In response to last week's layoffs at Rogers, when six Maclean’s staffers were let go, we e-mailed questions to that magazine’s editor and publisher, Ken Whyte. While Whyte said he could not speak directly to the layoffs, he did offer comment on how the economic downturn is affecting Maclean’s, whether or not there will be cuts in other areas, such as circ, and some thoughts on the closure of Time Canada. Regarding the layoffs, he did inform us that “four of the people we laid off were in part-time positions that will be replaced immediately with two full-time positions, so the actual reduction in manpower is less than it might have appeared.”
Masthead: Is Maclean's profitable? Has it remained profitable through this downturn?
Whyte: Yes, Maclean's is profitable, and it has been every year I've been here (and virtually every year prior to that for as long as I have records).
Masthead: How has the downturn specifically affected Maclean's? LNA numbers showed a good third quarter (11% increase in pages and revenue).
Whyte: Yes, our advertising results were strong in the third quarter—we were having an excellent 2008 until the fourth quarter. Now we'll finish with a decent 2008, which is less exciting than the trajectory we were on but something of an achievement given that the economy tanked in October and we had an expensive year editorially (Canadian election, US election, China Olympics, etc). Next year promises to be challenging due to the global downturn in ad spending so we've eliminated a few positions and tightened up our spending and we think we can weather the storm without any further reductions but no one knows what's going to happen in the broader economy.
Masthead: The auto industry meltdown has got to be taking its toll.
Maclean's isn't as reliant on advertising from the Big Three American auto manufacturers as in the past, Whyte says.
Whyte: We would love to see the American auto companies get back on track but it's been many years since our magazine was heavily dependent on the Big Three and we now do quite well with the rest of the industry. The imports have been a strong presence in Maclean's and they've been doing some really spectacular creative like our recent pull-out BMW cover—I love that stuff.
Masthead: Will there be any more cuts? Managing down circ (like Newsweek)?
Whyte: I don't see us making massive cuts in circulation as are rumoured for Newsweek and Time. If you look at their ABC statements, you'll notice that their average price per subscription has been falling for some time, along with their overall circulation and their newsstand sales. We've been increasing our subscription prices steadily over the past couple of years, and our average price per subscription is starting to climb. Our subscription business is healthy. Our newsstand numbers continue to grow even with a $1 price increase last year. We told advertisers in 2005 that we were going to maintain our overall circ level at 350,000 and we've done so, and our plan is to keep it there while continuing to raise our subscription prices. We'll review our strategy at the end of 09 when we have a better sense of what's happening in the economy and in our competitive set but I don't foresee any big changes.
Masthead: Any comment on Time closing its Canadian edition?
Whyte: It's miserable news. I hate to see magazines closing and newspapers pulling back—this is my industry and I hate to see it in any way diminished. Time Canada had some terrific people on both the editorial and publishing sides and over the last couple of years we've lost all of them. It's a shame. I just hope that the US edition finds its feet and turns things around. I'm a great admirer of the brand. I've got back issues of Time from every decade of its existence in my office, and I still flip through them from time to time and steal ideas. I look forward to them rebounding so I can steal some more.