Canadian Magazine Industry News
3 July 2008,     TORONTO
Torontolife.com reins in bloggers, reallocates spending

An experimental foray into the world of blogging has come to a sudden end at Toronto Life’s online domain. Publisher Sharon McAuley says lower-than-expected traffic figures and a softening advertising market have prompted the Web team to take advantage of the “malleable” nature of online publishing.

The following properties are affected:

  • Spectator—Tomorrow will see the last posting at Douglas Bell’s blog, which launched four months ago as a thorny chronicle of “media, money, egos.” Spectator was a broad-based reincarnation of Bell’s former blog, The Trial of Conrad Black, which inevitably ended last February. “Obviously, I wish it had gone on longer,” Bell says. “Four months wasn’t even enough time to clear my throat.”
  • City State—Toronto Life contributor Philip Preville promised to “try to take some of the piss out of this town” in his blog about city politics. The reverse appears to have occurred. Preville could not be reached for comment. It launched May 28; Preville’s last post was June 30. The City State brand will continue, says Toronto Life web editor Matthew Fox, with a relaunch planned for early 2009. McAuley adds that it will incorporate food, shopping and real estate “pillars” and be written by mulitple contributors.
  • Chatto’s Digest—Food critic James Chatto’s blog, launched last year, was discontinued last month and while “unrelated to the current block of changes” it would have “certainly met the same fate if it had survived until now,” says Fox in an e-mail.
  • Lawrason on Wine—Critic David Lawrason announced in his last post yesterday that his year-old blog would take a new form this fall. McAuley confirms that it will be a subscription-based hybrid e-newsletter targeting both trade and consumer audiences.
  • The Toronto Movie Index, formerly updated weekly, is now suspended until this fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, coverage of which will be significant, McAuley says. “General music listings will continue, but they will be identical to those in the print magazine,” adds Fox.

Obviously, one assumes, if the blogs were generating a lot of traffic, they’d still be around. “Given the resources that we have now through Google Analytics as to page views and time spent and the number of comments that are being made, we’ve decided that we need to tinker with [our strategy] some more,” says McAuley.

The current ad climate was also a factor, McAuley says. “I think the whole industry is grappling a little bit with what’s going on in the advertising world. The online world had always been forecast to have a greater ad-dollar growth curve than print, and our online revenues continue to grow [but not quite as much as anticipated].”

Reallocation of resources

She insists that these moves represent a reallocation of resources, not a removal. “In response to this [assertion] that it’s all slashing and burning and cuts, these decisions were actually intrinsic to the editorial process. The editors themselves made these decisions. If you ask them, [they’ll say] it was in response to the fact that we need to focus on the things that connect with our users.

"I can see that some of the timing might have been affected by the broader environment out there but the fact is these were editorial decisions alone. And it’s a redeployment of the dollars, not a cutting of the dollars because we are going to be launching new initiatives.”

One such initiative is a new reader forum to accompany the magazine’s August cover feature on violence in the city. And all of this is not to suggest that Toronto Life will remain blog-free.

“There are certainly ‘brand-name bloggers’ in Torontolife.com’s future,” writes Fox in an e-mail response, “though they will not appear immediately. One possibility is the beginning of a real estate blog, which may come on-line in the next months. I can’t confirm if it will go through, but it is an idea that is already far into development. In the new year, and certainly in the event of a re-design, there will be additional bloggers added to our roster.”

While McAuley insists that her online budget remains the same, one source who preferred to remain anonymous, said that to abandon two blogs (City State, Spectator) during their launch phases was a short-sighted and reactionary management decision.

McAuley, however, points out that both blogs were “evolutions” of products launched last year (Preville on Politics, Conrad Black Trial) and in that sense were products with an established past.

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