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.]


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