Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Can the Canadian magazine industry resolve the developing struggle over awards?

Magazines are a seasonal business, in sales, in circulation and...in awards. In Canada, there has been for 40 years National Magazine Awards and for even longer the Kenneth R. Wilson Awards for trade publishing. These have been augmented by various other ventures such as the editors' choice awards of the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors, the Canadian Online Publishing Awards, the Canadian Cover Awards and, more recently, the Digital Publishing Awards. It's a crowded ecosystem recognizing various aspects of the business, particularly as it has evolved beyond print-and-paper and increasingly into the digital realm. 
  1. The National Magazine Awards managed by the National Magazine Awards Foundation;
  2. The Digital Publishing Awards, launched by the National Magazine Awards Foundation in spring of this year;
  3. The Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAs), produced by Masthead Magazine;
  4. The Editors' Choice Awards, presented annually by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors (CSME);
  5. The Canadian Cover Awards,  presented jointly by Magazines Canada and CMC.
However this year there is likely to be a disturbance in the force, to use a Star Wars figure of speech. Last November, several big magazine publishers announced that they were going to abandon the NMAs in favour of an awards program of their own, one that they felt better reflected publishing excellence as they perceived it.  The signatories were  
  • Steve Maich, senior vice-president of publishing at Rogers Communications
  • Lucie Dumas, vice-president, managing director, magazines group, TVA Publications Inc.
  • Doug Knight, president of St. Joseph Media
  • Shelley Ambrose, publisher of The Walrus and executive director of The Walrus Foundation
  • Robert Goyette, vice-president and editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest
These bigger publishers said there needed to be "far fewer and more meaningful awards" and that they should be "more closely aligned to celebrating excellence at the very highest level".  Soon thereafter they approached Magazines Canada's board proposing that the association design and manage the awards program the big publishers envisioned. The Mags Canada board agreed and instructed its staff to make it so. It seems likely that these new awards will happen in conjunction with the MagNet conference in April. 

In the face of this,  the board of the National Magazine Awards Foundation has decided to carry on with the NMAs and the DPAs.  Even with the departure of the big publishers, the NMAs believes it will still represent 75% of the magazine industry in Canada. 

There are actually several awards programs in play at the moment. The NMA's digital publishing awards are similar to, but different from, the longer-standing Canadian Online Publishing Awards, produced by Masthead magazine. The Canadian Business Media Awards for trade publishers (KRWs) are in limbo since the announced merger of CBM and Magazines Canada. (The services of the NMA team that previously managed the KRWs/CBM concluded last month.) CSME is thought to be exploring the future of its Editors' Choice Awards. 
Magazines Canada is keeping its cards fairly close to its vest about the alternate awards, but an announcement can be expected in the fall about the form they will take. Whether it involves a rationalization of print and digital categories, and/or the injection of some trade publishing categories, it is most likely to involve fewer awards and, possibly, a greater emphasis on publishers rather than creators. Magazines Canada is, for now, keeping schtum

The National Magazine Awards will soon be making some announcements about its awards programs (NMAs and DPAs) and this will involve enhancing the digital publishing awards. The category roster for the NMAs and DPAs will be reviewed with stakeholder groups including some who have not traditionally participated in the NMAs. Of particular interest to some will be that the longstanding upper-tier bilingual jury in the NMAs will be discontinued though separate English and French jury panels will continue; details still being worked out by a committee. It should become clear in the next six weeks or so. There will be a more rigorous judging process, with prescribed scoring and it may include an international component, drawing judges from the USA, UK, Australia and France (it should be noted that some visual juries have often included at least one judge from out of country); there may even be categories to recognize Canadian creators' contributions to international publications. 

NMA board membership is to be broadened, with directors recruited from outside the industry (such as public relations and sponsors), although these will be in the minority. 

So two, opposing camps are contending for the future of magazine awards in this country: 
  • One which defends the principles upon which the NMAs were founded in 1977 -- to reward the excellence of the work of creators (with magazines basking in the reflected glory.) 
  • The other wants fewer awards in a streamlined program, possibly to be more like the U.S. awards which celebrate the magazines rather than the contributors. The big publishers who sparked the current situation are clearly aligned with this camp. 
It's hard to see how competition between competitions will serve the best interests of Canadian magazines, large or small. There doesn't seem to be any movement towards reconciling matters but why would anyone want anything other than collaboration and cooperation? 

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