The good news: Canadians love their print magazines.
The bad news: It costs magazine publishers a heck of a lot of money for recycling programs, especially in Quebec where it has boiled to a point where a lawsuit has been launched.
That, in a nutshell, summed up the public policy forum at MagNet in Toronto, Canada's biggest annual magazine conference.
From left is Scott Wheatley of Canada Wide Media; Jocelyn Poirier of TVA Publications; Julie Osborne of Rogers; Michael Fox of GardenMaking; Brian Zeiler-Klingman of Canada's National Brewers
Canadian publishers are picking up the bill for stewardship programs while foreign publishers are getting a free ride, according to the industry panel comprised of Michael Fox, retired Rogers executive and publisher of GardenMaking
; Julie Osborne, vice president of business development for Rogers; Scott Wheatley, director of circulation for Canada Wide Media; Jocelyn Poirier, president of TVA Publications; and Brian Zeller-Klingman, director of sustainability for Canada's National Brewers.
Poirier said the situation is so bad in Quebec that TVA and other Quebec publishers launched legal action against the government about two weeks ago (we'll try to get more details on this soon). Before 2009, TVA paid $7/tonne for recycling, but since a bill was passed earlier this year retroactive to 2010, that number has shot up to $262/tonne, he said. For 2011 its share increases to $297/tonne and $351/tonne for 2012, added Poirier. That results in a bill of over $5 million, he said.
Industries producing blue-box material previously paid 50% of recycling fees in Quebec, with the new bill pushing that to 100%.
"There's a study, hopefully it proves our share (of material in the blue box) is much less than what we are paying," said the TVA president.
Meanwhile, In B.C., "We have to present to the government this year … but no one really knows how much recycling there is," said Wheatley. The panel suggested up to 70 per cent of recycled material in that province is from foreign publishers.
Apparently B.C. newspaper publishers are looking to pick up their own material as well as deliver it, added Wheatley.
It's a difficult problem to tackle, because while it would be ideal for foreign publishers to pay their share, it would be bad for business if they pulled their products from Canadian shelves in protest, said Mark Jamison, session moderator and chief executive officer of Magazines Canada.
Suggestions were tossed around about how to tackle the high recycling fees, with one attendee suggesting a small end-user levy on magazines, much like how bottle recycling works. But Poirier insisted that even a small increase in cover price would drive down sales at the newsstand.
For the sake of comparison, Zeiler-Klingman said beer bottles are used up to 15 times. "The system is based on consumer participation," he said. "There's nothing better than economics to drive people to do the right thing." But Osborne pointed out that bottle recycling works because customers return their bottles when they buy at a standardized retailer (Beer Store) while magazine retailers come in all shapes and sizes that may not be able to handle a return system.
Osborne added that there needs to be greater transparency from stewardship programs ("it's currently top secret") and more simplicity regarding administration, including harmonized rules across the country. "There needs to be a level field for free riders," she said of those getting away without paying fees. "Right now there's no reward for good behaviour."
Jamison added the lack of transparency likely means readers don't know what the industry is up against. "Consumers don't know how much (magazine publishers) are paying for recycling," he said, adding mag wholesalers are currently doing "a good job" picking up from retailers.