the way it looks) released to the public yesterday and being unveiled to a gala evening tonight, is the principal tool by which a), b) and c) are to be won over. And that is not a sure thing.

My first copy of the new magazine was thrust in my hands about 4 p.m. Monday on Wellington Street in Toronto by a very nice young woman (who was giving it to everyone she met; presumably similar young women were doing the same all over the downtown). The issue has 84 pages with about 25 pages of revenue ads (plus a bunch of the usual Rogers house ads and PSAs), a paid ratio of 30%.

The new cover has web-pagish elements, principally the series of "sky boxes" above the unchanged logo, with page numbers. Nicely kinetic and likely to get people to turn inside. Once there...
  • Not surprisingly (if only as a marketing ploy), it leads with a blockbuster cover story, about being able to buy the Privacy Commissioner's phone records over the Internet. The story inside is something of a letdown, however. It simply thunders about the practice and then shrugs when it comes to doing anything about it.
  • Clearly, it has been decided that white space is old hat, because there ain't none. The magazine is crammed from head to foot with type and (mostly) tiny pictures, with lots of web-ish and tab-ish slashes, call-outs, strips and stripes.
  • Columns, look and feel quite tight, at two columns. Each head shot is highlighted in a cute li'l red box. The only exception is Paul Wells's lead column which is a full page after the letters pages.
  • The new upfront section 7 days runs for three pages of one paragraph items; the first of the three pages sub-divided into "Good News" and "Bad News", which is kinda fun, if perhaps hard to sustain
  • The Q & A interview, to be conducted in alternative weeks by Editor-in-Chief Ken Whyte and Columnist Linda Frum, doesn't quite work because I went right past it. It starts on a left hand page and looks like a turn page. I flipped back to see where the interview started.
  • The feature story has got so much going on visually that it's a bit distracting. The Privacy Commissioner must have refused to have her picture taken, else why would they take two dozen grab shots to make her appear furtive. After all, the story was about the irony of shadowy bad guys who stole and sold her data, not that a public official who submitted to an interview was being uncooperative about a picture.
  • The magazine is nicely flagged, with National, World and so on.
  • The "Newsmakers" innovation provides lots of gossipy items, with pics keyed to the items. No heavy lifting for readers.
  • Bylines are tucked into the first paragraph of each story; a nice touch.
  • The Back Pages is the runaway success of the new look, giving more of the lifestyle and glamour quotient that Maclean's has always struggled to achieve. It leads with a piece on glam actor slash producer George Clooney, and has an interesting mix of smaller features and columns, including the eternal Bestseller list and a contribution by Scott Feschuk which was actually very funny. Plus a "Recommended" miscellancy about movies, books, discs and so on.
  • The little, light "basements" at the bottom of most features are amusing and a nice brightener. Quoting from American talk show hosts (to take one example) is not particularly innovative, though. The New York Times has been there, done that.
  • One of the Back Page items, a story about Jason Logan's new book, inexplicably fails to identify him as being on Maclean's' masthead, referring to him as "an art director and freelance illustrator". If you're going to plump for one of your own, at least be upfront about it.
  • As reported earlier, the last editorial page is now something called The End, which was an obituary. I read it. I still don't get it.
Ken Whyte was quoted as saying that the magazine's new look has adapted elements of the old Playboy. Other than running several pictures atop the interview, there is no evidence of the kind of elegant, airy design that magazine had in its heyday. There is lots of homage, however, to US magazine and OK and some trashy tabloidish touches imported from celebrity titles and British glam books.

Over all, the magazine has a good, strong Canadian feel. Politics got short shrift in this particular issue, though it's impossible to say whether that's simply the nature of the week. (It consisted of one, good story by John Geddes exploring how the opposition parties will choose to tear each other to shreds in the imminent election). Including the 4-page cover feature, there are 8 pages of national coverage out of 54, not a very high count for the "core" of the magazine (to use Whyte's term).

Maclean's staffers have been notoriously thin-skinned about comment on what they do: furious when nobody pays any attention; equally cheesed off when somebody notices and criticizes. The proof of the magazine's success with its readers and advertisers will lie in measurement, not commentary. But if you don't want people to comment on your magazine, don't hand it out on streetcorners.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Sneak peek of the week

The indefatigable James Adams of the Globe and Mail today gives readers a sneak preview (in words, not pictures) of the revamped Maclean's which is being unveiled tomorrow at a gala that marks the magazine's 100th anniversary. Adams confirms that there will be 52 pages of editorial rather than 44 in each issue. Plus more, smaller, photographs. Also a rejigged front section that is a review of the previous week (wasn't Maclean's trying to get away from doing the week in review?). Beyond that, we'll have to wait and see*. Oh, yes, and the relaunch issue will be 88 pages.

*We also hear that the back page, until now the purview of Paul Wells and, before him, Alan Fotheringham, is to be a weekly obituary. We would not make this up.

It had to come, unfortunately

It had to come to this. Fairchild Publications, a unit of Conde Nast and the publishers of, among other titles, Women's Wear Daily, Jane, Details and Modern Bride is launching next week a magazine called Cookie which celebrates "the joys of parenthood", but is apparently a lifestyle magazine for parents, featuring goods designed for their children. Sort of Lucky and Cargo for kids, all rolled into one.

Fairchild says the magazine "will showcase all the best for your family, featuring fashion, home, travel, entertainment and health for parents and their children. With a clean, stylish design aesthetic, Cookie is a fun and joyous celebration of the modern family lifestyle."

This includes fashion for kids, ways to have a "no cook" first birthday party, a review of salons where kids can get a professional haircut, travel information on kid-friendly places and an article on the best dog to buy, kids' furniture and toys.

There is nothing that cannot be sold, apparently, including childhood. It's a long way from Cricket or Chickadee. It will probably be quite successful. Can it be long before we see Lou Lou Jr. or Wish for Kids?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New math at Maclean's

Mastheadonline notes today that in one of his rare columns in the magazine, Maclean's Publisher Ken Whyte this week promises that the new, redesigned magazine will have, at minimum, 50% more stories and 5o% more text PLUS more photographs.

Are there going to be more pages, which presupposes more ads? If so, where are all those ads coming from?

If not, and the magazine continues to have roughly 45 - 50 pages of edit (+/-) as at present, the only way you can increase the number of stories by 50% AND have more photographs is to dramatically reduce the length of stories (in other words, more, much shorter, stories).

Or print the whole thing is 7-point type.

We shall see next week.

Weekend magazines dwindling

A specialized sub-set of the magazine world is the weekend supplement to newspapers -- more common in U.S. papers than in Canada, but reminiscent of the long-gone Canadian and Weekend in Canadian papers. Those were said to be killed not only by demographic change and cost, but also by the end of the tobacco advertising that were their anchor.

Now, even longtime Sunday papers in the U.S. are going away, evidenced by the announcement that the Plain Dealer, Cleveland's dominant paper, announced today that it will drop its self-published Sunday Magazine. The syndicated Parade magazine will continue to be included. Among other things, quality colour printing within the main papers has rendered "rotos" (for the old technology of rotogravure) less relevant.

Word is also that Time Inc.'s LIFE magazine, transmogrified into a national Sunday newspaper supplement, is having difficulty attracting advertising, and there are questions whether it will long survive.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Peering across the digital divide

Joe Mandese, the editor of Media Post, writes in today's Media Digest Daily that not only are subscribers getting used to the idea of digital magazines but those who do subscribe that way are spending considerably less time with the print versions of those magazines.

According to a study sponsored by BPA Worldwide, one of the major audit firms, the percentage of digital subscribers who also read the print version has declined from 40% to 29% between 2003 and 2005 The percentage accessing the magazines' websites has held relatively steady at about 55%. Most of the digital magazines are niche technology and other titles, but more are being added to the mix every day. So far, the only large Canadian magazine to take the plunge has been Maclean's.

This would seem to be a strong indicator that, once the bugs are worked out, readers will accustom themselves to reading onscreen or printing out what they want and may soon forget that they ever lugged around stitched and trimmed bales of glossy paper. For those publishers who say it will never catch on, well, the data isn't much comfort.

The accompanying table shows other media used by digital magazine subscribers using NewsStand Inc. (one of several digital services now jockeying for position.)
2003 2004 2005
RSS Feeds NA 2.0% 4.0%
Web Sites 63.5% 50.0% 55.0%
Print 40.1% 30.0% 29.0%
Email Updates 24.5% 18.0% 25.0%

Source: Nielsen//NetRatings 2003, 2004 and 2005
NA = not available.

Trendwatch south of the border

For those who gauge the Canadian magazine industry by U.S. trends, it is interesting that in the month of October, U.S. magazines measured by the Publishers Information Bureau were down 2.1%, the third monthly decline in a row. But there were standout increases, too. This information from a more detailed report in Media Daily News.

If there was ever evidence for short memories, the stunning resurgence of Martha Stewart Living is proof, increasing 78% for the month, compared with last year during the height of its publisher's perjury scandal and trial. (In Style and Elle were up 26.1 and 22.1 percent, respectively, for the month.)

If there was ever evidence against resurrection, consider that TV Guide's ad pages fell 69.9 percent from its average monthly number of ad pages. In October, the month of its relaunch, the television digest posted just 65.5 pages.

A prize worth winning

It should not be mistaken; The Walrus, even with its financial difficulties, strives to live up to its ambitions and stated mission. Consider the prize being offered for its 2006 writing contents for Canadian poets and writers. The entry fee is nominal, the benefits of winning quite exotic and alluring. This, from the website places for writers:

The Walrus Magazine, together with Summer Literary Seminars, Inc., is accepting entries for its 2006 Fiction and Poetry Contest. Fiction entries will be judged by Margaret Atwood. Poetry entries will be judged by Robert Hass. Winners will have their work published in The Walrus, and receive airfare, accommodation and free tuition at next year's Summer Literary Seminars program in St. Petersburg, Russia, a month-long program in the heart of St. Petersburg. Entries must comprise one story or novel excerpt, or no more than three poems. Entry fee: $10(US), made out to Summer Literary Seminars Inc. Complete contact information (address, telephone, e-mail address) must be included on the manuscript. Entries are not judged blind. Do not include an SASE. Cover letters are not required. All entrants will be notified of the winners by e-mail in Spring 2006. Entries should be sent to the following addresses: Summer Literary Seminars Fiction/Poetry Contest, English Department Concordia University, 1455 de Maissonneuve Boulevard West, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8. Deadline: February 28, 2006.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The B special

Doubtless there will be others, better acquainted and informed, who will eulogize Beland Honderich, who just passed at the age of 86. He was known, during his long tenure as Publisher of the Toronto Star as "B" or, unflatteringly, "the Beast" although no one doubted his power and his commitment to making The Star the best newspaper in Canada. His natural taciturnity was overlaid with restraint when he learned that he so terrified his senior management any passing, casual remark could turn up as a "B special" spread over five pages of the paper.

What, you ask, does this have to do with magazines? Well, B once tried to start a city magazine as an adornment to his 1977 launch of the Sunday Star. Since then, the company has taken runs at the magazine form in various ways, from launching "eye" as a direct competitor with "NOW" to the most recent launch of The Weekly Scoop, a celebrity glossy.

When it was decreed that a glossy magazine was to be the thing for the Sunday Star, an elaborate mockup was created, named after the nickname that every Torontonian of the time used for his or her city: T.O. Things went along fine until the time to unveil the prototype for the Publisher. B peered at the magazine pages, hemmed and hawed and finally asked: "Why do you want to call my magazine 'to'?" Coming from Oakville by limo every day, presumably Honderich had never heard his city so called. As a result, the new magazine was launched with the name The City, which turned out to be a very good logo. The magazine was an editorial dream, but a marketing nightmare. Because it was sent to every one of the 300,000 subscribers to the Sunday paper, its page rate had to be so high nobody could afford it. No segmentation, selective distribution or any of that sissy stuff. As a result, in a glorious 2 1/2 years, during which readers came to adore it, The City burned through about $10 million of B's money and was closed. It probably wouldn't have mattered what it was called.

[I have reason to know about this, because I was managing editor and then the final editor of The City. It was a long time ago, but I still remember that they closed the magazine on election day and, in those benighted days, you couldn't even get a drink on election day to drown your sorrows.]

Where shall I go to donate tonight?

This is an idea that more urban magazines might emulate -- Vancouver magazine's Social Datebook, which can be found on their website. It's a listing of philanthropic and fundraising events around the lower mainland. I don't know whether people pick fundraisers at random upon which to bestow their generosity. But the idea that a city magazine rounds up and formats the information seems a very nice thing to do.

National Post in freefall

Nestled down among the paragraphs reporting on the latest, dismal, results for newspaper circulation, is the stunning fact that the National Post lost 14% of its base in one year according to the latest six-monthly report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That is, the people who pay 50% of full price or more for the paper from Monday to Friday (as opposed to the freebies and near-freebies distributed anywhere they can manage it). Total M-F circulation, including the freebies, declined by 4%.

The Globe and Mail gloats that its Monday to Friday and its Saturday circ both went up. North America-wide, however, the newspaper business tied its worst 12-month performance ever.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Discretion, what discretion?

"I am now 100% certain that The Walrus's future is secured," says Publisher Ken Alexander, according to Antonia Zerbisias's blog for the Toronto Star. Madame Z, as she archly calls herself, interprets this as meaning that Alexander has a commitment from Ottawa that his the Walrus Foundation will be granted desperately needed charitable status, previously denied. But, as one astute observer noted, Alexander's comments are premature and have the potential to screw things up: "Why doesn't he just shut up and let the minister make the announcement?" If it turns out to be true, patience will be repaid. If it's not, well, Alexander's face will have less egg on it.

[UPDATE: Mastheadonline's November 8 issue asked Ken Alexander why he was announcing the matter now. "Because I am." he said. I guess that tells us. Here is the rest of the report.]

Not in our magazine, you don't

Just now catching up to this story, best reported by this item from the website of CBC New Brunswick, about the Irving interests in New Brunswick yanking the magazine Here off the trucks last month because it contained a cover image of a baby being breastfed.

The editor, Miriam Christensen, (who had apparently indicated she was about to quit) was fired and an innocuous cartoon replaced the image before the issue was circulated. Here is a free circulation weekly newsprint tabloid aimed at the youth market (heavy on music and the like) that had been independently owned until 2004 when the Irvings bought it through their division Brunswick News.

For those in the rest of Canada who don't know the New Brunswick scene very well, this is a province where virtually the whole of the private media (not to mention seemingly every gas station) is controlled by one private family, the descendants of K. C. Irving.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Options may make fetching wallpaper

Apparently Maclean's supremo Ken Whyte believed assurances from Hollinger executives that options he held to buy stock were safe, even after he was fired as National Post's Editor in Chief and the whole edifice was crashing around Conrad Black's ears. The Globe today reports that, last June, Whyte sued Hollinger International Inc. in New York to try and recover the $680,000 he says these options are worth. Hollinger, of course, disputes the claim.

A new template turns one

Warrior magazine celebrates its first anniversary Sunday with a DJ-driven party in Montreal. Warrior (despite a name that conjures up aboriginal manhood) is a 5,000 controlled circ cultural magazine published by Média Guerrier. Besides congratulating them on their first birthday, we can do no better job of describing the magazine than they do themselves:
Warrior supersedes the inherently disposable nature of the contemporary magazine and presents an alternative to the ersatz writing ubiquitous in the current market. Unabashedly boasting challenging, intriguing text, draped in a fluid aesthetic beauty, Warrior offers a new template: Magazine as book, book as zine, and zine as supraspatial community message-board.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Who will watch the watchers?

At first, with the stylized maple leaf, I thought it was a promotion for the new Maclean's design, particularly since the ad was on the Maclean's website. But no, it's for a new service called Canada's National Cybertipline (, whereby you can turn people in for crimes against...we're not sure. Look at the website and draw your own conclusions.

The service (?) sprang from Child Find Manitoba and has a five-year funding agreement with the Department of Canadian Heritage. Its partners include the likes of Bell Canada and Microsoft. But even with those antecedents, the idea of an online team of vigilantes, no matter how well-meaning and laudable their aim, creeps me out.

We're still here, really

The Toronto Star today published the results of a national poll that would seem to confirm what many people in the traditional media think, or desperately wish to think: that far from displacing traditional media like newspapers and magazines, online users actually use them more than those who have so far eluded the internet.

Bye bye back page

The Globe today reports this tidbit, in the midst of a James Adams article about the relaunch gala coming up for Maclean's: the back page column, a staple of the magazine for years, is moving inside as part of the radical new design to be unveiled at the Garth Drabinsky (who dat?) extravaganza on November 15. Paul Wells may have hinted at something to this effect in his blog the other day:

Le Monde is relaunching on Monday. What the heck, everyone's doing it. You might even be surprised by what you find much closer to home, say a week later.

We wonder whether this a pleasant surprise for Wells, who was lured over to Maclean's from the National Post by the prestigious bully pulpit the back page provided. No word on what's in its place in a page that has traditionally been an anchor in many magazines.

Club Sub?

Here's a new wrinkle: a "rewards" system for readers who bring new subscribers. The well-known self-help book Chicken Soup for the Soul in July spawned a new 6-time, 150,000 circ. magazine called...Chicken Soup for the Soul. This according to an item in MediaPost.

The publishers, Modern Media LLC, has launched a "rewards program" that gives "shopping points" that can be redeemed from a "soup-friendly" catalog.

"I bet it could really take off in the publishing industry," says the magazine's publisher, Mignonne Wright. She says she hopes other publishers will run with the idea and build the medium's overall circulation. Print is "not a dying medium," she maintains.

Wright aims to target "Chicken Soup" fans to promote circulation. "We want to make them our sales force," she explains. "We did not do direct mail or promotions. Who better to sell our magazine than those who read it--and then they get to shop for free."

The rewards program, includes products that range from a Homer Simpson alarm clock and a Spanish-language immersion program to diamond rings and Movado watches.

Mignonne believes the subscriber incentive program may go one step further: If there is a trend in readers' purchases, she says it may influence an article in an upcoming issue.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Cosy for the holidays

The Media In Canada headline is certainly provocative: Microsoft gets between the sheets with Chatelaine. The article describes how a "branded section"called the Holiday Helpbook is being co-produced by the Rogers title and the online Microsoft Home magazine, included in the magazine's December issue and promoted on Chatelaine's website. Here's how the publication will look.

Where the boys aren't

A column in the November 7 issue of Business Week explores what is apparently a major or developing trend; the erosion of men's interest in print magazines. Research at Time Inc. indicates that women's interest holds up (6 of the top 10 A list magazines recently picked by Advertising Age are women's service titles) but men's involvement with magazines is eroding. Partly it is attributed to men's deeper involvement in online pursuits, where they can get enough free reading to satisfy them. Partly, as the column acidly says, men lose interest in reading if there is flickering screen anywhere at hand. Lucky works; Cargo? Not so much.

Only kidding; as you were

An earlier post reported that Britain's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) was seriously considering breaking the monopoly of magazine distribution. Now, it appears from an article in the Guardian, vigorous lobbying by the magazine industry has convinced the agency to reverse course, or at least soften the impact. (For those who think it is at least unseemly for media companies to campaign against open and competitive trading, consider the extremely narrowly held and managed distribution business in Canada, where competition is but a distant memory.)