Canadian Magazine Industry News
25 April 2011,     TORONTO
James Adams talks with Masthead about "On the stand"
 “On the stand: A weekly roundup of the best magazine reads” is a column appearing in the Arts section of each Saturday’s Globe and Mail. Columnist James Adams selects three magazines each week, and writes reviews of noteworthy features or cover stories that pique his attention. Masthead recently spoke with Adams regarding the ins-and-outs of his column.
MASTHEAD: How do you pick the magazines you feature each week?
ADAMS: I’m looking for new or recently published magazines first and foremost. I try to mix it up — general interest publications, niche magazines, weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, quirky stuff, mags for women, mags for guys. Timeliness is a big thing, as well as variety. I try to throw a curve ball pretty much every week because you want to be surprising, and don’t want your readers to assume you’re going to the same “well” all the time, the same 6 or 7 periodicals. I try to find this zone where I’m picking a) articles immediately interesting to me, b) articles about things I should be interested in, and c) articles I believe my readers will take interest in.
It’s not unusual to pick up seven or eight magazines at a time for column consideration. Many times I think an article is just not up to snuff as a reading experience, so I move to another, then another, then another. You may notice, too, that sometimes there are thematic links among the titles I’m writing about — often it’s intentional, and just as often a function of serendipity. I also try to use different tones of voice, sometimes within the column, sometimes between columns — sometimes if a column was weighted too heavily toward the serious, the next weekend I’ll aim for a lighter touch.
MASTHEAD: Do you try to include a Canadian title each week, or does it matter?
ADAMS: I do strive to get a Canadian title in the column each week. Some weeks it doesn’t happen. Other times all the magazines I review are Canadian. It’s something I’m very conscious of and, with my overall approach to the column, I try to select from a variety of publications.
MASTHEAD: Where do you like to shop for magazines?
ADAMS: I’m a long-time magazine fan, so I’m picking periodicals wherever and whenever I find them. My primary source for column material is the International News outlet on Front St. E. near Church in Toronto. It has a very varied selection, knowledgeable and friendly staff and, perhaps most important, it’s one of the first places for new magazines to be dropped off in central Toronto.
MASTHEAD: What sort of feedback do you get on your column from the general public, or from members of the magazine industry?
ADAMS: Public feedback tends to come via e-mail or the comments section when the column goes online. Unsurprisingly, it sometimes comes in the form of correction: like, “David Furnish isn’t just Elton John’s long-time significant other, Mr. Adams; they are in fact legally married.” When magazine people contact me, it’s usually to offer thanks or express pleasure that their publication got onto my radar.
MASTHEAD: Do you know if your magazine review selections have helped increase sales of that particular issue?
ADAMS: I never overestimate my influence. I do recall one time a couple of years ago being in, I think, a Book City outlet, and overhearing someone ask a clerk for the latest Lapham’s Quarterly, which had recently published its premiere issue. The clerk replied that they were sold out for the time being, because “that guy from The Globe wrote about it.” My brother, who lives in Vancouver, told me of the time he was at a newsstand and overheard a customer requesting a magazine that I’d reviewed that weekend.
MASTHEAD: Do magazine publishers lobby you?
ADAMS: Lobby, I think, is too strong a word. I certainly get a fair number of magazines sent to me, and occasionally an editor or publicist will ask if I might be interested in looking at such-and-such issue. Every now and then, I’ll be asked why I didn’t review something. For the most part, the outside pressure is not especially onerous.
MASTHEAD: What’s the hottest magazine out right now?
ADAMS: I think magazines have lost the “centrality” of significance they once had in the culture at large, and I’m not sure that importance is ever going to be regained. Previously, magazines such as Esquire, Rolling Stone, Time, Vanity Fair, Playboy etc. seemed essential to the zeitgeist. No more. So for me at least, I don’t really think of a magazine any more in terms of its “hotness.”
MASTHEAD: What do you think of iPad-version magazines?
ADAMS: I’ve only looked at a smattering of iPad versions of magazines. What to say except, hey, it’s the future. Maybe.
MASTHEAD: When did you become a magazine junkie, and what were your favourite titles back then?
ADAMS: I don’t really remember when I became keen on magazines. I’m sure the passion was nurtured at home as my parents actually subscribed to a fair number of periodicals as I was growing up. I remember we got National Geographic, Time, Maclean’s, Reader’s Digest, Chatelaine, a couple of others. My younger brother had a Star Weekly route in Regina, and I remember helping him with his deliveries from time to time.
MASTHEAD: What’s your sense of the future of print magazines?
ADAMS: I’m an analog kinda guy — the kind of guy who still buys CDs and pores over the liner notes and photographs in the CD booklets. I like the tactility of print magazines, flipping forward and backward through the pages. I like the quality of the photo reproduction, the readability of black type on white paper, the sheer physical distinctiveness of each magazine.

I know I’m not alone, but are there enough of us to guarantee the print magazine’s sustainability? I don’t know. Probably not.

MASTHEAD: What have been your most memorable magazine reads in the last year?

ADAMS: I have an abiding interest in The New Yorker, so just off the top of my head I’d say the two most memorable articles I’ve read in last year were classics of long-form journalism found in its pages. One was Jane Mayer’s piece on the Koch brothers and their role in the rise and sustaining of the Tea Party movement, the other would have been Lawrence Wright’s epic on Scientology, pegged to Canadian-born film director Paul Haggis’s disillusionment with the “religion.”
— Tom Czerniawski
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