Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Why Maclean's is Canada's most interesting magazine
If for nothing else, you gotta love Ken Whyte’s Maclean’s for its covers. Sometimes they’re sensationalistic, sometimes they’re surprising, sometimes they’re just plain silly. And usually—and most importantly—they sell really well. In 2004, the year before Whyte came on, the newsweekly was averaging weekly single copy sales of 8,874 for the July-December period; last year, the average was 13,5531, a figure that’s even more astounding when you consider that the cover price has steadily increased, from an average of $4.99 in 2006 to $6.33 last year.2

Photo illustration by Michael Hewis.
Photo illustration by Michael Hewis.
As every smart circulator will tell you, readers do judge magazines by their covers. Once the purchase has been made, though, it’s what’s inside that counts. And though it’s not a perfect magazine, what Maclean’s does well, it does really well.
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.
- Marco Ursi
About Me
Marco Ursi
Marco is the editor of MastheadOnline. His blog offers a mix of commentary, service and ideas related to Canadian magazines.

 E-mail: mursi@masthead.ca.

Twitter: @MarcoUrsi

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