Thursday, October 23, 2008

Masthead closure has major implications for the Canadian magazine industry

The word today that Canada's magazine about magazines, Masthead, is closing after 21 years (see post below) is lamentable news. The magazine, which started out in print and was an early adopter of the web, has striven over those years to find a viable business model, from print subs, to pay-wall website, to free web access, but apparently without success. [Disclosure: I have for some time been a columnist for Masthead]

Next month's issue (November-December) will be the last, with closing at an undefined date soon afterwards. This may hold out some faint hope that the website could survive the magazine's closure. No word on that, yet.

One of the things that Masthead has relied upon was income from its trade show at Magazines University. Doubtless, with the glowering clouds on the financial horizon, booth sales for next June's show have already been hard sells. That is entirely aside from the competition for attendance from MagNet, theshowprofessional development conference run concurrently by Magazines Canada.

There's no point in going into the details of the dispute between Magazines Canada and Masthead over Mags U. (For more about that, see postings passim.) The association was free to start up its own show and did so and it always seemed to sensible observers that, eventually, there would only be room for one. Since Magazines Canada saw MagNet as a service to its members and therefore a core activity of the organization, it was highly unlikely that it would be the first to blink.

We understand that North Island Publishing, publishers of Masthead, are saying that, in part, it was competition from MagNet that made it impossible to continue. More likely, however, was that this is a very small industry and there were insufficient subscribers and advertising support to pay the bills. (I have no inside information on this, and would welcome elaboration by those who do.)

What will the passing of Masthead mean (besides my Good Question column needing to find a new home!?). Well, there is no question the recently launched website was much more feature-rich than earlier versions and provided a very valuable news service to the industry. There are things that Masthead does that either will fall by the wayside or need to be picked up in some other way; for instance, their salary survey, which has become more sophisticated and useful over time. Or their resource pages, where archived material on aspects of the business is equally useful to newbies or veterans. Or their annual compilation of Canada's 50 largest magazines by circ and ad revenue. Or the Canadian Newsstand Awards. Or its heavily trafficked job board. In fact, all of the data and reporting that fell to the business-to-business magazine for the magazine industry.

There are implications, too, for Magazines University and for Canadian Business Press, Masthead's major partner, will be able to sustain such a venture on its own, or has the wherewithal to run a trade show. No word yet on whether North Island will carry on with the trade show business, which we are told was profitable, but really was branded by the magazine which will no longer exist. Despite several overtures in the last couple of years from Magazines Canada for some cooperative approach to professional development seminars, CBP has resolutely decided to go it alone. It remains to be seen whether a CBP-only trade show is feasible.

Last, but not least, for this post, let me say that it will be too bad that Marco Ursi will be losing his position as editor as the result of this closure. He showed the kind of journalistic energy that such a small, specialized publication depends on. If 80% of success in life is just showing up (as Woody Allen said) then Marco was always there at industry events. But that other 20%, including a good instinct for stories and interviews, is what will be lost and will be hard to replace. (Certainly there is no capacity at the moment on this blog to replace what Marco has been doing.) I wish him all the best.

More as we learn more.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have quickly responded to the question I immediately asked myself when I read Masthead's news bulletin on its pending demise: is there any hope that the vigorous Canadian Magazines Blog might fill the vacuum of our lost Masthead?

A sad day indeed. The Job Board alone on Masthead was a considerable service to the industry. I suppose Jeff Gaulin is smiling, though.

7:43 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

Well, on the job board front, at least, we offer an option. The Canadian Magazines blog has its own job board (it's over there on the right, in the sidebar) classified by function, with postings costing only $1 a day.

10:58 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am so saddened by this news and send my best to Doug and all at the magazine. As a subscriber for years I will miss the content, the opinions and mostly the printed copy in my hands. Fingers crossed we haven't seen the last of it.

10:27 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it ain't over til it's over...

there is much work ahead....but there is also a ton of opportunities

fatlady is currently on hiatus...for now...

12:18 pm  
Blogger Peter Lebensold said...

A sad commentary - and frightening portent for the future - that Canada's magazine industry loses its magazine ... its major forum. I wonder to what extent the appearance of a competitor to Masthead's Mags U contributed to the decision to close down.

1:24 am  

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