Maclean's editor and publisher Kenneth Whyte did not sugarcoat his keynote address on "The Future of Magazines" to an audience of reps, marketers, publishers and editors gathered yesterday. While the future for consumer magazines looks "relatively and reasonably bright," that doesn't mean there won't be challenges, Whyte said. "We're going to have to earn our future."
The speech was delivered at the Four Seasons hotel as part the annual Ad Club of Toronto Magazine Day luncheon.
Whyte, the launch editor of the National Post and a former Saturday Night EIC, argued that print will not be disappearing any time soon. "We will be reading on ink and paper as long as there are trees...or at least recycling." The most recent bout of "print is dead" hysteria—something people have been predicting since the advent of radio—has been sparked by the Internet. But unlike radio and television, Whyte noted, the Internet is an area where magazine publishers have a chance to play. 'For many of us, the Internet is a positive thing and represents an opportunity to extend our brands."
On the other hand, the Web will impact every magazine and every category differently, Whyte said, pointing out one category that's already been blown to pieces: porn. He provided statistics on former giants such as Penthouse, which has lost 95% of its circulation since its heyday in the 1980s, and Hustler, which is down to one-tenth of its peak circ.
So how can other magazines and categories avoid the fate of those fabled "adult" titles? Whyte believes magazines able to adapt, change and move with the times have a better shot at survival than those that stick to what they've always done. That doesn't just mean developing online brands and growing on the Web. Print brands that can maintain a strong, relevant voice in the increasingly fragmented media will not only survive, they'll thrive. "Voice is valuable," Whyte said. "You can take a good voice to the bank."
On the business front, Whyte said he is not opposed to controlled-circulation in certain circumstances and believes readership is a valuable tool, but he suggested that marketers pay closer attention to paid circulation figures. "Price is a good reflection of wantedness for magazines," he said.
Whyte ended his speech with a "plea for the humble ad page." Both advertisers and publishers have a tendency to "get caught up in the romance of new technology," he said, and sometimes forget that "the fundamental unit of value is and always will be the ad page."
The Ad Club, which is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, also used the luncheon to hand out its annual Award of Merit. This year's winner was Kathryn Brownlie, senior vice president of consumer magazines at Rogers Publishing. Through nearly two decades in the business, Brownlie has worked as ad sales director for Saturday Night and vice president at the National Post, and has sat on Magazines Canada and National Magazine Awards Foundation boards and committees.
The annual People Choice Awards winners were also handed out to Dimitra Psomopoulos of Mindshare for Planner/Buyer of the Year and Kiera Yeates of LOULOU for Sales Executive of the year.