Canadian politics, for example. The magazine’s Ottawa bureau might just be the best in the country, offering a splendid mix of politics-as-theatre, politics-as-policy and politics-as-sport. The arts and life coverage in the back pages is superior to what any of the country’s daily newspapers offer. And even if you sometimes (or always) disagree with their point-of-view, the magazine’s columnists do what great columnists are supposed to do: they get people talking.
And when Rogers stopped sending comp copies of the magazine to my office, I actually went out a paid for a subscription.
But beyond specific sections within the book, what Maclean’s offers, more than any large Canadian magazine I can think of, is a strong and distinct voice. Which only makes sense, considering what Ken Whyte said during a speech to the Advertising Club of Toronto in April 2008. I liked the speech so much when I first heard it that I reprinted part of it in my editorial for the May/June edition of Masthead and I still like it, so I’m going to reprint that same part right here:
The fundamental of all fundamentals in the magazine business is the relationship with the reader…The key to that reader relationship, I believe, lies in the voices of the magazine. Voice is a hard thing to describe but all magazines, for better or worse, have a unique, individual voice. You can’t put your finger on it but you know it when its there, and you miss it when it’s gone. At its most basic, it’s how the magazine speaks to you. You take all a magazine’s style and substance, all the articles, the pictures, the layout, the tone, the humour, the opinion, the utility, the credibility—you add all that stuff together and you’ve got a magazine’s voice. The more distinctive and powerful the voice, the more valuable the magazine.
A magazine with a good voice sparks interest, commands attention, inspires loyalty. It creates a bond with its reader. From a business point of view and an editorial point of view, that bond is gold. If there is an iron law in magazines it is this: Voice is value. A magazine with a good voice, you can take that to the bank.”
Rogers recently appointed Whyte as publisher of Canadian Business, a magazine that’s been hit really hard by the recession (run-of-press ad pages were down 45.2% in Q1 and 50% in Q2). His appointment came at the expense of respected longtime publisher Deborah Rosser and he’s since fired seven staff members and “promoted” CB editor Joe Chidley out of the EIC chair.
It’s always unfortunate when people lose their jobs, but here’s hoping that these changes represent the beginning of a brand revival for Canadian Business, rather than a shortsighted salary dump by parent company Rogers Publishing. While Steve Maich, CB’s new editor and a Whyte protégé, hasn’t given much indication about the direction he’s taking the magazine in, we do know that Whyte likes his journalism loud, opinionated and contrarian. In a media environment where the fight for attention is fiercer than ever, those qualities may give CB the voice it needs to be heard by readers and advertisers alike.1Based on Audit Bureau of Circulations Fas-Fax.
2Based on the Canadian Newsstand Boxscore.
On several occasions during my two years as Masthead editor, I heard a variety of industry folks complain that today’s Canadian magazines don’t take enough chances; that editors—beholden to the bottom line enforcements of their publishers (particularly at larger companies)—play it safe, constantly returning to the same themes, stories, topics, and approaches issue after issue after issue. “They don’t run long features anymore;” “They don’t let writers play with voice, tone or form;” “They’re too white;” “They don’t experiment with radical, art department-driven covers;” etc. What may have been gained in terms of ad revenues and readership has been lost in terms of social impact and cultural influence, the complainers say.
Then again, maybe magazines—at least the ones that survive—have always played it safe. As Don Draper once said, way back in the early (albeit fictional) 1960s, responding to an idea for a new TV show, “It’s derivative with a twist, which is what they’re looking for.”
I’d love to get a discussion on this topic going in the comments section. Do you agree that Canadian magazines have become too conservative when it comes to editorial? If so, why do you think this is the case? Maybe it’s not such a bad thing? What titles are bucking the trend (if it is indeed a trend)?
So here’s the issue: Split-runs are back. Just not in print.
And here’s the question: Do we care?
A couple of weeks ago, Olive Media, an online ad sales network based in Toronto, announced that it will now represent four Time Inc. magazine websites in Canada: People.com, EW.com, CNNMoney.com and SI.com. What this means is that Canadian agencies and advertisers buying through Olive can potentially spend all of their money with Time Inc., or any number of the international sites Olive reps for. Olive Media, it should be noted, isn’t the only company repping American brands in Canada and Time Inc.’s aren’t the only U.S. brands being repped by Canadian networks.
When I contacted the Department of Canadian Heritage, I got an e-mail response recounting of the details of FPASA, followed by this line: “The Department is constantly monitoring developments in the industry, including changes in technology, to ensure that its measures continue to meet the objectives of Canada's periodical policy as effectively as possible.”
Magazines Canada CEO Mark Jamison told me individual publishers could offer the best point-of-view, but so far, no one has returned my calls.
The only person I’ve spoken with at length about the issue so far is Simon Jennings, president of Olive Media. And as you might expect, the guy’s not in favour of re-igniting the split-run wars of the ‘90s.
All publishers, Jennings said, are fighting for all dollars on the Internet. “And what they’re actually competing for are Canadian eyeballs. If I’m selling cars, and I want to reach car buyers in the GTA, I’m going to look for the best site with the best Toront- . If it happens to be Toronto born and bred, great. But users are the ones that dictate where advertisers want to spend. Dollars follow eyeballs.”
In other words, if Canadians are using American, or French, or Indian websites, it would be unjust to stop Canadian advertisers from placing ads in front of those eyeballs.
Further to that, Jennings suggested that if the Canadian government wants to help Canadian companies attract online advertising, it should invest in the creation of quality content and websites, rather than setting up regulations on where advertisers can spend their money. “The geographical borders have been dropped in online media,” he said.
To be honest, I can’t say I disagree with Jennings. Do you? If so, feel free to leave a comment on this posting. Or better yet, give me a call: 905-625-7070 x222.
Thanks to all of you for reading. The Masthead experience has been exciting, fun, challenging, sometimes scary and sometimes weird. (“Hello, my name is Marco and I work at a magazine about magazines.”) Thanks to publisher Doug Bennet and North Island owner Sandy Donald for taking a chance on a young Ryerson grad, and thanks to all my colleagues here at North Island, especially webmaster par excellence Thomas Wang and associate publisher Gloria Ma.
I’m hoping to keep a hand in journalism during my studies and beyond, so feel free to contact me at marcoursi [at] gmail [dot] com. (Or, better yet, come see my band! Follow us at www.myspace.com/goodingjones.)
Oh, and be sure to keep visiting MastheadOnline. I’m sure my successor will continue to push the site in bold and brave new directions.
Here's the link again.