“Generative art” is a blanket term for any creative work produced in part through programmatic or algorithmic means. “Playful generative art” makes use of highly technical disciplines—computer programming, statistics, graphic design, and artificial intelligence—to produce chat bots, digital poetry, visual art, and even computer-generated “novels.” These pieces may be motivated by serious social or political issues, but the expressions are decidedly unserious, often short-lived or quickly composed. Creators working in this medium are rarely artists first—as programmers, designers, game developers, and linguists, they use the tools of their trade in unexpected and delightful ways. Generative art also has much to teach us about issues at the intersection of ethics and technology: what is the role of the artist in a human/machine collaboration; what is our responsibility when we design programs that talk with real people; how do we curate and study ephemeral digital works? Digital artists, writers, technologists, and anyone interested in media studies are invited to attend.
NUVO magazine is looking for a savvy, next-generation digital assistant.
The ideal candidate is a college graduate able to excel in a fast-moving environment without losing her/his meticulous attention to detail, who demonstrates a skillful command of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WordPress, with a working knowledge of Photoshop, InDesign, and Google Analytics. Should be able to work content-agnostically, and with an eye toward accuracy, story organization, and tone.
Megaphone is an award-winning social enterprise that provides an economic opportunity and a voice to people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Vancouver and Victoria. Megaphone works with more than 200 marginalized people in British Columbia every year through its vendor and writing workshop programs. We are committed to empowering people and creating social change in our communities.
The Community Outreach and Development Coordinator is a full-time, contract position with Megaphone that reports to the Executive Director. This position is based in Vancouver.
This is a new position for Megaphone. What that means is that we want to find a person who cares about the work we do and who is a great fit with our team and culture. This also means you’ll be part of creating what the role looks like. Below is how our vision for the position is shaping up, based on our current needs.
Supporter and Donor Development:
Lead Megaphone’s seasonal fundraising campaigns with both digital and direct outreach
Build relationships with Megaphone supporters and sponsors
Manage and analyze donations in NationBuilder and other tools
Process donations and ensure public recognition
Represent Megaphone at events and speak to the public and supporters about our work
Plan, coordinate, and write grant applications and reports
Work on innovative campaigns that speak to our supporters about our work, facilitate donations, and help grow our community
Organize Megaphone’s fall breakfast fundraiser
Help the Megaphone team coordinate the Voices of the Street and Hope in Shadows launches
Passion for social justice and supporting Megaphone’s vendors
Experience developing and implementing donor programs and/or an acceptable equivalent combination of education and experience.
An ability to develop innovative new fundraising ideas that reflect Megaphone’s mandate and supporter composition
Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
Experience with database platforms (NationBuilder) an asset.
Independent and creative self-starter able to work cooperatively in a flexible office environment
Comfortable making direct/personal asks for donations and interacting with a variety of supporters in both casual and formal settings
Effective time management, a high level of organization, and ability to prioritize
Megaphone recognizes the importance of an inclusive workplace and a diverse workforce. We welcome and encourage all people to apply, including people of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds; LGBTQ2+ identified persons; women; people with disabilities; and people with lived experience of issues on which Megaphone is working to change the public conversation: poverty, mental illness, and more.
This is a one-year contract position with the possibility of extension. This position salary range is $42,500 to $45,000 (commensurate with experience).
Please send your resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org with the position title as the subject of the email. We thank all applicants for their interest in working with Megaphone. Only those being considered for an interview will be contacted.
Application Deadline:JULY 11th, 2016 at 4:00pm. Interviews will be conducted in person at our Vancouver office on July 13-14.
OP Media Group’s stable of magazines includes Pacific Yachting and British Columbia Magazine, plus a number of contract publications. We are looking for a junior/intermediate designer to fill a 3- month contract position. We require a designer to work full time, inhouse from July 12 until the end of October.
We’re looking for a highly organized designer with excellent time management skills and a good understanding of Adobe InDesign. You will be working as part of a team and communicating directly with clients to get advertising material approved
Modern Dog and Modern Cat magazines are looking for a talented, experienced Graphic Designer to head the Graphics and Production department in our Railtown office (east Vancouver). The ideal candidate will be a creative problem solver with the ability to work quickly under tight deadlines in a diverse and dynamic work environment. Super organizational skills a must.
Job Title: Intermediate/Senior Graphic Designer Company: Modern Dog Inc. & Modern Cat Inc. Location: Vancouver, BC
Date Posted: March 24, 2016 Start Date: May 9th, 2016 (must be available for part-time training starting April 18th) Job Type: Full-time
Required Skills and Experience:
Expert skills in Adobe Creative Cloud: InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop3-5 years graphic design experience.
Previous editorial experience preferred (print/digital)Strong organizational skills and ability to self-manage.
Keen eye for colour and colour correction.
Self-motivated and a team player with a friendly personality.
Must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
The successful candidate will possess a sharp eye for detail, along with the technical ability required to create and prepare print-ready files.
Ability to work well under pressure and within tight deadlines (fast and exacting).
Proficient with web technologies (HTML5, CSS).
Experience working with Drupal an asset.
Must be comfortable working in a dog-friendly work environment
Create magazine layout for both Modern Dog and Modern Cat magazines
Responsible for preparing all aspects of production including preparing magazine files for print
Ensure all work is on brand and consistent
Ability to produce print ready production artwork to specifications provided
Ensure all submitted materials are to spec
Work alongside the art director to come up with visual ideas for stories
Work closely with marketing and circulation department to translate Modern Dog’s and Modern Cat’s marketing objectives and brand strategies into on-brand creative execution.
Create marketing materials and ad campaigns
Adapt print content for web
Oversee all web content and troubleshoot contests and user issues for both moderndogmagazine.com and moderncat.com
Graphic Design: 3 years
Interested candidates should email a cover letter, a resume with references, and a link to portfolio to email@example.com with the subject line “Graphic Designer”. No phone calls please. Prospective candidates will be contacted for an interview.
Thank you for your interest in Modern Dog and Modern Cat!
THE CARINA PRESS EDITORIAL TEAM WILL BE HOLDING A PITCH EVENT ON TWITTER VIA THE #CARINAPITCH HASHTAG ON THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2016, FROM 9AM EASTERN TO 9PM EASTERN.
#CarinaPitch is a Twitter event we’ve been doing for three years, in which we offer an opportunity for authors to submit their work and get both an expedited response and feedback. We’ve had tremendous response to this, have acquired authors thanks to their pitches and, we hope, have aided a few authors along the way with some of the feedback we’ve offered, so we’re thrilled to be doing it all over again in 2016.
Not only is #carinapitch popular with authors and those following along just for fun, it has been successful for us as well. Since the first #carinapitch, we’ve found over thirty manuscripts that we’ve either requested revisions on or signed for publication—an amazing result! Our ultimate goal is always to find new authors to acquire, not new authors to reject.
PLEASE READ ON FOR DETAILS OF HOW THE EVENT WILL WORK.
On Thursday, March 31, 2016, Carina Press editors will be monitoring the #carinapitch hashtag for book pitches from authors.
* If a book pitch is favorited/liked by an editor, that editor will review the full manuscript.
* Editors will respond with personalized feedback to all #carinapitch manuscripts they request.
* Expedited response time! All authors who receive a #carinapitch request will receive a response by the week of May 19th 2016.
**Please note that we ask authors not to expect paragraphs of critique, but specific feedback will be offered, noting what the editor sees as not working or needing attention.
**We also would like to emphasize that the nature of this business is subjective, so the editor may provide feedback the author may not agree with. We’re offering insight into why the book doesn’t work for us (should we choose to pass on it, rather than acquiring, which is certainly a possibility!), not providing detailed instructions on how to “fix” any issues we see.
ELIGIBILITY TO PARTICIPATE:
1) You must have a complete, ready-to-send, manuscript that falls within the commercial fiction genres that we publish. (Please view our submissions guidelines here.)
2) You must be prepared to send your manuscript within 3 days of the #carinapitch session. Any manuscripts sent after Sunday, April 3rd will still be fairly reviewed by editorial staff but won’t be eligible for the feedback/accelerated response time.
ABSTRACT: Individuals and business people around the world are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and Canadian magazine publishers are no exception. In order to help publishers “green” their businesses, Magazines Canada collaborated in 2008 with the environmental organization Markets Initiative (now Canopy) to produce the Magazine Ecokit. This document highlighted a number of ways magazine publishers could reduce their harmful impacts on the environment.
Recognizing climate change as the most pressing environmental issue facing humanity, Magazines Canada and Canopy collaborated again in 2011 to create a guide specifically focused on how Canadian magazine publishers can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions: The Carbon Footprint Compendium.
During an internship with Magazines Canada, I was responsible for assembling the Compendium into a single straightforward and practical document. The process revealed the complexity and controversies surrounding carbon reduction in the magazine industry, as well as the lack of information available on Canadian publishers’ environmental activities. In-depth examinations of either of those topics would not have been appropriate within the context of the Compendium, but both are certainly worthy of study and discussion.
By tackling both subjects together, this report provides a detailed picture of the state of Canadian magazines’ response to climate change, beginning with an analysis of existing studies of magazines’ climate impacts and the strategies they suggest, continuing with case studies of Canadian publishers’ environmental practices, and concluding with an examination of the challenges and possibilities of the future, including possible directions for scientific research and collective action within the publishing industry. Issues examined include the challenges of creating high-quality paper from recycled fibre, paper mills’ claims of carbon neutrality, and whether digital publishing provides environmental benefits.
I dedicate this report to the memory of my grandfather, Derek Lukin Johnston, who loved nothing more than the printed word, and of his father, Rufus, from whom many members of my family inherited the publishing bug.
This report would not have been possible without the passion and support of the entire team at Magazines Canada, most notably the inimitable Barbara Zatyko, and the dynamic duo that are Gary Garland and Chantal Sweeting. Their belief in the importance of the Carbon Footprint Compendium is what made both that document, and this report, possible.
I am indebted to Neva Murtha at Canopy for her willingness to share her understanding of complex climate science and how it relates to publishing. I also wish to thank all of my interview subjects, who took the time to explain to me how their businesses operate, and Keith Neuman of Environics, who shared his company’s valuable research with me free of charge.
I am grateful to my peers in the MPub program—particularly those currently or previously resident at 1408 McLean Drive—for their encouragement, humour and inspiration. And of course the faculty of SFU’s Publishing Program, in particular my ever-gracious senior supervisor Roberto Dosil, and the insightful John Maxwell, for their feedback on this project.
Last but not least, I want to thank my parents, Jane and Lionel, and the rest of my family for their unwavering enthusiasm for each and every endeavour I undertake.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has described climate change as “the single most important challenge which we are facing these days.” Over the last two and a half decades, this issue has achieved prominence thanks to events like the widely publicized (if not always successful) climate change conferences in Kyoto, Copenhagen and Durban; former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental activism and Academy Award-winning documentary; and dramatic natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 flooding in Pakistan, and the East African drought and famine of 2011.
As a result of public concern about climate change—according to polls conducted by Environics, Canadians rated it the most important environmental issue facing the country for all but six months between 2007 and 2011 —industries of all kinds have taken steps to improve their environmental reputations. It is currently possible to buy putatively eco-friendly wine, running shoes, bed sheets, cell phones and laundry detergent, to name just a few “green” products. Members of the publishing industry have also joined the movement toward environmental responsibility, perhaps most notably when Canada’s Raincoast Books chose to publish the Harry Potter series on Ancient Forest Friendly branded paper.
Magazines have also joined the shift toward greener practices, primarily in the United States, where prominent publications—including National Geographic, Time, InStyle, and Backpacker—have commissioned studies assessing the environmental impacts of their operations, and shared the results with the public. In Canada, a partnership between the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association (now Magazines Canada), the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers (now the Maga-zine Association of B.C. or MABC) and the environmental advocacy organization Markets Initiative led to the creation of The Coated Paper Eco Kit in 2004, which outlined ways publishers could reduce their environmental impact through imp-roved paper choices. In 2008, Magazines Canada and Markets Initiative collaborated on an updated Magazine Eco Kit, which examined the same issues in greater detail and was printed on the Wheat Sheet, a newly developed coated paper incorporating agricultural waste into its fibre mix.
Magazines Canada and Markets Initiative (now known as Canopy) collaborated again in the summer of 2011, producing a follow-up to the eco kits called The Carbon Footprint Compendium. This straightforward and practical guide for publishers explaining why they should be concerned about their greenhouse gas emissions, what the major sources of that “carbon footprint” are in magazine publishing, and how they could go about reducing their operations’ contribution to climate change is now available for download from the Magazines Canada website.
I assembled the Compendium as part of an internship with Magazines Canada. The process made me aware of the complexity and controversies surrounding carbon reduction in the magazine industry, as well as the lack of information available on Canadian publishers’ environmental activities. In-depth examinations of either of those topics would not have been appropriate within the context of the Compendium, but both are certainly worthy of study and discussion. By tackling both subjects together, this report will provide a detailed picture of the state of Canadian magazines’ response to climate change, beginning with an analysis of existing studies of magazines’ climate impacts and the strategies they suggest, continuing with case studies of Canadian publishers’ environmental practices, and concluding with an examination of the challenges and possibilities of the future.
2. CARBON FOOTPRINTS: WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW THEY’RE MEASURED
Climate change is a complex process, involving the interaction of both naturally occurring and human-generated factors. The primary human contribution to the current changes in our climate is the release of “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are so called because they trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to global temperature increases the same way a greenhouse’s walls trap heat to warm the plants within. The most common greenhouse gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and human-manufactured aerosol gases like CFCs. By far the most prevalent of all greenhouse gases—both naturally and produced by human sources—is carbon dioxide. As a result, many of the terms used to describe greenhouse gas measurement and reduction refer to “carbon” as a stand-in for greenhouse gases as a group.
A carbon footprint “measures the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a person, organization, event or product.” Carbon footprint measurement grew out of the existing practice of conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), in which the entire environmental impact of a product, process or service is measured, from raw materials extraction and production, through distribution, consumption, and disposal. The central idea of the LCA has been focused specifically on greenhouse gas emissions in what we now call carbon footprint measurement, and the technique has also been extended to allow entire organizations’ footprints to be measured. As such, it can be applied to the operations of magazine publishers.
Unlike the products, processes and services measured by an LCA, organizations do not have clearly defined beginning and end points. In order to analyze an organization’s carbon footprint, then, emissions must be measured over a specific period of time. As a general rule, organizations measure their carbon footprints in terms of the quantity of greenhouse gases released during a single year.
One of the reasons this process is called “carbon footprint” measurement rather than “greenhouse gas footprint” measurement is the way the results are presented. Each greenhouse gas traps heat within the earth’s atmosphere at its own rate, called the gas’ “global warming potential” by environmental scientists. Methane, for instance, has a global warming potential of more than 20 times that of carbon dioxide. In other words, releasing a tonne of methane into the atmosphere has the warming effect of releasing more than 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Because organizations release a combination of greenhouse gases, and because these kinds of analyses are most useful when they can be compared both to similar organizations and within the same organization over time, it was important to develop a standard that would allow these cumulative emissions to be compared.
Because carbon dioxide is both the most common greenhouse gas and has the lowest heat trapping capacity, the accepted standard is to convert all measured emissions into the quantity of carbon dioxide required to generate the same global warming potential. Thus, carbon footprint measurements are expressed in terms of quantities of carbon dioxide, even though the emissions being analyzed are in all likelihood of a variety of greenhouse gases.
Carbon footprint measurement is an extremely complex and expensive undertaking. It requires not only a detailed listing of all the various activities an organization undertakes that cause greenhouse gas emissions, but a calculation of the frequency and duration of those activities throughout the year, plus a measurement or calculation of the quantities of gases each activity releases. Even the first part of the process, identifying relevant carbon emitting activities, is more challenging than it might seem. For example, if a company’s employees drive themselves to work in cars, should their commutes be factored into the company’s carbon footprint? If a publisher’s customers send their reading material to the landfill instead of the recycling plant when they finish with it, should the resulting methane emissions be considered part of the publisher’s total footprint?
To help organizations answer these questions, the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development developed the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) corporate standard in 2001. Subsequently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) used the protocol as the basis for its own internationally recognized standard, the Specification with Guidance at the Organiza-tion Level for Quantification and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals (ISO 14064), published in 2006. Carbon footprint measurements that are based on the same standard can easily be compared, either between organizations or within a single establishment over time.
The implementation of such standards is voluntary, however, and some companies choose to set their own boundaries for carbon studies, making the results challenging—if not impossible—to compare. This is the case with most of the publishing-related carbon footprint analyses conducted to date. One reason publishing companies may choose not to follow the GHGP and ISO protocols is that, as generic organizational standards, they don’t take into account the specific issues that arise in particular industries. A print-industry-specific standard for carbon footprint measurement is under development at the ISO (ISO 16759—Quantification and communication for calculating the carbon footprint of print media products) and its publication is expected sometime in 2012. The existence of print-specific measurement guidelines may encourage more publishers to conduct carbon footprint analyses that adhere to established standards.
Because of the complexity and expense of carbon footprint measurement—given the specialized knowledge required, carbon footprints are usually measured by outside consultants—it is not a process many companies can afford. As a result, no Canadian magazine publisher has undertaken a complete carbon footprint analysis of its operations to date, despite the fact that many publishers are concerned with and have taken action to reduce their environmental impacts. In the U.S., however, a handful of publishing organizations have had both the desire and the means to measure their greenhouse gas emissions during the last decade, and analyzed together these studies can provide a picture of the typical sources of emissions in magazine publishers’ carbon footprints.
3. MAGAZINE LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENTS
Between 2006 and 2009, a number of American magazine publishers and a pair of publishing organizations decided to invest in the process of carbon footprint analysis to determine the environmental impacts of the publishing process. Most defined the scope and boundaries of their own study independently, so comparing their results isn’t straightforward. However, there are trends among the studies that make it possible to draw general conclusions about the carbon emissions generated by magazine publishing.
3.1 Time and InStyle
The first study examined two Time Inc. titles: Time and InStyle magazines. The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment analyzed them as part of a larger study titled Following the Paper Trail—The Impact of Magazine and Dimensional Lumber Production on Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Case Study. The study was conducted in 2006, and measured the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of both magazines and “dimensional lumber” (lumber cut to standardized dimensions, for instance a 2×4) for sale at Home Depot stores. These products were studied in tandem because wood wastes from the saw mill supplying the Home Depot lumber are used in the pulp that goes into the papers used by Time and InStyle.
The study began its measurement for all three products, with logging operations. The measurement at this first stage was limited to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the machinery and tools used for logging. Like most publishing studies, no account was made of the lost carbon sequestration capacity of the trees that were cut down. This is an important omission, which will be discussed later in this section.
Following the logging of the timber, a number of areas were identified as causing greenhouse gas emissions in the life cycles of both Time and InStyle. Those sources of emissions were: transportation of wood fibre to pulp and paper mills, transportation of clay (used in coated paper) to the paper mill, production of pulp, production of paper, transportation of paper to printers, printing, distribution of printed magazines, and what the study called the “final fate” of the magazines (whether recycling, landfill or incineration).
For the majority of these sources, the cause of greenhouse gas emissions is easy to grasp—the equipment involved (saws, trucks, printing presses) is either powered directly by fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas), or with electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. “Final fate” emissions are more complicated. Some emissions from the final life cycle stage are typical—the trucks used to transport the magazines to the recycling plant, and the plant itself, use energy resulting from fossil fuel combustion. For incinerated magazines, there is an additional release of carbon dioxide that occurs when paper is burned. The greatest source of emissions, though, is the paper that winds up in the landfill. When paper and wood products decompose in an anaerobic environment (which is typical in a landfill, since waste is quickly covered with other waste, cutting it off from oxygen), it produces methane gas. Since methane has a global warming potential of more than 20 times carbon dioxide’s, the disposal of magazines in the landfill is a significant source of emissions in a publication’s life cycle.
The final results showed the following breakdown of emissions sources for the two magazines: Production at the pulp and paper mills was the most significant, generating 61% of Time’s emissions and 77% of InStyle’s. Next came “final fate,” which generated 16% and 10% of emissions respectively. This was followed by the distribution of the printed magazines to customers, at 9% and 5%, then transportation of raw materials to the pulp and paper mills, at 8% and 3%. The transport of paper to the printer and printing itself constituted a mere 4% and 2% for each magazine. And last of all, the process of harvesting the wood itself contributed 2% of the emissions for each magazine.
3.2 The Green Press Initiative
The next publishing life cycle study did not focus on the magazine industry. However, it is important to consider because it included measurements left out of all the magazine studies. The study in question, Findings from the U.S. Book Industry: Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts was initiated by the Green Press Initiative (GPI) in collaboration with the Book Industry Study Group. The GPI study’s findings are the result of a survey sent in 2007 to 1,000 book industry stakeholders, including publishers, printers, paper manufacturers, retailers and distributors. The study then applied a set of standardized calculations to the data in the survey responses (which were sent back by 13 printers, six paper mills, 76 publishers, eight distributors and three retailers) to come up with the breakdown of carbon emissions within the industry as a whole.
The most significant aspect of the GPI study is that it identifies forest biomass loss as the largest contributor, by far, to the book industry’s carbon footprint. The term “biomass” refers to biological material contained in living, or previously living organisms, such as trees used in paper production. Trees are the most important of the planet’s photosynthesizing allies, with forests responsible for absorbing 67% of the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by living organisms.
When trees are cut down, not only is much of the carbon stored in them released into the atmosphere when processing by-products are used for fuel (this form of energy is known as biomass energy, and will come up for discussion later in this report), but the trees’ capacity to absorb further carbon dioxide is eliminated. Even if new trees are planted immediately in logged areas, the carbon storage capacity of those areas is significantly depleted, because new trees absorb far less carbon than old and middle growth stands. In fact, for their first decades, replanted forests emit more carbon than they absorb, according to the Environmental Paper Network. Old growth forests’ carbon storage capacity continues to increase over time, so even once a replanted forest has begun to absorb carbon, the new forest will never reach the absorption levels the existing forest would have attained by the same date.
The GPI’s inclusion of the carbon impacts of biomass removal sets this study apart from the other print industry carbon footprint analyses conducted to date. With biomass loss included in the calculations, the breakdown of emissions sources changes dramatically. From greatest to least, the emissions sources identified in the GPI study were: biomass removal, 44.4% (resulting from the calculation that 61.2% of the carbon impacts came from biomass removal, but 16.8% of those emissions were recovered in the form of carbon stored in books and biomass used for energy production); paper production, 22.4%; distribution of printed books, 12.7%; methane releases from landfilled books, 8.2%; publishers’ emissions (office energy and paper use, business travel, etc.), 6.6%; printing and binding, 4.2%; harvest and transport of fibre to the mill, 1.5%.
Leaving out the biomass removal and other areas not measured in both studies, the findings in the Time Inc. and GPI studies are not drastically different. (The Time Inc. study focused exclusively on production and transportation of physical magazines, so didn’t measure publisher or retailer emissions.) Paper production is the greatest source of emissions, printing, transport and harvest are the three smallest sources, and distribution and “final fate” fall in between, though these two are reversed between the two studies—perhaps unsurprisingly, as magazines do intuitively seem more likely to wind up in the landfill than books.
The importance of the GPI study, though, lies precisely in the 44% of emissions resulting from biomass removal. Given the rest of the study’s consistency with the findings of the Time Inc. analyses, it is reasonable to extrapolate that were biomass removal considered in the magazine studies (from Time Inc. and those to follow), it would amount to an equally significant portion of the emissions generated.
The next carbon footprint study was probably the most exemplary of the magazine studies (though it too neglected to factor in biomass removal). In 2008, Backpacker magazine engaged energy auditor Cooler to conduct a carbon footprint analysis of their entire operation the previous year, including publisher-related emissions like staff commutes and contributor travel. Because no such study had been conducted by a magazine before, Backpacker and Cooler developed their own parameters, making this study challenging to compare with previous and future analyses.
Backpacker’s research uncovered the following breakdown of emissions sources: paper production, 48%; magazine distribution, 26%; staff and writer travel, 9%; printing and production, 8%; ink, 5%; office, 4%. The results, though not exactly comparable, again fall in line with the two previous studies: paper production is the greatest source of emissions, followed by distribution, with printing and publisher emissions near the bottom. This study doesn’t include any measurements of “final fate” emissions, so those can’t be compared. And the inclusion of staff and writer travel at this adventure-focused publication is a divergence from the previous studies.
The first magazine to take guidance from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for its carbon footprint measurement was Discover, also in 2008. However, their adoption of the GHGP doesn’t make the results any easier to compare with previous studies, as Discover was the first publication to use the standard. Once again, a different list of emission sources was included in the analysis: biomass removal was omitted; disposal, staff transport, ink, and subscription insert cards were included.
The three most important emissions sources were paper manufacturing (63.8%), “afterlife” (what Time Inc. called “final fate”—18.3%) and printing (5.4%). Distri-bution was divided into transport to subscribers (3.3%) and newsstand distribution (.8%) but taken together as they are in the other studies, they make up the fourth most important source at 4.1%. Logging and lumber transport, as well as the manu-facture and transport of the inserts each contributed about 2%. Transport of paper to printer was 1.4%, and ink, office energy use, and staff transport all factored in at 1% or less. The picture, though once again missing some previously measured sources and including others previously neglected, is familiar: paper is the greatest source of emissions, magazines in landfills cause significant carbon impacts, printing and distribution play a role worth measuring, and all other factors have a minor effect.
3.5 National Geographic
The final, and most problematic, magazine carbon footprint analysis was conducted at National Geographic Magazine (NGM), and was published in 2009. Once again, the parameters for the study were established by the magazine and its measurement partner, Harmony Environmental, this time taking guidance from the ISO’s standards for life cycle assessment, as well as the GHGP’s corporate standard. Like the other magazine studies, NGM’s did not include biomass removal. Also like the other studies, paper production was the greatest contributor to NGM’s carbon footprint (at 70%).
But that is where the similarities end. Unlike any of the other print industry studies cited, NGM found that printing contributed significant greenhouse gas emissions: 26%. The study notes the discrepancy, and suggests that the reason for the divergence is that a greater number of factors were included in the “printing” figure: “The printing step includes cradle-to-gate GHG emissions for the manufacture of solvents for inks, gravure printing of the magazine pages allocated on the basis of the number of pages printed, and transportation by the printer to magazine drop off sites.” Ink solvent manufacture is not mentioned in any of the other studies, so that may provide a partial explanation for the discrepancy.
Another theory offered by the study’s authors is that the relative percentages of emissions between paper manufacturing and printing are unusual because the energy source for their paper manufacturing is Canadian hydro-electricity, while the printer is powered through an electric grid dependent in large part on fossil fuel combustion. While plausible, this argument loses credence when considering the fact that paper manufacturing’s percentage of emissions is not notably low in the NGM study. At 70%, it’s actually higher than the percentages measured by Discover (63.8%), Time (61%) and Backpacker (48%) and not much lower than InStyle’s 77%. If the printing emissions were disproportionately high because of the difference in energy sources, it is surprising that paper emissions were not disproportionately low for the same reason.
Another anomaly in the NGM study is its treatment of what it calls “end of life management” (equivalent to the “final fate” and “afterlife” emissions in other studies). Whereas the studies that examined their “afterlife” (Backpacker didn’t) found a significant contribution to their footprints from the methane released by decomposing paper, NGM claims a greenhouse gas “credit” for the “afterlife” of its magazines. It should be noted that NGM differs significantly from other magazines in that its subscribers are widely known to archive their issues rather than disposing of them. Surveys conducted by the National Geographic Society show that approximately 60% of copies are archived by consumers. Nonetheless, the study assumes that all copies not archived end up in landfills, so it stands to reason that methane emissions would be attributed to those copies as in the other studies.
Instead, NGM makes the following claim:
Coated magazine paper in landfills sequesters more carbon, measured as carbon dioxide equivalents, than is released by the degradation of the magazine paper (Barlaz et al. 1997). This is because the magazine paper contains a significant portion of groundwood pulp. Groundwood contains lignin, which prevents degradation of the wood pulp in landfills.
This claim contradicts the science supporting all the other carbon footprint studies. Hoping to clarify how this statement could be scientifically supported, I consulted the Barlaz article cited in the quotation above: “Biodegradability of Municipal Solid Waste Components in Laboratory-Scale Landfills” by Morton A. Barlaz et al., published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
However, the Barlaz article makes no reference to coated magazine paper sequestering carbon or to the lignin in coated paper preventing it from decomposing. In fact, Barlaz’s study measures the quantity of methane emitted by coated paper as it decomposes within a simulated landfill environment. Even if it is possible that un-degraded coated paper in landfills sequesters more carbon than its decomposing portions release methane (and no scientific studies were found to confirm this claim), that carbon would continue to be sequestered (without methane being released), if the magazines were recycled instead of landfilled. As such, it is disingenuous to attribute a carbon credit to landfilling when it produces more emissions than other methods of magazine disposal, even if all other claims about landfilled coated paper in the NGM study were true.
With paper manufacture and printing taking up a total of 96% of emissions measured, the remaining sources (distribution, pallets and packaging, publisher operations and travel, and “end of life”) were all found to have contributed between -1.7% (the credit for “end of life” management) and 2.5% of the magazine’s carbon footprint.
The final unusual aspect of NGM’s study is that it investigated whether the inclusion of “recycled content” (the study doesn’t specify whether said content would be post- or pre-consumer waste) would have an effect on the magazine’s carbon footprint. Calculations simulated the inclusion of 5% and 10% recycled fibre in the magazine’s paper. According to the study, such changes in the magazine’s fibre makeup would have an “insignificant” effect on the total carbon footprint.
There is, however, a significant problem with this assertion. Like the other magazine studies, NGM’s does not attribute any carbon impacts to the removal of biomass when virgin fibre is sourced from the forest. As such, the reduction in emissions that would be achieved by leaving those trees standing is left out of these calculations. If the carbon impacts of logging had been included in the analysis, the study would undoubtedly have shown reductions in emissions as recycled fibre increased, since the carbon impacts from biomass removal would have decreased. If that reduction remained at an “insignificant” level, it might be appropriate to attribute its insignificance to the fact that the study only measured the change when 5% and 10% of the fibre was switched from virgin to recycled sources. If greater percentages of recycled fibre were considered, the resulting improvements would surely be more evident.
Interestingly, while no such statement is made in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment article describing the NGM study, the webpage where the magazine describes its results claims that using recycled fibre in magazine paper “would do more harm than good.” This claim is then justified as follows: “before they can be used to make high-quality paper of the type we put in our books and magazines, [recycled] fibers must be cleaned and re-bleached—an expensive process that requires the use of toxic substances that may be both non-biodegradable and extremely harmful to the environment.” The validity of this and other claims about the viability of using recycled paper in magazine production will be assessed in the following section of this paper: Strategies, Challenges, and Controversies.
3.6 Findings for the Magazine Industry
As we have seen, the publishing industry carbon footprint studies conducted to date are difficult to compare, as publishers defined the scope and boundaries of their own studies independently. However, even with these differences, trends do emerge, though an effort must be made to ensure that the measurements being compared are as equivalent as possible. Table 1 (on p. 14) is an attempt both to compare the studies, and draw some conclusions about the sources of carbon emissions within the magazine industry.
Since no two studies measured exactly the same emissions sources, the table lists all the categories of emissions studied, and notes are included to explain if and how emissions have been accounted for if a study didn’t provide a specific measurement for that particular source (e.g. some quantified ink-related emissions on their own, others included them in printing emissions). Because the studies have been presented to the public in different forms (the NGM study was published in a scientific journal, the Backpacker and Discover studies were published only as articles directed toward their readers, etc.) it is not always clear whether a particular source of emissions was not measured at all, or simply wasn’t mentioned in a document created for public consumption. The table indicates “not measured” for those sources that clearly were not studied, but “not mentioned” for sources that seem likely to have been measured given the study’s methodology, but for which a specific number was not provided (for instance if a percentage was provided for transport of fibre to the mill, but not transport of paper to the printer). In the instances when a study measured a source that was not mentioned by any of the other studies, that measurement was folded into the source other studies would most likely have included it under. This too is noted in the table (for instance Discover’s measurement of emissions connected to their insert cards).
The table also includes a column for average values. However, given the many differences among the studies, it was not possible simply to calculate the mean percentage from each row. The first step to enabling a comparison between all the studies was to recalculate the results of the GPI study as if biomass removal had not been a factor. While the reality of carbon measurement suggests that the opposite approach is more accurate (i.e. biomass removal should be factored into the other studies, rather than factored out of the GPI study), the fact that only one study has measured the carbon impacts of logging means it is not yet possible to estimate what a realistic percentage of carbon emissions from biomass removal would be. It is the percentages from this recalculated column (not the original numbers from the study—indicated with the light grey background) that were used in calculating the average percentages in the table.
The next step was to ensure that numbers being averaged were as equivalent as possible. Since percentages bundled together in any one study (say ink and printing emissions) can’t be separated out, the averages had to combine those emissions sources across all studies. As a result, Transport to Mill emissions have been included in Harvest emissions, Staff Travel was included in Publisher emissions, and Ink and Transport to Printer were both included in Printing emissions.
The final step to coming up with comparable emissions numbers turned out to be excluding the NGM study. The study used such different methodology from the others—as evidenced by the end of life credit assigned to landfilled magazines and the disproportionately high percentage of emissions attributed to printing—that including it in the calculations would likely obscure any trends that could be detec-ted among the other studies. Additionally, NGM’s decision to combine sources of emissions in a quite different manner from the other studies (Transport to Mill and Transport to Printer are both included in Paper Milling emissions, when other studies either separate them out or include them with Harvest and Printing emissions, respectively) would make the numbers impossible to compare even if the methodologies behind them were similar. To draw any conclusions at all about the data, it was necessary to leave NGM out of the average calculations. Those results are therefore also displayed with a light grey background.
Two additional mathematical steps were taken to reach final average numbers. If a study simply didn’t measure or mention a particular emissions source, it was left out of the average calculation. For instance, the percentage derived from logging was calculated only with figures from Time, InStyle, GPI and Discover, since the Backpacker study did not include it. As a result of each average being based on different combinations of magazines, the average percentages as first calculated added up to 107.7%, instead of 100%. They were thus adjusted so that the total of all the averages would equal 100%.
Table 1: Summary of Print Industry Carbon Footprint Study Findings, with Averages
(Columns with light grey backgrounds were not included in calculating averages.)
It would be unreasonable to adopt these averages as any kind of definitive description of the sources of carbon emissions in the magazine industry, but the trends are certainly instructive. As seen throughout the studies, paper production is the greatest source of emissions (when biomass removal is discounted, as in Table 1), at 54.2%. Next is disposal (called variously “final fate”, “end of life” and “afterlife” in the studies) at 13.7%, followed closely behind by distribution, at 12.4%. Printing, publisher emissions and harvest all come in below 10%.
Since it would be a more accurate reflection of real-world emissions to include biomass removal when calculating the averages, Table 2 presents an example of what the industry-wide averages might be, were biomass removal included. As only the GPI study has measured this emission source so far, it is impossible to know for certain how it might play out in the magazine industry. For the purpose of comparison, I have assigned a figure of 40% (slightly more conservative than the GPI’s 44.4%) for the carbon impacts of biomass removal. The resulting hypothetical percentages are included in Table 2.
Table 2: Hypothetical Magazine Industry Carbon Emissions Percentages with Biomass Removal Included
(The adjusted averages excluding biomass and GPI study results from Table 1 are included for comparison)
It is clear from the results displayed in both tables that the majority of carbon emissions in the production and disposal of magazines result from paper manufacturing, whether or not biomass removal is considered. However, since some of the other emissions sources may be easier to address, they are worth including in any plan to reduce a magazine’s carbon footprint.
As a result of their carbon footprint measurement activities, many of the magazines discussed above undertook various actions to reduce their carbon footprints. The next section of this report will examine the strategies employed by these magazines, as well as other potentially helpful ways to approach carbon reduction, the challenges presented by some of these strategies, and the controversies surrounding others.
4. STRATEGIES, CHALLENGES, AND CONTROVERSIES
4.1 Certified Paper
In its 2009-2010 Sustainability Report, Time Inc. identified purchasing paper from certified sources as one of the pillars of the company’s sustainability strategy. Forestry certification schemes arose in the 1990s as a tool that would enable con-sumers (whether corporate or individual) to better understand where their wood products came from. The first forest certification scheme was the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), founded in Toronto in 1993. In the following years, a number of other certification systems with comparable objectives have arisen: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in 1994, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Sustainable Forest Management System in 1996, and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) in 1999.
Since FSC certification is the system with the most support from environmental organizations, it will serve as the example for explaining how forestry certification works. The FSC creates forest management standards for forestry activities around the world according to a single set of guiding principles, which includes: compliance with local laws, clearly defined land tenure and land use rights, respect for indigenous peoples’ and workers’ rights, positive community relations, biological diversity, protection of endangered species and high conservation value forests, maintenance of ecosystems, the creation of management plans, and proper plantation management. For example, there are currently three accredited FSC management standards in Canada: the National Boreal Standard, the B.C. Standard, and the Maritimes Standard. Once a management standard has been accredited, forestry practitioners can apply for a particular forest in which they operate to be certified by a designated third-party FSC certifier.
In order to guarantee that forestry products originating from a certified forest are not contaminated with non-certified wood once the trees have been cut down, the FSC has also implemented a program of Chain of Custody (CoC) certification. For a product (whether paper or lumber) to bear the FSC logo, the FSC-certified fibre from which it was manufactured must at all times remain in the possession of companies that have received FSC’s CoC certification. The logo can be applied to products manufactured from wood harvested in FSC-certified tenures as well as those manufactured from recycled post-consumer-waste (PCW) paper fibre that has remained in the possession of a certified Chain of Custody (and thus is verifiably recycled).
Not only does the CoC certification reassure customers that products bearing the FSC label truly are manufactured from certified forestry (or recycling) activities, but the record of a forestry product’s journey that is created through CoC certification makes it possible for paper purchasers to reliably track the fibre in their paper back to its source. For instance, a publisher could measure the distance their paper has been transported throughout its life or assess whether the forest it came from had a high carbon storage capacity.
Clearly the work of the FSC is a positive addition to the forestry landscape, and Time Inc.’s stated goal of having 80% of its paper come from certified sources is a laudable one. The fact that CoC certification makes it significantly easier for paper purchasers to determine the distances timber, pulp, and paper travel before they reach the printer certainly makes certification a boon for publishers looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
That said, there is a limit to certification schemes’ ability to help reduce carbon footprints. Not all forests sequester carbon at the same rate. Intact old growth forests store carbon at a far higher rate than young, middle growth or plantation forests. In particular, the Boreal forest in both Canada and Russia, temperate rainforests in British Columbia, Alaska, and Chile, and intact tropical rainforests in Indonesia and the Amazon have a significant carbon storage capacity that simply cannot be replaced if they are logged. While certification schemes like FSC may refuse to certify the logging of some parts of those forests if it would violate any of the principles of the relevant forest management standard, any logging operations that met all the criteria within these regions could be certified, despite the more significant climate impacts of logging these forests. For instance, significant areas of British Columbia temperate rainforest, and Boreal forest in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec are currently FSC-certified. It is clear that while FSC certification is a positive step toward environmental and human rights protections in the forestry industry, it is not the end of the story when it comes to carbon footprint reduction.
Although not strictly a certification scheme, another program for identifying environ-mentally preferable paper is worth including in this discussion. The Ancient Forest Friendly (AFF) designation is assigned by Canopy (the environmental advocacy organization formerly known as Markets Initiative) to papers that are chlorine-free and contain a minimum of 50% PCW fibre, and whose other fibres are either pre-consumer recycled, agricultural residue, or virgin fibre from sources that fall outside the criteria for three different definitions of “ancient” forests: high conservation value forests, endangered forests and large intact forest landscapes.
To date, no papers containing virgin fibre meet all the AFF standards, so for now, all AFF papers contain only recycled or agricultural residue fibre. As such, the AFF designated papers currently on the market are some of the lowest-carbon options available. While its standards are certainly more rigorous than any certification scheme’s, and the focus on preserving “ancient” forests ought to exclude many high carbon value forests, none of the AFF guidelines explicitly protect them either. There is thus still no designation on the market that specifically excludes fibre extracted from the forests that store the most carbon per square kilometre.
4.2 Low-Carbon Paper Production
Another strategy highlighted by Time Inc. in its 2009-2010 Sustainability Report is the adoption of renewable energy sources in the paper manufacturing process. Given that paper manufacturing is the greatest source of emissions identified in all the magazine studies (and comes second only to biomass removal in the GPI study), this is an excellent strategy for reducing magazines’ carbon footprints. Because of its enormous purchasing power (Time Inc. buys paper from four major suppliers to print its 21 magazine titles), the company is in a position to influence its suppliers to reduce their emissions. After conducting the life cycle assessments for Time and InStyle, Time Inc. gave its paper suppliers a choice of three different carbon reduction targets, one of which they had to meet by 2012. While this may not be possible for publishers on a smaller scale, they can at least seek out paper manufacturers that make use of low-carbon energy sources to power their mills.
Forms of low-carbon energy that can help paper manufacturers lower their emissions include: hydro-electricity, solar power, wind power, geothermal energy, wave or tidal energy, combined heat and power (CHP—also known as cogeneration—which is heat energy generated by power stations), and biogas (gas generated by waste decomposing in landfills). An example of a mill powered by renewable energy is Cascades’ Rolland Mill in Quebec. Not only does Cascades produce papers that all contain at least 50% PCW recycled fibre (with six of their nine product lines featuring 100% post-consumer fibre), but it uses hydroelectricity combined with biogas piped in from a landfill 13 kilometres away to manufacture all of its papers. Another paper manufacturer that makes use of renewable energy is New Leaf Paper, which purchases renewable energy credits that inject electricity from wind power and other sources into the electrical grid to make up for non-renewable sources used in its mills.
One challenge facing publishers seeking low-carbon fuels is the paper industry’s use of inappropriate terms to describe biomass energy. Biomass energy is derived from burning wood and wood by-products—including bark, wood chips, and “black liquor” (a combustible by-product of the “kraft” method of manufacturing wood pulp, which uses chemicals instead of a mechanical process). It is common for paper manufacturers and other users of biomass energy to refer to it as “renewable” and “carbon neutral.” Both of these claims, however, are misleading.
According to National Resources Canada (NRCan), renewable energy “is energy obtained from natural resources that can be naturally replenished or renewed within a human lifespan, that is, the resource is a sustainable source of energy.” While it is of course true that logged trees can be replaced with new plantations, the same quantity of fibre will not grow back within a human lifespan if the forest was itself more than a human lifespan old. As the NRCan website states, biomass “is a renewable resource only if its rate of consumption does not exceed its rate of regeneration.” Given these two facts, it can safely be stated that not all biomass energy would qualify as renewable in a meaningful sense. This is important because paper mills will often describe their energy source only as “renewable” up front, and require further investigation on the part of customers to determine what the nature of that “renewable” energy is.
The term “carbon neutral” generally refers to the idea that the greenhouse gas emissions of a process, organization, or individual can be “neutralized,” usually through a combination of emissions reductions and carbon offset purchases. When used in reference to energy, it is intended to indicate that no greenhouse gases are emitted by the energy source. Examples of carbon neutral energy sources (which, incidentally, are also renewable according to the NRCan definition) are: wind power, solar power, geothermal energy, and wave energy.
The problem with claiming that biomass energy is “carbon neutral” is, simply, that it’s not. Burning wood and wood by-products does release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It seems biomass energy users have decided that energy derived from trees is “carbon neutral” because it replaces the burning of fossil fuels. While avoiding fossil fuels is always a step in the right direction, that step does not in and of itself guarantee “carbon neutrality.”
This is not to say that paper mills ought not to make use of any biomass as an energy source. “Reuse” is the second of the environmentalist’s “three Rs,” and the transformation of pulping wastes and by-products into energy is certainly preferable to dumping those wastes somewhere where they would either decompose and release methane (in the case of wood chips) or pollute water courses (in the case of black liquor).
All of that said, the first of the “three Rs” is “Reduce”, and while making energy from mill by-products makes some environmental sense, the industry’s long-term goal should be to minimize the creation of those by-products so that an increasing amount of energy can be obtained instead from non-greenhouse-gas-emitting sources. And certainly, purchasing additional biomass that isn’t a mill by-product in order to burn it for fuel—something mills must certainly feel justified in doing having termed biomass energy “carbon neutral”—is very much a step away from emissions reduction.
Given the carbon impacts of biomass energy and the tendency to gloss over them within the paper industry, magazine publishers concerned about their carbon footprint should be wary of any claims of “carbon neutral” or unspecified “renewable” energy used in paper manufacturing, and if possible favour papers known to be manufactured with truly renewable power sources like biogas and wind energy.
4.3 Recycled Paper
Since the Green Press Initiative study found that publishing’s greatest carbon impact is caused by the removal of biomass through logging, it follows that the best way to mitigate the environmental impact of magazines would be to print on paper made from 100% recycled post-consumer-waste fibre. Unfortunately, it is a solution much easier to propose than to enact.
Paper manufacturers have been recyclers for years, long before it was something that concerned the general public. Initially, they were not recycling paper that had been used and thrown away. Like biomass energy, recycling was a way of keeping mill by-products out of the landfill: offcuts and any other paper waste from the milling process would be re-pulped and made into new paper. When paper is specified as made from recycled—but not PCW—fibre, the source of that fibre is the same paper mill waste that has always been re-pulped. The importance of post-consumer-waste fibre is that it keeps used paper out of the landfill, and prevents more trees from being cut down.
While it is easy to say that magazines should switch to 100% PCW fibre papers, it isn’t actually easy for them to do. It’s true that there has been a massive increase in the quality, availability and affordability of 100% PCW uncoated fine papers in the last decade. “The paper quality of uncoated papers in 100% post-consumer recycled is great,” Eric Kouwenhoven, an account manager with Vancouver’s Hemlock printers said in an interview. “I would use the 100% ‘post’ over virgin any day. There’s no limitation in terms of quality there anymore.”
However, the vast majority of magazines are printed on coated paper. A survey of a portion of the magazine rack at Vancouver’s Chapters store at Granville and Broadway revealed the extent of the preference for coated stock. On February 28, 2012, a total of 336 magazines were examined (out of approximately 1500 different titles on display). Of those 336—which covered a wide range of subjects: celebrity, current affairs, travel, film, fashion, wristwatch design, and women’s, men’s, and gay lifestyle—only 16 (or less than 5%) were found to use some uncoated paper in their production. Only nine used uncoated paper throughout, and four of those were printed on newsprint, not fine paper. Of the 16 using some uncoated stock, the only widely recognized consumer magazine was Spin, which used uncoated paper for its cover and some back-of-book signatures, but incorporated glossy coated stock for the valuable ad inventory in the front of the book.
Coated paper made from 100% PCW fibre is almost unheard of in North America. The closest readily available option is the 100% PCW Rolland Enviro100 Satin sheet produced by Cascades, which their website describes as a “hybrid between coated and uncoated paper.” New Leaf Paper out of San Francisco sells two 100% PCW coated stocks, Revival Bright and Cyclus Print, but they are only available on a made-to-order basis, and must be ordered by the full truckload. And that is the complete list of 100% PCW coated fine papers made in North America.
There are a number of explanations for this scarcity. The first is connected to fibre supply: not all papers can be recycled after use (think household products like paper towel), and not all paper that can be recycled is. According to the Environmental Paper Network’s 2011 State of the Paper Industry report, paper is only recovered for recycling at a rate of around 65% in North America (63% in the U.S., 66% in Canada). Unless North American paper consumption were to decrease by about 40% per year (the current rate of paper use reduction is about 8%), it would be impossible to produce all papers from 100% PCW fibre—some paper would still need to contain virgin fibre. (Additionally, when rates of paper recovery do increase, it can have an adverse effect on the quality of PCW fibre available for paper manufacturing. Brian Kozlowski, director of sustainable development at North America’s largest coated paper manufacturer, NewPage, pointed out in a telephone interview: “When you improve your recovery rate, you are collecting lower quality papers that are more contaminated [for instance with oil or food]. Paper is more contaminated than it’s ever been.”)
Second, fibres lose strength each time they are re-used, another reason why virgin fibre will probably always be incorporated into the paper manufacturing process to some degree. There are paper manufacturers who argue that as a result of this reduction in strength, it is impractical to manufacture coated paper (which typically contains 20-40% clay and 60-80% fibre) with recycled fibre, as it would no longer be strong enough to run on offset presses. NewPage’s Kozlowski believes there are risks to producing paper with more than 30% PCW fibre (the highest percentage of PCW fibre in any NewPage product). “Customers would have to sacrifice quality and compromise functionality, the look, and the feel,” he said. “You’re going to lose brightness, you’re going to lose strength. There would be a quality loss.”
Michelle Thornton of New Leaf Paper—the makers of the only two 100% PCW coated papers manufactured in North America—says those “taboos” about recycled fibre simply aren’t true: “We’ve found that we can make a sheet that’s just as bright as its virgin fibre counterparts, that runs just as well, that prints just as well, and that can stay true to being green and helping the environment.” From New Leaf’s perspective, all of the explanations for why more fine papers don’t have higher PCW content are just excuses.
Both the lack of sufficient fibre and reduction in strength with recycling are well documented and agreed upon by paper industry stakeholders (though, as we have seen, there are still disagreements about the ramifications of these facts). There are, however, other explanations for the lack of quality coated papers made from PCW fibre that are more controversial. Time Inc.’s 2009-2010 Sustainability Report, contains the following statement:
Recovered paper used in products like corrugated boxes, brown paper grocery bags and newsprint requires much less re-processing than recovered content needed for whiter, higher-quality magazine papers. Less processing means less fossil-fuel energy consumption, less solid waste generation and lower production costs. Using reco-vered content in magazine paper would divert a valuable resource from other uses that are better for the environment and better for the bottom line.
These and similar statements (like the NGM assertion that recycled paper “does more harm than good”) have provoked the ire of environmental paper manufacturers like New Leaf. In a blog post subtitled “Virgin Paper Manufacturers Confuse Paper Buyers with Misleading Comparisons of the Environmental Impacts of Virgin Paper vs. Recycled Paper,” New Leaf president Jeff Mendelsohn writes:
To be clear—making fine paper from waste paper is a more efficient process than making paper from trees, using less energy, less water, creating less effluent, and generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. These facts are supported by the most comprehensive, independent, scientific lifecycle analysis of the impacts of paper manufacturing, the paper task force final report.
At first this quote might seem the obvious response of a business owner whose livelihood depends on recycled paper, but it is actually borne out by research. The Paper Task Force was a collaboration between the Environmental Defense Fund, Time Inc., Prudential Insurance, Duke University, McDonald’s, and Johnson & Johnson, which convened in the early ‘90s and published its findings after two years worth of research in 1995. The Task Force studied the entire life cycles—from fibre procurement to disposal—of a number of kinds of paper, including office paper (which uses high-quality, bright white fibre equivalent to publishing paper’s). Environmental impacts examined included energy use and sources, water usage, polluting effluents and solid waste production.
The Task Force’s final report is 248 pages long, not counting the 16 detailed technical white papers that accompany it, but the most important two sentences relating to fine paper production are these (emphasis from the original):
The lifecycle comparison of virgin and recycled office paper systems developed by the Task Force examined a total of 16 parameters, including total and purchased energy, eight categories of pollutant releases to air and four to water, and quantities of effluent and solid waste. Ton-for-ton, 100% recycled paper made from deinked used office paper is preferable (for most parameters) or comparable (for three parameters) to 100% virgin paper.
The only parameters where recycled paper’s impacts exceeded virgin paper’s were purchased energy and fossil fuel energy, both of which were used in greater amounts in recycling processes because of the lack of self-generated biomass energy used in virgin pulp and paper plants. Total energy used by virgin processes, however, was almost twice the total energy required by recycled paper processes.
While many paper manufacturers and purchasers have made claims about the negative environmental impacts of recycled paper, none have yet produced research that actually refutes the findings of the Paper Task Force. Still, the relative lack of availability of 100% PCW coated papers does mean magazines are hard-pressed to print on them. The options for now include switching to an uncoated or hybrid stock, using an available coated paper with the highest possible PCW content (New Leaf has 60% PCW magazine papers that don’t require a custom order), special ordering large quantities of a made-to-order stock, or looking overseas for paper (which could introduce massive transport-related emissions to a publisher’s carbon footprint, depending on the means of transport and distance traveled). For the long term, the best hope for high PCW-content coated papers is for major paper purchasers to put pressure on their suppliers to up the recycled fibre content of their products.
4.4 Other Paper Strategies
While increasing PCW fibre content and using certified and/or low-carbon paper are the most discussed ways to reduce the climate impacts of publishing, there are other paper-related strategies available too. Backpacker, for instance, reduced the basis weight of its stock (already 10% recycled), thereby lowering its annual paper use by over 150,000 pounds. The magazine also moved all of its regional pages online, a strategy whose complicated impacts will be discussed below. Additional paper-reduction strategies could include optimizing a magazine’s trim size to limit the amount of waste, or reducing the number of pages per issue.
Another aspect of publishing operations with major potential for paper use reduction (or modification) is direct mail marketing. According to Industry Canada, approximately 13 billion pieces of direct mail are delivered in Canada each year —and a significant proportion of that that volume consists of subscriber recruitment and retention pieces sent out by magazine publishers. (In the U.S., advertising mail volumes hit 84.7 billion pieces in 2011.) Direct mail wasn’t specifically examined by any of the magazine publishing studies (though some may have included it in their Publisher emissions category), so it’s impossible to estimate what percentage of publishers’ emissions comes from direct mail.
Given the quantity of paper involved, though, and the high contribution to emissions of biomass removal and paper production, it is reasonable to assume that direct mail sent on virgin paper, if measured, would contribute significantly to publishers’ carbon footprints. Given the continuing belief among marketers that direct mail is an effective —in some views necessary—tool for the magazine industry, it is unlikely that publishers will dispense with it in the near future. However, efforts could certainly be made both to decrease the quantity of virgin fibre used in magazine marketing (through a com-bination of switching to recycled fibre and reducing mail volumes through more efficient campaigns) and to invest in marketing methods not dependent on paper.
4.5 Public Education
A percentage of all papers that could be recycled in North America still end up in a landfill or incinerator. Obviously, publishers are not in a position to oblige their readers to recycle magazines after reading. But, as content creators and branding professionals, they are in a position to effectively encourage eco-friendly behaviour.
Time Inc., for example, has participated in two recycling promotions: ReMIX (REcycling Magazines Is eXcellent)—a public education campaign conducted in New York and four other American cities—and Please Recycle This Magazine, a campaign that includes recycling messages in magazines themselves. Similarly, both Backpacker and Discover published the results of their carbon footprint analyses in their magazines to help readers understand the sources of the magazine’s emissions, and encourage them to reduce the part of the footprint they have control over. Like their American counterparts, Canadian magazines have the opportunity to promote recycling to their readers. One way is to participate in Magazines Canada’s “Read. Share. Recycle” program, which provides member magazines with logos and full-page ads encouraging recycling.
4.6 Reducing Print Runs
Reducing print runs is a strategy that is rarely discussed by magazines looking to reduce their environmental impact, but which could quickly bring about a massive improvement. In 2011, the typical North American magazine averaged a newsstand sell-through rate of 33%. While there are arguments to be made that a sell-through rate approaching 100% would not only be impossible, but also undesirable (it would mean somewhere copies were unavailable where they could have been sold), there is surely a middle ground between 33% and 100% that could maximize newsstand exposure while minimizing the waste inherent in a system in which all unsold magazines are sent straight to the recycling depot. There is a significant opportunity for greater efficiency to be introduced into the magazine supply chain to reduce the quantity of paper waste (and related carbon impacts) it creates.
4.7 Low-Carbon Printing
Just as the carbon impacts of paper manufacturing can be reduced by employing renewable, non-carbon emitting energy sources at pulp and paper mills, the emissions from printing can be reduced with the help of sustainable energy and efficiency measures. Hemlock, for example, has worked with the company Offsetters to document their sources of emissions, reduce them as much as possible, and then purchase offsets to make up for those that can’t be eliminated. In addition, they offer clients the opportunity to offset the emissions caused by their own print jobs. And, as a result of being powered through British Columbia’s electrical grid, their electricity comes primarily from non-emitting hydro power.
4.8 Sustainable Transportation Methods
The transportation of raw materials, paper, and printed magazines are all significant contributors to magazines’ carbon footprints, so switching to lower emitting forms of transportation could significantly reduce publishing carbon footprints. Shipping has been estimated to produce only 5-10% of the emissions of trucking freight the equivalent distance, and rail produces about 15% of road transport’s emissions. Obviously neither of these means of transportation is available for all the transport required for the production and distribution of printed magazines, but it would certainly behoove publishers to inquire about the means of transport used at each stage, give preference to paper manufacturers and printers that make use of transport by ship and rail, and pressure their suppliers to make use of the lower-emitting forms of transport whenever possible.
If it’s not possible for a publisher to influence the way a magazine and its paper travels those larger distances, there are still things that can be done about shorter distances. Hemlock, for instance, started making smaller deliveries within Vancouver by hybrid vehicle shortly before Kouwenhoven was interviewed for this report. Smaller magazines with primarily local distribution could easily encourage their printer to adopt a similar strategy, or even employ a cycle-based delivery system like Vancouver’s Shift Urban Cargo.
4.9 Office and Travel Strategies
Both Backpacker and National Geographic have identified a litany of ways to reduce carbon emissions within their offices and among their staff. After its footprint measure-ment exercise, Backpacker set a goal of converting its headquarters to a “zero-waste facility,” in which all office waste would be either recycled or composted. Since contributor travel was considered a necessary evil of their subject matter, office staff committed to collectively walk, bike or take transit 25,000 miles over the course of 2008. Other changes included adopting energy efficient bulbs, adjusting thermostat settings, switching to 100% recycled office paper and developing a workflow that minimizes paper use. To date, no subsequent updates have been published to indi-cate whether their zero-waste or commuting goals have been reached.
The National Geographic Society as a whole has adopted a number of environmental initiatives at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. Energy savings were found by eliminating unnecessary lighting, installing energy efficient bulbs, putting lights on motion sensor switches, setting thermostats lower in winter and higher in summer, closing the office for ten Fridays every year and shutting down boilers during off hours. Headquarters keeps 60% of its waste out of landfills with extensive composting and recycling programs, and the organization promotes carpools, tele-commuting and public transit commuting among employees. Society staff are encouraged to keep printing to a minimum, and to print on 30% PCW paper if necessary.
Even though office and contributor emissions are typically one of the smaller sources of a magazine carbon footprint, reducing them is often the low-hanging fruit of emissions reduction. There are many small steps that can be taken around an office to reduce its greenhouse gas output. Additionally, if an office is located in an area whose electrical grid doesn’t source power from non-emitting sources, one of the best options is to invest in renewable energy through a program like that offered by Bullfrog Power. This Canadian company produces energy from renewable sources, and customers pay a premium to have the quantity of energy they purchase monthly from their local utility injected into the grid from Bullfrog Power’s generators.
The last major strategy that publishers can consider adopting is purchasing carbon offsets. The reason this strategy should come last is that it is preferable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible before attempting to compensate for what remains. “Reduce” is, after all, the first of the environmentalist’s “three Rs.”
The David Suzuki Foundation defines carbon offsets as “credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by one party that can be purchased and used to compensate (offset) the emissions of another party.” Examples include investing in non-emitting energy sources, energy efficiency improvements, and carbon sequestration projects. Backpacker and the National Geographic Society both included ongoing offset purchases among their carbon footprint reduction efforts.
Like Backpacker, Discover claimed to undertake their carbon footprint measurement process as a first step toward making their operations more environmentally friendly. After the study, Discover purchased $4,796 worth of carbon offsets from the organization Carbonfund.org, enough to compensate for the emissions produced by the issue in which the carbon measurement information was published. It is not clear, however, whether Discover has gone on to purchase any additional offsets, or undertake further carbon reduction activities, as they have never published an update to their original report.
One additional factor is worth mentioning regarding Discover’s offset purchase, which funded both renewable energy projects and tree planting. While tree planting in and of itself is valuable, and can certainly contribute to reducing the greenhouse effect, it is problematic as a form of carbon offset. Among the reasons the David Suzuki Foundation does not recommend tree planting as an offset is the fact that tree plantations are not permanent, and their potential to succumb to disease or fire (or logging) means that all the carbon they sequester initially could be emitted into the atmosphere in future. Another is a lack of land—there isn’t enough space for the number of trees needed to compensate for the quantity of greenhouse gases humans will emit in coming years. Most importantly, tree planting does not contribute to reducing humans’ dependence on fossil fuels. By putting offset dollars into projects geared towards reducing fossil fuel use (like all Gold Standard certified offsets), companies can contribute to long-term solutions to the climate change crisis, instead of short-term “band-aid” fixes.
5. CANADIAN CASE STUDIES
Having summarized the research undertaken and carbon reduction strategies adop-ted by a number of American magazines, this report will now focus on actions being taken by Canadian publications. No Canadian publisher to date has invested in a carbon footprint measurement project of its own, but that hasn’t stopped publishers north of the border from taking steps to reduce their contributions to climate change. The following case studies were compiled from a combination of publicly available documents and interviews conducted expressly for this report, and cover carbon footprint reduction strategies adopted by Canadian publishers large and small.
5.1 Alternatives Journal
Canada’s oldest environmentalist magazine, Alternatives Journal was founded in 1971. The publication is a hybrid consumer magazine and scholarly journal published bi-monthly by the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of the Environment. Given its subject matter, environmental practices have always been central to the magazine’s operations. Marcia Ruby, Alternatives’ production co-ordinator, described those practices in a telephone interview.
The magazine has been printed on paper containing recycled content for two decades. Initially, Alternatives applied for and received a grant of $20,000 to help pay for the then-expensive paper. After that first grant, their paper has always contained some recycled content. Since mid-2011, the magazine’s interior has been printed on Cascades’ 100% PCW Rolland Enviro100 Satin sheet, the hybrid paper previously discussed (p.15). The cover is currently printed on an FSC-certified, 30% PCW glossy coated stock. Ruby says she has experimented with cover stock with more recycled content, but has yet to find one that prints images in a way that they still “jump out on the newsstand.”
One of the considerations Ruby says Alternatives has always weighed in its paper choices is where the paper comes from.
There started to be 100% recycled paper available at a price point that we probably could have gone for, but it wasn’t domestic. So then you have to weigh ‘whether ‘tis nobler’ to buy 100% recycled from across the sea, or to buy domestic paper. North America would be the second choice, and the first choice was Canadian… It became really important to me to keep our dollar in Canada.
Another area where Alternatives has tried to make improvements is newsstand waste. In the past the magazine tried to have retailers and distributors send unsold copies to Alternatives’ office rather than recycle them, but Ruby says she hasn’t been able to arrange those kinds of returns since a small American distributor she worked with went out of business. Still, the magazine has been reducing draws where appropriate so that not too many copies are sent straight to recycling. Alternatives has also attempted to limit paper waste by eliminating direct mail campaigns from its promotional activities, but to date has found it impossible to do so without losing subscribers. “Direct mail is still the necessary evil,” says Ruby.
Within the office itself, emissions are reduced through telecommuting (the editor is only present physically two days a week), printing double-sided, walking and biking to work, and purchasing Bullfrog Power. Alternatives also benefits from being part of the Faculty of the Environment, where eco-friendly practices are an institutional priority, taking some of the burden off the magazine staff’s shoulders. “Our office is in a place where it’s somebody else’s business to be handling that,” says Ruby. “We’re in a nice little island.”
Last but not least, the magazine is in the business of teaching people about making their own lives greener. Says Ruby: “I think the very act of us informing people should count for something.”
5.2 The Ark
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) publishes three issues of The Ark each year. The magazine serves as the organization’s newsletter for members, and features lush wildlife photography alongside updates on the NCC’s work. In a telephone interview, editor Christine Beevis shared some of the eco-friendly practices at this conservation-minded publication.
Like Alternatives, The Ark is printed on Cascades’ Rolland Enviro100 Satin, and has been since 2006. The magazine is printed by Warren’s Waterless Printing, which, in addition to its unique waterless technology, uses Bullfrog Power to run its operations, reducing carbon emissions from the printing process. The NCC’s main Ontario office is also Bullfrog powered, as is Beevis’ home, from which she telecommutes some days every week. (Beevis is based in the Nova Scotia office, a donated space, so Bullfrog energy isn’t purchased there.) To reduce the impact of working so far from the NCC’s national headquarters, Beevis has as many meetings as possible through online conference calls, and proofs are sent back and forth as PDFs, rather than printed and couriered. Other simple office practices include double-sided printing, printing on scrap paper, and an active recycling program.
In future, The Ark is considering moving in a more digital direction as a carbon reduction strategy. The NCC’s annual report is already exclusively online. Says Beevis, “The move to digital is really something we’re investigating quite strongly.”
5.3 Corporate Knights
Tagged “the magazine for clean capitalism,” Corporate Knights was founded in 2002, and is distributed quarterly along with copies of The Globe and Mail in Canada, and the Washington Post in the U.S. It is also sold on the newsstand, but single copy sales form only a tiny percentage of the magazine’s circulation. Co-founder, publisher and CEO Toby Heaps discussed the company’s carbon reduction efforts in a telephone interview.
Five years ago, Heaps says Corporate Knights made the decision to “reflect our mission in our medium” by printing on eco-friendly paper. Its cover stock is now one of the ubiquitous-seeming Rolland Enviro100 sheets, and inside pages are printed on an FSC-certified stock manufactured by Catalyst, which claims its manufacturing practices are “carbon neutral” in part thanks investing in reforestation carbon offset programs.
Beyond paper and printing, the magazine also ships its printed copies by train when timing allows (tight timelines occasionally get in the way). Around the office, they’ve reduced heating and cooling energy use (employees wear sweaters in the winter) and installed a bike rack for cyclists (none of the 15 or so staffers drive to work). Corporate Knights also obtains carbon offsets and Bullfrog Power for all events they run. Next up on their eco-checklist: convincing the magazine’s landlord to install solar panels on the roof of their office building, and investing more in digital offerings.
5.4 Cottage Life
Cottage Life has been recognized numerous times for its eco-friendly printing practices, including a pair of Aveda Environmental Printing Awards in 2007 and 2009. The magazine is printed on FSC-certified Ancient Forest Friendly paper produced by Leipa in Germany, which contains between 85% and 100% PCW fibre for inside pages, and 30% PCW fibre for the cover.
Beyond making low-carbon paper choices, the magazine has lowered office and staff emissions through a number of emission-reduction practices, including: programmable thermostats; secure bike lock-up and showers for cyclists; compact fluorescent lightbulbs; double-sided printing; and replacing paper filing with digital filing. The magazine also promotes its (and others’) environmental endeavours by giving out an annual Environment Grant and spreading the word on a web page called “Cottage Life Helps Out.”
5.5 Rogers Publishing
In 2007, Canada’s largest magazine publisher, Rogers Publishing, created a Magazine Paper Procurement Policy, which can be viewed on the company’s website. The publisher behind Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent, and MoneySense (among many others) committed to purchasing all its paper from suppliers with chain-of-custody certification from CSA, SFI or FSC—with preference for FSC-certified papers if possible. Rogers also claimed it would “strive” to increase the average PCW content of its magazine papers from 10% to 15% by 2009. In addition, the company said it would “aim to reduce paper waste, promote paper recycling, promote manufacturing advances in fibre efficiency, and where possible, use lighter weight paper.” Despite a stated goal of annually reviewing the policy and providing updates, none have been published since the policy was posted online in 2007, so it is unclear how successful Rogers has been in its carbon reduction efforts.
5.6 St. Joseph Communications
St. Joseph is both a publisher of magazines in its own right—including Toronto Life, Quill & Quire, and Fashion—and operates printing facilities where other magazines are printed. St. Joseph Print’s facilities are all CoC certified by FSC, PEFC and SFI. In 2005, the company switched to printing Quill & Quire on an Ancient Forest Friendly stock, and the company’s website mentions an “Ancient Forest Friendly Stew-ardship Policy” adopted in 2006, though the text of the policy does not appear to be posted online. St. Joseph is also heavily involved in tree-planting, having collaborated since 1990 with Scouts Canada on the Partners in Growth reforestation project, and encouraging staff to get in on the action with designated volunteering days.
The B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) publishes a member “newsmagazine” seven times a year called Teacher. Along with fellow case study subjects Corporate Knights and The Ark, the BCTF is a member of Green America’s Better Paper Project, which encourages magazines to print on environmentally friendly papers by promoting them to consumers as environmental leaders. In a telephone interview, Donna Coulombe, who works in the BCTF’s executive office, provided information about the carbon cutting efforts involved in publishing Teacher.
The magazine has been printed on BPM’s 100% PCW uncoated Envirographic 100 paper since 2009. In recent years, they have also reduced their run from 442,000 copies to 402,000 copies per issue, a significant reduction in both paper use and printer emissions. The magazine is printed by Mitchell Press, which outlines a number of carbon reduction measures on its website, including: using warmth generated by industrial processes to heat the plant, high efficiency lighting on motion sensors, cooling presses with water cooled by ambient air temperature in rooftop units, and a significant recycling program. Coulombe says the organization is considering encouraging more teachers to access the magazine digitally (it’s posted online in PDF and HTML formats) in the future.
Like Alternatives, Teacher benefits from being published by a larger organization with strong environmental initiatives. The BCTF has an internal Green Work Group that examines practices throughout the union’s headquarters. Major initiatives include office composting and recycling endeavours that reduced landfill waste generated by employees by 67% between 2008 and 2009. Staff are encouraged to recycle and compost by having only very small trash bins by their desks that they are required to empty themselves. Staff receive subsidized transit passes, and carpoolers have designated stalls in the otherwise limited parking garage. Efficient light bulbs have been installed, and office lights shut down at 6 p.m. In addition to its own internal strategies, the BCTF makes significant contributions to the environmental charity Evergreen, whose school-ground greening projects—though not technically a carbon offset—contribute to environmental education for children. The donation, says Coulombe, is “in keeping more with the BCTF’s objectives” than a typical carbon offset.
Like St. Joseph Communications, Transcontinental is an integrated printing and publishing operation, putting out its own magazines—including Canadian Living, Elle Canada, and The Hockey News—and providing printing services to other publishers, including Rogers. In 2009, Transcontinental published a white paper titled Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Magazines, which summarized some existing research and provided guidance for publishers, as well as touting some of the com-pany’s own carbon reduction practices. Those measures included: FSC, SFI and PEFC certification of their printing facilities, digital workflows to eliminate paper waste from the proofing process and “paper purchasing policies that promote the use of environmentally preferable papers.”
Additionally, the company has an environmental policy that it proudly points out was developed as early as 1993, and overall makes public significantly more information about its environmental policies and practices than other major publishers. The environmental policy, paper purchasing policy (introduced in 2007), internally developed classification of environmental papers and sustainability reports for the years 2009 through 2011 are all available for download on the company’s site. The Environmental Policy itself is vague, identifying intentions rather than clearly defined and measurable goals. The items in the policy that would contribute to carbon reduction are: cooperating with other organizations to increase recovery and recycling of Transcontinental’s products, using energy and resources more efficiently, encouraging “the use of papers with maximized post consumer and deinked recycled fibre and maximized agricultural residue fibre,” giving preference to certified sources when virgin fibre is purchased, and seeking to transition to low carbon and renewable energy sources.
The company’s paper purchasing policy echoes the statement quoted above, and adds the intention to avoid paper from “high conservation value” forests, and provides a definition of the qualities that identify those forests. Like the environmental policy, the paper purchasing policy avoids quantitative goals or measurable targets. Transcontinental’s internally developed environmental paper classification system does, however, include specific percentages for things like the quantity of PCW or certified virgin fibre required for each of the five classes of environmental paper defined within it.
It is in Transcontinental’s annual sustainability reports (first published in 2009) that quantitative goals set by the company are identified, and progress measured. For instance, in 2011 Transcontinental met the goals it had set for 2012, to increase the use of paper it defines as Gold Plus and Gold (containing high percentages of PCW, recycled, certified and agricultural waste fibres) to 55%, and reduce the quantity of Bronze papers to 10%. (This latter goal was actually surpassed; Bronze purchases were reduced to 6%.) Other goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption at printing and office facilities. In order to reduce energy use, Transcontinental has created a fund dedicated to energy efficiency pro-jects that its various business units can apply to. The report highlights a handful of projects that contributed to the company’s overall 20% reduction in energy consumption since 2008.
Other actions identified in the sustainability report include supporting the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements, establishing a Sustainable Development Steering Committee involving representatives from all sectors of the company, and introducing an energy policy (which, unlike their other sustainability documents, is not available online).
5.9 The Watershed Sentinel
Founded in 1980, The Watershed Sentinel is an environmentally minded magazine published six times a year out of Comox, B.C. At the time that editor and publisher Delores Broten was interviewed for this report, the magazine was trying to cope with the recent closure of their paper supplier, Grays Harbor, and searching for a new stock to replace the chlorine-free 100% PCW paper they had been printing on for many years.
Because The Watershed Sentinel is a very small operation, its non-paper and printing emissions are negligible. The magazine is published out of a home office, so Broten has no commute, and all office appliances are plugged into power bars, so it’s easy to avoid unnecessary energy usage. The magazine has tried to move as much as possible of its interaction with subscribers online, and now only sends renewal notices by mail if subscribers request it specifically. Broten also expressed an interest in moving more content online as a way of reducing paper use. And last, but not least, The Watershed Sentinel, like the other environmental publications profiled, uses its platform to educate consumers about their own environmental impacts.
6. THE FUTURE
Magazine publishers already have options available to them if they are interested in reducing their carbon footprints, as evidenced by the many strategies employed by the publishers profiled above. Not all of these options—printing on 100% PCW coated paper, for instance—are as readily available as they ought to be, however. And other solutions, like moving content from print to digital formats, are more complex than they may first appear. There is definitely room for improvement in the future, both in terms of the availability of environmentally friendly papers suitable for magazine printing, and our understanding of the environmental impacts of digital publishing.
6.1 Availability of Eco-Paper
While the case studies show the multitude of small ways magazine publishers can reduce their carbon footprints, the only way to make a major dent in the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions is to significantly increase the percentage of PCW fibre in the paper magazines are printed on, and to purchase those papers from mills using non-emitting sources of energy in their manufacturing processes—i.e. energy from hydro power, biogas, wind, solar and geothermal energy. Unfortunately, the availability of these kinds of papers is not something magazine publishers—particularly small ones—have any control over.
It is true that a number of smaller magazines (including some profiled in this report) have switched to papers with high percentages of PCW content, so it is not impossible to do in the current market. However, most of those magazines are printing on either uncoated or “hybrid” stock like Cascades’ Enviro100, an option most publishers will probably not be willing to consider (evidenced by the overwhelming percentage of magazines printed on coated paper). It is also easier for smaller magazines to switch to papers that are available in limited quantities (like New Leaf’s made-to-order coated stocks), because they require much smaller quantities of paper than large, multi-title publishers. Major players in the magazine industry need to know that a given paper is available in large volumes whenever they choose to print before they will consider adopting it. For that same reason, it is unreasonable to expect most companies to follow in Cottage Life’s footsteps and order their paper from overseas. The odds of the paper being at sea when it needs to be on press are just too high. For a significant number of Candian magazines to switch to paper with a significant proportion of PCW fibre, it will need to be manufactured in large quantities, and on North American soil.
Individual publishers might not be able to influence the multi-billion-dollar paper industry to make such a change, but there is the possibility that large-scale cooperation between publishers could prove fruitful. If magazine publishers—potentially organized by an industry group like Magazines Canada—pledged to seek out papers with higher PCW content immediately, rather than waiting to see what the paper industry chose to provide, they might inspire manufacturers to develop higher PCW-content magazine papers sooner rather than later.
Equally, magazine publishers could potentially band together with other major paper purchasers (book and newspaper publishers, printers, office supply companies) to apply pressure to mills to seek out non-emitting sources of energy. Coast Paper specification representative Brenda Cofield pointed out in an interview that the vast majority of paper mills in North America are over a century old: “Paper mills are really, really old. They’re not something that just pops up and you have them the length of a cell phone,” says Cofield. “The majority of all paper mills that we represent would be well over 100 years old. Many of them would be going back to about the 1880s-1890s.” As long as the industry can get away with using century-old technology without losing business, there is no incentive to upgrade to energy efficient equipment optimized for PCW fibre and run using non-emitting energy. The technology already exists, and if major paper purchasers demand it, suppliers will find it difficult not to update their operations.
6.2 The Digital Question
A number of the publications discussed in this report, from Backpacker and Corporate Knights to The Ark and Watershed Sentinel, identified offering magazine content digitally (whether online, on mobile devices, or both) as a way of lessening their environmental impact. In a very simple way, it is true that if a publisher replaces a paper copy of a magazine with a digital equivalent, the publisher eliminates the emissions that would have been generated by creating that paper copy. But, for digital publishing to be a truly environmental choice, it would also have to be true that the emissions released by producing, distributing, and reading the magazine digitally were less than what would be emitted to produce, distribute, and read the paper copy. Otherwise, switching from print to digital is simply off-loading part of the magazine’s emissions from the publisher to the reader.
Over the last 11 years, a handful of studies have compared the environmental effects of digital and print reading. While the overall trend identified among the studies is that digital reading is less harmful to the environment than reading from paper, there are some significant caveats to those findings. An additional caveat is that none of these studies focused specifically on magazines. Newspapers, books, telephone directories and scholarly journals have all been examined, but each presents a slightly different reading scenario from a magazine, and the differences tend to be in the areas that matter most when it comes to emissions. A third caveat is that it is not clear from any of these studies whether biomass removal was factored into the measurement of the emissions resulting from reading on paper. If it was omitted (which seems likely given how frequently that has happened in other publishing studies), then the carbon impacts of reading from paper would have been significantly underestimated in all of these studies.
The first such study was conducted by Hischier and Reichart in 2001. They examined a number of “digital vs. print” scenarios, including the aforementioned telephone directory. The part of their study most relevant to this report examined newspaper reading. They compared both the environmental impact of reading a single article, and of the larger activity of getting the daily news from a physical newspaper, television, or an online newspaper. The study found that reading online caused fewer greenhouse gas emissions than reading printed material if it was “not very time-consuming.”
Once reading online reached a duration of 20 minutes, it produced the same quantity of emissions as reading from paper. Any additional reading beyond the 20-minute mark would have increased the emissions above those generated by print. It should also be noted that these findings were based on the power mix in Switzerland’s electrical grid, which is primarily hydro (like Canada’s). If the study had been conducted in the U.S.—where almost 70% of electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels—the results would have favoured paper even earlier. Given that magazine readers average 42 minutes with each issue, a similar study looking at magazine reading might have come down in favour of print.
A study by Gard and Keolian in 2003 looking at academic journals reached a conclusion complementary to Hischier and Reichart’s. Journals are different from consumer magazines in that their subscribers tend to be institutions rather than individuals, and they are generally accessed by multiple members of those institutions. That said, the overall finding was that the traditional paper format was more environmentally costly for “low-traffic” journals, while sticking to print resulted in environmental benefits for popular journals. Again, if a work was read at length (or by a high number of readers), it was more environmentally sound for it to remain in print than switch to digital. It follows that publishing in print form is probably a benefit for magazines with high numbers of readers per copy.
The next two studies both came down unequivocally on the side of digital reading, however. Kozak compared a 40-volume academic library to its digital equivalent. This scenario is so different in both size and usage from a magazine or even an entire subscription, however, that it seems unwise to extend those findings to the magazine industry. And Toffel and Horvath’s comparison of receiving daily copies of the New York Times for a year with reading New York Times articles on a personal digital assistant (PDA) for an hour every day is again comparing a quantity of paper so much more vast than would ever be generated by a magazine subscription that extrapolating from it to magazine reading would be difficult to justify.
The most recent examinations of this issue have all been led by Åsa Moberg, who has compared print reading and e-reading in a number of studies. Her 2007 paper identified the major sources of emissions for three kinds of newspaper reading: print, online and on a dedicated e-reader. For print, as we have already seen, the major source is paper. Online reading generates the bulk of its emissions through the power used by the computer. Once again, when online reading reached a duration of 30 minutes or longer, it generated impacts in the same range as the printed newspaper.
Using a dedicated e-reader—with its significant reduction in power usage relative to a computer—generated most of its emissions from the production of the device itself. Despite e-readers’ lower energy requirements, their use for magazine reading does not guarantee a lower environmental impact than paper. Because the major source of emissions resulting from e-readers is their manufacturing, moving a magazine from print to a version optimized for an e-reader is only an environmental advantage if the reader is getting the most from their device—i.e. they are using it for purposes beyond magazine reading, and keeping the device for a number of years before replacing it.
In her 2011 study comparing paper and e-books, Moberg writes that in order for it to be an environmentally preferable choice,
an e-book reader should be used frequently, the lifetime of the device should be prolonged, as far as possible, and when not in use anymore, the device should be disposed of in a proper way, making material recycling possible. In addition, the production of the e-reader should be energy efficient and striving towards minimization of toxic and rare substances.
The question of toxic and rare substances in e-readers, while not directly related to carbon emissions, is certainly an important one to consider. Rare metals used in electronic devices are often sourced from—and the source of conflict in—war-ravaged areas like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One other key issue Moberg highlights is that, because e-reader devices are made in China, their manufacture is generally powered by coal—which contributes 72% of the Chinese power grid. So if publishers make a point of seeking out paper manufactured with non-emitting renewable energy, they could significantly reduce the relative emissions of print compared to e-reading.
Given the possibility that biomass removal was omitted from some or all of these studies, their findings must be taken with at least a grain of salt. That said, they are also the only research currently published on the subject, and there are certainly lessons that can be learned from them. To begin with, the relative emissions of paper and digital reading depend on a number of factors. The first is the source of the energy used to power any digital device. Readers in areas powered by fossil fuels may be better off reading from paper (as long as it wasn’t also manufactured using fossil fuels). The second is duration of reading. The longer spent reading a particular publication, the fewer relative emissions caused by the print version. The third is sharing—a magazine that is often passed hand-to-hand may be preferable in print form, environmentally speaking. And the fourth is appropriate use and disposal of e-reading devices. Used properly, these devices can certainly reduce the carbon footprint of magazine reading, but if their owners get caught up in the cycle of planned obsolescence and replace their device whenever a new one comes on the market, they could instead cause significant greenhouse gas emissions. “Digital comes with a price too,” says Alternatives’ Ruby.
What should magazine publishers do, then, in response to the existing research? First they should inform themselves and understand the studies that have been done, rather than assume that “digital equals green.” Next, they should strive to inform their audience. Instead of simply making both print and digital versions available to subscribers, they could educate readers that casual digital reading is preferable to casual print reading, but for reading a magazine cover to cover and passing it between many readers, print may be preferable. Furthermore, in the same way they encourage print readers to recycle their magazines, publishers should encourage digital readers to use and dispose of their devices appropriately in order to minimize their environmental impact.
Another useful step would be for a group of publishers—again perhaps through an organization like Magazines Canada—to commission a study explicitly comparing the life cycle of a printed magazine to its digital equivalent, rather than being forced to draw on research conducted on newspapers, books and scholarly journals. Such a study ought, of course, to include the removal of biomass in any calculations relating to print-related emissions in order to ensure that all significant sources are accounted for. Last, publishers should—as this entire paper has argued—seek out the lowest emitting papers available, so that the discrepancy between print and e-reading is further reduced.
6.3 Cradle to Cradle Certification
One other approach to sustainable development is worth briefly mentioning as a potential future help to publishers wishing to reduce their carbon footprints. The Cradle to Cradle (C2C) framework has been developed over the last two decades by architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart and their consulting firm MBDC. Intended to recognize manufacturers for “using safe materials that can be disassembled and recycled as technical nutrients or composted and absorbed as biological nutrients,” C2C certification is now conducted by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, and assesses five criteria: material health, material reutilization, energy, water, and social responsibility. The parameters for assessing each of these criteria are compatible with other established standards, including the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and FSC guidelines.
To date, only one paper product has been C2C certified, a 100% recycled office paper whose Dutch manufacturer provides it to the same companies whose waste paper was used to make it. Clearly, there is enormous potential for paper manufacturers to pursue this holistic level of sustainability. Another publishing-related realm that would benefit greatly from C2C principles is the manufacturing of electronics, notably those used for reading. The environmental implications of the paper vs. digital discussion would be significantly altered if any e-reader manufacturer pursued Cradle to Cradle design. As it stands, no electronic device has achieved C2C certification yet.
Thanks to the studies conducted by American publishers and publishing organizations, Canadian magazines are in a good position to understand the nature of their carbon footprints and take actions to reduce them. Unfortunately, the largest area for improvement lies in the hands of another industry entirely: the paper industry. Individual publishers may not be able to pressure their paper manufacturers to adopt lower-carbon fibre and energy sources, but by banding together (and possibly joining forces with other major paper buyers), they certainly have the potential to influence their suppliers. In addition, because of their role as trusted purveyors of information to the public, Canadian magazine publishers have a platform from which they can educate consumers about these issues and engage them in a campaign for lower carbon papers.
As can be seen from the case studies, there are many ways that publishers large and small can immediately reduce in their carbon footprints, even if they can’t afford to measure those reductions. It is important, however, that industry players make a point of understanding the science of magazine carbon footprints clearly, or working with those who do, so that apparent solutions—like going digital, investing heavily in tree planting, and purchasing paper manufactured with biomass energy—aren’t adopted without a complete grasp of the ways in which they do, and don’t, contribute to a reduction in greenhouse emissions.
103 Delores Broten (editor and publisher, The Watershed Sentinel), in discussion with the author, November 2, 2011. RETURN
104 Brenda Cofield (specification representative, Coast Paper), in discussion with the author, February 21, 2012, in Vancouver, British Columbia. RETURN
105 Hischier and Reichart, “Multifunctional Electronic Media,” 2003, 397. RETURN
106 U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Net Generation by Energy Source,” 2012. RETURN
107 Magazines Canada, Put Magazines to Work for You 2011, 2011, 10. RETURN
108 Gard and Keoleian, “Digital versus Print,” 2003, 129. RETURN
109 Kozak, Printed Scholarly Books and E-book Reading Devices, 2003, ii. RETURN
110 Toffel and Horvath, “Environmental Implications of Wireless Technologies,” 2004. RETURN
111 Moberg et al., Screening Environmental Life Cycle Assessment, 2007, 6. RETURN
112 Moberg et al., “Books from an environmental perspective,” 2011, 238. RETURN
113 Moberg et al., Screening Environmental Life Cycle Assessment, 2007, 93. RETURN
114 Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, “Program Details,” 2012. RETURN
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ABSTRACT: This report examines the tension between print and digital magazine publishing, the divisiveness around SEO, and the future of BCBusiness magazine’s digital editorial strategy. Beyond simply extolling the virtues of SEO, this report discusses its absolute necessity in the digital editorial workflow, how it can be adapted, and the best practices for digital editors. As the magazine publishing industry moves into a new digital era, magazines have to consider how to align the goals and practices of print and digital editors while developing new online strategies that combine print content, multimedia, SEO, and social media. BCBusiness is on the vanguard of this magazine publishing movement that will see more dynamic editors working as multi-platform, multidiscipline, word- and Web-strategists. All figures and statistics are accurate as of April 2011.
Thanks to my industry supervisor, Shannon Emmerson, and to John Bucher for their support, mentorship, and for letting me stick around after my internship.
Thanks to my senior supervisor, John Maxwell, and the brilliant staff in the Master of Publishing Program. I appreciate all of your encouragement, your dedication to your students, and above all, for helping me see what an exciting time this is to be entering the publishing industry.
And finally, thanks to my wonderful husband, Luc. I couldn’t have done this without your motivation on those early Saturday mornings, your encouraging words, and all of your support as I inched further toward my degree.
In an increasingly digital world, magazine publishing strategies without Web components are rare animals. The publishing industry has evolved rapidly, changing with the technologies on which it relies to reach its readers. As digital technologies advance, so do its users, and so must the content providers. After spending three months interning at Canada Wide Media, Western Canada’s largest magazine publisher, and studying the evolution of its online publishing strategy, I saw firsthand the speed with which publishers and editors must react to the evolving demands of readers and the market.
This report addresses the seismic shifts in the magazine publishing landscape, how they have given way to new digital strategies and an emphasis on magazines’ online components, and what these changes look like at a Canadian magazine publisher. During my internship at Canada Wide I analyzed online articles from 2007 onwards to ascertain past digital editorial practices and how they figured in the overall workflow of a print article being put online. Beyond analyzing the way things were, this report thoroughly discusses current strategies and their merits in online publishing, and puts forth new ideas for the future of online publishing. Upon being hired as a full-time staff member following my internship, I extended my research to Canada Wide’s current editorial strategies, and looked at how new methods and ideas can be incorporated to improve the digital editorial workflow and the overall success of online magazines. By going inside the current digital editorial practices at BCBusiness magazine, Canada Wide’s print and online business title, and analyzing its past methods, I can trace the evolution of online magazine publishing strategies at Canada Wide Media.
As online magazine-publishing models proliferate, more companies are exploring the opportunities of digital publishing rather than dwelling on the shortcomings of print. Magazines are being published in myriad forms —Magazines Canada calls them “360 degree marketing providers”—and online editions are building credibility with both readers and advertisers. As audiences warm to the idea of consuming robust content online —books, magazines, newspaper articles—more publications are moving their digital products beyond static replications of their print editions and embracing new strategies.
Early online models seemed to be shaped around the idea that “if you build it, they will come;” any online presence was better than none, and digital strategies lacked elegance, using the Web simply as a print-content repository. The prevailing idea was that, if your content was worthy, readers would find it, consume it, share it, and return for more. But with 255 million websites in existence as of December 2010, it has never been clearer that good content alone will not fuel your site’s vitality and success.
The content is king mantra still buzzes in the background of digital publishing strategies, but the sheer vastness and increasing complexities of the Internet demand a more sophisticated approach. Publishing excellent content is the editor’s steadfast goal, but ensuring that it is findable is paramount in her strategy. If you build it, the reader must be able to Google it.
Readers do not interact with a digital publication in the same way as with a print publication, nor do they find it the same way. Adopting a separate editorial strategy for Web content (both print-to-Web and Web-only) involves understanding how readers consume content online and understanding how they find it.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the Web practice of enhancing an article or website’s visibility online and increasing its findability in search engine results. In the past few years, SEO has become an increasingly fundamental part of online magazine publishing strategies, and thorough knowledge and understanding of SEO techniques are a necessity in the digital editor’s toolbox. By employing SEO methods, the digital editor improves an article’s online visibility, which results in more traffic arriving to the magazine’s website; it is like placing your print magazine at the front of the newsstand in hopes of attracting more readers. Although some aspects of SEO are at odds with the conventions of print editorial—such as headline writing—they have their rightful place in magazine publishing.
By incorporating SEO methods into the digital editorial strategy, editors can ensure that their content is well indexed by search engines and that it drives traffic to the magazine’s site. Although SEO skeptics are still rampant, it is hard to ignore the facts; through Google analytics, it is easy to discern the articles that have been optimized from those that were copied from the print magazine with no further changes. This report looks at the SEO and analytics of successful and unsuccessful BCBusiness articles to clarify the gap between a properly optimized article and one that has not undergone any Web-specific editorial treatment. Analytics reveal how many people see an article, how they arrived there, and many other valuable details that can be incorporated into the digital editorial strategy. A magazine article that is published online without Web-specific editorial treatment or optimization is the proverbial needle in the Internet haystack, a blip on the Google analytics radar. By thoroughly analyzing search optimization methods, this report will determine the best practices for digital editors, look at new techniques, emphasize SEO’s necessity in online magazine publishing, and look at how it can be specifically applied to back issues of Canada Wide’s magazines and to its current digital editorial strategy.
The digital publishing arc of BCBusiness magazine
In 2005, Canada Wide Media launched a Web component for its flagship publication, BCBusiness magazine. The website offered fragments of five articles per month and pushed readers to subscribe to the print magazine. In 2007, BCBusiness launched its full website, BCBusinessOnline.ca. Over the past five years, BCBusiness Online has followed a similar arc to the one mentioned above. The fledgling website published entire print magazine issues by moving content online, but with minimal photos and limited consideration for the articles’ digital environment, primarily due to a small staff stretched thinly over the demanding website launch and curation. The original intention was to bring BCBusiness a Web presence as quickly as possible, populating the site with print content as a mirror to the magazine. The digital staff wanted to serve both readers, in finding content online, and advertisers, in reaching a new online audience. “The purpose of the website was to promote the magazine to advertisers and potential subscribers” with less focus on the reader experience. The website was a means to an end; the goal was to have a Web presence. In conjunction with the website launch, BCBusiness Online developed a blog component, but still left the magazine content with limited digital editorial treatment. It focused, rather, on curating the new Web-only component, a collection of blogs. BCBusiness Online’s Web component concerned itself with fresh, engaging content—which is not a bad strategy, but an incomplete one.
In the years following the launch of the site the magazine has significantly adjusted its approach to include search engine optimization as a critical part of its digital editorial strategy. With editors dedicated to SEO as a stage in each blog post and article’s workflow, the magazine has increased its visibility online and overall visitor traffic to the site. BCBusiness Online began using Google analytics in 2008, and since then the site has seen a 22.7% increase in unique visitors from 2008 to 2009, and a 49.2% increase in unique visitors from 2009 to 2010. This is no doubt the result of BCBusiness Online’s adoption of SEO, social media practices, and continued publication of high-quality content. Excellent content is a priority, but broadcasting it through social media and making it searchable through SEO has made the site significantly more successful, as can be seen by analyzing the visitor sources and keywords in BCBusiness Online’s Google analytics.
BCBusiness Online’s early practices of shoveling print content online has resulted in droves of valuable back-issue articles that have sunk to the bottom of the site and are not easily findable by search. By revisiting these articles with a revised digital editorial strategy, BCBusiness Online can create a valuable archive of content that will drive traffic, create a long tail of organic search-engine visitors, and hopefully convert those visitors to loyal readers.
We know that magazines need SEO, but it is time to revisit those strategies and evaluate which methods have real clout and which can be put aside. Rather than use the shotgun approach, editors must devote more quality time to only the important aspects of SEO than hedging one’s bets by completing every step half-heartedly. Too much time is wasted on methods that have been proven useless, like writing long lists of keywords on the backend of articles. Abandoning ineffective methods to devote more time to others (i.e. rewriting headlines and cultivating strong social media channels) can fortify the overall SEO of an article. This revision of the digital editorial strategy must also involve print editors—SEO should extend beyond the purview of just the digital editor. As magazines’ Web components build dominance, editors must work together as members of the same brand rather than separate print and digital entities.
PART ONE | A Burgeoning BCBusiness Digital Editorial Strategy
Early digital workflow; Case study: BCBusiness Online articles in 2007; The importance of SEO in digital
The evolution of BCBusiness Online provides a model in the Canadian publishing industry by which we can trace changes in online editorial strategies. Analyzing articles from even just four years ago reveals a substantially different approach to online magazine publishing and a very basic definition of “Web presence.” In its earliest incarnation—and like many of its peers—BCBusiness magazine approached search engine optimization as more of an overall site-structure strategy with less attention paid to the optimization of individual articles. But as publishers began to grasp a more sophisticated idea of what being online meant for a magazine, digital editors began to emerge and, with them, digital editorial strategies. Search engine optimization grew in relevance as publishers began to consider business models for digital publishing, and as digital editors recognized its reader-attracting power. The sales staff wanted more traffic for the sake of advertisers, and editorial staff wanted more readers. BCBusiness had humble Web beginnings, but carved out its spot online and used the power of search engine optimization to help find its online audience.
BCBusiness Online has developed over time within the Digital Media Department at Canada Wide Media under director of digital media Shannon Emmerson. Since June 2007, the department has grown from a full-time staff of two to a full-time staff of 13. This includes three full-time digital editors, each dedicated to their own digital title—BCBusiness Online, Granville Online, and BCLiving, respectively. The department also has two full-time digital editorial assistants who devote editorial time to these titles, as well as TVWeek Online, Youthink.ca, GardenWise Online, RealGolf.ca, and Wellness Matters. The remainder of the department is comprised of a vice-president of marketing and digital media, a director of business development, an online-product marketing manager, two Web developers, an interactive designer, and a digital media operations manager.
A full-time digital editor and full-time digital editorial assistant run BCBusiness Online, with occasional blog contributions from the BCBusiness print editors. Together, the digital editors manage eight blogs with various contributors, create sales-driven Web-only content (articles whose topics originate from salespeople and are juxtaposed with relevant advertisements), publish each print issue of BCBusiness online, and create web-only multimedia features including slideshows, podcasts, videos, content collections, and weekly eNewsletters.
Recent structural changes at Canada Wide have shifted the digital editors out of the Digital Media Department and under the larger umbrella of the Editorial Department. This internal shift at the company affords the opportunity to make a stronger connection between the print and digital strategies of BCBusiness and BCBusiness Online. Consolidating print and digital editors will make it easier to integrate the digital editorial strategy into the overall editorial strategy of the BCBusiness brand.
Early digital workflow
In June 2007, BCBusiness magazine made its foray into digital publishing with BCBusiness Online. This was a crucial transition for BCBusiness during a period where many publishers feared the Web would cannibalize print sales.
In its earliest incarnation, the website revolved primarily around print content, and was without a proper digital editor for its first eight months. John Bucher, the first BCBusiness digital editor, arrived in February 2008. Under Bucher’s direction, the website was primarily dedicated to Web-only content that would complement the magazine. The digital editor continued publishing every article from each print issue as more bloggers joined and the Web-only content began to flourish. Like many other publications in the nascent digital magazine market, BCBusiness Online was carving out its niche and experimenting with the tension between print and digital. This was in a pre-iPad, pre-Kindle era, where the notion of consuming books and magazines online was an ongoing debate for readers and a relatively new challenge for publishers.
BCBusiness uses—as it used then—a customizable Drupal content management system that creates new articles through a blank “article” template form with required (i.e. title, author, body text) and optional (i.e. meta title, meta description) fields. Once filled in, the article forms can be saved and left unpublished or saved and published at the editor’s discretion by simply selecting or deselecting the “publish” button. The titles, authors, and body text from magazine articles were copied and pasted from their original Adobe InDesign production files into the backend of the website as unpublished articles (not accessible online except by editors), receiving no further editorial treatment beyond the print-magazine workflow. After upload, all print content was published at the digital editor’s discretion.
Before BCBusiness Online developed a strategy around the timing of online content with the timing of print content, it experimented, in an effort to maintain subscriptions and newsstand sales. The first publishing strategy was to sync the website publication with the magazine to be a true digital companion, offering full article access in time with the newsstand date. Further experiments included trickling articles out online throughout the course of the month, and pre-releasing print content “teasers” in the weekly eNewsletters to build momentum. But it was not until BCBusiness Online joined Twitter in February 2009 that the site could effectively generate buzz around print articles prior to the newsstand date without undermining the magazine. By tweeting about topics and people featured in upcoming articles without actually linking to them, readers are left to consider what angle the article might take, and must stay tuned to the BCBusiness Twitter feed (or continue visiting the BCBusiness homepage) until the article goes live online. The digital editor measured his success in this endeavour by retweets and the quality of direct response to his teaser tweets.
At the time BCBusiness joined Twitter, the digital editor was slowly leaking print articles online after the publication of the print magazine. He now gauges the anticipated popularity of print stories and revises his publishing strategy on a month-to-month basis; he publishes articles early, on the newsstand date, and past the newsstand date, all the while tweeting about what’s live on the website and what’s to come. The current role of BCBusiness Online falls under both the idea of the companion and the complement—everything in the magazine is offered online, but with additional commentary and treatment that only the Web can offer. The website plays the companion by publishing online everything in the print magazine, but it also complements print stories by taking advantage of multimedia—and sometimes further coverage in writing—to round out the articles. For example, a February 2011 article on nuclear fusion and Burnaby-based company General Fusion had a Web-only complementary article that featured an interview with the CEO of General Fusion and a lesson on how his company’s particular brand of nuclear fusion works; a January 2011 article on BC architects had a Web-only slideshow of structures designed by the architecture firms mentioned in the print article.
Eight BCBusiness Online bloggers (a number that is currently in flux) and various other contributors provide timely commentary, business advice, and local business insight that reinforce the brand as a trusted authority in BC’s business community.
The table below illustrates BCBusiness’s size as a print magazine and as a website. Comparing the 2009 and 2010 stats of BCBusiness indicates significant growth online and in the magazine’s social media channels.
BCBusiness Circa 2009
BCBusiness Circa 2010
Total Site Unique Visitors (fiscal year 2009): >230,000
Total Site Unique Visitors (fiscal year 2010): >315,000
Magazine circulation: 26,000 (monthly)
Magazine circulation: 26,000 (monthly)
Average article and blog uploads per month: 75
Average article and blog uploads per month: 60
Online archives: July 2007 and later
Online archives: Full issues for July 2007 and later; random print articles from 2005
In comparison to sister site and magazine GardenWise, whose current circulation is 35,000 and current average uploads per month is approximately 30 articles per month plus regular blogs and events, BCBusiness has grown its total unique visitors substantially more. From 2009 to 2010 BCBusiness has increased it unique visitors by nearly 100,000 visitors per month. GardenWise decreased from >250,000 unique visitors in 2009 to >235,000 unique visitors in 2010. Although the two brands are under the same umbrella at Canada Wide Media, BCBusiness underwent more radical changes to its digital editorial strategy in recent years, has a full-time online editor and assistant editor, and has more fully incorporated SEO into its workflow of print and Web-only content.
Case study: BCBusiness Online articles in 2007
Early digital editorial strategies involved little to no SEO, in part due to unfamiliarity, but also due to fear of comprising the editorial integrity of print articles. But it was hard for publishers to ignore the logic of search engine optimization. Google analytics show that when an article is optimized, it will receive more organic visitors than an article that has not been optimized. Turning up one’s nose at SEO is turning down loads of potential readers. Senior SEO analyst for Hearst Publications, Dan Roberts, was an early proponent for SEO and the man responsible for working it into the publishing company’s online strategy. “There are a lot of people who had to make a paradigm shift [from print editorial] . . . The ones that ignore [SEO] do so at their own peril and their results speak for themselves,” said Roberts.
Print articles do not translate to the Web in many ways—especially visually. A page of magazine article has text that flows around pull quotes, has images and captions, and breaks longer pieces into subsections, even if only with drop caps rather than subheads. These longer articles online appear as blocks of text with few points of entry for the reader; without subtitles to distinguish breaks or shifts in the story, images to create visual interest, or page breaks, online articles can appear daunting and unattractive to readers. And most importantly, print titles are vague and do not contain keywords, making the articles less searchable online. If an article about boating in the Pacific Ocean is called “High Tides,” with no further metadata, and a reader is searching online for information about boating in the Pacific, this article will be buried beneath articles whose titles and metadata are trying to capture that audience. Eventually everything online is indexed, but it is not necessarily easy to find.
Rachelle Money reports that since including SEO in Hearst’s digital editorial strategy, the company saw a 150 per cent increase in overall traffic. This jump in traffic and shift in editorial strategy represents the majority of online magazines and magazine companions; some worried that SEO would compromise the integrity of the original article, and some were just skeptical. In 2007 when BCBusiness was first experimenting with online strategies and digital publishing, it had moderate knowledge of search engine optimization that was geared mostly toward website infrastructure rather than smaller-scale article infrastructure. By analyzing old BCBusiness content, it is evident that the chief priority was getting content online with few editorial changes. Had these articles been under the guiding hand of a digital editor, they could have been rigorously optimized, capturing a larger online audience, ranking higher in Google search results when there was less competition, and enjoying a long tail of traffic over the years. Each visitor in the long tail of traffic represents an opportunity to win over a new reader. Reviewing an article from BCBusiness Online in 2007 demonstrates the lost opportunities of digital editorial strategies without SEO.
On September 1, 2007 (three days prior to the September print issue’s newsstand date), BCBusiness Online published the print feature story “Here Comes the Pride.” (URL: http://www.BCBusiness Online.ca/bcb/top-stories/2007/09/01/here-comes-pride.) The article has a slug-based URL, which means it is automatically created by the online publishing platform, drawing its name from the category under which the article is classified in the Drupal article form (top story), the date on which it is published online (September 1, 2007), and the title of the article, which in this case is the original magazine headline (Here Comes the Pride). Because the title of this article was taken directly from the print magazine with no further changes, the URL contains no useful keywords for a reader who is trying to Google the article. Ordinarily when optimizing a print article’s headline, the digital editor uses the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to research popular words and phrases that pertain to the article. In this case, the digital editor might have found that “gay marriage” was a popular keyword and subsequently used it in the headline. This would create a keyword-based title, reflecting the terms that readers would use in search engines to find this content.
The meta title is an SEO element that appears at the top of the reader’s browser and describes the content of the page; it reads the same as the print story headline, but with BCBusiness appended after a pipeline (Here Comes the Pride | BCBusiness). BCBusiness is automatically added to the end of every meta title, which is good for overall brand SEO but does not help individual articles. The article deck is not visible in the body of the text and is only used in a promotional spot of the article form that appears wherever the article is featured on the website. Including a deck contained in H2 tags is another opportunity to include pertinent keywords and larger searchable phrases that may be too awkward for a title. The body of the article does not feature any further optimized metadata such as H3 tags, article links, or image meta tags.
Reviewing the Google analytics for this article reveals that zero visitors arrived from keywords germane to the article’s content. Without optimizing the article around keywords, it cannot be easily found—if at all—through a Google search. Unless a reader has the exact print title, “Here Comes the Pride,” he would have no other means of finding the article online. In order to capture visitors through Google searches, the digital editor must research keywords and phrases that relate to the article and that she thinks readers would use in order to find this type of story. The Google Adwords Keyword Tool shows the editor which keywords are popular, by how many Google searches they receive each month, and how likely it is to rank highly for the keyword by displaying the level of “competition” surrounding the word. The more popular something is, the harder it will be to win that term. But ranking on the first page of a Google search result for a popular keyword can result in consistent traffic. In Google Adwords Keyword Tool, the following relevant search terms return favourable results:
“gay marriage” – 550,000 searches per month, low competition
“same sex marriage” – 201,000 searches per month, low competition
“gay and lesbian marriage” – 165,000 searches per month, low competition
“legalize same sex marriage” – 18,100 searches per month, low competition
In publishing and journalism, editors and writers refer to an article like “Here Comes the Pride” as “evergreen”—its content does not go out of date and is perennially useful. But without SEO, once the article is shifted down by newer content, it is buried deep within the site with no means of finding it. In the next section we look at a 2008 article called “Red Light, Green Light” that received the full SEO treatment and subsequently ranks highly in Google search results. Since BCBusiness Online began using Google Analytics in 2008, “Here Comes the Pride” has received a paltry 226 unique visits—a fraction of the 9,603 visits that the optimized “Red Light, Green Light” received in just 2010 alone. And of those 226 visitors, not one arrived using a relevant keyword. With such extraordinarily popular search terms at its heart, such low competition for those terms, and an online life of over three years, the article should have tens of thousands of views.
The importance of SEO in digital
By comparing “Here Comes the Pride” to another (optimized) article based around a popular search term, it is easy to see the difference in terms of visitor traffic and longevity. Although the article “Red Light, Green Light: Sex in Vancouver” was published on October 9, 2008, it continues to draw steady traffic. The article covers a salacious, controversial, and highly searched topic (much like same sex marriage but with radically fewer searches per month in the Google Adwords keyword tool), but by optimizing the article well, it ranks highly in Google search results and constantly draws traffic. In January 2011 alone, the article brought in 1,394 unique visitors just from organic Google searches (not including visitors from other search engines). Over its lifetime, “Red Light, Green Light” has brought in the following numbers of unique visitors from the corresponding keywords: 1,205 arrived via keywords “Vancouver prostitution”; 941 arrived via keywords “Vancouver prostitutes”; and 931 arrived via keywords “prostitution in Vancouver.” Winning such a popular keyword early on in the online publishing game is a feat for BCBusiness and a testament to the power of SEO. Both “Here Comes the Pride” and “Red Light, Green Light” contain controversial and very highly searched topics and keywords, but only one continues to capture thousands of readers. According to the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, the aforementioned “Red Light, Green Light” search terms bring in the following number of searches per month through Google:
“Vancouver prostitution” – 1,300 searches/month in Google, low competition
“Vancouver prostitutes” – 12,400 searches/month in Google, low competition
“Prostitution in Vancouver” – 1,300 searches/month in Google, low competition
These are the top three keywords by which visitors arrived at the article, and each has a significantly lower search value in Google than the keywords for the non-optimized article “Here Comes the Pride.” The term “gay marriage” may not be as risqué as “Vancouver prostitution,” but it has the potential to garner more organic Google search traffic.
“Red Light, Green Light” was published online on October 9, 2008 under the revised headline “Red Light, Green Light: The Sex Industry in Vancouver.” This article headline combines the original article title (on the left side of the colon) with keywords. Keeping the original title is sometimes desired so that print readers can easily find the article online. The meta title, “Red Light Green Light: The Sex Industry in Vancouver | Vancouver Prostitution| BCBusiness,” includes secondary keywords and phrases that were not used in the title.
In the body of the article, the deck repeats the article’s keywords, and the keywords are repeated again in subheads surrounded by H3 tags. Subheads are a frequently missed opportunity to include keywords and phrases; they serve the double duty of breaking up dense text, offering more points of entry for readers, and adding further SEO keywords to the article. H3 tags can also be used in sidebar titles for shorter articles that do not require subheads. Four outbound links—three to BCBusiness Online and one to National Public Radio—are embedded in the article. The links are created with strong anchor text that denotes the content readers will find on the linked page. Links with properly anchored, keyword-dense text reflect well on an article when they connect to a credible outside source (such as National Public Radio). Including relevant links to outside sources boosts the article’s status in Google and is a standard of best practices in web publishing.
Unlike “Here Comes the Pride,” “Red Light, Green Light” is broken into shorter pages as a user-friendly way to present longer stories to online readers. Images throughout the article are tagged with metadata consistent with the article’s main keywords and phrases.
Without the above SEO treatment, “Red Light, Green Light: Sex in Vancouver” would have been buried under years of BCBusiness Online content and poorly indexed by Google. Although some editors have feared that adjusting a print article for digital publication will destroy its integrity by jamming it full of keywords, SEO merely amends the article to its medium without compromising the quality of the original writing.
Analyzing past BCBusiness articles reflects the early standards of online magazine publishing at Canada Wide Media and in the rest of the country; not every publication had a website and those that did were still developing their digital practices. Early digital workflows focused on how content would get online, but not necessarily how readers would find and consume it online. Rudimentary digital editorial strategies were the norm—out of every publication at Canada Wide Media, BCBusiness had, and still has, the most developed online strategy and the most active editorial application of that strategy. Although other publications at Canada Wide Media have comprehensive digital strategies, they have fewer resources and therefore receive less editorial attention than BCBusiness Online. Since its launch in 2007, BCBusiness has taken articles like “Here Comes the Pride” and revised their metadata to capture organic visitors and further expose the magazine’s brand. Parsing the metadata and editorial treatment of “Here Comes the Pride” and “Red Light, Green Light” emphasizes the importance and effectiveness of implementing a digital editorial strategy. Getting online was important, but now getting found online is key.
PART TWO | The Inner Workings of Search Engine Optimization
SEO explained; Social media as SEO; SEO in the analytics spotlight
Using search engine optimization in publishing is a fundamental part of finding your readers and giving them what they want. Revising print articles with a view for increasing their findability online is the cornerstone of SEO. Part two discusses the fundamentals of optimizing an article, how the various elements of SEO function, and how this affects an article’s analytics and traffic. Although social media is not strictly considered an element of SEO, it helps boost traffic and brand presence in a way that complements optimized articles. Social media article promotion is always the last step of a digital editor’s workflow, but it is crucial. Promoting content on sites like Facebook and Twitter gives articles a boost and helps generate inbound links before the article is indexed and begins to draw traffic from Google searches. Where optimizing an article is key to the long-term success of an article, social media act as the short-term portion of the editor’s overall goal to drive traffic and place an article highly in Google search results pages.
As seen in Part One, the difference between an optimized and non-optimized article can be thousands of lost visitors. Proper and thorough SEO ensures that Google indexes a magazine’s content and that quality visitors—the right people—will find it. Google co-founder Larry Page once said the perfect search engine “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” By using best SEO practices and getting well indexed by Google, good magazine content can be exactly what someone is looking for.
Although SEO is now a more integral part of online magazines’ publishing strategies, skeptics remain. Not everyone is convinced of search engine optimization’s effectiveness; many print editors fear that SEO interferes with an article’s editorial integrity; some skeptics believe that subtle SEO tweaks do not amount to anything; and others, rightly so, are weary of “black hat” SEO artists and methods.
The fear that SEO will degrade the level of writing in magazine articles is a fear based on unfounded suspicions of the tenets of Web writing. Web writing stresses keyword density and focused content that “lets people grab and go,” but all online content does not have to fall in line under these standards—especially robust magazine articles. When weaving SEO practices into a digital editorial strategy, it is important to remember that “your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.” Although the goal is to be indexed by Google and ranked highly, editors have to keep the readers top of mind.
Changing content by thinning it out and stuffing the body text with keywords may help its search ranking, but the quality suffers for it, and so does the brand. Sophisticated online readers, digital natives, and an increasing part of magazines’ broader audiences understand that magazines are fighting for their attention. Finding readers online is a battle. Readers are learning more about SEO and, on the farther end of the SEO spectrum, content farms, whose sole purpose is to optimize often poorly written content around popular search terms. Readers are becoming weary of websites like eHow.com and publications using unethical or misleading practices to capture their attention. A headline and description on a Google search results page that promises to talk about the Canadian political leaders’ debate, but is jammed with keywords and does not cover the crux of the issue results in quick reader turnover. Once the reader is duped into visiting an article that does not deliver on its promise or does so poorly and ineffectively, that brand is now associated with that experience. Many readers have accused Suite 101 and other such sites of being nothing more than content farms. “Quality can be a big issue,” says Jason Glover, a former Suite 101 writer, of the website’s methods. “It can be argued that the primary concern of the sites is to sell advertising and make money, so good SEO is more important than well-written and researched articles.” Optimizing content in a misleading way or posting well-optimized but low-quality content may spike numbers, but it is not part of a long-term plan to win readers’ trust and build a strong brand reputation.
After all, the goal is to attract visitors and convert them to loyal readers, not just to secure the top position in Google searches. Writing for the web in magazine articles is realized through subheads, sidebars, and pagination—methods that improve the online reading experience and boost search visibility without compromising the quality. Content will always be King of any editorial strategy.
Small changes to optimize an article are no trifling thing. Rewriting a print article’s vague title may seem like a paltry adjustment, but according to Google, “when combined with other optimizations, [these changes] could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.” Breaking down SEO into its respective parts is useful for understanding how to wield its power properly and learning which parts should be prioritized. But overall, SEO should be understood as a whole, with each step acting as a fundamental part of the SEO machine. If one part fails—a title without keywords—the entire machine slows down. And if enough parts fail—poor title, no deck, not researching the keywords—the entire machine is rendered useless and your article sinks into oblivion.
For every few SEO enthusiasts there seems to be an SEO skeptic who subscribes to the notion of “black hat” methods and “spamdexing.” Black hat artists exploit SEO practices by jamming misleading keywords into articles and metadata, paying other websites to post hundreds to thousand of inbound links to their content, redirecting articles to different pages, and subsequently “degrad[ing] both the relevance of search results and the quality of user-experience.” If Google discovers that your website is using black hat SEO techniques, they will blacklist you, excluding you from all Google search engine results pages. Although bad SEO practices are widespread, reputable publishers and editors do not have time to waste on questionable methods that could blacklist their site or bad practices that damage their brand’s credibility. An important part of a magazine’s online presence is building their community, brand, and reputation—and one instance of bad practices can damage a brand much quicker than a history of good practices can build it up.
Avoiding black hat methods also helps to dictate an editor’s priorities when optimizing an article, such as skipping the meta-keywords field on the backend of an article. Keyword stuffing was a common black hat method in earlier SEO days, and is part of the reason Google no longer uses the meta-keywords field in its indexing algorithm.
Analyzing and understanding each moving part of a machine is the best way to make sense of its function, and the easiest way to know what needs fixing when it is not performing as it should. Parsing search engine optimization lets us see which elements require more attention and where an editor should dedicate the majority of her time. The impetus behind optimizing online articles is not to inflate the magazine’s overall traffic, but to target keywords that will draw in quality visitors who can be converted into loyal readers.
Because navigating the Web is done largely through search engines, ranking highly on search engine results pages is a crucial goal for Web editors. When Google indexes an article for its results pages, it pays weighted attention to different variables on the article page, such as the headline, the image tags, or the URL. By understanding the part each element plays in search rankings, editors can focus their approach when optimizing content. For example, though it is temping to retain original magazine headlines, as seen below in the SEO breakdown, the H1 and title tags are two of the most important SEO elements.
URLs should be keyword-rich and easy to understand. Complex URLs can be a problem for both humans and Google crawlers if they’re too long or include confusing number and symbol sequences. Keeping the tail end of a URL brief is important, using up to five keywords and connecting them with dashes rather than underscores (Google recognizes dashes as spaces between each word). The more words included in the URL, the less each will be weighted in terms of SEO clout. Long and complicated URLs are more likely to be copied incorrectly or posted as broken links by readers, which results in missed inbound link opportunities. Since editors have no control over the anchor text used in the inbound links to their site, having keyword-rich URLs help. Using keywords in the URL provides Google crawlers with more information on what they will find at the link, and this boosts the effectiveness when being ranked.
BCBusiness Online’s slug-based URLs are keyword-rich because they are automatically created from the site’s taxonomy and an optimized headline. However, shortening or amending the tail end of the link can optimize them further.
For example, the headline “Human Rights in Employment: Do You Need a Tune Up?” creates the URL: “human-rights-employment-do-you-need-tune.” Replacing the last four words of the URL (which do nothing in terms of optimizing) with another keyword creates a stronger and simpler URL: “human-rights-employment-law.” Before articles are published, an automatic URL is created for BCBusiness Online articles, but editors should always change the tail end when it does not already include keywords. Any changes made after the article has been published, however, can result in the same page being indexed twice, thus splitting the SEO clout between the old broken-linked page and the newly optimized title’s page. Also, any inbound links to the article will now be broken links, therefore all URL optimization should be completed prior to publishing.
SEO software provider and online SEO resource site SEOmoz calls the title tag (also known as the meta title) the “single most important on-page SEO element (behind overall content),” appearing in two key spots. The title tag appears at the top of the user’s Web browser and at the top of article descriptions on search engine results pages. It is typically the same as the headline (H1), with additional keywords attached to the end. Placing the most relevant keywords at the opening of the title tag is important for search results, as Google only displays a maximum of 70 characters of the entire title tag. To write an optimized meta title, include the article headline and one to two more keyword phrases. Each part of the title tag should be separated using vertical pipelines: “How to Work with Family | Family Businesses | BCBusiness.”
Title tags on BCBusiness Online are automatically appended with “| BCBusiness.” Well-known or respected brands included in title tags can affect a higher click-through rate in search engine results. Including the magazine in the title tag is also an overall good brand strategy to promote the magazine’s presence on the Web.
Article headline <H1>
The H1 tag is the main title, or headline, that appears at the top of an article and should always include the top keyword or phrase. “Placing the keyword early in the header tag will increase its prominence” and will be more indicative of the content than a typical print magazine title. Some online magazines retain the print title in the headline or meta title so that it is still searchable. Reviewing Google analytics indicates that such an insignificant number of visitors arrive by searching the print title, that this practice does nothing more than minimize a headline’s SEO effectiveness.
Although BCBusiness Online sometimes changes entire headlines when optimizing content, it retains the print headline in the online table of contents. Editors who are concerned about confusing readers who are searching for articles online by their print headline can use the original headlines in their archives or tables of contents. BCBusiness Online keeps an archive of every print issue that has been published on the website (with articles listed under their original print titles). Archives are a straightforward point of reference for readers trying to find an article via the issue and original title. Print headlines can stay in the same in the rare case that they include the proper keywords, but should otherwise be replaced.
A deck is an introductory phrase or paragraph at the beginning of the article that gives the reader the main topic and a taste of what is to come. In online magazine publishing, the deck is contained between H2 tags. The H2 tag is one tier below the headline tag H1 and together they are used as a kind of in-article taxonomy. Below the H2 tag are the H3 tags (the next tier down), which indicate subheads within the body of the article. Print article decks are sometimes suitable to be taken as-is and used within the H2 tags. For the most part, however, they should be partially rewritten to include the top keywords and phrases that have already been used in the headline and meta title.
BCBusiness print articles are easily modified to include keywords and phrases, and rarely require an entire rewrite.
Subheads are as much for the search engines as they are for the readers, and are a very important function in Web writing. Because Web content does not have the same layout options as print articles, online text can sometimes appear dense and overwhelming. Using keyword-rich subheads breaks up long articles and gives the reader a better idea of the content at-a-glance. When using heading tags, it is crucial to employ them as part of your SEO strategy, and not just for aesthetics; it is bad practice to use an H3 tag where bolded or italicized text would suffice.
Longer print articles, lists, and how-to articles always take H3 tags on BCBusiness Online. The digital editors create subheads as needed and where useful to improve the reading experience and to capture more keywords in the article’s metadata—in this case, in H3 tags. On occasion, BCBusiness Online uses H3 tags to draw attention to text in slideshows. Using a larger font would style the text in the same manner as H3 tags without using SEO for aesthetics rather than for optimizing.
Sometimes ignored, the meta description is one of the most important factors on the backend of an article. The meta description is chiefly for readers, and shows up on search results pages directly below the meta title. The meta description has the double duty of informing readers and enticing them to click into the content. Although editors should focus on keywords, they should approach the meta description as a sales pitch to potential readers. It must be a brief summary, include keywords, and reflect the quality of writing in the article.
BCBusiness Online writes two to three sentences for meta descriptions, and sometimes copy and pastes the deck, depending on its length. The deck can sometimes be suitable, but in most cases the meta description needs to be a more detailed summary of the article and be economical with its words. Google displays up to 154 characters of the meta description on its search results pages. Descriptions exceeding this size will be truncated, and the meaning could be lost.
Links within the text should be added to articles where applicable. Editors should especially focus on opportunities to link to their own content. The most important element of links is the anchor text—it should be concise and related to the content on the linked page. Links should be structured around keywords or phrases rather than single words like “article,” or irrelevant phrases like “click here.”
Keyword-rich anchor text is for both the search engines and the users. Using proper anchor text gives Google a better idea of what they will find on the linked page. It is also a clearer call out for readers and easier to spot within the text.
BCBusiness Online has a reciprocal link relationship with its sister sites Granville Online and BCLiving, and links to their pages with strong anchor text whenever possible. With more editorial time for print-to-web articles, digital editors could create more links, whether to their own site or to an external source.
Breaking a long article into numbered pages aids readability and navigation. The only time breaking one page into multiple pages will negatively affect SEO is when the pages get into the double digits and higher. When a larger consumer site, like a retailer, takes its online merchandise pages and breaks them into multiple pages for ease of navigation, the higher-numbered pages are not indexed well by Google. These subsidiary pages are improperly indexed and can bury content and limit their potential to be indexed by Google. Because print articles do not have the same excessive length as say, a listing of hundreds of shoes on Zappos.com, magazines do not face this same issue.
BCBusiness Online Google analytics indicate that visitors enter articles on the proper main article page when arriving via search, and not subsequent pages that have been broken off with pagination. The majority of visitors arriving at a page that is numbered two or higher have done so via the article’s main page.
Image meta tags <alt>
Optimizing images is a twofold form of SEO that should never be overlooked. It involves naming the file when saving, and creating an alt tag. Keeping the image file name short and keyword-rich improves its visibility in search engines. On the backend or in the html, digital editors can name images (in the same way as the file naming) with an alt tag. The alt tags are used by search engines (such as Google Image Search), revealed when readers mouse over the image, and used by screen reading technology.
BCBusiness Online has naming conventions for image sizes, and names image files with relevant keywords pertaining to the article content. All embedded images are given alt tags.
Inbound links are cited as one of the most important factors for a website’s ranking in search engines—both in terms of volume of links and quality of anchor text. Inbound links are the key to increasing a site’s PageRank in Google. PageRank is Google’s calculation of a website’s importance and relative authority to all other sites on the Internet. Google gives sites a PageRank from one (lowest) to eight (highest), and uses these numbers to determine which pages have more influence online and which websites’ articles are most likely to show up in the top of search engine results. Every link pointing to an article is like a vote in its favour, and the more votes it receives, the more influential Google perceives it to be.
Although extremely important, this part of a digital editor’s SEO strategy is harder to influence and cannot be executed as simply as the above methods. Publishing high-quality content is the best strategy to attract inbound links. But even if other sites are linking to your article, you cannot control whether or not they are using proper anchor text. Community-building through social media often results in valuable and consistent inbound links.
Social media as SEO
If the goal of SEO is to drive traffic through search, the goal of social media is to drive traffic through the online community; social media in magazine publishing is like SEO for the people rather than for the search engines. Broadcasting to the community to draw in visitors and build the magazine’s brand equates to the practice of boosting PageRank and driving traffic through search. And much like in SEO, the reader remains top of mind.
Having a social media presence is not an element of SEO, per se, but it is inextricably linked to the digital editor’s workflow. Although social media does not fall within the traditional parameters of SEO—which involve directly manipulating an article or its html code for search engine visibility—it is a joint exercise in branding and self-promotion that brings visitors to the site. Social media is most closely related to generating back links, another borderline-SEO concept. In this case, however, the editor has more direct control over the process of acquiring visitors—specifically, through the frequency of messages being broadcasted through social media channels and the number of connections with peers.
Social media should be regarded as secondary to SEO, but still a crucial part of the editor’s workflow. Links created on social media are ephemeral, whereas good SEO will nest an article in Google search results pages creating a permanent long tail of traffic. Organic Google searches outweigh the number of visitors arriving from all social media channels combined, but the branding power and impact of directly connecting with readers on sites like Twitter is invaluable.
The final stage of an article’s life should be when it is promoted via social media, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, etc. Promoting content through social media helps generate inbound links and spreads the brand throughout the magazine’s community.
It should be noted that Twitter surrounds its tweeted links (any link included in any tweet by any Twitter user) with a “no follow” tag that tells search engines to ignore the links. This is so that Twitter users cannot send out a high volume of hyperlinked spam tweets to affect search engine results. However, linking to your content on Twitter gives followers the opportunity to retweet your links to their followers, subsequently increasing visitors to your website. Many Twitter users will also take links from tweets and include them on their website or blog, indirectly creating valuable inbound links to your content (and this boosting PageRank).
Connections made on social media sites influence readers beyond the act of simply clicking on article links. MediaShift, a PBS blog, credits social media with introducing a “new era of pass-along” in magazine publishing. Passing content (links) to your readers is like personally putting a magazine in their hands. And through the ease and speed of social media, it is that much easier for them to pass that article on to a friend.
Social media also provides a venue outside of a magazine’s website for readers to connect and discuss content and related topics. Some social media venues take as little encouragement as posting a link or discussion question to engage readers with each other on the magazine’s behalf.
BCBusiness promotes itself as a single brand (representing both the print and digital teams) on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Twitter and Facebook are obvious—almost compulsory—choices for social networks in which to participate, and LinkedIn is on BCBusiness’s radar because of its association with the business world and business professionals. Based on global traffic, Facebook and Twitter are the two most widely used social media platforms in the world; they are also the most popular choices in the publishing industry. Facebook and Twitter presences have become as standard as having a website.
Facebook is the social media channel that was there from the start. The ways in which magazines interact with their readers through Facebook have evolved over the years and have since settled on fan pages. Making connections with readers via Facebook (getting them to “like” your fan page) lists your brand on their personal profile and spreads your name throughout the Facebook community. It is another channel through which a magazine can build its brand and bolster its reputation through the support of the community.
On Facebook fan pages there is an implicit self-promotional agreement—the majority of content pertains to the magazine and not to material like one would find on Twitter. Although the level of discourse around articles does not match LinkedIn—both in its volume and its quality—the number of visitors who arrive from Facebook are great enough to warrant the upkeep of fan pages. In 2010, Facebook drove 12,174 visitors to BCBusiness Online and was the number seven overall traffic source.
BCBusiness posts feature articles and noteworthy blogs on a semi-weekly basis. Although Facebook fans know a magazine is there to promote itself and share content, flooding one’s fan page with content can clog fans’ news feeds with your articles and cause them to “unlike” your fan page. Like all social media endeavours, there is a fine line between self-promoting and self-obsessing, and timely updates and unrelenting content pushing.
Any magazine with a website or any semblance of a digital strategy also has a Twitter account. The immediacy of Twitter lets readers communicate directly with the brand in real time. A linked tweet holds just as much clout as a verbal recommendation. Twitter is especially useful when leaking print content online before its newsstand date. Alerting your Twitter followers with a short teaser and a link directs them to the site and creates anticipation around the forthcoming print content. However, using tweets sparingly to promote content sets the tone and lets your readers know that not just anything will be broadcasted.
BCBusiness’s digital editor controls the Twitter account with a mix of tweets, some with links and some without. He creates a balance between link-sharing, opining, and cracking jokes, which results in a useful feed of resourceful material, but with a clear voice and personality. Shoveling your website content onto Twitter like coals into a fire misses the point of tweeting. And linking only to your own articles creates a one-dimensional twitter feed with less credibility. Linking to outside sources, staying relevant, and indulging in self-promotion when it is appropriate is how BCBusiness manages its Twitter feed. It uses the same successful formula as The Walrus magazine: “Witty, upbeat, and personal. […] Engaging with the community, not broadcasting.”
Linking to articles via Twitter is also a proven method of increasing website traffic, and draws in more visitors to BCBusiness Online than any of the other social media platforms. Promoting an article with a tweet is like dropping a rock in the community pond—one tweet can cause a ripple effect and reach readers that are not even BCBusiness followers.
Starting a group under your magazine brand on LinkedIn is an effective method of connecting with readers and starting discussions around your content. As a LinkedIn user, every connection you make, whether to a person or an organization, is tied to your professional reputation. Members of the BCBusiness LinkedIn group page are more invested in discussions than their counterparts on the BCBusiness Facebook page; where Facebook has a more casual brand interaction with “likes” and often one-sentence comments, LinkedIn has more ambitious users who are dedicated to professional networking and fostering robust discussions. According to a recent survey on Mashable, more than half of LinkedIn users belonging to groups participate in discussions. Connections and associations are more carefully forged and curated in this online community, and. When Mashable polled a group of 500 LinkedIn members from entry-level workers to top-level executives, it found that the majority of users, no matter the stage of their career, identified networking in their top three uses. It is strictly for professional purposes and group discussions generally revolve around topics germane to the brand.
Because the nature of LinkedIn as a social network is more serious and career-oriented than Facebook or Twitter, discussions and comments are generally more constructive and well developed. In the same Mashable survey mentioned above, users called LinkedIn “more professional than Facebook.” Where 10 readers might simply “like” an article link on your Facebook fan page, two or three members of a LinkedIn group would engage in higher-level discourse around that same article. This makes LinkedIn a good resource for developing high-quality readers who know the brand more intimately, spend more time interacting with the content, and are more likely to share links.
Members can start their own discussions that are not directly related to magazine content, but they are still communicating and gathering in a forum under the magazine’s brand. As an editor, visiting sporadically to stoke the fire of discussion and provide article links drives readers to the site and keeps them engaged.
Although not a traditional form of social media, eNewsletters are another important tool in the editor’s arsenal. eNewsletters are best used for calling attention to new and popular content or, like with Twitter, generating buzz around an upcoming print issue by leaking articles prior to the newsstand date. Subscribers to eNewsletters are similar in their behaviour to LinkedIn group members—they are high-quality visitors who spend more time on the site.
SEO in the analytics spotlight
It is not enough to use optimized content in online magazine publishing—editors must also have intimate knowledge of how it is impacting website traffic. Using Google Analytics to evaluate how content is performing, how visitors are reaching articles, and which topics are popular is a key part of the editor’s digital strategy. Analytics should help trace trends and inform the editor’s treatment of different types of content, especially once that content has reached the social media stage of its workflow. Identifying the top traffic sources tells an editor where her time is well spent.
Google Analytics provides insight and numbers on a macro scale—like how much traffic a website gets each year, or which day of the week receives the most hits —down to the finite details of which keyword is drawing in the most visitors on a particular article. Editors can adjust their timeline window in Google Analytics by selecting any date range from years at a time to a single day’s worth of visits. For example, after the annual BCBusiness Top 100 Luncheon, the digital editor can measure the spike in website traffic for that one day and determine where the traffic came from. By looking closely at any article’s statistics, editors can see exactly how many hits an article receives and when, where those visitors are coming from, how long the visitors are staying, who is linking to the article, which keywords visitors are using to find the article, and how long visitors are staying on the page. Google Analytics provides these same details on a site-wide level.
Identifying popular keywords in analytics can create new opportunities to optimize content and pages around topics that readers are already interested in finding. Each month the names of BC business leaders figure prominently in the top 10 keywords used to arrive at BCBusiness Online. Because BCBusiness has existing profiles on these people, the digital editor can optimize the articles around the business leaders’ names (if he has not already), and promote them in social media with the goal of driving traffic and inbound links. Google Analytics is useful in this way, as it helps an editor find and fortify his strengths.
Identifying top sources and the articles they lead to can allow editors to target those source audiences with appropriate content. Singling out specific articles that have been optimized and promoted through all of the magazine’s social media channels can shed light on how readers are interacting with the content and how they’re finding it.
By analyzing the short article “Personal Branding Lesson from Jim Pattison” compared to the feature print article “Taxi Drivers: Vancouver’s Road Warriors,” we can get a better understanding of how social media audiences interact with the content. Each article was optimized, promoted through social media, and included in a weekly eNewsletter.
“Personal Branding Lesson from Jim Pattison”
Date Published: November 2, 2010
Total visitors: 1490
Average visit length: 2:57
eNewsletter: 306 visitors, average 1:06 on site, 68% bounce rate
Twitter: 164 visitors, average of 1:46 on site, 83% bounce rate
Facebook: 168 visitors, average of 2:52 on site, 86% bounce rate
Google: 101 visitors, average of 3:48 on site, 78% bounce rate
“Taxi Drivers: Vancouver’s Road Warriors”
Date published: November 3, 2010
Total visitors: 775
Average visit length: 5:19
eNewsletter: 143 visitors, average of 3:25 on site, 68% bounce rate
Twitter: 7 visitors, average of 4:06 on site, 75% bounce rate
Facebook: 24 visitors, average of 1:04 on site, 75% bounce rate
Google: 304 visitors, average of 2:50 on site, 81% bounce rate
The top eNewsletter spots are guaranteed to receive an influx of traffic; articles in the top two positions of BCBusiness eNewsletters each receive an average of 500 direct eNewsletter visitors. No matter the length, eNewsletter visitors tend to interact with the content in the same fashion. Both articles in this case had a 68% bounce rate, with each article holding readers for a period time relevant to the article’s length.
Although it is difficult to discern the reasons a link receives a click-through on Twitter, the above analytics tells us that shorter articles and quick hits of content (lessons, how-to articles, blogs, lists, etc.) are more popular than long-form journalism. “Taxi Drivers” only received 7 visitors via Twitter after being promoted through BCBusiness’s Twitter feed, while “Personal Branding” received 164 visitors. The personal branding article had the added glamour of “Jim Pattison” in its title, but even BCBusiness’s wildly popular feature article on local sports hero Trevor Linden only received 56 visitors via Twitter after being promoted through BCBusiness’s Twitter feed. Compared to the other social media channels at an editor’s disposal, Twitter seems more effective for sharing short pieces that can be scanned, understood, and shared quickly, rather than for sharing feature stories and long-form journalism.
Reviewing the analytics is very revealing of the behaviours and preferences of the readers who participate in each social media channel. By understanding the audience for whom they’re optimizing content, editors can adapt their approach depending on which channel they are using. Not every article should be pushed through all of a magazine’s social media channels. But if an editor takes stock of what works well in each channel, she can use these tools to give each audience the content that speaks the most to them.
Understanding the fundamentals of SEO and putting them into place gives the digital editor a tool for long-term growth, while social media act as catalysts for that growth. The strategies and tools discussed in Part Two help editors drive traffic and spread their brand, but they also give editors a better understanding of whom they’re trying to reach and what that audience comes to them for.
Identifying a brand’s strengths plays a key role in properly optimizing content and targeting the right audience. Editors have the power to tailor their SEO and social media treatment of each article depending on the patterns they see in analytics. Part Three takes a closer look at the BCBusiness Online Google Analytics that inform the digital editors’ online strategy.
PART THREE | The BCBusiness Digital Editorial Strategy
Parsing the BCBusiness Google Analytics; Adapting social media; New SEO strategies at Canada Wide Media; Content collections
Once the digital editor has established a workflow and online presence, she can begin to experiment and test the waters with optimizing articles, refining strategies, and adapting social media to her needs. One of the great advantages of digital magazine content is its infinite flexibility; articles can be hyperlinked, repurposed, combined with related content, broken into pieces, and myriad other tactics to increase their visibility, promote the brand, and take advantage of the digital medium. Although optimizing and promoting content seems straightforward, there are boundless opportunities for creativity.
The digital editorial strategy at BCBusiness has come full circle from its earliest workflow; from print-focused, to Web-only content focused, and now back to strengthening its relationship with print. Once inextricably tied to the print magazine, BCBusiness Online was a repository with no digital editorial strategy for magazine articles. Shortly after its launch, the BCBusiness digital editor began developing Web-only content and grew the site as an independent entity from the print magazine. Finally, after nearly six years of significant growth and development, BCBusiness Online is returning to its close ties to the print magazine as a dynamic member of the overall brand. Although the current online workflow involves minimal print-editor contributions, the overall online strategy is connected to the BCBusiness brand as a whole rather than just BCBusiness Online.
Digital editors approach articles with a mind for both readers and search engines, and put all online content through a rigorous, SEO-heavy workflow. They have also branched out from strictly editorial tasks and embraced the external tools that go hand-in-hand with SEO, such as Google Analytics and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. The digital editors at BCBusiness are representative of an overall paradigm shift in editorial work. Consulting analytics is a part of the editor’s regular duties, and although the reader is still the number one priority, the editor has a fussy new audience member to contend with—Google.
Recognizing the value and importance of SEO has led to various emerging and experimental digital strategies at BCBusiness, many of which blur the lines between marketing and editorial. Although many initiatives are brought forth by marketing, they are developed and executed by editors. Search engine optimization seems to be the common ground where many digital jobs converge. Optimizing an article or a website landing page falls under the editor’s purview, but driving traffic and increasing brand awareness is also a great concern of the digital marketing staff. For example, the BCBusiness digital editors and marketing staff worked cooperatively on the keyword research and naming of the new landing pages and categories for the third iteration of BCBusiness Online. Online publishing has drastically changed the role of the editor into a multi-platform, multi-discipline, word- and Web-strategist. The next step is to pull print editors into the melee of digital publishing and unite the editorial efforts under one brand. In the case of BCBusiness, the company is working toward having a print editor to manage the print magazine, a digital editor to manage the website, and a brand manager to oversee the entire BCBusiness operation. Currently, the print and digital editors work on the same content, but they do not communicate, brainstorm and plan as one team.
Parsing the BCBusiness Google Analytics
Understanding Google analytics can help editors prioritize and plan for future content and social media promotion, and hopefully convert more visitors into loyal readers. Parsing a website’s analytics can indicate who the most valuable visitors are, which audiences prefer certain content, and which keywords are the most popular. Editors can separate high-quality visitors from low-quality visitors by reviewing how long they stay on the site and how many pages they visit. As seen in BCBusiness website traffic statistics below, direct visitors are of the highest quality and spend an average of 4:59 minutes on the site and view an average of 2.32 pages. BCBusiness’s overall average time on site is 2:42 minutes and the overall average page views is 2.31 pages. Higher average time on site is more important than number of page views, as it implies that the reader has found what they were looking for, and “if visitors spend a long time visiting your site, they may be interacting extensively with it.” High page views can indicate that a reader is simply jumping from article to article.
In 2010, BCBusiness Online received 461,140 visits. The main traffic sources (excluding the 89,031 direct visitors—readers who visit the site of their own volition by typing the BCBusiness web address into the URL search bar) from these visits were:
Google: 190,084 visits (41% of all site visits in 2010)
Direct visitors are by far the most valuable visitors a website can have; the goal is convert all other visitors into direct, return visitors who become familiar with and trust the brand. These readers either know what they’re looking for, trust the site to know they can find what they need, or have a genuine interest in the brand. Converting visitors into eNewsletter subscribers is also one of the digital editors’ top goals.
Organic Google search visitors
On average, Organic Google visitors spend 2:00 minutes on the site and visit 2.33 pages. Google visitors tend to heavily search business names and businesspeople. Of the top Google search terms for BCBusiness Online in 2010, the majority were B.C. business figures and luminaries. These results imply that editors would see more success by optimizing content (where appropriate) based on people and business names over business concepts (like management tips, etc.) Profiles and feature stories involving top local companies should be optimized with careful attention to names, especially in image tags. Google image search is a good arena to pick up visitors searching businesspeople.
The BCBusiness eNewsletter includes five stories with hyperlinked images, hyperlinked headlines, and teasers; four articles with hyperlinked headlines only; one hyperlinked reader comment of the week; one hyperlinked poll question; and four hyperlinked events listings. In comparison to its sister sites’ eNewsletters (BCLiving, Granville, TVWeek, Youthink, GardenWise), BCBusiness has the simplest eNewsletter layout with the least number of articles. It is believed that including too many articles dilutes the value of each one and lessens the effect of a carefully curated editorial collection.
Subscribers to the BCBusiness eNewsletter spend an average of 3:15 minutes on the site and view an average of 2.74 pages. These visitors are loyal readers and have a vested interest in BCBusiness content. Because the eNewsletter arrives once a week, some readers use it as their chance to visit the site rather than checking in on their own. Using the eNewsletter as a weekly highlight of the best content—whether feature story or blog—is an effective way to promote content and draw readers to the site. The BCBusiness eNewsletter also has its own set of analytics through the eNewsletter carrier, MagMail. The higher the content is placed in the eNewsletter, the more readers it will attract. BCBusiness eNewsletter subscribers also tend to favour content with local luminaries such as former pro athlete Trevor Linden and real estate professional Bob Rennie. Including magazine content prior to the newsstand date is a good promotional tool for the upcoming issue and it gets a high click-through rate in the eNewsletter. Because of eNewsletter readers’ loyalty and high click-through rates, digital editors can also experiment with the kind of content that they promote.
Digg is a type of social networking news site that allows its users to democratically rank online articles by “digging” (voting for) them using a button similar to the Facebook “like” button. The more people “digg” an article, the higher it rises on the Dig homepage and its respective category page (business, entertainment, lifestyle, etc.). Visitors arriving from Digg spend an average of 1:09 minutes on the site and visit an average of 1.22 pages. These are some of the lower-quality visitors that arrive at the site, but as it will be thoroughly discussed later, Digg visitors are only the byproduct of a new marketing/editorial initiative to increase PageRank. Visitors from Digg arrive at light-hearted, Web-only content that goes viral via social media channels. These visitors are not generally a part of BCBusiness magazine’s target audience, and the rest of the site’s content is not what they would be interested in reading.
Of all the social media channels, the BCBusiness digital editor puts the most time and creative energy into Twitter. Twitter followers visit an average of 2.09 pages and spend an average of 2:14 minutes on the site. However, the number of visits from Twitter seems disproportionate to the number of followers BCBusiness has following its stream. This phenomenon is related to the nature of a tweet. Unlike a Facebook wall post or an eNewsletter, tweets are the most ephemeral of all the social media promotions, and can be completely missed by the brand’s audience. Though BCBusiness may have over 10,000 followers, not everyone on that list will see every tweet as it passes by. This makes maintaining the Twitter feed exceptionally challenging—the editor must manage the precarious balance between over-tweeting and sparse updates. A report by ExactTarget reveals that among the top 10 reasons people unfollow a brand on Twitter, the top three pertain to repetitive and too-frequent tweets. So while the editor must be cognizant of spamming BCBusiness followers, he must also post often enough to make the medium an effective channel for funneling traffic to the website.
Twitter followers respond the most to shorter pieces (blog posts), rather than longer articles (print feature stories). By comparing a cross section of short pieces to a sample of long pieces and evaluating the time spent on each article by visitors who arrive via Twitter, it is clear that shorter pieces are favoured. According to Google Analytics, Twitter visitors rarely spend more than two minutes on a page for feature stories; for blog posts, Twitter visitors spend an average of nearly three minutes on the page. This comparison reveals the tendency for Twitter followers to read shorter pieces and discard longer feature stories. However, buzz-worthy features stories with local luminaries (i.e. Trevor Linden, Mat Wilcox, Bob Rennie, Terry Hui) blow up on Twitter, but are the exception to the rule. These types of top stories are sure things, and grow in popularity no matter which channels they’re promoted through.
Visitors arriving from StumbleUpon fall into the same category as those arriving from Digg. They are the byproduct of a marketing/editorial initiative to increase PageRank, and are only visiting content that has gone viral and flooded social media channels. These visitors are low quality, staying for an average of 0:25 seconds and visiting an average of 1.2 pages. The BCBusiness digital editors do not put any effort into promoting content through StumbleUpon (or Digg); all visitors arrive at the efforts of an external company hired by BCBusiness to promote its articles.
Facebook brings in a surprising number of visitors considering the minimal editorial time that goes into its promotion and maintenance. Visitors who arrive via Facebook spend an average of 1:44 minutes on the site and visit an average of 1.80 pages. Although Twitter has thousands more followers than Facebook has fans, Facebook brings in nearly as many readers in a year as Twitter. Facebook is an untapped resource for visitors that could exceed Twitter’s visitor numbers with very little time required. Currently, the BCBusiness digital editors spend a fraction of their time on Facebook, yet still draw in high traffic numbers. With a more developed strategy and more time spent toward Facebook promotion, Facebook visitors could surpass the number of Twitter visitors. Posting magazine content can be done as few times as three times each week. “Facebook users are more likely to stop engaging with a brand because that brand sends out too much information too frequently,” which makes updating the page less laborious than maintaining a Twitter feed. Facebook visitors show no overwhelming preference over feature stories or shorter blog posts. Traffic arriving from Facebook is consistent, and since the digital editors began posting weekly, it has increased.
Combined, Yahoo! and Bing do not come close to bringing in the number of organic visitors that Google does. This is popular knowledge among search engine optimization experts, and for that reason, many people do not pay as much attention to deciphering search algorithms other than Google’s. Bing brings in significantly higher quality visitors than Yahoo!. Bing visitors spend an average of 2:01 minutes on site and visit an average of 2.49 pages; Yahoo! visitors spend an average of 1:26 minutes on site and visit an average of 1.98 pages. This disparity in quality could be attributed to Bing’s superior search algorithm that provides more accurate results; according to search algorithm experts, Bing’s results are more accurate than even Google’s search results.
Although LinkedIn does not generate a high number of visitors, it is valued for its intangible qualities. LinkedIn is a venue in which readers can interact under the BCBusiness brand and extensively discuss magazine and Web-only content, as well as current issues and news. By looking at the discussions in the BCBusiness magazine LinkedIn group page, we see that the topics predominantly relate to professional improvement and business tips, politics, and social media. The readers who spend time on the BCBusiness magazine LinkedIn group page are high-quality visitors when they arrive at the site; LinkedIn visitors spend an average of 4:03 minutes on site and visit an average of 2.47 pages. LinkedIn does not require the same amount of creative energy as running Twitter, or even Facebook; posting articles related to the above topics spark discussion and generate site traffic.
In terms of overall priorities, digital editors should spend the most time making their articles web-ready and well optimized for Google, using business people’s names as the main keyword when applicable. Google is the overwhelming leader in web traffic and has the high-quality visitors to back up its utility. Digital editors should have a targeted strategy when promoting content through social media, avoiding the shotgun approach at all costs. It is about understanding the readers and accommodating their preferences—they get what they’re looking for, and in return the site gets more, higher-quality visitors.
Adapting social media
There is no debate about whether social media or SEO is more valuable to BCBusiness’s visitor traffic numbers. Google visitors outweigh all social media channels combined, and organic search accounts for the long tail of traffic that arrives at old web-only content and BCBusiness back issues. However, the effects of social media also have an intangible quality that cannot be measured against numbers or PageRank. Community building and audience communication via social media is growing in importance, and a magazine that lacks the ability to interact with its readers is missing out on valuable branding opportunities. The Internet is ripe with stories of businesses communicating with their customers, and the subsequent impact that that creates on the community. As discussed in Part Two, social media is a kind of SEO because of the way it builds links to content, but it should be seen as more of a complement to SEO.
Digital editors need to find new ways to wield platforms like Twitter and Facebook. To encourage readers to interact with the magazine on social media, BCBusiness needs to create social-media-only content. Rather than use social media as content promotion, editors need to use social media for content creation—developing new material that can only be consumed on its respective platform. Spamming the same messages and content across the brand’s various platforms decreases the value of each one–there is no incentive for the reader to visit the Facebook page if it is merely a mirror of the Tumblr or the Twitter feed.
This idea follows BCBusiness’s arc of magazine publishing from print-only, to print plus an online repository, to print plus dynamic web content, to its current state combining print, dynamic online content, and using various social media platforms. Social-media-only content is the next phase after Web-only content that will drive readers to interact with the brand in another venue.
The BCBusiness digital editor already has a unique style of content creation on Twitter, one in particular being the “first tweet haiku.” Most mornings his first tweet is a haiku; sometimes serious, sometimes funny, sometimes topical, but no matter the subject, the haiku tweets are always popular among followers. It is a clever way to engage with readers within the 140-character limit while letting them know that there’s more than a robot sending pre-scheduled tweets. It also provides the reader with unique content that he cannot find on any of the brand’s other platforms. Any magazine can promote on Twitter, but it is the voice, original content, and style that make the real impact. Maclean’s magazine is a good example of an ineffective magazine Twitter account; it only links to its own content, and the majority of tweets are cut off mid-sentence, indicating that they’re taken from the article’s deck or description, and not written specifically for the Twitter audience. This creates distance between the reader and the brand, and does not offer content that cannot be found elsewhere. Lots of companies treat their Twitter account like an RSS feed and miss the step of adding value with a real voice.
Magazines commonly use their Facebook page to promote articles in the same way as on Twitter. Even though a brand might promote different content on the different platforms, the idea is the same. By adding Facebook-only content, editors give their readers a reason to visit the page and return often. As proven with the BCBusiness Facebook page in March 2011, creating behind-the-scenes photo albums of cover photo shoots are popular with readers. After posting a short gallery of how the photographer and BCBusiness art director created the conceptual March 2011 magazine cover, there was an immediate reaction of “likes” and comments, and an increase in the overall “likes” for the fan page. Multimedia content, such as photo albums and embedded videos, fits well within the casual culture of Facebook. Two sections of the BCBusiness print magazine—“Primer” and “After Hours”—have section-opening, full-page photographs by accomplished BCBusiness contributing artists, but the images are never used online. Collecting all of the images in albums is another way of engaging with Facebook fans using BCBusiness content that cannot be found elsewhere. The BCBusiness digital editors are experimenting with various new Facebook-only content, including an “editing the editor” post, wherein the digital editors create poetry from the monthly Editor’s Note.
Although it is generally more acceptable to only self-promote on Facebook pages (as they are “fan pages”), including newsy links every now and then that do not pertain to your own brand can be a good way to spark conversation.
In the dynamic publishing landscape, editors also need to consider how they can work across multiple platforms. Something that can be recreated in or adapted to other publishing platforms has more value and potential to engage multiple audiences. The BCBusiness digital editor has considered matching up his haiku tweets with photos from the BCBusiness Daily Photo blog to create a coffee table book. Occupying more spaces than just print or just a website makes the brand dynamic and more likely to reach a wider audience. The key when creating social media content is to offer something unique on each platform that the reader cannot get anywhere else.
Using Tumblr to create unique content will be discussed in more detail in Part Four when exploring the cross-platform migration of print editors.
New SEO strategies at Canada Wide Media
Recognizing the vast importance of Google in digital publishing is the first step toward reaping its benefits. Optimizing content is the best way to attract search engine visitors, but this practice can be bolstered by a new digital strategy: increasing PageRank. Boosting PageRank is a more advanced digital editorial strategy that moves beyond just optimizing content, and can actually bolster those efforts in the long run. As discussed in Part Two, inbound links are the key to increasing a website’s PageRank. PageRank plays an integral role in deciding which content is listed on the first page of Google search results. If two different websites feature the exact same article, optimized the exact same way, Google defers to each site’s PageRank to determine whose article will list higher in results pages. Inbound links and PageRank determine whether an article “should […] be result number one, or appear buried on page 22 of the search results for a given query.” Popular and reputable websites like TheNew York Times (nytimes.com) have a high PageRank, and thus their content will rank well in search engine results pages. The New York Times website has a PageRank of nine out of a potential 10; BCBusiness has a PageRank of five.
Links are akin to one website vouching for the other. The more inbound links your site has, the likelier it is that your site’s PageRank will increase. Links, no matter where they’re from, benefit SEO efforts, but when they’re plentiful and come from a higher ranked website, they’re a stronger force for increasing PageRank.
In order to increase BCBusiness’s PageRank, the digital marketing staff and digital editors teamed with an external SEO consulting company called NVI to create a strategy for new BCBusiness content. Together they created a new digital editorial product (NVI social push article) with the express purpose of increasing PageRank. The articles are better known as “link bait,” and fall under the SEO strategy of link building. The idea of link bait is to create content that is “designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website.” These articles do not fall under the black hat link baiting methods, which incorporate keyword stuffing, redirecting visitors to sites different from what they clicked on, and creating inbound links from link farms. (Links farms are groups of sites that link to each other and are devoted solely to linking out to increase SEO clout, with no real editorial or information value.)
Editors come up with broad, sweeping topics that work well in the form of “best of,” “worst of,” and other such lists. They generally lie on the perimeter of the brand’s mandate, and serve as brain candy content—irreverent, witty, and short. The standards of writing and editing remain high, as they would for any other BCBusiness content, but the topics are generally trivial. Although the articles do not align with the print BCBusiness mandate, they are a good fit for BCBusiness Online, which features a broader range of content types and has a lighter tone than the print magazine.
The digital editors work with NVI to prepare the articles using traditional web-writing strategies—short paragraphs, clear subheads, and good use of images. Once these articles are published, the hope is that readers will eagerly pass them on and link to them from various websites, blogs, and social media channels. But rather than wait for chance of the articles going viral, NVI sends them out to its robust list of social media contacts, mostly in Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit; they “push” the article. Although the first line of contacts promoting the articles is working for NVI, the hundreds of links that follow are from social media users with no connection to the company, but who genuinely have interest in the article and want to share it with their online community.
Once the articles have been “pushed” by NVI through its network of contacts, the articles go viral, resulting in tens of tweets, hundreds of links, and thousands of visitors. Although traffic to the website immediately spikes, this is not the impetus behind the NVI social push strategy. StumbleUpon and Digg both have a PageRank of eight, and with the number of links now coming from these sites and the various other who have seen the articles and linked to them from elsewhere, BCBusiness’s PageRank should increase over time.
The overwhelming number of links generated through these social networks ends up winning BCBusiness that article’s keyword on Google search results pages. However, the keyword is rarely a highly searched term in the first place. For example, an NVI social push initiated in January 2011 is the number one search result in Google for “dumbest fads,” but that search term does not even register in the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. By basing these NVI social push articles around relevant keywords from BCBusiness’s Google analytics, or even highly searched terms that fit within the brand, the site could win significant words and phrases on Google search results pages.
BCBusiness sister site BCLiving accomplished this with its NVI social push article “7 Spectacular and Dangerous Mountain Passes.” In the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, “mountain passes” has 49,500 searches per month, and BCLiving appears on the first page of this term’s Google search results. The article found balance between optimizing for a highly searched keyword and creating an article with link-bait potential. This strategy adds another layer to the original strategy and makes each NVI social push article more valuable to the site.
Currently, the Google analytics for the BCBusiness NVI social push articles are irregular, with Google not even falling in the top eight traffic sources. The main traffic sources are Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit—all of which provide low-quality visitors. Although the main purpose is to increase PageRank, approaching these articles with a different SEO strategy could give them double the impact for the site—inbound links and a high number of organic search visitors. Google gives every article the opportunity of a long tail of organic visitors, while social media promotion often spikes traffic for the short term and dwindles soon afterward. Basing the NVI social push articles around relevant keywords would require more research prior to writing the article (both for the digital editors coming up with the topic and the writer shaping the article), but being on the first page of Google search results is a highly coveted position. The more important keywords BCBusiness can win, the more it will be seen as the authority on these topics.
Since starting the NVI social push articles in September 2010, the BCBusiness PageRank has not increased. It is yet to be determined whether this link bait strategy is truly effective. The overall tactic of creating light, interesting articles and attracting thousands of visitors—albeit, low-quality visitors—and hundreds of links is effective, but the digital editors need to devise other strategies around these social pushes than just waiting and hoping for the PageRank to increase. Multiple inbound links may not increase PageRank over time, but it will dramatically increase the SEO value of the single articles; because we know that part of the social push strategy works, it is important to take advantage of it to meet other ends.
Choosing relevant keywords is the first step toward increasing the value of the social push articles, but editors can also revise past content that has mass appeal and longevity. Resource and “how to” articles have the same quick-read nature as the social push articles, but with more substance and practical business value. The BCBusiness monthly “Need to Know” column is the perfect resource from which the digital editors can start this project. The goal is to win highly searched terms by using similar methods to the NVI social push articles. However, rather than push these articles through sites like Digg and StumbleUpon, which are chiefly interested in humour, these articles would be more successful on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Because these resource articles align with the content expectations and interests of BCBusiness readers, the influx of visitors from the “push” would be more valuable than the traffic spikes filtering into the short and irreverent NVI social push articles. Visitors would be more likely to return, spend more time on the site, and visit other articles after reading the “how to” articles.
Success in “pushing” these resource articles would have more immediate and measurable results; the digital editors would know the strategy worked when their articles begin appearing on the first page of Google search queries. This method was partially tested (without the help of NVI and its vast social network contacts) with a BCBusiness back issue article called “Value Proposition.” The article was renamed “How to Improve Your Corporate Culture,” optimized, and promoted through BCBusiness’s social media channels. Even without the hundreds of valuable contacts from NVI and links that those contacts generate, this article rose to the first page of Google results pages and continues to have a consistent flow of traffic. With the added resources of NVI, these articles could dominate search results queries and boost BCBusiness’s reputation as an authority on business topics.
The ultimate value of these new techniques is twofold—an increase in traffic to the site, and branching out to a new audience. The higher BCBusiness Online’s site traffic is, the more leverage the sales and marketing staff have for selling ads and sponsorships. The digital marketing department initiated the original NVI social push article strategy in order to spike site traffic numbers and improve PageRank. As an editor, the real concern is not the numbers, but who the people are behind those numbers and how they can be brought back to the site again. The editor wants to drive traffic, but the end goal is always reader engagement and building loyalty to the magazine and site. Adapting the original NVI strategy to target more relevant keywords and a more business-minded audience is more in line with this goal. This audience is not the typical BCBusiness audience, but a higher-quality group than the visitors arriving to content like the “Dumbest Fads” article through Digg and StumbleUpon.
The BCBusiness print reader buys the magazine for its long-form journalism and in-depth discussion of the BC business landscape. When the digital editors spend time creating content that can be consumed quicker and has a lighter tone, they tap into a different kind of BCBusiness reader group. With this method, the content is still driving numbers but the editor is focusing on a specific audience.
At BCBusiness, content collection pages are referred to as SPACs—special ad content packages. SPACs are generally sponsored by one advertiser, and combine a targeted sales initiative with SEO. A SPAC is a landing page that aggregates articles under one topic with adjacent advertisements that are germane to that topic. For example, the clothing chain Wear Else sponsored the 2009 BCBusiness Style Guide SPAC, which included articles about business fashion in Vancouver. SPACS are not, however, strictly limited to sponsored content—the SPAC format is a good way to bring value to readers by collecting popular content in one easy-to-find location. The “how to” social push articles discussed in Part Three fit into the SPAC strategy as a collection of business resources. A SPAC is composed of a headline, a short keyword-dense write-up, and rows of articles, each with a linked image, linked title, and short promotional teaser of no more than roughly 85 characters. Building SPACs increases the number of links pointing to those articles and generates more clear opportunities for internal linking on BCBusiness.
By nature, SPACs are a reactionary type of editorial content. They are strictly based on popular keywords that are thought of as guaranteed winners. Rather than anticipating what the readers will be searching, SPACs use highly searched terms from BCBusiness’s Google analytics, popular topics, and hot current events. Alternatively, SPACs can be built on sales-driven topics, around which the digital editors must commission new articles and collect past articles that are still relevant. Using existing content can result in a more highly optimized SPAC, since these articles generally already have inbound links and have been indexed by Google.
As politics in British Columbia heated up in November 2010, the BCBusiness digital editors created a SPAC as a go-to reference for readers looking for current coverage and relevant past political commentary. Within the B.C. politics topic, they focused on HST in B.C., as they found that it was a top search term in BCBusiness Google analytics. Adding to the past content and incoming blogs, the digital editor put out an offer to all of the BC Liberal and BC NDP leadership candidates to add an article to the SPAC on why they should be leader. This series brought a proactive element to the SPAC strategy and resulted in more traffic, more opportunities to link between BCBusiness SPAC articles, and increased the credibility of the collection as a whole.
Aggregating similar content in one spot gives editors the chance to have an overview of many articles in one stop, which makes it easy to find connections and build up internal links. As discussed in Part Two, link building is an important part of SEO and increasing a website’s PageRank. The SEO aspect of SPACs complements the NVI social push strategy, as it focuses on evergreen articles and building a long tail of traffic. As PageRank increases, so will the Google search results for SPAC pages.
In addition to their sales and SEO elements, SPACs are also beneficial for reader navigation—not only for the website, but for mobile applications as well. BCBusiness has two mobile applications, one for the iPhone and one for the BlackBerry. Using a SPAC as an app category is a simple way of directing readers to popular and useful content, since searching the site on an app is not possible. The apps have four sections: “Latest,” which is a reverse-chronological list of all content; “Blogs,” which is all of the blogs in reverse-chronological order; “People,” which consists of profiles and event slideshows; and “Business Intel,” which aggregates all of the “how to” articles from the site. In the case of mobile applications, editors and other staff planning the platforms need to consider what kind of content readers will be consuming. Using SPACs (in addition to “Blogs,” “People,” and “Business Intel”) as a way for readers to navigate is more logical than listing all content (“Latest”) as one big mixed-bag of content. The only new content listed in latest that will not show up under the other categories is lengthy articles that do not translate well to app reading on small devices. Smart phone apps are a different experience than websites and should be treated as such by offering less content with more direction and purpose.
The sales team sold a SPAC for the BCBusiness April 2011 issue based around the topic MBAs. This SPAC was based on a sales initiative, and combines older content, new print content, and new complementary web-only content. This SPAC displays the opportunity for print and digital editors to develop a collection of content for both print and digital, working together under one brand.
The digital editorial workflow at BCBusiness has evolved to include sophisticated approaches to presenting and promoting content online, and with tools like Google analytics, the editors have a better understanding of who their readers are, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking for. This understanding of the magazine’s online audience is key when developing new strategies that build off SEO and social media. Part Four will look at the methods discussed in Part Three, and what a complete workflow looks like when incorporating these strategies in an article going from print to online.
PART FOUR | The Future of Digital Editorial Practices
Bridging the gap between print and digital; From type to Twitter: An optimal workflow
As print and digital become more entwined and dependent on one another to create a strong and well-rounded brand, print and digital editors are finding that they need to open the lines of communication more often. It is not enough for print editors to hand off the completed magazine—they need to be involved in its digital life and the brand’s online presence.
In the past year there has been a fundamental change to the world of media and the ways in which its readers consume content. These changes are reflected in recent research by the Pew Center, who said more people consumed their news online than ever before. For the first time ever, more people got their news from the Web than from newspapers and magazines. Just as magazines flocked toward website creation, then social media, they are now reimagining their publications for smart phones and tablet computers to account for this seismic industry shift. Popularized by Apple, apps are now just another way for readers to consume articles and entire issues. Gone are the days of online content as a digital afterthought—online creation is in the forefront of magazine strategies as print sees few innovations. As the magazine publishing industry affixes its gaze on the future of digital publishing, we see more and more “digital editors” on magazine mastheads. Advertising is being increasingly sold in packages that include both print and digital exposure as the two entities grow ever closer. Publishers are mastering new digital technologies and methods—like social media and SEO—and they can manipulate those tools and use them beyond their original intended uses. This stage in publishing is opening new doors for editors to rethink content creation and delivery.
As digital becomes a more important form for BCBusiness magazine, the gap between online and print needs to gradually shrink. Integrating print and digital editors can improve workflow, but it also strengthens the brand when the two teams are working toward the same goals.
Bridging the gap between print and digital
Integrating print and digital practices is an important step for magazine publishers in order to strengthen their brand. In the attempt to create more agile workflows and dynamic editors, Canada Wide Media publications with both print and digital editors will be slowly merging from separate departments to one larger department of editors. As the first gesture toward print and digital collaboration, all of the BCBusiness editors (print and digital) were moved into the same physical space in the office, and the digital editors now attend the print editorial meetings. The next step will be to combine budgets and begin cross-platform contributions. Rather than have a publisher who oversees just the print magazine, each publication will have a “brand manager” who looks after the best interest of the brand as a whole. This vision represents the trend in the magazine publishing industry of editors broadening their roles and companies fortifying their digital efforts. Within this joining of departments, BCBusiness editors will be encouraged to pursue work outside their nominal tasks, and digital editors will also put time toward the creation of the print issues. Some tasks will be formed to improve workflow, while others will simply give editors the opportunity to work across multiple publishing platforms.
Getting print editors involved in search engine optimization is the first step in helping them understand the goals of online publishing. As discussed earlier, SEO can be mistaken for a process that compromises the editorial integrity of the writing. Having print editors research keywords and work them into subheads and decks of print articles is an effective method of improving workflow while performing one of the more creatively satisfying SEO tasks. The print editors work closest with the articles before they are passed on to the digital editors and have intimate knowledge of the subjects and topics, thus it would be easy for them to identify the most pertinent keywords and names in each story. One of the most time-consuming optimization tasks is splitting the articles into sections and writing subheads. Transferring this task alone to print editors would save significant time for digital editors. When digital editors publish print content online, they often have to read the entire article to get a better understanding of its main ideas, and the best keywords to research; only from there can they write optimized titles, decks, and subheads. Print editors could even provide a list of keywords with each article for the digital editors prior to optimizing the articles for the Web. Not only would this save time in the article’s workflow from print to Web, but it would also begin the integration of print editors into the online lives of the articles. Print editors can also make suggestions for internal links, whether they are to articles in the same issue, a past issue, or to Web-only content. Using the black and white proofs (“black and whites”) as a message board between the print and digital editors is an effective way of communicating these ideas. Once the black and whites have been proofed, print editors can mark up them up with notes for the digital editors, such as pointing out names, companies, and terms that can be linked to other BCBusiness content online. Because the print editors work more intimately with the text than the digital editors, they have more time to consider how the content relates to past articles.
With the time freed up from print editorial contributions to the digital editorial workflow, digital editors will have more opportunities to develop concepts for the print magazine. Digital editors can create content for the print magazine from digital-first material, like following up on popular blog posts with more in-depth coverage. Most recently, the digital editors developed a caption contest on the BCBusiness Facebook page using illustrations from Kelly Sutherland, a contributing artist who illustrates the monthly “Complaints Department” column in the magazine. The winner of the caption contest had his caption run in the print magazine alongside Kelly’s illustration. Although this first digital-to-print content is small, it is a gesture in the right direction.
As discussed in Part Three, adapting social media to create unique content is an important endeavour for brand building and expanding a magazine’s Web presence; this is a prime opportunity for print editors to get involved online and explore the different ways that BCBusiness content can be used in digital spaces. Giving the print editors ownership over a social media channel—in this case, Tumblr—helps to diversify BCBusiness’s social-media-only content. By nature, Tumblr is more of a blogging platform than a promotional tool like Twitter of Facebook; print editors do not need to follow the everyday activity of BCBusiness Online as the digital editors do when linking to timely articles through Facebook and Twitter. Editors can use Tumblr to comment on BCBusiness blogs and magazine content as a kind of meta interaction—BCBusiness blogs about BCBusiness blogs, so to speak. Tumblr is more of a blank canvas on which the print editors can make their mark and further develop BCBusiness’s online identity.
From type to Twitter: An optimal workflow
In the current magazine publishing industry, putting print content online is only a fraction of a magazine’s digital editorial strategy. There are multiple considerations outside the print magazine, including Web-only content, social-media-only content, and SEO, to name a few. However, if an article is approached with a dynamic strategy that involves both print and digital editors, and looks at more than just having a Web presence, it can make its way through an entirely new and dynamic digital workflow.
Looking at the BCBusiness April 2011 issue—and in particular, a print article called “How to Ace Your MBA Application”—we can trace the workflow from start to finish in a hypothetical, best-case scenario using the methods already discussed.
While the article is being edited, the print editor researches appropriate keywords (using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool), which can later be used by the digital editors. The print editor records the top three keywords or phrases on a sticky note, which he will later add to the article’s page in the black and whites of the April 2011 issue. Once the print editors proof the black and whites, the pages are passed on to the assistant digital editor as her cue to resize, upload, and name the image files with keyword-rich phrases. Having sticky notes with pre-selected keywords significantly speeds up the image uploading process for the assistant digital editor, as she does not have to read each article and research keywords prior to saving the images with optimized titles. On the black and whites, the print editor also indicates phrases in the article that can be linked to past BCBusiness content or external Web pages. Having both the print and digital editors look for internal and external linking opportunities increases the overall imbedded links of the articles, and therefore the overall optimization. Because the digital editors often do not have time to read every word of every article, the print editors find opportunities that would be otherwise overlooked. Even simply highlighting a single name in an article can alert the digital editor to a link opportunity. Having the print editors focus on links helps them understand the importance of the interconnectivity of content when it goes online.
Depending on the size and nature of the article, the print editor adds optimized subheads. Rather than using a vague phrase, like “Making it count,” the print editor gives the MBA article the subhead, “3 MBA application tips.” The headline of the article is not necessarily optimized, but he adds a suggested optimized title to the black and whites for the digital editors to consider.
When the assistant digital editor receives the black and whites, she resizes the images and renames them using the keywords from the print editors. She reviews the April 2011 content and devises an online strategy for the more complex sections, like the Top 20 Innovators in B.C. and the MBA-related articles. She identifies two opportunities for SPACs (one sales-driven and one editorial-driven), and sketches a strategy that will maximize SEO and make it easy for readers to jump back and forth between related articles.
When the production staff upload the XML on the backend of BCBusiness, the images have been resized and optimized and are ready to be uploaded to the articles. With the marked-up black and whites by her side, the assistant digital editor begins optimizing the articles. Based on the keywords from the print editors, she leaves the headline, “How to Ace Your MBA Application,” with one very minor change: “How to Ace the MBA Application.” She writes an optimized meta title that includes the print editor’s suggestion of “MBA admission” as a top keyword phrase. She adds a subtitle (“The 2011 BCBusiness MBA Guide”) that links back to the MBA SPAC. Other changes include rewriting the deck to include “MBA application,” writing an optimized URL, adding H3 tags to the subheads, and creating internal links. The print editor highlighted the phrase “MBA programs” on the black and whites, and after doing a quick search on BCBusiness, the assistant digital editor finds a 2010 article that outlines nine MBA programs in B.C., to which she creates an internal link. The 2010 article is still a relevant resource to readers, and the assistant digital editor decides to further optimize it and add it to the 2011 MBA SPAC.
In anticipation of the MBA content in the April 2011 issue, the assistant digital editor creates a Facebook contest—Facebook fans are invited to comment with their best University application tip, and the winner wins a collection of business books. The digital editor promotes the contest from Twitter, linking to the Facebook wall, and from the BCBusiness eNewsletter. The assistant digital editor adds the photo from the “Primer” section to the 2011 Primer Photos Facebook album, and the photo from the “After Hours” section to the 2011 After Hours Photos Facebook album at the end of March. She reposts both albums to the Facebook wall, but waits until the issue hits the newsstands (April 4) to change the profile picture to the April 2011 cover. After the April issue hits newsstands, the digital editors create a piece of humour poetry from the April Editor’s Note and post it to the BCBusiness Facebook wall.
The digital editor reviews all of the uploaded and optimized content from the April 2011 issue and begins publishing them online on April 1, with all of the content live on April 4. The digital editor promotes various articles from the Twitter account, and puts the best feature story at the top of the next eNewsletter. He focuses on promoting the MBA content on LinkedIn, starting a discussion around the best MBA programs and how to prepare and get accepted, linking to the “How to Ace the MBA Application” article and the MBA SPAC.
The print editors add posts to the Tumblr site, including photos of bizarre inventions, and link to the Top 20 Innovators in B.C. SPAC.
In this digital editorial strategy, one article saw optimization from both print editors and digital editors, and went through every social media platform BCBusiness has at its disposal.
There are endless opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and tasks between print and digital editors, and even art directors, for that matter. While the first physical gesture has been made at BCBusiness (moving the digital editors into an office with print editors), there is much collaboration yet to be explored. Under the brand manager structure, more editorial projects can be developed with a view for both print and digital. Beyond the workflow discussed above, an integrated print-digital team can brainstorm projects that are deliberately planned for both mediums, not just created for print and adapted to digital.
The above SEO and online publishing research and subsequent modifications to the digital editorial strategy in magazine publishing reflect the shifting tides of the industry. Digital publishing has reached a new phase, in which a magazine’s Web presence needs more than just good content to survive. Few, if any, digital publishing models operate without SEO and Web-specific editing. Digital editors must be cognizant of publishing high-quality content for their audience of online readers, but they must also consider their second audience, Google. The search engine giant is like the digital mail carrier that brings your online magazine to readers worldwide. Publishing an article online without SEO is like dropping your magazine in the mail without postage; someone might see it, but it will soon disappear, never to resurface. Publishing an article without SEO falls under an antiquated online model that relies on the naïve notion that quality alone will prevail. The cruel reality is that in our saturated digital magazine industry, the odds of high-quality getting noticed without SEO or social media are slim to none.
However, there is still a long road ahead for digital editors to fully convince SEO detractors of its indispensable role and value in online publishing. As digital and traditional editorial roles grow closer, as the roles are at Canada Wide Media, print editors will see, first hand, the virtue in optimizing headlines and further altering articles for the Web. After recent firings at AOL and the Huffington Post after the former bought the latter, the now-former Cinematical editor-in-chief Erik Davis identified SEO as creating distance between the reader and the content. “When you concentrate on SEO, you lose your passion, and readers see that,” said Davis. But citing SEO as a hindrance is a cynical view of digital publishing and shows a lack of creativity to use it in more ways than keyword stuffing your content. Search engine optimization is a proven method and integral part of the digital editorial strategy, but agile publishers are thinking beyond just optimizing their content. As discussed in Parts Three and Four, editors need to consider different ways to wield SEO, and new methods of reaching their readers. Online content should receive the same editorial rigour as in print, but without special consideration for its digital environment, even the strongest article can wilt.
Thinking of social media as an extension of SEO and as another opportunity to create unique content is a step toward a more robust digital strategy. In the same way that digital editors need to develop new strategies around optimizing content, they need to reimagine the ways in which they use social media. Simply being present on Facebook and Twitter is not enough to satisfy an audience; editors need to find ways to adapt social media to serve more purposes than just promoting content.
With the introduction of each new technology and the rapid decline of print media, companies scramble to further develop their online strategies. Looking at print and digital as disparate entities creates a fracture in a magazine’s brand and ignores the opportunity to build ideas across multiple platforms. Canada Wide Media—BCBusiness magazine in particular—is proactive in its approach to navigating online publishing models. In anticipation of an industry where digital will eventually surpass print in terms of reader consumption, BCBusiness is taking steps to increase collaboration between its print and digital editors. Print and digital editors working together under one brand creates a stronger team, a cohesive strategy, and is representative of the publishing industry’s direction.
12 Janice (Ginny) Redish, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2007), 4. RETURN
13 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
14 Jason Glover. “One Month Working on the Suite 101 Content Farm.” Touch the Stars, July 9, 2010, http://youcantouchthestars.net/entertainment/one-month-working-on-the-suite101-content-farm/. RETURN
15 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
19 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
23 John Britsios, “6 Ultimate ON-Page Search Engine Optimization Tips,” Search Engine Journal, August 26, 2010, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/6-ultimate-on-page-search-engine%C2%A0optimization%C2%A0tips/23546/. RETURN
24 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
25 John Britsios, “6 Ultimate ON-Page Search Engine Optimization Tips,” Search Engine Journal, August 26, 2010, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/6-ultimate-on-page-search-engine%C2%A0optimization%C2%A0tips/23546/. RETURN
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40 Taken from the @MacleansMag Twitter feed on March 4, 2011: “BLOGS: The most expensive game on earth: When it comes to extracting money from local governments, the NHL has i… http://bit.ly/dJSZQu.” RETURN
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ABSTRACT: This report examines the online partnerships that Reader’s Digest Canada’s established with web portals for its magazines and digital properties: Best Health magazine and PlaisirsSante.ca with Sympatico.ca; and Reader’s Digest Canada and Sélection du Reader’s Digest with MSN.ca. When Besthealthmag.ca became Sympatico.ca’s health and fitness channel in 2009, the website’s audience grew exponentially, proving the value of investing in online publishing. This paper presents the marketing, web editorial, and business strategies for the publisher’s web properties. The histories of web portals and Reader’s Digest’s web strategy, with an examination of how and why the publisher’s partnerships with portals were established, are covered. As well, the impact of the partnerships on brand awareness and audience growth is discussed. Finally, the implications of partnerships with web portals for the greater Canadian magazine publishing community are considered.
It is with no small thanks to the unrivalled guidance and teaching of Dr. Rowland Lorimer and Dr. John Maxwell that this report is before you. I would also like to acknowledge my “teachers” at Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada in Montreal and Toronto, who expressed their enthusiasm and interest, and lent their immeasurable knowledge and experience to this project. My sincere gratitude goes especially to production editor, Michele Beacom Cant; vice-president of digital media and strategic partnerships, Yann Paquet; and senior web editor, Kat Tancock, for their significant contributions.
Most importantly, I am grateful for the encouragement and strong support from my cohort in the Simon Fraser University Master of Publishing program, and the unwavering friendship of Andy Au, Deanne Beattie, Brandon Gaukel, Cynara Geissler, Tracy Hurren, William Lau, Ryan McClanaghan, Michelle Reid, Lauren Schachter, and Fraser Stuart. Thank you.
Figure 1. Sympatico.ca Home Page, Best Health dropdown menu Figure 2. The Sympatico.ca Home Page prior to November 2010 Figure 3. Sympatico.ca audience subscription offer Figure 4.Screenshot of Besthealthmag.ca, with calls to subscribe highlighted
List of Tables
Table 1. Traffic sources and losses Table 2. 15-month trend of traffic to Besthealthmag.ca Table 3. Audience demographic profile for Besthealthmag.ca Table 4. 15-month trend of traffic to Readersdigest.ca Table 5. Audience demographic profile for Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca
Glossary: Analysis Metrics
Reader’s Digest Canada’s web publishing uses the following metrics from comScore and Google Analytics to measure its performance online:
Comparable Sites: Other website in the same category. At comScore, every website belongs to a primary category. For example, Best Health is in the Health category. Other relevant categories would include Lifestyles, Family & Parenting, and Home categories.
Entries/Entrances: The number of entrances to a website. With content pages, entries will indicate the number of times a particular page served as an entrance to the website.
Exits: The number of exits from a website. ComScore refers to sites that visitors go to after as “losses.”
Impressions: In advertising, the number and quality of page impressions is used to gauge the value of a website or page. Interchangeable with “page view.”
Open Rate: Percentage of messages delivered in an email campaign that are confirmed as having been opened by the recipient.
Page View: (PV) A request to load a single page of a website.
Time Spent: The time a visitor spends a website.
Time on Page: How long a visitor spent on a particular page or set of pages.
Total Audience: The size of the complete Canadian population that uses the Internet as calculated by comScore by extrapolated data gathered from random “digit-dial” phone calling.
Unique Visitors (UV): A unit of online traffic to a website, counting each visitor only once in the time frame of the report. This statistic is relevant to site publishers and advertisers as a measure of a site’s true audience size, equivalent to the term “reach” used in other media.
Visitor: A user of a website site.
Visits: The number of unique sessions initiated by all your visitors.
Canadian magazines have been online since 1996. In the 1990s, as excitement and anxiety built around translating print products and brands for digital platforms, many magazines went online without a strategy for online editorial or revenue development. Like other media businesses that depend on ad revenue, including television and radio broadcasters, magazines struggled to navigate the world online. What would be their business strategy? How would they find funding to invest in technological development and programming? For smaller, non-profit magazines, which make up much of the landscape in Canada, building a functional website was simply not within their means.
One of the largest struggles for Canadian magazine websites is one that the country’s publishers are familiar with: the lack of economies of scale. In publishing print magazines, a smaller audience has always meant fewer subscriptions and single-copy sales, and cautious advertisers; fewer readers makes it more difficult to offset the costs of producing a magazine—such as printing, editorial, design, and rights. Though federal cultural policy has stepped in to help address these economic obstacles, digital publishing has yet to be adequately handled in the same way. As well, Canadian magazine websites are in direct competition with international magazine websites. This challenge is further compounded by the fact that online, all content creators—whether their main business is newspaper publishing, television broadcasting, or blogging—are direct competitors and jockey for the same audiences and advertisers.
In order to attract lucrative advertising accounts, websites must have a substantial number of unique visitors who are engaged with the content. This is no small task to be sure, particularly for magazines. For example, editorial for print and the web are different, in so far as the latter needs to be “read” by search engines and appeal to audiences who generally scan content, rather than read it. Producing an engaging magazine website requires editors to re-imagine their magazine brands in terms of content and form. And, for the first time in magazine history, publishers can and must show their advertisers how well their ads are performing. It is possible to know how many people clicked on an ad, or how many “eyeballs” saw the creative. As a result, the definition of “successful editorial” and the ability to sell advertising becomes all about the analytics.
With the help of a strong research department and its many years of expertise, Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada, one of the country’s largest multi-title publishers, is forging ahead into the world of digital publishing. Reader’s Digest uses its strengths and an innovative publishing model to capture large but targeted audiences online, and thereby provide attractive environments for its advertisers. The Reader’s Digest Canada magazines websites are Readersdigest.ca, Selection.ca, Plaisirssante.ca, Besthealthmag.ca and Ourcanada.ca.
In 2008, Reader’s Digest Canada launched Best Health, a Canadian women’s health magazine.Best Health was extremely successful from the start; it earned $1.9 million in advertising revenue in its first year. The success of the print product, however, was only the beginning. The launch of the magazine was in fact the launch of a multi-platform brand: The magazine’s website, Besthealthmag.ca, became an integral part of the Best Health product. Previous to the launch of the magazine, 55 percent of an Internet research panel said they were “extremely interested” or “very interested” in an integrated web component for the soon-to-be-launched title (Boullard, 2008, p. 17). Accordingly, the team behind Best Health engaged the brand’s audience on multiple platforms early on. Today, Besthealthmag.ca attracts approximately half a million unique visitors a month; that’s 1.7 percent of the total Canadian audience online (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010). Best Health on Twitter (@besthealthmag) has more than 86,000 followers, making it the most “followed” Canadian magazine brand on the social networking application by leaps and bounds (Twitter, 2010).
How Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada found phenomenal success in digital publishing with the Best Health brand is the primary subject of this report. In the summer of 2009, shortly after the launch of Best Health magazine and Besthealthmag.ca, Reader’s Digest established a partnership with the web portal, Sympatico.ca. The portal—which split from its partner MSN on September 1, 2009, to become an independent portal separate from the former Sympatico.msn.ca— adopted Besthealthmag.ca as its Health and Fitness section, or “channel.” From there, traffic to Besthealtmag.ca grew exponentially. The partnership with Sympatico.ca is the heart of Best Health’s online business. The editorial and production processes that come with working with an online general interest portal are further explored in this report.
To establish the context in which Reader’s Digest Canada launched its various digital initiatives, the first chapter of this report examines the history of Canadian magazines online, and explores the economics of publishing online. This chapter also presents the history of web portals in Canada, followed by a discussion of the publishing activities of Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada.
Chapter two describes the business strategies and mechanics involved in the Best Health-Sympatico.ca partnership. This section of the report details how the partnership with Sympatico.ca was established, the mechanics of producing content for a general interest portal, the impact on the Reader’s Digest websites, the websites’ successes and challenges, and the unique editorial strategies employed. The introduction of the Plaisirs Santé brand, the French-Canadian counterpart to Best Health, is also discussed.
Next, the report describes a different approach to online partnerships for Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca. The development of a partnership with MSN.ca was partly modelled on the company’s success with Sympatico.ca, but has different goals and parameters. In this chapter, decision makers and editors forecast the partnership’s potential impact on the website in terms of editorial and production, and new advertising opportunities as a result of the expected influx of traffic.
The final chapter assesses the implications of Reader’s Digest Canada’s success for other multi-title publishers. There are possibilities for other Canadian magazines to repurpose their material for general interest portals, but how widely applicable is this business model? And considering the changing demands and realities of readers and the media industries, what is the long-term viability of this strategy? There are no conclusive answers; however, the value of publishers’ expertise in building communities, brands, and content is definite.
A Note on Research Method and Analysis
The web analytics presented in this report are based on custom reports from comScore, a web-research company internationally recognized as the standard for digital market intelligence for the Internet’s largest sites. Reader’s Digest is a customer of comScore, Inc. Canada. Although the publisher’s web department uses Google Analytics internally, most corporate advertisers prefer comScore’s data due to their recognized impartiality.
ComScore’s intelligence is based on data gathered from a random panel. Very roughly speaking, comScore is to Internet audience data as Nielsen’s ratings are to television: Unlike Google Analytics, which captures data on a website’s server, comScore installs proxy-technology software on the computers of panel members. The software captures information about panel members’ behaviour click-by-click, second-by-second. ComScore’s Canadian panel is composed of roughly 50,000 users (comScore, Inc., 2010); globally, the company estimates that its panel comprises two million users (comScore, Inc. website, 2010b).
ComScore determines its clients’ audience reach based on a figure it calls “total audience”; it represents the complete Canadian population that uses the Internet. The company calculates the number of people in the total audience by conducting phone surveys of a random sample group: “Respondents are asked a variety of questions about their Internet use [such as, Do you use the Internet?], and descriptive information about their households is collected” (comScore, Inc. website, 2010a). These data are extrapolated to establish the total audience number, as well as other demographic details about the Canadian online audience. By combining the total audience data with information gathered from panel members, comScore is able to produce an up-to-date picture of online audience behaviour.
This method, which comScore calls “panel audience measurement,” has some limitations. While the software precisely records panel members’ Internet usage, panel members and phone-survey respondents self-report demographic information; this can result in imprecise findings. Another shortcoming of the panel-sample method is that it favours popular websites since there is a higher probability that the panel members will visit them. Conversely, comScore cannot account for smaller websites if no panel members land on the site. In short, when the data are extrapolated, the method can inflate the number of visitors to larger sites and overlook traffic to smaller sites.
In the interest of protecting Reader’s Digest Magazine Canada’s proprietary information, this report mostly uses comScore’s data. Although this information is public, access to purchased comScore products (including comparative analyses and demographic information) was granted on the basis of my status as an employee of Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada. The data presented show the scale of the partnership’s impact on the Reader’s Digest Canada websites, but are not an exact or up-to-date representation of the websites’ performance metrics.
ComScore’s data support the discussion of Reader’s Digest’s web strategy. Using information gathered from extensive in-person interviews with the digital media executives, and the online marketing and web editorial teams, this report serves as a comprehensive picture of how this major Canadian publisher is building targeted audiences online and grooming those audiences for advertisers.
Please see Glossary for a glossary of web analytics terms.
Canadian Magazines Online
The decline of magazines has been predicted since the start of the twentieth century, when film was introduced (Quin, 2003, p. 3). Historically, whenever a new medium for entertainment and information emerges, critics and naysayers speculate that the end of the magazine (or other existing media) is nearing. This was absolutely true at the advent of the Internet. Since its introduction, the Internet has forcefully reshaped the media landscape. Its influence was—and is—so great that predictions of the magazine publishing industry’s imminent demise seemed more likely than ever. In response to the speculation, and making sure not be left in the dust, many magazines publishers launched websites for their titles in the late 1990s.
Theoretically, magazine publishers were well-positioned to take advantage of the features of the new medium, as they already had arresting editorial to offer. A website had the potential to attract new readers and subscribers by offering content (either from the magazine or exclusively online) in a format that was convenient and accessible for readers. However, publishers (and most everyone else) lacked knowledge or expertise about how audiences behaved online, and how to translate magazine content or brands for online audiences. Quin (2003) notes, “By 1996, many magazines were launching sites that were mirror versions of their print products” (p. 8). Early magazine websites were wanting in overall “stickiness” (the quality that makes a user stay on a site, engage with the content, and tell others about it) because without tailoring it for the web, print-magazine content lacks timeliness, interactivity, searchability, and personalization.
There were other challenges, too. For example, monitoring, updating, and editing a magazine website required additional resources in terms of time and money; it often increased editors’ workloads. Most magazine editors were not accustomed to producing daily updates, since they traditionally worked on monthly or weekly production schedules. With smaller staffs and operating budgets than their American counterparts, the vast majority of Canadian magazines did not have the capacity to build and maintain functional websites, market them, cultivate regular audiences, and engage with the audiences in a meaningful way. Another obstacle was gaining rights and permissions for previously published work, since older contracts for writers did not address digital formats. There was always the question, too, of whether making a magazine’s content available online would cannibalize its print operations. Ultimately, without the infrastructure, market research, or knowledge to produce effective online spaces, magazine websites struggled to find audiences and make a profit.
The early 2000s were especially dismal. In his 2002 book Bamboozled at the Revolution:How Big Media Lost Billions in the Battle for the Internet, technology journalist and media critic JohnMatovalli revealed how powerhouse media companies such as Time Warner lost millions in early Internet ventures (Sumner and Rhoades, 2006, p. 118). An essay from Slate.com in 2008, argued that even turning household names, such as Vogue and Esquire, into profitable web properties was “probably not possible, at least not right away,” since advertisers were not willing to pay for online audiences (Blume, 2008). A media expert quoted in the Slate.com essay estimated that “online CPM is worth between one-seventh and one-tenth of a print CPM” (Blume); in short, the online-advertising model looked bleak for everyone, not just small- and medium-sized magazines. In July 2009, Kat Tancock, who is also the author of the blog Magazines Online,wrote, “The debate is still on (and for good reason) about how the media can make money with their online properties. Readership is certainly there, but display advertising isn’t bringing in enough revenue and most readers are unwilling to pay to read articles online”  (2009a). Only very savvy publishers could realistically expect to make a profit from sponsorships and advertising online—and a small one at that.
Faced with this reality, publishers were forced to reevaluate their web properties and thus, redefine their goals and measures of success. While most magazine websites were not likely to sell a fair amount of ads in the near future, they could exploit the equity in the brands. Readers invest trust in magazine brands, and looking at the magazine as a brand created more opportunities to increase visibility and revenue. By extending their brands online, through other media, and in-person, publishers could sell subscriptions and increase single-copy sales, and apply the brands to other media, products, and events. Popular magazines lent their brands to television shows, special interest publications, and merchandise, such as T-shirts, books, and calendars (MacKay, 2006, p. 198). For large media companies with resources and experience to maximize vertical and horizontal integration, this transformation was a familiar evolution. A 2003 survey of the leading magazine publishers in the UK showed that more than half thought of themselves as multimedia publishers and communicators, and not just publishers (Dear in MacKay, p. 213).
Online, some magazine websites became hubs for the communities around the brands. Members of the communities went to the websites to interact with editors and each other (MacKay, 2006, p. 153). In the web and print formats, a magazine represents the centre of a community. As noted in Rowland Lorimer’s 2008 study of Alberta Magazines, “Magazines Alberta: Vibrancy, Growth, Interactive Community Leadership,” “…magazines take their lead from their communities of readers, serving their needs and desires, and in doing so, they emerge as significant and distinctive voices in their communities” (Lorimer 2008, key findings). The formation of a community was especially key for Chatelaine, one of Canada’s most popular magazines. In her research in the magazine’s archives, Valerie Korinek looked at correspondence from readers and discovered that magazines and discussion about magazines “‘fostered a sense of identity or membership in a community’” (Korinek in MacKay, 2006, p. 154). This dynamic is dramatically enhanced by the possibilities of online networking on magazine websites. Says McKay, “the community aspect of a magazine is indeed one of the form’s important traits and a prime requirement for [online] success” (p. 154). Recently, publishers have found their web properties with established and engaged online communities are desirable environments for advertisers.
In 2010, the importance of a having a thoughtful online presence is impossible to ignore. As CEO of Meredith Corporation (publisher of Ladies Home Journal, MORE, and Fitness), William Kerr, notes:
The Internet is your friend. Once viewed as a threat, the Internet is a medium that magazines are using as a growth catalyst on many fronts. For our editors, it allows us a more frequent dialogue with readers. For our marketers, it provides another source of potential revenue generation. For our circulation professionals, it provides a low-cost alternative for generating magazine subscriptions. And it is growing at a phenomenal rate (Sumner and Rhoades, 2006, p. 118).
As more and more readers read online in their leisure time, an increasing number of publishers are establishing devoted web editorial and ad sales teams. The user experience has also improved as best practices for producing content online have also emerged: search-engine optimizing content, creating more interactive features, and integrating ways for readers to talk back. And publishers that nurture the communities around their magazines have more engaged online readerships to entice advertisers with. Publishers are also adopting social networking, blogs, email newsletters, and RSS feeds as part of their web strategies. There are also new digital spaces for magazine brands to cultivate audiences, including mobile applications and digital editions. Today, the largest Canadian magazine publishers are looking beyond breaking even. Though small- and medium-sized magazines still struggle to get a return on their investment in online publishing, multi-title publishers are managing to leverage their web properties into money-makers. One way of doing this, as Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada has found, is to partner with a web portal.
Web Portals in Canada
“Web portal” loosely describes any website that aggregates links from diverse sources and presents them in a unified and organized way. General interest web portals curate links to news, stock prices, entertainment gossip, and weather forecasts. Much like a newspaper, portals provide value in aggregating this information in one place. Similarly, portals present their content, gathered from syndicates such as Reuters and the Associated Press, in a consistent look and feel. Some web portals produce some content in-house but all portals have editorial teams gathering content from outside sources, including magazine websites. Web-portal editors analyze which articles, slideshows, services and interactive features perform best and choose the next day’s content accordingly. Many major web portals also host search and email services.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, web portals were important pieces of online real estate because they were daily destinations for users—often they were the first pages users visited before going elsewhere on the web. Internet service providers (ISP) and web portals often formed partnerships: When a user purchased access to Internet from an ISP, his or her browser would be programmed with the partner portal site as their home page. Similarly, users of Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail were directed to the service’s partner portal site upon logout. Accordingly, portals generated substantial traffic. Additionally, before Google, portals’ search engines were a popular way to locate relevant information.
Globally, MSNBC, Go.com, Netscape, Lycos, AOL, and Yahoo! dominated the web-portal market during the dot-com boom in the late 1990s. While some of these portals went out of business when the bubble burst around 2000, Yahoo! and MSNBC continued to find success. These companies also launched international portals to serve the demand for regional and local content. Yahoo! Canada, MSN.ca, and Sympatico.ca (owned by Bell Canada Enterprises) were established as dedicated services for the Canadian audience. Other Canadian portals include Canoe.ca (which is particularly popular in French Canada), AOL Canada, Canada.com, and myTELUS.com.
In 2003, Bell and Microsoft Canada merged their portal websites into the co-branded portal Sympatico.msn.ca (Canadian Press, 2003). According to Kevin Crull, president of residential services at Bell, “We wanted [Microsoft’s] development capabilities. They wanted our audience” (Avery, 2009). The joint portal combined the large audiences that used MSN’s Hotmail service and those that purchased Bell’s Internet service and/or were readers of Sympatico.ca. At the time, Canada’s online advertising market had an estimated worth of just over $350 million (Lloyd, 2009); accordingly rather than selling consumers to advertisers, the portal’s primary business model was based on selling services to consumers. The partnership allowed MSN to generate additional revenue by offering premium subscription services, developed by Microsoft, to Bell’s customer base (Lloyd). Bell hoped to use Microsoft’s technology to add value to Sympatico.ca.
Over the next five years, Sympatico.msn.ca, which offered content for English speakers and Francophones, became one of the country’s most visited websites and the major Canadian portal, with 18.5 million unique views a month (Lloyd, 2009).
Nonetheless, in the summer of 2009, MSN and Bell realized the partnership was no longer optimally serving either company. The rise of “freeconomics”—an online-business model where basic services are offered for free and revenues are generated from advertising or selling value-added services—lowered the value of Microsoft’s “premium level” services, such as email, and made it necessary to sell advertising to support those services. The companies divorced and re-established their individual (bilingual) portal sites: MSN.ca and Sympatico.ca, and improved their inventory of display-advertising spaces by developing video players as part of their advertising services (Lloyd, 2009). Currently, an ongoing task for Bell and Microsoft is restructuring the portals to operate without the content and technology resources previously afforded by having a joint, co-branded portal.
Today, portal sites are still major online destinations, but the number of visitors, page views, and time spent by users is declining. Microsoft Canada and Bell are engaged in a three-year agreement to exchange traffic, but neither portal site has been able to amass an audience as large as the former readership of Sympatico.msn.ca (Reynolds, interview, August 9, 2010). Meanwhile, engagement on social media sites is rising (Stableford, 2010). Users are turning to Twitter and Facebook for a more personalized experience. Some users are turning to social media first to get the news, and to tap into what their friends are reading and watching. Due to the ebbing popularity of portal sites, advertisers and agencies are taking their ad dollars to Facebook for more ad impressions (Oreskovic, 2010; Walsh, 2010). AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! are responding to this development by offering new customization options, such as personalized home pages. But more importantly, web portals are investing in quality content and thoughtful presentation. In order to become competitive content providers, portals—particularly MSN.ca—are turning to experts in publishing and journalism, including magazines (Stableford, 2010; Microsoft Canada, 2009).
Canadian magazines have a relatively long history of providing content to portal sites. In 1995, Maclean’s partnered with CompuServe Canada, a popular Internet service provider. At the time, CompuServe had three million Canadian subscribers. The partnership gave CompuServe subscribers—who were also the audience for the ISP’s portal—exclusive access to Maclean’s articles before they hit the newsstand (Quin, 2003, p. 9). In exchange, CompuServe drove traffic to the magazine’s online forum, where readers could discuss articles or talk to the writers and editors. Other magazines have sold content from their websites to portals. Selling daily music news from their website, Chartattack.com, to Sympatico.ca was a major revenue source for Chart magazine’s publishers in the early 2000s (Quin, p. 48).
When portals link to and publish magazine content, they gain content to draw and engage visitors, as well as the authority and credibility of an established magazine brand. A 2010 study by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) (Smith, 2010) and a 2008 study by Dynamic Logic (Lakin, 2008) concluded that branded content sites, such as magazine websites, had a greater impact on customer awareness and purchase intent than non-branded websites. Customers and advertisers also positively associated media sites with trust and quality. The OPA survey of 3,000 people found:
Eighty percent of people who said they had purchased brands as a result of online advertising described themselves as having a strong, positive connection to the sites where the ads ran. In most questions regarding trust and ad responsiveness, the branded media sites came out on top.
On the question of which content they are most likely to trust, respondents said: media sites first (72%), then portals (60%), and social media (23%).
Audiences also felt that advertisers were more likely to be of high quality and reputable on media sites (24%) rather than portals (20%), or social media (8%) (Smith).
By partnering with magazine brands, portals can provide advertisers environments where consumers are more trusting and receptive. Ultimately, portals’ burgeoning traffic troubles are creating ripe opportunities for magazine publishers.
The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. (RDA) is an international company with offices in 43 countries (Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. website, 2009). Founded in 1922 by DeWitt and Lila Wallace, the company’s flagship publication, Reader’s Digest—known for providing practical and useful information, is the largest independently published magazine in the world with 50 international editions (Sumner and Rhoades, 2006, p. 144). The company is also famous for its sweepstakes and contests—both of which are effective marketing and name-gathering techniques and thus, important parts of the RDA business. Its large customer base and database of prospective customers is possibly the most important asset to the company.
Although it has been slower than others in embracing digital services and products, RDA has always been a multi-brand, multi-media company. It produces and markets hundreds of media products. Annually, the company sells approximately 40 million books, music, and video products around the world (Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. website, 2009). Over the years, RDA has generated a wealth of content, which it can economically repurpose as digital products. For example, contents from the Reader’s Digest book Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things are the source material for the popular series “5 Things to Do with…” series on Readersdigest.ca. RDA owns and operates 78 branded websites. The crown jewel in the company’s digital properties is AllRecipes.com, the world’s largest online food community, with 15 localized websites, including one for Quebec.
The corporation’s relatively recent but rapid expansion into the digital world is part of its strategy to grow by “creating multi-platform communities based on branded content” (Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. website, 2009). RDA also leverages national successes and expands those brands internationally. In 2006, Reader’s Digest Australia launched HealthSmart magazine, a health and lifestyle magazine for women ages 30 to 50 years old. It is now the leading women’s health magazine in Australia and spawned a New Zealand edition in 2009. In 2008, the editorial formula was imported to Canada; with a few tweaks, it became Best Health magazine. And in 2009, the US offices announced the launch of BestYou magazine.
The Canadian offices of Reader’s Digest were established in 1947. The first Canadian edition of Reader’s Digest, Sélection du Reader’s Digest, appeared in 1948; it was, of course, the French-language edition for Canada. Currently, Reader’s Digest Canada is the largest circulation consumer magazine in Canada (Print Measurement Bureau, 2010) and is also recognized as the most trusted and influential magazine in the country conducted by Ropers Reports (in 2009) and Masthead magazine (in January/February 2008) (Ludgate, interview, 2010). The Canadian editorial offices are located in downtown Montreal, Quebec, and advertising sales are headquartered in the business district of Toronto, Ontario. The Montreal office has approximately 170 Reader’s Digest Canada staff members in the finance, editorial, marketing services, promotions, communications, human resources, sales, and administration departments. Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada publishes five magazines: Best Health, Reader’s Digest Canada, Sélection, Our Canada, and More of Our Canada. The magazine division also publishes special interest publications (SIPs) and produces custom publications for companies such as RONA.
In Canada, Reader’s Digest has been online since 1998, the year Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca were launched as online extensions of the magazines. At the time, isolated but dramatic success stories from Silicon Valley created the illusion that e-commerce was the new “Klondike.” However, it was not a simple task to transform two well-established print magazine brands into competitive players in the digital publishing landscape. Reader’s Digest Canada and Sélection initially struggled to define their brands and voices online, and without a clear and considered strategy, the Reader’s Digest Canada magazine websites floundered.
At the time, neither Readersdigest.ca nor Selection.ca had a dedicated editor or a content management system. The websites were updated monthly, mostly with repurposed magazine content. When taken directly from the magazine, the articles did not appeal to the audience of Readersdigest.ca: Many of the features published in Reader’s Digest Canada and Sélection are examples of extended investigative reporting or long-form journalism, but, as the company later found, the online audience was more interested in shorter, more practical food, home, and lifestyle content. As well, the magazine articles, their headlines, and their descriptions made little to no impact on search engines because the text lacked keywords; this made it unlikely that the latent online audience would find the articles by way of search. To make matters more difficult for the provisional web team, Reader’s Digest did not have the digital rights for some of its previously published content.
After the dot-com bust, online businesses adopted more realistic expectations about what they could achieve. As a provisional solution, the Reader’s Digest Canada websites were made into online stores for the company’s books, music and video products, and magazine subscriptions. Meanwhile, the new-business-development team introduced the famous Reader’s Digest sweepstakes program to the magazine websites. This important addition—which cost relatively little to establish—helped the company to build a large database of customers’ email addresses and to draw visitors to the sites daily. The online sweepstakes made Readersdigest.ca one of the top three Canadian magazine websites online, just behind Canadianliving.com. The “sweeps” program was the bread and butter of the company’s online business; in 2003, it made up 70 percent of Reader’s Digest Canada’s online traffic and an even larger percentage in the earlier years.
However, advertisers were interested in putting their products in front of readers who were engaged with content, and therefore could be influenced about their purchasing decisions. The quality of the magazine’s readership is something Reader’s Digest Canada wanted to offer to its online advertisers, too. Fittingly, the publisher has always boasted the quality of its readers. According to vice-president of digital media and strategic partnerships, Yann Paquet, the readers of Reader’s Digest Canada spend 90 minutes a month with the magazine, on average, and themagazine’s readers highly trust the brand (interview, August 11, 2010). Accordingly, Reader’s Digest moved towards producing websites for content, not contests. The company needed to develop online audiences large enough to be worthwhile for advertisers, but specific enough that demographically, they matched advertisers’ targets.
It was time to set new goals for the Canadian Reader’s Digest web properties: The first was to generate revenue with the company’s existing assets—its brands, customers, prospects, and most importantly, content. In 2008, the company hired a dedicated web editor, Jennifer Reynolds, as part of its initiative to makeover the website. Reynolds focused on developing an identity for the websites that was separate from the magazines. As such, the House and Home, Food, and Health “affinities” were launched. Furthermore, content was written and edited to be more “web-friendly” without straying from the Reader’s Digest brand: Articles were generally shorter and geared towards providing practical, everyday lifestyle advice. As well, user-generated content (UGC) features, such as photo galleries, were introduced. In short, Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca were transformed into “content-rich sites” with community interaction (Goyette, interview, July 16, 2010). The change was in-line with the Reader’s Digest brand and produced a more targeted and desirable audience for advertisers. At the same time, the Reader’s Digest Association started an international initiative to digitize its content and build an e-library accessible to its offices around the world, which gave the web editor more content to offer to the readers of Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca.
The second goal for Reader’s Digest Canada’s digital business was to expand traffic beyond sweeps visitors, and increase the loyal and trusting audience they had begun to establish. To fast-track the growth of its online audience, Reader’s Digest launched e-newsletters, which are major traffic drivers and a service to their readers. The company also developed cross-promotional partnerships with websites such as Divine.ca and Yahoo! Canada, sometimes running co-branded contests, or cross-promoting content.
The next step in audience development was to establish relationships with national, general interest web portals to give Reader’s Digest content more exposure. Reader’s Digest considered three different partnership models they could pursue with portals: 1) content for traffic, 2) content for dollars, or 3) content for technology. The first model is what Reader’s Digest ultimately found success with (This is covered in extensive detail in the following chapters). The second, in which the publisher licenses its content, was ruled out because although it would be beneficial to the company’s cash flow, the advantages would be limited in respect to traffic/audience development and advertising. The third model was used for Ourcanada.ca.
The launch of Our Canada magazine in 2004 is considered one of the most successful introductions of a magazine in Canadian history. The bi-monthly publication is made entirely out of submissions from readers about their experiences of Canada. The magazine’s editors receive hundreds of written and photographic submissions each month, which are compiled, edited, and produced into a glossy, fully illustrated print publication. Within two years, Our Canada gathered 238,000 subscribers. The magazine was so popular Reader’s Digest launched More of Our Canada in 2008 so that subscribers could opt to receive 12 issues of Our Canada content a year.
When conceiving an online space for the Our Canada brand, Reader’s Digest knew it needed a website that would facilitate UGC, by allowing users to upload photos, connect in forums, and publish their own blogs. However, developing that technology alone would be costly and risky. Meanwhile, Canoe.ca was looking to expand in the English-language market and had created online tools for community building. The two parties established a mutually beneficial relationship where both could leverage the considerable Our Canada readership and the associated travel and lifestyle content. Beginning in 2009, Our Canada has been hosted on Canoe.ca and uses the portal’s social-networking platform.
In the next five years, Reader’s Digest Canada hopes to grow its digital businesses in terms of advertising dollars, product sales, and revenue generated through renting its e-database of customer names and information (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010c). While expanding into mobile downloads and multimedia—an area of growing importance—Reader’s Digest is also focused on enhancing reader engagement. The managers and web editors are cultivating return users by building “community-focused websites,” which integrate social media and other avenues for readers to shape content and generate dialogue. As Kat Tancock told Masthead Online, “Reader’s Digest has always been a community-focused company. [It was a] natural extension to get into social media and let readers contribute to how they see the brand” (Masthead Online, 2010).
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In the years since Canadian magazines first went online, Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada has had successes and disappointments in experimenting with business and editorial models for digital publishing. Taking the lessons learned from the early days of the web, Reader’s Digest has a wealth of knowledge and resources to draw upon in this time of flux in the publishing industry.
Of course, the business of online magazines is never static, just as users’ behaviours, demands, and desires are inherently dynamic. For instance, in the 1990s, web portals were formidable features in the online landscape but today their status has diminished due to the success of Google and Facebook. Nonetheless, changing realities also mean new opportunities.
Since digital publishing took hold in Canada, Reader’s Digest’s roster of magazine brands has grown new audiences in new environments. Best Health—the magazine, website, and brand—is a successful confluence of the company’s traditional expertise in brand extension, content production, audience development and engagement, and its new online-business strategies.
Case Study: Best Health, Plaisirs Santé, and Sympatico.ca
In March 2008, Reader’s Digest Canada launched Best Health. The mission of the Best Health brand is to be the “Canadian authority on enhancing the health of women’s minds, bodies and spirits” by providing information about how to “Look Great,” “Eat Well,” “Embrace Life,” and “Get Healthy.” Under these four editorial “pillars,” the brand aims to cater to the interests and aspirations of its audience, and respect their challenges and realities by providing eye-catching design and trusted, practical healthy lifestyle information (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2009b). Best Health’s target demographic is women 35 to 55 years old, and skews slightly younger online. To Reader’s Digest, Best Health represents new territory and its success extended the publisher’s audience reach in the Canadian market. (The subsequent launch of Plaisirs Santé increased that reach into French-language market for women’s health content.)
In the past year, the magazine has been a major Canadian industry mover and shaker. According to Masthead’s report on “The Top 50” magazines in 2009,Best Health posted a positive 102-percent change in revenue from 2008-2009, leaping from 53rd place in the previous year to number 37 (Masthead, 2010). Its current paid circulation is 100,000. Its success has revealed there is still demand in the competitive genre of women’s magazines. Lynn Chambers, group publisher of Canadian Living and Homemakers, observed, “From an advertiser’s point-of-view, magazines are still highly relevant with this target group…What I’d love to see is a continued strengthening of the magazine category as a great way to reach women” (Masthead Online, 2008).
Best Health magazine is published seven times a year but encourages its readership to be apart of its online activities 365 days a year. Best Health uses a “multi-channel branded approach [to reach its audience], including…media, events, seminars and products” and “keep[s] community building at the centre of everything [it does]” (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2009b). Readers’ contributions in tips and personal stories are regular features in the magazine. As Boullard notes, reader involvement breeds loyalty because participants are more likely to feel they played a role in developing the magazine (2008, p. 8). The brand’s focus on connecting and supporting women has resulted in a coveted readership: They are deeply engaged, trusting, and devoted. To advertisers across a broad spectrum, this audience is highly valuable.
Besthealthmag.ca was launched in tandem with the print magazine in March 2008. The website was designed as a “women’s healthy lifestyle [online] community” (Reader’s Digest Canada Magazines Limited, 2010c). Editorial on Besthealthmag.ca is organized into the same four editorial pillars as the magazine. The content takes shape in the form of slideshows, articles (most are original articles but some are from the magazine or repurposed from Reader’s Digest books), recipes, and quizzes. The website is updated several times a day with at least two new stories and one blog post a day. Besthealthmag.ca also features a multi-author blog, commenting and rating capabilities, forums, and interactive online tools. The website is complemented by accounts on Facebook and Twitter, which allow the web editors and readers to personally engage with one another. Readers are a part of creating and shaping the content on Besthealthmag.ca by commenting and rating stories, contributing to forums, or writing their own blogs. Readers can also preview and/or subscribe to the magazine online, and purchase Best Health branded products through the Reader’s Digest Canada online store.
The Best Health web team started small with one dedicated web editor, Kat Tancock. In less than a year, Tancock increased the number of unique visitors by more than 600 percent: There were 15,000 unique visitors in June 2008 and 100,000 in May 2009 (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010d). Reynolds attributes the dramatic growth to Tancock’s launch of several popular e-newsletters that provided multiple “clickable” links back to the site, and optimizing content for search (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010d). Any content that was previously published in the magazine was edited for the web by strategically incorporating keywords into headlines and subheads. By making it easier to find Best Health articles through Google, search traffic increased. The detailed data from Google Analytics allowed Tancock to determine which headlines, keywords, and tags produced the most clicks and highest open rates.
By the summer of 2009, Reader’s Digest Canada had a desirable web property in its hands and an editor with an intimate knowledge of Best Health’s online community. As well, as web editor, Tancock was very successful in building a community of readers, who were enthusiastic about interacting online (Paquet, interview, August 11, 2010). In order to increase the value of the Best Health website and brand to its advertisers, and increase company’s list of customers and prospects, the Reader’s Digest’s digital media executives knew they needed new users and readers. Moreover, substantial online audiences could be found on web portals. Initially, Reader’s Digest sought a partnership between a high-traffic portal and Readersdigest.ca and/or Selection.ca, but a ripe opportunity arose for Besthealthmag.ca with Sympatico.ca.
Sympatico.ca is a web portal owned by Bell Canada. Within the Sympatico.ca network, there are 23 websites, otherwise known was “online properties.” According to its advertising information, the Sympatico.ca network captures 85 percent of the Canadian online audience, with more than 17 million unique visitors each month (Sympatico.ca Advertising website, 2010).
When Sympatico.ca and MSN.ca parted ways, many members of the joint portal’s sales staff—and thus its national advertising accounts—remained with Sympatico.ca. Bell also retained advertisers with its strong hold on mobile marketing (Bell claims Sympatico.ca has the largest mobile advertising network in the country), which it could leverage in combination with its television and Internet platforms (Bell Canada Enterprises, 2009). Sympatico.ca also continued to offer display-advertising inventory on Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Messenger (its instant message software) to its advertisers (Bell Canada Enterprises, 2009).
In 1995, when the portal first launched, Sympatico.ca established a commitment to offering Canadian content in both official languages. The portal has separate editorial teams for English and French content, instead of just translating content to minimize costs. Sympatico.ca aims to produce content for Canadian users that authentically “reflects their voice and culture” (Sympatico.ca Advertising website, 2010).
As part of offering quality content to attract readers, the portal’s editors and managers developed the popular channels Celebedge.ca (celebrity news and gossip), Fashionism.ca (fashion and red-carpet looks; the portal’s most popular channel), InMusic.ca (music news and videos), Sync.ca (technology), and Push.ca (skateboard and snowboarding). According to comScore, approximately 6.8 million Canadians visited Sympatico.ca’s portals channels in 2009 (Bell Canada Enterprises, 2009). These channels are easier to market to users than the portal as whole because they are conceptually concrete as products. Style-savvy readers may have a relationship with Fashionism.ca but little recognition of or loyalty towards the Sympatico.ca brand, for example. And while the overall portal’s audience numbers are substantial, advertisers are more interested targeting the niche audiences who visit branded channels within the portal. The branded channels were a part of the former joint portal but they stayed on Sympatico.ca after the split.
On its own, Sympatico.ca gained greater editorial flexibility, which its editors and managers used to develop additional branded channels. Most of the content for these channels would be sourced from what Kevin Crull, president of residential services at Bell, called “top content providers” (Avery, 2009). In August 2009, Sympatico.ca announced four new channels: InMovies.ca, Autos, YourMoney.ca, and its new health and fitness channel, Best Health.
Behind the scenes of the MSN-Sympatico.ca split, Sympatico.ca and Reader’s Digest Canada were establishing the details of a partnership, and the timing was right for such a deal. As previously noted, both Reader’s Digest and Bell were seeking out opportunities to develop new business: Reader’s Digest needed more exposure for its up-and-coming brand in the marketplace and Sympatico.ca’s management was seeking high-quality content. Both parties saw a demand in the marketplace for health and fitness content, particularly in the sought-after demographic of women 35 to 55. Additionally, diet and fitness was an editorial niche that MSN (with content from Transcontinental) fulfilled in the former joint portal and Sympatico.ca needed to replace it after the split. So, the companies began to look into the possibility of a partnership to make Best Health the portal’s Health and Fitness channel. First, Bell and Reader’s Digest Canada investigated the potential benefits of working together.
As one of the three largest magazine publishers in the country, Reader’s Digest offers expertise in organizing content, building community, managing editorial, and developing brands (Paquet, interview, August 11, 2010). Best Health would be an asset to Sympatico.ca because of its wealth of quality health and lifestyle content. And since Best Health’s dedicated and specialized web editorial staff would produce this content, the need for Sympatico.ca to hire its own health-and-fitness editors would be eliminated. Also, Besthealthmag.ca offered an attractive amount of reader engagement and commenting on articles; by making Besthealthmag.ca its health and wellness channel, the portal could carve out a niche in its broad audience.
Perhaps one of the most important draws for Sympatico.ca was the cachet of a Reader’s Digest-developed brand, which had already been quickly established over its first year (Tancock, email interview, July 7, 2010). The general principle behind branding is that “a recognizable brand will more easily attract and retain customers than an unrecognizable one” (Bellamy and Traudt in Blevins, 2004, p. 250). Although a prominent brand name does not guarantee success, it can help lower barriers to entry (Blevins, p. 250). Moreover, a magazine brand imbues an inherent level of trustworthiness in the content, as illustrated by the OPA and Dynamic Logic studies discussed earlier.
On the other hand, partnering with Sympatico.ca would assist Reader’s Digest in its efforts to create what Tony Cioffi, President and CEO of Reader’s Digest, calls “multi-platform communities based on branded content” (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada, 2009a). While Best Health’s website had already established the brand and its community on an online platform, the potential partnership would be a way to expand its presence; a partnership with Sympatico.ca would provide daily opportunities for Best Health’s editors to engage with a new audience (Reynolds, interview, August 9, 2010).
The most important advantage for Reader’s Digest in the potential partnership was an increase in traffic. While the number of visits to Besthealthmag.ca was respectable for a magazine website in its first year, and the site’s traffic from search and organic traffic (either through word of mouth or driven from callouts in the magazine) was significant, having Best Health content featured on a portal would multiply that traffic exponentially. A partnership with Sympatico.ca would offer Best Health a dedicated channel, meaning users seeking health and fitness content on the portal would be directed only to Besthealthmag.ca. This arrangement would virtually guarantee more readers for Best Health’s articles. Ultimately, a larger audience would present new sponsorship opportunities, more revenue, and eventually, it could justify hiring more members for the website’s editorial staff.
To definitively determine if there would be an increase in traffic for both parties, the companies consulted an Internet audience measurement agency to determine the size of the audience if a partnership were established. By combining the number of people who visit “Site A” (e.g. Besthealthmag.ca) and “Site B” (e.g. Sympatico.ca), and subtracting how many visit both, the size of the combined audience can be projected. At comScore, the combined audience is called the “audience duplication number.” If the audience of either site is comparable to the audience duplication number—or, in other words, there is a large overlap between the audiences—then a partnership would be effectively futile. Conversely, if a strong overlap is not evident, then there is opportunity for growth through forming a partnership. The calculations showed that both websites would gain traffic.
The benefits of a partnership were clear to both parties. As identified by Zahra Young, the director of marketing, e-commerce, partnerships, new magazines & series, Reader’s Digest four main goals/opportunities in establishing the partnership were to:
Generate advertising sales revenue [via increasing site traffic]
Increase brand awareness
Generate subscriptions and product sales
Generate new prospective customers [via email gathering]
(Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010b)
Now came time to establish the details. Targets for traffic were set. Sympatico.ca would be responsible for directing traffic to Besthealthmag.ca and highlighting Best Health content on its home page. Best Health gained a tab on the portal’s navigation (see figure 1). When hovered over, the button revealed the four Best Health editorial categories and the “Health News” newswire. All of these links took the user to the corresponding section on Besthealthmag.ca. Best Health was also given a “brick” below the fold on the home page, to highlight articles chosen by Besthealthmag.ca’s editors (see figure 2). Sympatico.ca would also direct traffic to Best Health articles by featuring them on the home-page viewer, which is the dominating feature on the home page. In return, Best Health would draw traffic to Sympatico.ca by linking to the portal’s home page and helping to cultivate a regular readership by offering clickable and inviting content.
Figure 1. Sympatico.ca Home Page, Best Health dropdown menu. Each of the portal’s channels has a dropdown menu onthe home page. NB: The Sympatico.ca homepage was redesigned in November 2010. In the new design, the Best Health “brick” is located just below the fold.
Figure 2. The Sympatico.ca Home Page prior to November 2010.
A unique aspect of the partnership is its revenue-sharing model: In this agreement, the companies’ sales teams work collaboratively to sell their shared online display-advertising inventory. Both parties are motivated to support traffic to Besthealthmag.ca and Sympatico.ca because if Besthealthmag.ca’s traffic sags, so do Sympatico.ca’s revenues, and vice versa. Under the partnership, two groups sell ads for the health and fitness channel: the Reader’s Digest media sales team, which sells integrated, cross-platform (print and online) advertising, and the Sympatico.ca sales team, which sells online advertising only. The Reader’s Digest media sales team lends Sympatico.ca’s team know-how in building, pitching and selling multimedia brands.
A final synergy established through the deal was the possibility of running co-branded contests. Best Health’s digital marketing department could produce the contest creative (i.e. display ads, entry pages, etc.), and source the prizes. The contests could be promoted on the websites’ home pages, contest hubs, newsletters, banners, and in Best Health, increasing the exposure of both brands (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010b). More importantly, however, contests are simple ways for Sympatico.ca and Best Health to gather names, emails and other customer data. For Best Health, a contest is an opportunity to acquire a new subscriber: special subscription offers on contest entry forms (see figure 3) can create new customers. The online entry forms also offer Best Health an easy way to build the readership of its free e- newsletters: Entrants need only to check off a box on the form.
Best Health began working with Sympatico.ca at the beginning of August 2009, as it progressively integrated its content on to Sympatico.ca’s existing health and wellness channel. The official launch on September 1, 2009, was supported by a public-relations campaign to raise awareness of the partnership in the public, as well as the industry. In the first three weeks of integration, the website drew over 1.5 million visits—approximately ten times the number of users before the partnership (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010; Bailey and Tcholakian, 2009). This increase in traffic meant new visitors, and countless additional opportunities to build lasting relationships with readers.
The partnership was the first of its kind in Canada (Paquet, interview, August 11, 2010). The making of a magazine brand into the channel of a high-traffic web portal was unprecedented. The partnership was effectively a merging of Besthealthmag.ca into Sympatico.ca. To any outsider, Besthealthmag.ca is just another of Sympatico.ca’s branded channels, except it offers other branded products, such as the magazine. Says Jennifer Goldberg, web editor of Besthealthmag.ca, some of the comments left on the website indicate that some users believe that the content is produced and published by Sympatico.ca (interview, July 21, 2010). Like Fashionism (fashionism.ca), Best Health has its own domain, but its relationship as a property under the Sympatico.ca umbrella is patent. Now a part of a web portal, Best Health was transforming itself into a media brand, and not just a print magazine. Furthermore, this partnership demonstrated how it was possible for a Canadian magazine brand to build a readership large enough to attract major national advertisers.
Impact on Traffic
To say that the traffic to Besthealthmag.ca increased in August 2009 is a gross understatement. Reader’s Digest’s Google Analytics data for Besthealthmag.ca illustrates the enormous impact of the partnership:
Source: Best Health/Sympatico.ca Partnership Update, prepared by Zahra Young (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010a)
It is understood at Reader’s Digest that the scale of the audience’s growth simply would not be possible without a partnership like this (Tancock, email interview, July 7, 2010). Though dramatic, the increase in users matched Reader’s Digest and Sympatico.ca’s expectations for Besthealthmag.ca, which were based on traffic to the portal’s previous health and fitness section. ComScore measured 465,000 unique visitors to the site in July 2010, and 976,000 total visits or “entries.” Three hundred and seventy-one (371,000) unique visitors (80 percent) and 676,000 visits (69 percent) were directed from a Sympatico.ca property (see “Traffic Sources and Losses,” p. 55). As well, the website gained tens of thousands of Best Health newsletter subscribers (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010a).
Notably, the partnership also increased the website’s male readership. Aside from the occasional “Male Call” article or a small tidbit in Best Health’s front-of-book section, “New and Now,” content in the magazine is primarily directed at women. A similar editorial makeup was initially adopted for the website; however, a higher proportion of Sympatico.ca’s readership is male. To better serve the portal’s readership, Besthealthmag.ca included a “Men’s Health” category in its “Get Healthy” section online and tailored more of its content to be gender neutral. Currently, over a third (37.3 percent) of the website’s readership is male (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010).
Since Besthealthmag.ca directs traffic back to the Sympatico.ca websites, there have been gains for Sympatico.ca, as well, in terms of traffic: In July 2010, 214,000 unique visitors (46 percent) clicked to another site in the Sympatico.ca network after visiting the Best Health channel (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010). The partnership also boosted Sympatico.ca’s Health and Fitness channel into the number seven spot in the “Health” category, as defined by comScore. Aside from About.com’s Health channel and Health.com, the Sympatico.ca Health and Fitness channel performs better in Canada than any other portal or media site in the same category, including MSN Health (Rank 26), CNN Health (Rank 25), and Canoe Health (Rank 8) (comScore, Inc. Canada).
As a result of the partnership, the sales teams for Reader’s Digest and Sympatico.ca can offer their advertisers improved ways to reach more consumers. For example, an advertiser may sponsor a section on Best Health’s site and purchase ad space anywhere on the Sympatico.ca network (also known as “run-of-site advertising”) at a discounted rate. Obviously, the partnership produced another important incentive for advertisers: the website’s increased readership. The larger audience was an important selling point for companies such as Becel, Shredded Wheat, and Splenda, who have sponsored entire categories of content (Heart Health, Simple Living, and Diabetes, respectively). Most notably, VICHY, the international skincare brand, partnered with Best Health to launch its own dedicated micro-site, the VICHY Best Health Challenge, “an invitation to women across Canada to dare themselves to Look Great, Get Healthy, Eat Well and Embrace Life” (Best Health 2010b). An initiative of this size simply could not be launched or sustained by Best Health without the sponsorship of VICHY—which would not be possible without the partnership with Sympatico.ca.
Impact on Brand Awareness and Product Sales
Like being on the newsstand, being on a web portal works as a powerful marketing and promotion tool for a magazine and its brand. Sometimes, it makes the first impression, setting the tone for the reader’s future interactions with the brand. Partly because there is no simple way gauge this change, there are no available data to indicate that Best Health magazine or brand are more well-known since partnering with Sympatico.ca. However, it is safe to venture that by simply being on Sympatico.ca’s home page, the network’s most popular property, more Canadians are aware that Best Health exists since its visibility has increased.
Reaching Sympatico.ca’s audience means more people interact with Best Health and may develop a positive perception of the brand. Accordingly, this strategic partnership offers Reader’s Digest an opportunity to substantially grow the online brand community. In the framework for analyzing online brand communities put forward by Madupu and Cooley (2010), online brand communities exist because their members seek “information, self-discovery, social integration, social enhancement, and entertainment” (p.127). When those needs are served and members feel integrated into the community, they recommend the brand to outsiders out of a felt responsibility to contribute to the success and longevity of the brand (Madupu and Cooley, p.141). The more active participants (those that create content or offer their opinions) there are in such a community, the larger the force is to convert first-time visitors into return visitors. The formidable online community Best Health brought into its partnership with Sympatico.ca worked powerfully to its advantage: Readers who were introduced to Besthealthmag.ca through Sympatico.ca were “welcomed” by the existing brand community and the community “wardens” (in this case, the publisher and the web editorial team).
Perhaps due to the strength of the online brand community, the percentage of traffic to Besthealthmag.ca from Sympatico.ca’s position is diminishing since the partnership began (Google Analytics report, September-November 2010). Besthealthmag.ca is becoming a regular destination for more users, who are bookmaking the website and landing there directly, rather than arriving via Sympatico.ca properties. This development illustrates growing audience loyalty and brand recognition for Best Health.
Does this brand awareness and community engagement translate to magazine sales? Traditionally, one of the primary goals for a magazine website was to sell subscriptions (Sumner and Rhoades, 2006, p. 79). However, anecdotal evidence does not suggest that a larger online readership translates into increased subscriptions or newsstand sales (Goldberg, interview, July 21, 2010; McAuley, interview, July 28, 2010). Even if one were to assume that the entire readership of BestHealth magazine is part of the website’s audience, the overlap between the print and online audienceswould be small compared to the actual number of monthly unique visitors. Furthermore, if most of the traffic is from a Sympatico.ca property, rather than direct traffic, then it is highly probable that most readers do not interact with Best Health in magazine form. It is especially telling that the number of visitors on articles, slideshows, and blog content dwarfs the traffic to pages about the magazine, such as the table of contents, the magazine preview, or pages where readers can buy a subscription (Google Analytics report, 2010).
Even still, the web designers and editors endeavour to support the magazine and make it visible to its online readers. Above the fold on the Besthealthmag.ca home page, there are multiple calls to action to subscribe and a tab in the main navigation for content related to the current issue of the magazine (see figure 4). Additionally, a subscription form appears at the bottom of the right-hand column of every page; the digital marketing team sometimes sweetens the deal with a chance to win a $50,000 car, for example, if you subscribe (Best Health, 2010a). Magazine subscriptions are also promoted in the weekly and daily e-newsletters, and the editorial team reminds readers to subscribe by appending articles originally published in the magazine with the note:
This article was originally titled “[Name of the article in the magazine]” in the [September2010] issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—andnever miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health (Best Health, 2010a; emphasis in original).
Continuing to support the magazine online is important to the Reader’s Digest media sales team, as they sell cross-platform advertising; to effectively sell the Best Health audience, the strength of the print readership needs to be maintained—for as long as people are interested in print magazines.
A brand can adapt to different media as readers’ attitudes and preferences shift. A brand can have a life beyond the print magazine, as is the case with Gourmet magazine. A significant goal for the company’s digital and social media strategies was to raise awareness of the Best Health brand among Canadians. Building platform-agnostic relationships between community members and the brand is the first step in creating additional revenue streams—including digital services, such as mobile apps and SMS subscriptions; in-person events, and books—out of a magazine brand.
Figure 4 A screenshot of Besthealthmag.ca, with calls to subscribe highlighted. NB: the middle area of the page wasomitted.
The Launch of Plaisirs Santé
Even before the launch of the partnership with Sympatico.ca, Reader’s Digest began to investigate the viability of launching a French-language version of the brand. When preparing for the launch of Best Health, the company published Special Interest Publications (“SIPs” or “newsstand specials”) called No Fail Weight Loss under the Best Health brand. These digest-sized magazines, which are sold on newsstands, include recipes, workout programs, and weight-loss and nutrition advice. SIPs are a cost-effective way to try out content, design and branding in the market. Accordingly, Reader’s Digest published a French edition of No Fail Weight Loss (Maigrir Sans Faute) under the Plaisirs Santé (meaning “Best Health” or “Healthy Pleasures”) brand, to test the appeal of women’s health and fitness content in the French Canadian market. The publisher also tested the content in the lifestyle section of Sélection du Reader’s Digest and created a channel for the brand on Selection.ca.
The market research showed there was a positive response from advertisers and readers, but the projected profit and losses showed the publisher that the timing was not right to launch a print magazine. However, Reader’s Digest could build a large and desirable readership online—through a partnership with Sympatico.ca, which it secured for the launch of the website.
Plaisirssante.ca debuted on Sympatico.ca in January 2010. Within its first month online, Plaisirssante.ca drew 300,000 visitors and 1.5 million page views (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010d). Additional traffic is driven to the website through promotion on the main navigation and in the health section of Selection.ca, and in print in Sélection.
Directed at readers in Quebec, content on Plaisirssante.ca is more localized and “less conservative,” says its web editor, Stéphanie Letourneau (email interview, August 16, 2010). Its target demographic skews slightly younger as well (women 25-50). While the English audience generally looks for more “newsy” stories, the French editors find that their readers click more on content related to sex and weight-loss (Letourneau). But overall, like Besthealthmag.ca, Plaisirssante.ca’s focus is to deliver “healthy lifestyle information that’s inspiring, attainable, and fun” (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2009b). The French website is also organized into four parallel editorial pillars: “Mon Look,” “Ma Santé,” “Mon Assiette,” and “Ma Vie.”
For Reader’s Digest Canada, Plaisirs Santé was a landmark initiative: the launch of a brand that started online, rather than in print. Not only does the success of Plaisirs Santé mark significant progress in the company’s overall efforts to move into digital publishing, but in the short term, it also means move revenues, and fuller exploitation of the market interested in health and fitness content. The stake in the French market presents improved opportunities for the Sympatico.ca and Reader’s Digest media sales teams. With Plaisirs Santé as part of the Sympatico.ca family, Sympatico.ca and Reader’s Digest may offer national advertisers tremendous flexibility and reach with this bilingual, cross-platform brand.
Web Editorial for Portals
Best Health’s web editors are responsible for producing content that works for advertisers, the Sympatico.ca home-page editors, and both websites’ readers. The content on Besthealthmag.ca evolves according to the changing needs of these stakeholders. This section discusses the editorial practices and strategies unique to Besthealthmag.ca, which have developed out of its partnership with a national general interest portal.
The Besthealthmag.ca editorial team has changed substantially as the website has grown. Besthealthmag.ca is primarily managed by web editor Jennifer Goldberg and assistant web editor Alicia McAuley.Goldberg and McAuley plan and assign content, oversee production, and manage and contribute to the Best Health blog. The editors also respond to comments from readers and are responsible for posting on Facebook and Twitter. Aside from a handful of freelancers and the senior web editor (Tancock, who manages editorial on all the Reader’s Digest Canada magazine websites), the two editors compose the entire web team for the audience of over half a million users.
On a Canadian scale, the Best Health web editorial team is quite big. Many magazines rely on just one dedicated editor (or, in many cases, volunteers). In comparison, Self.com, the website for a comparable U.S. publication—with a print circulation of over one million (Condé Nast, 2010), employs a web team of four members.
According to web editor, Jennifer Goldberg, the Besthealthmag.ca editorial team is an agile operation, whose small size works to its advantage. Although there are limitations to having just three editors —such as how much they can produce and cover—Best Health’s web team discusses ideas easily and efficiently. This ease of communication makes it simple to make changes as requested by the portal site. Without the managerial bureaucracy that exists with publishers that license content from many of their magazine brands, “a small team of flexible and creative editors probably works better as a partner for a portal than a larger team that may work more slowly,” says Goldberg (email interview, October 26, 2010). For example, without a lot of lead-time, Sympatico.ca can coordinate special projects with the Best Health web editorial team, as they are more adaptable and work closely with one another.
While working with Sympatico.ca brings Best Health content to a larger audience, there are also increased demands on the online editorial and production staff. The partnership requires coordination and extensive planning on the part of the Best Health web editors to plan upcoming content with the home-page editors for Sympatico.ca.
New editorial strategies emerge when needing to consider two audiences and the expectations and predilections of an additional editorial team. Sympatico.ca’s home-page editors select their content based on what they think will engage visitors and increase their time on the site; accordingly, content providers, such as Best Health, must design content strategically to get optimal placement on the portal’s home page. The articles, blogs and slideshows Best Health’s web editors offer to their readers need to be interesting, valuable, and informative to a broad audience—it has to be the kind of content that will be the most “clickable.” This is what Halligan and Shan (2010) call “remarkable content”:
Remarkable content attracts links from other web sites pointing to your web site.…Every one of these links (remarks)…send[s] you qualified visitors, and they signal to Google that your website is worthy of ranking for important keywords in your market…. remarkable content is easily and quickly spread on social media sites.
Ultimately, the high-level goal for the web editorial team is to produce content that performs. In the past, search engine optimizing content was a vital editorial practice for Besthealthmag.ca. Today, search traffic makes up less than five percent of the site’s total traffic (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010). Accordingly, Best Health’s editorial is meant to appeal to an audience that does not actively seek out health and fitness content but will be exposed to it on the portal site. One primary method to generate traffic from the portal audience is incorporating topics, titles, and descriptions that grab the attention of online readers. Not unlike any other website, analytics are a helpful resource in determining what sorts of subjects, keywords, and—speaking more generally—ideas are relevant and compelling. The web team has found that historically, articles related to the following topics are highly likely to gather an audience and be promoted in a strong position on the Sympatico.ca home page:
Weight loss (This topic performs particularly well on Mondays, after readers have had indulgent weekends)
Sleep (Articles on this topic especially grabs readers on Fridays, as they are likely to have lost sleep over the week)
Food (Articles on healthy eating, dieting and nutrition, as well as recipes, aregenerally successful)
The web editorial team has also found that articles with a “negative” spin perform well (Goldberg, interview, July 21, 2010; McAuley, interview, July 28, 2010). For example, “The worst Halloween treats you can eat” and “Top 10 weight-loss mistakes” are titles written with the understanding that readers are curious about how they could be harming their health (or their waistline). Words such as weird, strange, easy, tips, surprising, and unusual, and titles with numbers (e.g. “7 things that are secretly making you gain weight” ) also work well to bring readers to Best Health’s website from Sympatico.ca (Goldberg; McAuley). Articles with numbered titles are often made into slideshows, which increase page views and time spent on site—and thus, the number of impressions for advertisements.
Reader engagement is also integral to the editorial strategy for Besthealthmag.ca, as community and dialogue are central to the brand. Readers are always invited to comment and join in the conversation, particularly on blog posts on “newsy” or controversial topics. Similarly, the web editors use Facebook and Twitter to draw the Best Health social media community to the site. For instance, in October 2010, the editors asked Best Health’s Facebook fans, “Have you had laser eye surgery? What was it like?” and linked to their story “Is laser eye surgery right for you?” (Facebook, 2010). The editors also use social networks to produce user-generated content. In another Facebook post, the Best Health editors wrote, “Happy Friday, everyone! Office party today for our soon-to-be-married associate web editor. What are your best tips for a happy, healthy marriage? (Let us know and we may feature them on our site!)” (Facebook ) The responses from readers were used to produce the slideshow “The best advice for a healthy relationship.” Essentially, Facebook and Twitter are two additional avenues to expose readers to the brand and content, and increase the dialogue around health issues for women.
The use of social media to promote Best Health content does not mean that Besthealthmag.ca is an insular community or a “walled garden.” Aufderheide (in Blevins, 2004) notes that only linking to one’s own content “structure[s] the user as a consumer of branded services”—and not trust-worthy reporting (p. 248). The practice of linking to sources and resources “is the key gesture to being a citizen of the web and not just a product on the web” (Sholin, 2009). In order to increase the credibility of the content and brand, Best Health links out to research studies, health stories by other media websites, and blog posts. This connects Best Health with the larger community of health and fitness websites, and increases the likelihood that other websites will link back to Besthealthmag.ca (and increase its ranking within Google). Making more quality content (regardless of the brand) available to the user has multiple benefits, including improving user experience. After all, the quality of the user and their satisfaction is much more valuable to the publisher and the advertiser:
By adding links out to stories…readers will find interesting, [websites are] extending their brands: Not only do they create content for their readers, they’re presenting themselves as the experts in those content areas, giving their subscribers even more value. And you can make a lot more money off a newsletter subscriber than off a click (Tancock, 2009b).
The best practices presented above are at the foundation of the success Besthealthmag.ca has found since partnering Sympatico.ca. Using these techniques, the editorial team manages to create articles that grab the attention of daily readers on a crowded portal page—and on Besthealthmag.ca, which itself is densely populated with a growing archive of useful and interesting content. Quality content is the foundation for building a quality readership and community—the elements of a website that produce an appealing environment for advertisers.
One of the challenges of being a part of a web portal is working with at least two brands (in this case, Best Health and Sympatico.ca), and dozens of advertising brands. When the editorial team plans lineups of content, it creates stories around the Best Health brand while remaining “very mindful of the Sympatico.ca audience” (Tancock, email interview, July 7, 2010).
The Best Health brand has four editorial pillars but content under “Look Great” and “Embrace Life” does not necessarily fit Sympatico.ca’s editorial mandate for its health and fitness channel. Moreover, Sympatico.ca already publishes fashion and beauty content under the Fashionism channel, and has a separate lifestyle channel. Since Sympatico.ca features only Best Health’s health and fitness articles on its home page, “Get Healthy” and “Eat Well” stories generate the most page views for Besthealthmag.ca.
Nonetheless, beauty and lifestyle content are integral parts of the Best Health brand, and for some readers who come directly to Besthealthmag.ca, it may be the content they are looking for. To maintain the brand’s editorial voice, the editorial team tries to produce an equal number of articles for each pillar, even though “Look Great” and “Embrace Life” life articles are usually not pitched to Sympatico.ca.
Additionally, the editors need to consider the communities associated with each brand. For Sympatico.ca, they aim to produce items that are not specifically aimed at women because the portal has a broader audience than Best Health. While this is a departure from the Best Health brand, it is beneficial for Besthealthmag.ca’s traffic: Tancock has found that stories that appeal to men and women—such as articles related to fitness, weight loss and healthy eating—produce more clicks (Tancock, email interview, July 7, 2010). At the same time, the web editorial team still publishes more gender-specific, serious issue-oriented, or news-related stories (which have a narrower appeal) on Besthealthmag.ca as a way of keeping Best Health content informative, authoritative and insightful—in other words, true to the brand.
A highly trafficked website with the right audience can draw coveted advertisers, who demand unique and prominent ways to showcase their products. This was true for Besthealthmag.ca. However, the original website (launched in March 2008) was not designed with the partnership with Sympatico.ca in mind. In the summer of 2010, Besthealthmag.ca and Plaisirssante.ca were given makeovers (Masthead Online, 2010). The redesign lends the websites a different colour scheme and allows for many more points of entry into Best Health’s (and the Reader’s Digest Association’s) vast bank of health content. Overall, the site was made more functional, usable, and “sticky.”
The redesign also shows that Best Health is part of the Sympatico.ca media family more overtly by visually integrating the two brands. Since links to health and fitness content on the Sympatico.ca portal take the reader directly to Besthealthmag.ca, arriving at the old website was sometimes jarring for the first-time user. In the redesign, the Sympatico.ca logo is prominently featured in the upper right-hand corner of the website to signal the connection between the two properties. On most pages, Besthealthmag.ca also features links to lifestyle content from Sympatico.ca, increasing brand awareness for the portal amongst visitors.
Additionally, the new design allows Best Health’s advertisers to do more with the larger audience: “One of the challenges with the old site was it didn’t always allow for the flexibility with advertisers,” Tancock told Masthead Online (Masthead Online, 2010).
The first custom-built program for the new site was the previously mentioned VICHY Best Health Challenge, where participants “pick a [health or fitness] goal and reach it, with help and support from the Best Health community of women” (Best Health, 2010b). The VICHY Best Health Challenge is a multi-platform content and advertising program sponsored by the international skincare company. Each issue of the print magazine includes Challenge-based content. Online, registered participants (called “Challengers”) can set goals, take part in daily challenges, discuss and ask questions in the forums, and write about their experiences on their blogs. The micro-site has its own branding and exclusive content from beauty, fitness, and nutrition experts, and a life coach. The Challenge is also supported by a weekly newsletter, which features new content and forum discussions, and promotes online-community engagement. Best Health’s Editor-in-Chief Bonnie Munday notes, “The Challenge enabled us to create a unique setting for women to empower and inspire one another…Plus, the response to our call for participation in the program was tremendous” (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited, 2010a).
Since the program is targeted at a specific audience that may or may not have been readers of Besthealthmag.ca or of Sympatico.ca, the Challenge has the potential to introduce a new audience to the web portal; community members who visit the Challenge website directly (perhaps having been prompted by the magazine), also see Sympatico.ca’s branding and links to its content. With the Best Health Challenge, the partnership is further evolving into a symbiosis where both media brands support each other in brand awareness and traffic driving, and ultimately, shared advertising revenue.
Case Study: Readersdigest.ca, Selection.ca, and MSN.ca
The success of the Best Health and Sympatico.ca partnership proved that Reader’s Digest Canada could leverage its content and brands online to produce advertiser-friendly environments. With this in mind, Reader’s Digest Canada sought out another formidable online partner for its flagship magazine websites, Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca, with the hope of replicating the audience growth that came out of the first partnership. MSN.ca had an audience large enough to appeal to Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca’s potential and existing advertisers; and Reader’s Digest Canada had content, experience and a trusted brand to offer the portal. A partnership was finalized late in the summer of 2010. After months of planning and negotiation, in October 2010, content from Selection.ca was published on MSN.ca.”
Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca
Readersdigest.ca has five content “affinities”: Health, Food, Home and Garden, Pets (which premiered in October 2009), and Travel (which was added in April 2010). The website is updated with two to three new articles daily, and offers readers practical home and lifestyle content that they can use to improve their everyday lives. Readersdigest.ca also offers special content features such as a Halloween Guide for October and an Outdoor Entertaining section in the summer months. Overall, the website mirrors the “RD Living” section of the magazine: It is a collection of consumer-oriented articles and tips, written in a casual and friendly voice. The content is comparable to that found in the magazines Canadian Living, Homemakers, and U.S. brands such as Martha Stewart Living, Good Housekeeping, and Real Simple. The Readersdigest.ca readership—of approximately 378,000 unique visitors a month—is 66 percent female (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010). The average reader is over 35 years old, and has a yearly household income of $40,000-$60,000 (comScore, Inc. Canada).
The English-language audience in Canada far outnumbers its French counterpart ; as a result, the digital strategy at Reader’s Digest Canada is very much oriented towards the English market. Readersdigest.ca has two full-time editors, while Selection.ca has just one part-time web editor and one of the magazine’s print editors is responsible for a considerable portion of the website’s upkeep. Still, the French Canadian readership is an integral part of the publisher’s history, and Quebec is a market where a magazine can develop an exceptionally loyal readership partly because there are fewer competitors from the United States. For that reason, Selection.ca has found an audience with more ease and less marketing.
Selection.ca is geared towards younger readers (the lower age bracket of its target audience is 18-25 years old). There is a larger focus on consumer tips and product-oriented content on Selection.ca, instead of the instructional “how-to” articles that appear on the English site (Barillaro, interview, July 8, 2010). The four Selection.ca affinities are Bien Manger, Maison, Santé, and Animaux. And like Plaisirssante.ca, Selection.ca produces more local content to appeal to readers inQuebec, who make up most of the French-language audience in Canada (approximately 90 percent) (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010).
For Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca, one of the publisher’s primary goals is to build community engagement. Both websites have a substantial number of return users, and the websites have cultivated a nascent sense of community (Paquet, interview, August 11, 2010). However, there is potential to foster more “active users.” Currently, Readersdigest.ca has interactive features such as polls and “Join the Debate,” a feature that invites users to discuss a topic featured in the magazine. The websites’ editors are also using social media to encourage more interaction. In the summer of 2010, Readersdigest.ca re-established its presence on Facebook ; since then, it has been using similar practices to Besthealthmag.ca (i.e. linking to recent articles; asking questions to Facebook fans to spark discussions) to engage its audience and promote fresh content. A partnership with a portal is another mechanism to stimulate more activity in the online community by drawing more traffic. Having a platform to invite new audiences into the Reader’s Digest brand communities is one of the most important opportunities in working with MSN.ca.
When MSN Canada and Sympatico.ca ended their partnership, the former emerged as the stronger of the two portal sites (Reynolds, interview, August 9, 2010). Microsoft also claims it is the number one home-page portal in Canada, with 10 million unique visitors a month (Microsoft Advertising website, 2010b). To prepare for the newly reestablished MSN.ca, Microsoft added about 60 advertising and editorial staff (Avery, 2009). Though Sympatico.ca staff had close relationships with Canadian brands, international campaigns drifted towards MSN.ca and its international sales team (Lloyd, 2009). Furthermore, during the relaunch, Microsoft Canada executives announced they would seek out Canadian advertising accounts for MSN.ca by offering Canadian content on the portal.
However, MSN.ca also lost many of its content providers in the split. Microsoft Canada planned to offer the same channels on the new MSN.ca as the former joint portal did (Lloyd, 2009). So, content was sourced from MSNBC, BBC, Delish, CBC/Radio-Canada, Chatelaine and Protégez-vous to populate the portal (Microsoft Canada, 2009). Today, the English-language site has 15 channels, including one that is branded—Delish, its food and recipe channel (Microsoft Advertising website, 2010a). The majority of content published on MSN.ca is from third parties. MSN.ca’s largest content partnership is with Rogers Media, which provides content to the portal site under numerous magazines brands. Reader’s Digest Canada is the second largest Canadian media company to partner with MSN.ca. Establishing a partnership with Reader’s Digest reflects MSN.ca’s efforts to compete with Sympatico.ca in providing Canadian content to its audience.
Though Reader’s Digest had already forged a partnership with a web portal, initiating another one would require the company to evaluate the details of a deal anew to negotiate the most beneficial (and profitable) arrangement for its websites. First off, the company needed to find the portal that could provide the optimal audience for Reader’s Digest. Next, Reader’s Digest and the portal would have to decide if money would be exchanged. They would also need to determine what kind of content Reader’s Digest would provide and how the would portal link users back to Readersdigest.ca or Selection.ca. Advertising sales would be another point of discussion. In short, the partnership with Sympatico.ca could only serve as a scanty outline for how to create a successful partnership involving different magazine brands and a distinct web portal.
The finalized partnership gives MSN.ca access to Reader’s Digest content from across Reader’s Digest’s affinities, with a focus on lifestyle and travel. Articles from Readersdigest.ca or Selection.ca are hosted on the portal site, thus making Reader’s Digest content visible to many more readers; links in the articles to Readersdigest.ca or Selection.ca will drive traffic to the respective sites—if readers are inclined to click through. If the partnership is successful, Reader’s Digest will gain additional and/or larger accounts based on the increased traffic sourced from the portal. Ideally, a presence on MSN.ca will also result in readers actively seeking out Readersdigest.ca or Selection.ca content independently, and/or increasing engagement with the brands through signing up for newsletters, purchasing products, entering contests or buying subscriptions.
Reader’s Digest offered MSN.ca other editorial efficiencies besides a supply of original content. MSN.ca’s home-page editors work with many content providers, and those that can simplify the process are at an advantage. Thus, due to its size and numerous magazine brands, Rogers Media’s significant relationship with MSN.ca is likely a cumbersome one. Although Rogers offers a wealth of content and powerful brand names, the company’s organizational structure offers limited flexibility. Conversely, Reader’s Digest has only one contact person responsible for liaising with MSN.ca to deliver French and English content: Maria Barillaro, associate web editor for Readersdigest.ca. As Goldberg suggested when speaking about the benefits of working with the Best Health editorial team, a smaller team means the process is streamlined but the content offered to the portal is still rich and varied (Goldberg, email interview, October 26, 2010).
In several ways, this partnership is very similar to the Besthealthmag.ca/Sympatico.ca deal: Again, Reader’s Digest is offering its partner the benefit of a web editorial staff that is well-versed in creating quality content. Similarly, the publisher is leveraging its recognized media brands and content on digital platforms to seek new audiences; in turn, the portal can offer its audience an enriched experience. The salient differences of the partnership are in the details: Reader’s Digest content will be published in thematic channels alongside content from other providers. The publisher’s content will be simply branded with the display of a logo on MSN.ca. Thus, without dedicated channels for Reader’s Digest’s brands, it will be harder to establish a presence on the busy portal site and get readers to notice their stories. Furthermore, since MSN.ca is not relying only on Readersdigest.ca to supply content for their channels; accordingly, there are no guarantees that items from Reader’s Digest will be published on MSN.ca, particularly if other content partners present stories that are more competitive. Furthermore, the popularity of story on MSN.ca will not directly translate into traffic for Reader’s Digest’s websites if the “related stories” or internal links are not appealing to readers.
Publishing Reader’s Digest Content on MSN.ca
In the initial months of the partnership, the primary editorial challenge will be to build successful articles by creating content that will appeal to the MSN.ca editors, and draw people back to the Sélection or Reader’s Digest websites, such as recipes, how-to articles, and slideshows. When preparing content with a portal audience in mind, there are new considerations. For example, at the most basic level, there is a different audience to cater to. As the editors of Besthealthmag.ca have found working in a portal environment, a key editorial responsibility in this type of partnership is producing the content that MSN.ca calls for (for its audience) while making sure to maintain the integrity of the Reader’s Digest content and brands.
Keeping in mind what Reader’s Digest can offer that is unique from the portal’s other content providers, Barillaro designs a lineup of content for MSN.ca. For MSN.ca’s French site, Barillaro pitches items for the portal’s Maison, Vie Practique, Cuisine, Amour et sexualité, Famille, and Mode et beauté channels. For the English site, Readersdigest.ca will provide content for the Lifestyle and Travel channels (Barillaro, interview, August 4, 2010). When offering articles to MSN.ca, it is important for the editor to show that there is an audience for each article or gallery. For example, when pitching “5 delicious low-fat Thanksgiving recipes,” the editor would highlight the thousands of health-conscious homemakers who are planning holiday dinners. Producing original articles for MSN.ca will also be priority for Readersdigest.ca’s editors, as it gives editors the ability to target the MSN.ca audience directly.
Along with additional administration and correspondence, the partnership creates new demands on the editorial teams for Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca. When MSN.ca publishes an article or gallery from either website, Barillaro must review and monitor the content on the portal. She moderates comments posted on the syndicated articles (and alerts an MSN.ca editor if there is an issue), and ensures that the content has been accurately reproduced on the portal site (i.e. all the images appear correctly, and all the links are functional). To improve the performance of Reader’s Digest articles on the portal, the editor also notes patterns in the type of content MSN.ca has selected, and which stories or techniques successfully drive users back to the Reader’s Digest websites. Another responsibility for the web editor is keeping an eye on competing content providers to stay abreast of successful practices and new trends.
At the moment, Barillaro is playing a game of “fill in the blanks,” armed only with some basic clues about MSN.ca’s readers and their behaviour. Each partnership has unique qualities that make creating successful content a dynamic and sometimes unpredictable process. For example, each portal designed differently—leading users’ eyes in a different pattern on the home page—and each portal has a unique content delivery system, different content providers, and a distinctive audience. This is an intricate environment for a web editor to approach. As Barillaro observes how the audience and traffic patterns shift in the coming months, as a result of the partnership with MSN.ca, the most “clickable” words will be more apparent and a better understanding of what the Reader’s Digest Canada and Sélection brands can offer to a broad audience of online Canadians will emerge.
At this time, it is still too early to tell the exact impact on traffic and audience development this partnership will have, and whether the company’s audience-growth and revenue goals will be met. The number of visitors to Readerdigest.ca or Selection.ca will increase; however, without a dedicated channel or a revenue-sharing model that Besthealthmag.ca has the advantage of, the audience growth will likely be less dramatic.
For multiple reasons, including taking advantage of the influx of traffic they expect from MSN.ca, Reader’s Digest’s digital media team is in the midst of redesigning of Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca. Like the redesign of Besthealthmag.ca, the new look will treat each page of the website like a “landing page,” with multiple points of entry to other content on the site. By having fully branded pages, the design will signal to first-time visitors where they are as soon as they arrive from MSN.ca. Furthermore, at a time when there will be many new visitors, Reader’s Digest is also introducing new games and humour affinities to the website to capitalize on those areas of content. Games and humour have already proven to be popular among the existing Readersdigest.ca audience, and having more of this type of content on the website is certain to increase the time spent on the website.
Overall, the publisher is forging ahead with confidence that the partnership will be hugely beneficial to its online business. The anticipated success of the partnership with MSN.ca is a significant part of the publisher’s plan to expand its reach in the digital market and become the top Canadian magazine brand online. Reader’s Digest is not widely known for offering cutting-edge technology or sophisticated web strategies, but already, the company has expanded into the largest publisher’s digital network in Canada (Scott, 2010). If this second portal partnership does well, it will confirm the viability of the portal partnership strategy.
If one is to accept the Best Health/Sympatico.ca partnership as a typical example of what a magazine publisher can accomplish by teaming with a portal, then it appears that Reader’s Digest Canada has done the formerly impossible: It successfully attracted regular and targeted traffic to a Canadian magazine website—and made it profitable. This business model is not the only way for Canadian magazine companies to build an online audience; undoubtedly, other models and strategies have worked for other publishers. However, it shows tremendous promise. For Best Health, a presence on the Sympatico.ca home page continues to be its primary traffic driver; Reader’s Digest simply could not have gathered the same size audience without a partnership of this sort, despite putting tremendous effort into search engine marketing, SEO, and newsletter campaigns. The portal is a crucial partner for revenue generation, name gathering, and audience development—and this will continue to be true as long as portals continue to be a destination for web users.
As such, there are opportunities for other established, multi-title magazine companies to leverage their content and publishing expertise to forge similar relationships with popular websites. Generally, a perennial problem for Canadian media companies is a lack of economies of scale. As stated in the introduction to this paper, this is a quandary online, too, as Canadian audiences are usually too small to generate sufficient ad sales—and those revenues are needed to support capable web editorial teams. However, large audiences are not entirely absent from Canadian websites. Major national portals such as MSN.ca and Sympatico.ca have substantial audiences and, fortunately for publishers and media companies, they need content but do not have the resources or experience to produce it. Meanwhile, the multi-title Canadian publishers—Transcontinental, Rogers Media, TVA, and St. Joseph’s—have the know-how to build brands, produce content on a regular schedule, and market the brands properly. As well, large magazine publishers have vital, existing relationships with audiences, writers, photographers, and advertisers. Publishers can also provide Canadian-specific content in place of international newsfeeds. Essentially, when viewed in broad strokes, the needs and strengths of portals and publishers are perfectly complimentary.
A potential challenge for Reader’s Digest Canada in the coming years will be to find alternative revenue sources if the viability of this business model wanes. For several years, experts have been predicting the downfall of portals (Joel, 2010; Stableford, 2010). Even when the portals were popular web destinations a decade ago, there was only room for a handful of players. This led to huge losses for companies as formidable as NBC (with its portal, Snap) and ABC/Disney (with its Go! Network portal).
Web users have become savvier since the days of Go! And Snap. One of new media’s salient characteristics is the decline of the media monolith. Today even the New York Times website can barely compete with online blog news sites like Gawker (part of the multi-site Gawker network) and the Huffington Post. Generally web-native users form their own “surfing patterns,” picking and choosing where they get their information and entertainment, regardless of platform, and sometimes, production value. They curate their own content, according to their moods, tastes, and other preferences. Applications such as RSS-feed readers and applications for tablets such as Flipboard —which presents social media content from Facebook, Twitter and blogs, into a magazine-like form—are totems of this shift. Portals websites need to adapt to these new behaviours. They need to consider how they will provide value to a user who has an abundance of content at his or her disposal.
The future of the portal also depends on them not becoming “walled gardens,” where most of the content and services offered are owned by the portal’s parent company (Aufderheide in Blevins, 2004, p.248). Walled gardens offer owners attractive economic advantages but are a detriment to user experience. For example, according to Kerschbaumer, Go!’s downfall can be attributed to the fact that the Disney portal primarily offered advertising and cross-promotion (for Disney, ESPN, and ABC), not expert content. Kerschbaumer adds, “Success in the portal game has hinged on the ability of the portal itself to be neutral. When visitors…do a search, they want to feel comfortable that they aren’t being pushed to certain sites” (in Blevins, 2004, p.266). In 2010, users feel entitled to choice because they have access to a glut of information and entertainment available to them online, as well as through traditional media, including radio, television, print, and film. Today, the idea of web portals generally brings to mind middling content packaged for the broadest possible audience—in other words, it represents many qualities that are antithetical to what audiences are accustomed to getting online. Google, on the other hand, serves as a platform that consistently presents the most relevant content for the user as decided by an objective algorithm. Accordingly, it is the second most popular site in the world (Arrington, 2010). Furthermore, portals offer information under the large umbrella of “general interest,” which can vary from breaking news to costume ideas for pets, but portals are not established as leaders or experts in most of the topics they cover.
Thus, offering quality, branded content is important to the survival of web portals. As an increasing number of users move towards personalizing their content streams, portals need to make themselves into destinations by narrowing their content down, and giving themselves a distinctive voice (or voices) so that users willingly return to the sites. Publishers can play a crucial role in this necessary evolution: If portals offer the appealing content from the media brands readers trust—such as magazine brands, they will visit regularly to read and to touch base with the online communities built around the sites’ channels. As well, partnerships with multiple publishers can provide a diversity of personalities, ideas, and views, which will prevent the “walled garden” predicament. In turn, portals will have “quality users” to offer to advertisers.
As illustrated by the online partnerships presented in this discussion, portals are already making moves to compete with branded blogs and branded news websites for audiences. In the late summer of 2010, AOL (America Online) hired Former Canwest Global Communications executive Graham Moysey to be the new general manager of AOL Canada (Beer, 2010). Moysey is part of AOL’s “very bold and ambitious plan around quality and unique content creation.” Part of that plan is to make use of its content assets such as Engadget, MapQuest, and AOL Health (Beer).
A decade ago, AOL bought out the world’s largest media company, Time Warner. AOL’s CEO, Stephen Case, championed the merger by arguing that media companies could be successful on digital platforms if their strategies were smart (Lohr, 2000). His predictions were entirely accurate—even when considering the fact that the AOL-Time Warner merger was called, “One of the biggest disasters that have occurred to our country” by Time Warner’s major stockholder, Ted Turner (Arango, 2010). Case knew that the Internet would be the dominant medium for the years to come, but what audiences were seeking was not technology but content. The companies split in January 2010, and all the executives involved with the AOL-Time Warner transaction claim AOL was responsible for the merger’s undoing because it did not meet the projections that were the basis of the deal. Conversely, Time Warner now has a formidable network of online content providers including the successful magazine-brand websites SportsIllustrated.com, People.com, Time.com, and EW.com, and the hugely popular news website, CNN.com. Time Warner’s CEO, Gerald Levin, told the New York Times, “AOL was the Google of its time. It was how you got to the Internet, but it was using some old media business ideas that were undone by the Internet itself, and that’s why Google came along” (Arango, 2010).
Bell held a similarly precarious position in Canada, since it was primarily a technology service provider; however, in September 2010, the telecom bought a majority share in CTV Inc., giving Bell exclusive access to CTV programming. The deal typifies the growing consolidation of media and telecom carriers: Rogers, Quebecor’s Vidéotron, and Shaw—all Internet service providers—have also invested in exclusive content deals to attract customers (Ladurantaye, 2010). This trend indicates a movement towards the walled-garden predicament, but also represents telecoms’ valuation of content providers. So, will Canadian web portals, like AOL.com in the U.S., be a ball and chain to content creators, or are they a boon to media industries such as publishing? The answer is more likely the latter.
Regardless of the fate of MSN.ca and Sympatico.ca in the coming years, Reader’s Digest Canada and the country’s web portals have found a way to satisfy some of their most essential needs at the moment: traffic and content, respectively. Publishers live by the maxim that “content is king,” but, as Reader’s Digest Canada recognizes, quality content alone is not sufficient to generate a valuable audience for a brand, particularly in a country where the audience is inherently small. Thus, magazine publishers’ partnerships with web portals are not only effective but also necessary; they are borne out of Canadian media-industry realities. Developing a business model that makes Canadian magazine content profitable online is a landmark accomplishment for Reader’s Digest Canada. With these partnerships, the publisher has shown that a traditional media company can adapt to the new-media landscape and successfully transfer its enduring strengths onto digital platforms.
(Source: ComScore reports, generated September 2010)
1. Traffic sources and losses
“Sources” (below) represent where users come from immediately before Besthealthmag.ca and “Losses” (bottom) represents where they went to immediately after.
“Entries” or “Exits” represent the aggregate number of times that source or loss transition happened. E.g. 371,000 unique visitors came from a Sympatico.ca property. These 371,000 visitors made came from a Sympatico.ca property to Besthealthmag.ca 976,000 times.
2. 15-month trend of traffic to Besthealthmag.ca
3. Audience demographic profile for Besthealthmag.ca
% Composition Unique Visitors: proportion of visitors from this demographic Composition Index UV (Unique Visitors): relation to index for websites in Canada % Composition Pages: proportion of page views from this demographic % Composition Minutes: proportion of BH’s minutes spend by this demographic
4. 15-month trend of traffic to Readersdigest.ca
5. Audience demographic profile for Readersdigest.ca and Selection.ca
1 The first Canadian magazine website was Shift, a digital culture magazine founded in 1991, and which folded in 2003. Its website was in operation from 1996 to 2004 (Quin, 2003). RETURN
2 Conventional wisdom holds that online content should be written and edited to cater to short attention spans. However, websites are finding that certain readers are interested in long-form journalism online and that the longest pieces can actually drive the most amount of traffic: New York Times Magazine editor Gerry Marzorati’s claimed, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s our longest pieces that attract the most online traffic” (Garber, 2010). RETURN
3 The launch of Best Health is extensively covered in Lise Hélène Boullard’s project report, “Finding Out What Women Want” (2008). RETURN
4 To compare, Maclean’s magazine (@macleansmag) has 8,030 followers, Canadian Living (@canadian_living) has 4,806 followers, and Chatelaine (@chatelainemag) has 4,553 followers (November 8, 2010). RETURN
5 I interned at Reader’s Digest Canada in the summer of 2010. I worked on four of the publisher’s magazines and provided production and editorial assistance for two of its websites: Readersdigest.ca and Besthealtmag.ca. This report partly draws on my experiences during that time. RETURN
6 Anicka Quin (2003) posits 1994 as the approximate introduction of the web to the general public in North America (p.1). RETURN
8 Various websites have implemented “paywalls” over the years but with little success. With the notable exception of the Wall Street Journal , charging for online content is an outmoded practice in 2010. RETURN
9 Brand extension in the magazine publishing industry is just as prevalent today: Robert Sauerberg, president of Condé Nast, told the New York Times “he and his staff had been working on creating what he called “12-course content meals”—package deals that would include access to multiple Condé Nast magazines delivered in multiple ways, like print, tablet, mobile, and Internet, as well as invitations to magazine- sponsored events. Tom Harty, lead of Meredith’s magazines division said he would be expanding the company’s licensed products (Peters, 2010, November 28, 2010). RETURN
10 In the midst of the financial maelstrom of 2008 and 2009, some magazines, including Cosmogirl and Gourmet, shut down their print operations and now exclusively serve their online community (Blume 2008). RETURN
11 Today, this trend persists when less tech-savvy users retain the home page that was programmed on their Internet browser when they purchased their computer.generated substantial traffic. Additionally, before Google, portals’ search engines were a popular way to locate relevant information. RETURN
12 In Canada, Yahoo! Canada and Sympatico.msn.ca, respectively. RETURN
13 According to eMarketer Digital Intelligence, total ad spending in Canada will reach CAD $11.55 billion in 2010 (http://bit.ly/8YtYkc). RETURN
14 “Nearly one of every four graphical, online display ads viewed in the United States in the third quarter [of 2010] was on [Facebook], according to a new report by comScore… Facebook racked-up more ad impressions in the third quarter than the next four companies combined, which includes Yahoo, Microsoft Corp, News Corporation’s Fox Interactive Media and Google Inc… Analysts note that Facebook ads sell at a significant discount to display ads sold on traditional Web portals like Yahoo.” (Oreskovic, November 8, 2010) RETURN
20 Reader’s Digest also offers its some of its advertisers the use of its reader database to distribute direct mail campaigns, samples and custom publications such as The Magazine RONA (Bailey and Tcholakian 2009). RETURN
21 Masthead Top 50 Methodology: Advertising revenue was supplied by Nielsen Leading National Advertisers. Subscription and newsstand revenues are calculated using data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations and Canadian Circulations Audit Bureau and available in CARD. The survey takes into account discounts applied across the board. Revenue from special interest publications, websites, events, government grants and other ancillary products is not included (Masthead 2010). RETURN
22 According to comScore, the number of unique visitors was roughly 79,000. RETURN
23 The Sympatico.ca home page has approximately 8 million visitors a month (Sympatico.ca Advertising website, 2010). RETURN
24 In this case, Bell could offer only approximate numbers for their “individual site traffic,” as Sympatico.ca did not yet exist. RETURN
25 The partnership was made official and widely announced on September 1, the date Sympatico.ca and MSN.ca launched their independent portals. RETURN
26 According to comScore, Besthealthmag.ca had approximately 62,000 unique users in July 2009, and 857,000 in August 2009 (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010). RETURN
27 The following websites rank higher than Besthealthmag.ca in the health category: 1) WebMD Health, 2) Everyday Health (http://www.everydayhealth.com), 3) About.com Health (http://www.about.com/health), 4) LIVESTRONG – eHow Health (http://www.livestrong.com), 5) Health.com, and 6) Shoppersdrugmart.ca (comScore, Inc. Canada, 2010). RETURN
28 Best Health magazine isn’t yet measured in PMB. RETURN
29 The conversion rate—the rate in which a company converts casual visitors into paying customers—is not measured within the web editorial department. RETURN
30 No Fail Weight Lossis still published on a quarterly basis and is an additional revenue stream for Reader’sDigest. RETURN
31 The initial incarnations of the website did not have any of the community and social media tools it has today. RETURN
33 At Plaisirs Santé, there is just one web editor, and a part-time editorial assistant web editor (Tancock, who manages editorial on all the Reader’s Digest Canada magazine websites), the two editors compose the entire web team for the audience of over half a million users. RETURN
34 An item’s position on the page can dramatically influence its success. For example, placement on a “slider,” a tab on the home-page viewer (see figure 1), gives stories more visibility and clicks. Since it occupies prime real estate on the page (i.e. it is a large box in the centre of the page, above the fold), articles featured on the viewer become the most popular on Besthealthmag.ca, without fail. RETURN
52 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/; While lean and immensely popular, sites such as Gawker and the Huffington Post have also garnered criticism for their use of content created by “old media” companies such as the New York Times. By regularly citing and repurposing content, such sites exploit reporting and other production costs other companies pay for. RETURN
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ABSTRACT: Based on the author’s work as the volunteer business manager of the Canadian small magazine Spacing between September 2005 and September 2007, this report begins with an overview of the magazine-publishing industry in Canada and the challenges this country’s publishers face—with a focus on the additional difficulties particular to producing small-circulation titles. It then describes the author’s experience applying strategic-planning principles at Spacing to help its publishing team address the aforementioned challenges and make a successful transition to producing the magazine as a financially viable small business. The report closes with an evaluation of Spacing’s potential for long-term success and the author’s thoughts on the continued viability of small-magazine publishing in Canada. It makes reference to industry, government, and academic documents, and to the author’s two years working at Spacing. In doing so, this report offers insight into the realities of publishing a small magazine in Canada today.
To my mom, Barbara Joan Gidney (1948–2001)
This project report would not have been written were it not for the following people, to whom I owe a great deal of thanks: my fellow Master of Publishing students (Class of 2004-05) and our instructors, Rowland Lorimer, Ron Woodward, Nancy Flight, John Maxwell, Craig Riggs, and Jillian Shoichet; the founders and current staff of Spacing, especially Matthew Blackett and Dale Duncan; and the founders and former co-editors of Shameless, Melinda Mattos and Nicole Cohen. In addition, thank you to Kate Bergen, Bonnie Bowman, Nicholas Bradley, Alice Byers, Christine Davidson, Corina Eberle, Duncan Gidney, Norman Gidney, Mary Gidney, Ineke Goedhart, Megan Griffith-Greene, Briana Illingworth, Dory Kornfeld, Andrew MacDonald, Bruce Martin, Peter McCamus, Kathleen Piovesan, Andrea Sproule, Trena White, and everyone at the Gibraltar Point Centre for the Arts for being supportive and encouraging during the writing process.
Last January, I agreed to be photographed for a Toronto alt-weekly running a cover story on the challenges of small-magazine publishing in Canada, written not coincidentally by Dale Duncan. The managing editor of Spacing had not had time to interview me for the article but she still thought that it made sense for me to participate in the photo shoot, since at the time as I was working for two Toronto-based small magazines, Spacing and Shameless, and had also been a THIS Magazine editor.
When I turned up at the photographer’s Parkdale studio, he told Duncan, me, and the four other small-magazine editors assembled, that he wanted to create a tableau showing some of our respective magazines “winning” the battle to survive, while others were struggling; one had already died. Makeup gave us bruises and fake blood was splattered liberally on our white shirts, and then we did our best to act out the scene he had described as Wagner blasted from the stereo and the camera clicked away.
The dramatic-looking image that ran on the cover of the January 25, 2007, issue of Eye Weekly had a large red flag fluttering in the background so that it looked like a Cultural Revolution poster crossed with one of those historic war paintings commissioned to capture a pivotal moment in an important battle. In this case, though, the “casualties” were not soldiers but women from Broken Pencil, Kiss Machine, Shameless, and Spacing. The landscape was littered with pages torn from our publications. Superimposed on this image was the slogan “Indie Mag Revolution: Start-up publishers fight for your rights,” while the headline inside for Duncan’s behind-the-scenes exposé (illustrated with more photos of bloodied and bruised magazine editors) was “Fight Club: For independent magazine publishers, love is a battlefield.”
Such provocative photos and controversial words called out for comment and industry insiders and members of the general public alike responded. On his blog, Canadian magazine expert D.B. Scott lauded Duncan for using the article to present “some home truths, among them being how hard it is [for Canadian small-magazine editors] to make a living doing what they do,” but he also noted that “the quotes and information she elicited paint a somewhat gloomy picture.”Spacing’s own blog posting alerting readers to the article’s publication garnered many comments, including one from Steve Keys, who wrote that he fell into “the category of readers who thought these independent magazines, including Spacing, were in better positions.” These responses hint at the crux of Duncan’s piece, which was that while Canadians seem to acknowledge and value the cultural importance of their homegrown small magazines, producing these periodicals is, unfortunately, unsustainable for those publishers who might like to make the “activity” into a career. This conclusion stems from the reality that—to extend the revolutionary war metaphor—those on the front lines must make a financial sacrifice to do battle, which can (and often does) take its toll. As Duncan wrote of her small-magazine compatriots, “if you don’t eventually receive a paycheque for your work, burnout sets in, and when that happens, magazines that fill those gaping holes left by mainstream media run the risk of extinction.”
After I had participated in the photo shoot to illustrate Duncan’s piece, and noted the reactions to the “truths” that the article revealed, my decision to write an academic report on the viability of Canadian small-magazine publishing seemed even more vital. Not only was small-magazine publishing not considered a legitimate career aspiration by those involved but, confounding matters, it also seemed that it was commonly understood that to publish a small-circulation periodical in Canada was to engage in a battle that could be “won” only rarely. I disagreed.
So, with the goal of refuting these preconceptions in mind, I decided that I would use this report to take a critical look at the current state of small-magazine publishing in Canada and to describe the strategic-planning work that I had carried out as Spacing’s business manager (a volunteer position I held from September 2005 to September 2007) and its impact on that publication’s viability. My intent is to show that making the transition from producing a small magazine as a labour of love to publishing it as a sustainable small business (and, thus, creating career potential for its staff), while neither a quick process nor an easy one, is possible—and that other Canadian periodicals can make the same move if publishers are willing to treat their magazines as businesses and make operational decisions accordingly. To that end, by drawing upon on an array of statistics, studies, reports, and other published materials, and personal experience, this report:
depicts the current state of Canadian magazine publishing and its inherent challenges; and acknowledges the particular difficulties facing small magazines;
describes the strategic-planning project I took on at the invitation of the founders of Spacing, who wanted assistance with turning their small magazine into a small business that would eventually pay them salaries;
evaluates the results of my work at Spacing and comments on that publication’s potential for long-term survival and success based on the challenges that Canadian magazine publishers of all sizes face;
draws conclusions about the continued viability of small-magazine publishing in Canada; and,
provides some advice for small-magazine publishers hoping to make the publication of their periodicals more sustainable.
In presenting an overview of the realities of magazine publishing in Canada alongside a description of my two years serving as Spacing’s business manager, I hope to demonstrate to current and aspiring Canadian small-magazine publishers the benefits of proper business organization and strategic planning so that they will be inspired to work towards greater financial stability (and, thus, increased longevity) for their publications, and to show them, and other readers, that the future of small-magazine publishing in Canada is brighter than it may seem, and for that reason, among others, it should be considered a legitimate career option.
PART 1 – MAGAZINE PUBLISHING IN CANADA
“Canadian magazines” can be defined as magazines published, printed, and sold primarily in Canada. One of the first such periodicals was Nova Scotia Magazine and Comprehensive Review of Literature, Politics and News, first published by John Howe in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1790. Over 200 years later, there are nearly 2,400 Canadian magazines, including 1,085 general and specialty-interest “consumer” titles, published in all parts of the country—ranging from tiny literary magazines that only publish several hundred copies once or twice a year to a monthly general-interest women’s magazine that sells 1.5 million copies annually on the newsstand alone.
Canadian-controlled firms produce more than 90% of Canadian magazines, with 61% published in English exclusively, 19% published in French only, 14% published as bilingual English/French editions, and 6% published in other languages. In total, some 778 million copies of Canadian magazines circulate annually, 74% of those copies represented by the general- and specialty-interest consumer magazines that most people read for pleasure. The estimated value of the Canadian magazine sector is $1.56 billion, with the industry employing approximately 17,500 people in part-time and full-time work.
Canadian magazines also have significant cultural importance, which may be of greater value than their economic impact: they overcome the vastness of the world’s second-largest country to provide Canadians with a means of sharing and discussing their news, ideas, opinions, literature, and art. The Canadian titles surveyed by the Print Measurement Bureau—which has 115 member magazines, each with a circulation of over 30,000—reach 82% of the Canadian population, and, the average Canadian consumes 6.4 magazine issues a month. With their ability to disseminate ideas, their wide distribution, and their market penetration, Canadian magazines play a crucial role in the collective creation and development of Canadian cultural identity. The federal government recognizes this importance and the Department of Canadian Heritage’s mandate, as published on its website, includes protecting periodicals devoted to reflecting “Canada’s unique and dynamic culture,” which it aims to do through policies, regulations, and direct-assistance programs so that Canadians have access to “Canadian voices and Canadian stories.”
Characteristics of small magazines
Magazines Canada, an organization that claims to represent 90% of all Canadian paid-circulation magazines, defines small magazines as magazines with a paid circulation of fewer than 10,000 copies. Based on such a definition, it seems that Canadian small magazines would have few common characteristics. For example, a quick survey of the 300 titles included in the directory of magazines published by Magazines Canada members (two-thirds of which are small magazines), shows that small-circulation titles are published from Victoria to St. John’s to Yellowknife and, while many are arts and literary publications, there are also magazines devoted to topics as diverse as horse-racing, antiques, and religion. Geographic location and subject matter aside, some commonalities among Canadian small magazines exist at the operational level. For instance, a survey of 21 periodicals prior to their participation in the Reaching Readers: Circulation Roundtable for Small Magazines held in May 2003 (and reprinted in the Department of Canadian Heritage report Reaching Readers a few months later) found:
the majority considered themselves national publications (57%) while a significant number (38%) considered their audience to be even broader: North American or international;
half were established as for-profit enterprises while the other half were not-for-profit (of the 11 not-for-profit magazines, 45% had charitable status;
all participating magazines received federal funding in some form, 67% received provincial funding, and 24% received other types of external funding; with the majority receiving financing from three or more funders (67%); and,
the majority published quarterly (57%)—or even less frequently (33%).
The following year, the Ahnsu Consulting Group’s survey of B.C.’s cultural magazines (the majority of which are also small magazines) found that they typically employ “approximately one or two people full-time, or a combination of people part-time,” and that they all rely on volunteers. In fact, of the 11 magazines that submitted surveys, just three had any paid full-time staff.
Yet despite their likelihood of being produced by small non-profit organizations that are reliant on multiple external funders (and volunteer labour) to subsidize their publishing of several thousand copies on a quarterly basis, small magazines in Canada still play a vital role in the development and promotion of new talent. They do so by providing a “venue” where up-and-coming writers, photographers, and illustrators can début their work, and young editors and designers can hone their skills and gain experience. Since some of these people will inevitably move on to larger publications, small magazines thus serve as a sort of “farm-team” system for “major-league” national and international periodicals.
In addition, since the focus of smaller publications is generally more cultural than commercial, they have more freedom in deciding what to publish. As Anne Ahmad notes in writing about Geist, small magazines promote “non-traditional and experimental writing that is often overlooked by larger publications.” They are also free to cover subjects that larger, mass-market-oriented publications avoid or exclude (usually for fear of losing advertisers and/or readers) and it is in doing so that they “fill those gaping holes left by mainstream media.” In Canada, new small publications help infuse new thought and creative ideas into a magazine industry that might otherwise stagnate—or, worse, become reduced to just a way to deliver advertising messages rather than its current incarnation as a means of representing and discussing Canadian culture.
The mandates of small magazines may also be political, as is suggested by the editorial in the premiere issue of the Ontario politics and current events quarterly Blackfly Magazine, in which the editors announced that launching the magazine was “an attempt to change the media by actively taking part in it.” Similarly, Canadians who feel underrepresented by existing publications can create magazines that speak to them: niche magazines can help build and link communities of interest (such as coin collectors, poets, or horse owners), which in Canada are likely to be quite geographically dispersed, in ways that large, general-interest magazines can only dream of doing. In her essay on the Toronto independent magazine scene, Lisa Whittington-Hill demonstrates how Broken Pencil, a magazine devoted to ’zines and other forms of “indie” culture, has nurtured and connected Canadian ’zinesters and outsider artists—in part by going “beyond the boundaries of the traditional magazine” through events like Canzine, an annual event that brings together the people whose ’zines and art are covered by the magazine with the very people who read about them in the magazine. The same thing happens at the launch parties that small magazines often throw, when editors, contributors, and readers get together to celebrate a newly published issue.
Key challenges to Canadian magazine publishers
Regardless of their size, magazine publishers have never had an easy time of it in Canada. Despite amassing some 200 subscribers at a time when the population of Nova Scotia was 30,000 and the population of Canada was just 161,300, John Howe’s Nova Scotia Magazine lasted only three years before succumbing to high production costs, a small domestic market, and the prevailing preference for better-marketed magazines from abroad. Not much has changed: the same challenges that Howe faced in the 1790s affect magazine publishers in Canada today—in addition to contemporary problems that the Canadian publishing pioneer could not have predicted. Because of Canada’s large size, this country’s relatively small, dispersed population, and our proximity to the world’s largest English-language cultural industry, even the largest domestic multi-title publishing companies struggle to stay profitable; it is even more challenging for the publishers of small-circulation periodicals.
Competition from American titles
“Until we have a [Canadian] magazine with tons of U.S. readers, there won’t be a level playing field.”
— Derek Webster, publisher and editor, Maisonneuve
Every year, the American magazine industry produces several billion copies of 19,400 different magazines—which included approximately 8,100 consumer titles in 2002. Although U.S. magazines sell 1.5 billion copies domestically each year, several hundred with mainstream appeal are also exported for sale in Canada. The top 14 newsstand titles in Canada, based on gross annual sales are all American, with People magazine grossing over $32 million from 6.4 million copies sold in 2006 versus the top-selling Canadian title, Canadian Living (#15 overall), which only grossed $4.8 million from 1.4 million copies sold. One reason why American magazines outsell Canadian titles in Canada is that they monopolize Canadian newsstands. As Rowland Lorimer notes in his book Vibrant But Threatened, “newsstand distribution favours magazines with high production values, long print runs, high circulations, general appeal, and low cover prices,” which gives the advantage to American publishers. Because their per-unit production costs are much lower than those of Canadian magazine publishers—thanks to the large economies of scale that result from having a home market that is ten times the size of Canada’s, and their consequent ability to amortize higher-budget art and editorial costs—American publishing companies can produce high-quality glossy editions and charge less for them, no matter what the exchange rate. As a result, adding several thousand copies to a magazine’s print run to supply Canadian newsstands (and subscribers) can be very cost-effective, not to mention profitable.
And American magazines do not just earn money in Canada from single-copy and subscription sales. The Foreign Publishers Advertising Services Act (2002) allows them to cheaply produce so-called “Canadian editions” (as Time Warner has done with Sports Illustrated and Time) that contain just a few token pages of “Canadian content” but up to 20% new ads. The low cost of producing a Canadian edition means that advertising space can be sold to Canadian companies at rates considerably lower than those offered by domestic magazines—and the advertisers get the added benefit of promoting their products or services in a magazine with high production values and excellent newsstand availability. As a result, many Canadian magazine publishers have decried this practice as unfair, with good reason. As Rowland Lorimer and Mike Gasher point out in their textbook Mass Communication in Canada, “Canadian magazines have to pay the whole cost of producing and editing an original magazine, the full cost of selling the ads, and the full cost of printing a short run.”
The omnipresence of “American-grown” magazines in the Canadian marketplace has had a considerable impact on this country’s domestic magazine publishers. For instance, the wholesalers belonging to the Periodical Marketers of Canada (PMC) distribute 2,591 different magazines to some 30,000 retail outlets in Canada yet only 167 titles (or 6.4%) are Canadian (which is just a tiny percentage of the total number of magazines produced in Canada)—so that just 6.7% of the $666 million in annual sales revenue from PMC-distributed titles is derived from Canadian magazines. This is significant because revenue from PMC-distributed titles accounts for 89% of the estimated total $750 million generated in Canad each year through single-copy sales.
While the federal government, primarily through the Department of Canadian Heritage, has implemented and refined over the years a series of measures to support the continued existence of Canadian magazines, its power as a “protector” of Canadian culture is limited not only by its financial resources but by Canada’s trade agreements with other countries—in particular those involving the United States. At various times, the federal government’s “direct-assistance programs” have been the target of American trade lobbyists who do not believe in “cultural protectionism” and thus oppose any sort of support to cultural industries because, they claim, that any government financial contributions to cultural producers like magazine publishers (distributed through grants or subsidies) contravene various trade treaties (such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). While direct-assistance programs are not greatly threatened at the moment, because of the current worldwide acceptance of the legitimacy of national cultural subsidies, there is still the chance that they could be targeted for possible deregulation again in the future, which would give American publications distributed in Canada even more of an advantage over their Canadian competitors.
Newsstand distribution difficulties
Despite American omnipresence on the magazine racks, Canadian magazine publishers need a newsstand presence to increase awareness of their titles and to develop a loyal readership (both through single-copy sales and subscriptions). Companies also like to see the magazines in which they have purchased ads available for sale, and newsstand sales can help to increase a magazine’s readers-per-copy (which, in turn, helps sell more ads). But in Canada most single-copy magazine sales take place in supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores (71% of total sales, as shown in the following table), but these “high-traffic outlets” are primarily the domain of mass-market American titles since, as Rowland Lorimer points out in a report on the B.C. magazine industry, “Magazine rack presence and sales are fraught with systemic bias against other-than-mainstream product…The primary interest of [the] distributors and wholesalers that now dominate the magazine market is in simplicity and quick-selling titles.”
WHERE SINGLE COPIES OF MAGAZINES ARE SOLD IN CANADA Retail sales by class of trade(2005)
All other retailers
The key players controlling access to Canadian newsstands, primarily members of the Periodical Marketers of Canada (PMC), are interested in maximizing their profits, which means distributing the optimum number of copies of the highest-selling magazines—regardless of genre or country of origin. The wholesalers and distributors that provide stores with magazines earn profits based on the volume of magazines sold, not on the number of copies distributed.Therefore, they prefer to carry top-selling titles, usually those with larger circulations and budgets for advertising, promotion, and premium rack placement. Their preference for only handling the most profitable periodicals may make good business sense but it means that non-Canadian titles make up 93.6% of magazines provided to newsstands by PMC members, and subsequently generate 93.3% of the sales revenue. Furthermore, the detrimental effect of this practice on Canadian magazines is exacerbated by several additional factors, as unearthed by Abacus Circulation in 2003.
In studying the magazine supply chain in Canada on behalf of the Department of Canadian Heritage, Abacus found serious problems. As summarized in Taking Back the Rack, a large number of copies of magazines are distributed to newsstands but most copies are never sold, and there are no incentives to reward efficiency (i.e., bonuses for increased sell-through). Profit margins are so slim that, rather than return unsold copies to publishers (which in 2003 made up approximately 65% of all copies distributed), distributors and wholesalers will either pulp unsold magazines or ask retailers to destroy them. Abacus also found that, because of the way the supply chain is organized, it often takes a long time for issue sales data (and, correspondingly, payments for copies sold) to trickle down to magazine publishers. This delay is significant because timely sales figures are a form of “audience feedback” that could help Canadian publishers increase their sell-through—and, consequently, their competitiveness with U.S. titles and their profits. In addition, in the mid-1990s there was considerable consolidation among magazine distributors and wholesalers across North America—which Abacus found left far fewer distribution choices for Canadian magazine publishers. A more recent development is retailers minimizing the number of suppliers servicing their stores, in the name of “streamlining” operations. A corollary of the newsstand-distribution oligopoly that has resulted is national distributor Disticor demanding that Magazines Canada pay a $0.10 supplementary “handling charge” for each copy of its distributed titles that it wishes Disticor to place in the stores of Canada’s largest bookstore chain. The association is forced to pay this fee because Disticor is one of only two distributors that still have access to Chapters/Indigo stores, which represent an important sales venue for niche publications.
Finally, retailers are exerting more influence on the distribution of magazines to newsstands in Canada (again in the interests of “streamlining”) by reducing the number of titles carried in their stores—and by showing preference to magazines that have proven to sell well in the past. Representative of this trend, Chapters/Indigo has been requesting a minimum average sell-through rate of 50% for all magazines and is apparently adjusting (i.e., reducing) the number of copies it will accept of certain titles in order to achieve it. Also, while retailers used to be satisfied to receive 20–30% of the cover price of each copy sold, some big-box and chain stores are now asking publishers to pay additional fees for “premium” display space and display-related promotions on a regular basis. Known as “Retail Display Allowance” (RDA), these fees are deducted from payments due to publishers and can be calculated as an additional 10–20% of the cover price or as a fixed amount, depending on the type of promotion or placement purchased (for example, it may cost a publisher $2,000 to have a particular title placed on a rack next to the cash register for six months).
Since single copies of magazines are usually spontaneous purchases and the average “mainline” rack in a supermarket, bookstore, or newsstand will have several hundred titles on display, a title’s presence, position, and visibility on that rack will affect how many copies are sold, which is why retailers can get publishers to pay RDA. In today’s increasingly competitive retail market, RDA is quickly becoming a fee for doing business for Canadian magazine publishers, especially when it is construed as the only way to get into certain stores. For example, just to get a magazine “authorized” for sale in the Canadian airport newsstands operated by HDS Retail reportedly requires a minimum payment of $7,000 in RDA. And even if a magazine publisher can afford to pay for placement and/or promotion for a particular title, it does not guarantee the magazine a permanent spot on the newsstand: continued placement is determined by sales. But staying on the newsstand is not a concern for small publishers: most would be happy just to get on the rack in the first place.
Whereas Canada’s large-circulation titles sometimes have to settle for poor newsstand placement (for example, the lower shelves or the back of the rack), periodicals publishing fewer than 10,000 copies per issue may be kept off magazine racks altogether. Since most of them cannot afford to pay the RDA and associated fees that many stores now demand, and since most wholesalers will not accept new clients without a sizeable budget for newsstand marketing, the distribution options for small magazines are limited, as are, consequently, the number and type of stores where they are sold. Most small magazines rely on national and/or regional distributors (and may sometimes handle a portion of their own distribution) but, for the reasons given, they are effectively shut out of the outlets where 71% of magazine sales take place in Canada. Because they often serve niche audiences, it is often argued that small magazines are better suited to the bookstores, newsstands, and specialty outlets that represent 14% of magazine sales in Canada; however, there are fewer independent bookstores than there once were due to increased domination of the Canadian book-selling market by Chapters/Indigo. National distributors, too, do not always have relationships with the specialty stores in which a niche title may sell best and are hesitant to take on new accounts that only want to carry a small number of copies. Finally, small magazines run a risk associated with any sales outlet: when a store re-stocks its shelves with a new selection of magazines on a monthly basis, publications published less frequently may be pulled off the newsstand prematurely, decreasing visibility and killing sales.
The aforementioned factors limit the number of Canadian magazines found on domestic newsstands and the measurable effect of this newsstand “invisibility” is that this sales channels accounts for just 7.6% of the total revenue for the average Canadian magazine and this figure may be lower for the small-circulation titles that are not found in the places where most magazines are sold. Negligible newsstand sales revenue should not be of major concern for Canadian magazines since Canadians are overwhelmingly more likely to buy their magazines by subscription (90% versus 10%, according to one circulation expert), except that it is expensive to obtain revenue from subscriptions, for reasons that I will now describe.
High costs associated with circulation
It is well known in the magazine industry that Canadians prefer to buy their magazines by subscription but convincing them to actually commit to one or two years’ worth of a particular magazine is expensive—and, once they do, there is the added cost of mailing them the publication (a cost that is, obviously, multiplied by the number of issues published each year).
Newsstand sales contribute to subscription sales in that they help to raise awareness of a particular title (and allow potential subscribers to “try” before they buy). But, since all but the largest Canadian titles have trouble getting on newsstands in the first place, most domestic magazine publishers find they must invest in various promotions to “buy” their subscribers (and then pay to keep them around when it comes time to renew). For example, a direct-mail campaign can be an effective means of increasing a magazine’s subscriber base, but typically “costs” $15–$20 per subscription gained (or, according to Rowland Lorimer, as much as $100 if you are Reader’s Digest). If a magazine’s subscription price is in the same range, the publication will not see any increase in its total operating budget until it convinces the new subscriber to renew. Renewals may be the most profitable form of subscriptions (typically accounting for 83% of a magazine’s subscriptions revenue) but because a good renewals campaign requires “precise tracking systems, production of materials such as renewal letters, incentives and unrelenting efforts to keep the subscriber interested,” securing them this way is labour-intensive and costly—and usually beyond the everyday resources of most small magazines.
And not only must Canadian publishers invest a considerable amount in circulation marketing, but the costs associated with sending magazines to subscribers also keep rising. Canada Post has discounted Publications Mail rates that apply to virtually all magazines published domestically and there is also a “postage subsidy” available to qualifying publishers through the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Publications Assistance Program (PAP). But, according to Magazines Canada, the Publications Mail rates seem to rise each year while PAP subsidy remains the same or declines a few percentage points. (At present, it can be cheaper to distribute a magazine as an insert in a national newspaper than by mail, which may be why 73% of Canadian consumer magazines launched in 2006 chose controlled (i.e., unpaid) or combination controlled/paid-circulation models.) Readers are also known to be extremely sensitive to price increases when it comes to subscriptions, so Canadian publishers often find themselves swallowing increases in fulfillment costs caused by rising postage prices and shrinking subsidies rather than raising their prices.
For small magazines, postage costs are disproportionately high because Canada Post’s cost structure does not favour small-time users of its services. Instead, the cheapest rates are available to the biggest users of the crown corporation’s services. For example, 1,000 pieces (for example, copies of a new issue) is the minimum required to qualify for the best bulk mailing rate, which is of no help to a quarterly magazine with fewer than 2,000 subscriptions that simply want to save a few dollars when mailing out renewal notices to a third of its subscribers. As already mentioned, when sending issues to Canadian subscribers even the smallest Canadian magazine qualifies for a discounted Publications Mail rate and most paid-circulation periodicals have their postage costs subsidized further through PAP. However, despite qualifying for higher-percentage postage subsidies, if small magazines publish 4,999 copies or fewer, their Publications Mail rates are actually higher because 5,000 is the minimum number of copies needed to qualify for the most economical Letter Carrier Presort (LCP) rate. (For example, the same 300-gram magazine currently costs $1.08 per copy to mail at the National Distribution Guide [NDG] presort rate versus $0.70 per copy at the LCP rate.)
The result is that the average Canadian magazine derives just 18.8% of its revenue from subscriptions while 9% of its expenses go towards circulation (namely fulfillment and invoicing), even though most Canadian magazines have a good portion of their mailing costs subsidized through PAP. When not enough revenue can be derived from single-copy and subscription sales, Canadian magazines must find supplemental means to fund their publishing activities.
Heavy reliance on advertising revenue
Advertising is the sine qua non for most magazines, revenue that is absolutely necessary to offset the high production values and high-quality editorial content that readers expect. Without the $993.5 million that Canadian magazine publishers receive annually from advertisement sales it would be nearly impossible for magazines to be sold at market-friendly prices because of the expenses associated with producing the magazine in the first place. As a result, the average Canadian magazine receives 64% of its revenue from ad sales—and that percentage seems to be increasing as revenue from other sources declines. Between 1993 and 2003, the percentage of total revenue that the average Canadian magazine received from advertising grew from 61% to 64% while revenue derived from subscriptions over the same time period declined from 25% to 19%, suggesting the shortfall has at least partially been made up by an increased dependence on ad dollars. The fact that most Canadian magazines rely on advertising as their primary revenue source is worrying for a number of reasons.
First, whenever a publication includes advertisements, there is a potential for conflict between the advertising and the magazine’s editorial content. Put simply, this means that an automobile manufacturer may not enjoy seeing an ad for its new SUV in the same issue as an article encouraging people to take public transit more often (and may not advertise again). But more worrisome is the possibility that magazines would compromise their editorial visions or even tailor their contents to attract advertisers. Such “tailoring” could be as innocuous as a magazine adding a book reviews section to try to solicit ads from book publishers but it can also take the form of advertorials (advertisements written and designed in such a way that they blend in with the rest of the magazine’s editorial content) or “sponsored” content, such as the 2005 series of profiles of distinguished Canadians in Maclean’s waswritten by Peter Newman but “brought to you by Cadillac.” Many magazines see no problem with “pseudo-advertising” but, as Toronto Life contributor David Hayes explained in writing about the need for magazine publishers to keep “church and state” separate, there is an “unspoken understanding that the editorial content and business operations must be kept separate to maintain credibility with readers.” But advertisers are pushy, and most magazine publishers can use the revenue from advertorials (which generally carry a higher price tag than regular ads) so ads masquerading as articles will no doubt continue to be included in Canadian periodicals. Reader’s Digest publisher Larry Thomas claims that the line-blurring advertorials encourage stems from pressure from advertisers who are increasingly allowed, and even encouraged, to influence other forms of media (for example, paid-for product placements in television shows).
Second, because of the relatively small circulation of most Canadian magazines, it is a significant challenge for them to attract any advertisers in the first place—let alone the sort of companies that can afford full-page ads—especially when they can reach a larger audience through other channels for less and so many different places to advertise exist. Marketer and business strategist (and Master of Publishing program instructor) Craig Riggs describes Canada’s media industry in Canada as “a cluttered, complicated marketplace all vying for the same ad dollar”—because there are some 102 daily newspapers, over 1,000 community newspapers, 130 TV stations, 814 radio stations, 20 television networks, and 65 specialty TV stations in addition to the 2,400 Canadian magazines. Most nationally distributed magazines have circulations too small to attract national advertisers, which can more cost-effectively reach a larger audience through newspapers, radio, or television. And the smaller a magazine’s circulation, the harder it is to get any: D.B. Scott suggests that even being a nationally distributed magazine with a circulation of 50,000 is “barely enough to get you paid attention to by advertisers.” For titles that are regional in focus and/or distribution, it can be even more challenging to attract the kinds of companies that can afford full-page ads, let alone repeat insertion orders. Also, local/regional advertisers that seek a geographically specific audience have the option of advertising in weekly newspapers if they want to stretch their ad budgets, or in daily newspapers if they are seeking a venue with greater frequency and reach than most Canadian magazines. Further complicating matters, for reasons already mentioned, the “Canadian editions” of American magazines can usually offer much cheaper advertising rates and larger circulations than most domestically produced publications.
Third, when so much of their revenue comes from advertising, magazine publishers are very vulnerable to market fluctuations and unpredictable advertisers. For instance, if the economy takes a downturn, companies are less likely to spend money on advertising in general and advertising in magazines is rarely viewed as anything but a secondary component of any major promotional campaign. Advertisers are also fickle. According to NUVOMagazine’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Alessandra Bordon, it can be harder to get a reinsertion order from an advertiser than to secure a new advertiser altogether because companies are willing to take chances but, once they have, they expect to see certain results from the advertising they have purchased. Or, a magazine may have trouble rebooking an advertiser because the company wants to test out new advertising venues or because it has switched to a media buyer or agency that prefers to buy ad space in other publications.
So while it is hard for a national magazine with a circulation of 50,000 to attract national advertisers in Canada, for a magazine one-tenth the size (which or may not have only regional distribution) it is near impossible. Small magazines are generally niche (and/or sometimes regionally focused) publications and even if they view themselves as serving national or international audiences, they still have limited readerships, which means they are not a prime venue for advertising because their low reach means a poor return-on-investment for advertisers (unless the magazine has a high number of readers per copy or if its audience is known to have a large disposable income, such as the readership of Canadian Horse Journal, which is primarily horse owners). Also, small magazines publish less frequently, which means their ads cannot be as timely as those placed in larger magazines. Stability is also a concern for advertisers, who like to know that magazines containing their ads can be found on newsstands reliably and will not be pulled off newsstands prematurely. Not only do larger magazines deliver such benefits but they also have the means to deliver advertisers a consistent audience of a known size and demographics because they can afford both circulation auditing and Print Measurement Bureau (PMB) membership. By comparison, smaller magazines typically rely on educated guesses, or on in-house subscriber surveys, to provide advertisers with any sort of information about their readers. Audited circulation figures and PMB statistics, though costly, do offer to advertisers a guarantee that they are reaching the audience they have “purchased.”
Even if potential advertisers are not scared off by the lack of audience information, small magazines may find that their contents and editorial voice can limit their ability to secure advertising. Companies want to promote products and services to people who are likely to use them in an environment that encourages them to buy them. But with their frequent focus on culture, ideas, politics, issues, and the arts, small magazines can seem like the wrong fit for advertisements promoting, for instance, a new kind of shaving cream or the latest type of cellphone, which may seem out of place alongside stories about radical political activism and the detrimental effects of asbestos mining. Also, advertisers may not accept a magazine’s edgy content as readily as its readership so there may be a resistance to supporting a publication whose raison-d’être is to publish radical or controversial ideas.
When attracting national advertising is nearly impossible, small magazines are reduced to selling local (retail) advertising, or to filling their advertising pages with many small ads, instead of just a few full-page or half-page ads, which means more time and resources spent selling and managing accounts. But that avenue is not necessarily any easier since local businesses are not always interested in a magazine with national distribution and, unlike their larger counterparts, smaller magazines do not have the resources or readers to warrant the regional editions that can make it easier to sell local/regional advertising. So instead they may resort to discounts and incentives to attract local companies to buy ads in their national publications, despite knowing that these advertisers might prefer to spend their small ad budgets placing ads in a weekly community newspaper read only by people who could potentially patronize their business. (And even small businesses can be wary of advertising without any market research or readership demographics to suggest the potential return on their investment.)
When not enough revenue can be generated from advertising, Canadian magazine publishers must either find other sources of income or close their doors. While a lack of sufficient advertising dollars is blamed for the demise of Canadian men’s magazine Toro just shy of its fourth birthday in 2007, other Canadian magazines find themselves beholden to government and/or private foundation largesse.
Dependence on subsidies
“No quality magazine with limited circulation can survive without subsidies and it’s always been that way. Whether it’s borrowing money from family or operating out of a basement, you need subsidies over and above advertising.”
— Stephen Osborne, editor-in-chief, Geist
One of the biggest financial supporters of magazine publishing in Canada is the federal government. Dating back to 1849, when the Post Office Act awarded lower postal rates to printed materials circulated by mail, Canadian publishers have had access to federal government funds to subsidize their work. Today, the annual contribution to the domestic magazine-publishing industry through the through the Department of Canadian Heritage-administered Publications Assistance Program (PAP) and Canadian Magazine Fund (CMF), and the Canada Council for the Arts’ Grants to Literary and Art Magazines and Flying Squad program, totals $68.6 million. As already explained, PAP subsidizes a portion of postage costs so that Canadian magazines can be distributed affordably to subscribers across the country while the CMF provides financial incentives to magazines to include original Canadian editorial content, supplies arts and literary magazines with operating grants, and funds initiatives that aim improve the viability of small magazine publishers or support general industry development. Canada Council is an arm’s-length government agency that funds programs that enable small magazines to access industry consultants and provides operational funding to arts and literary magazines directly. In addition, various grant and subsidy programs (and tax credits) exist at the municipal and provincial level—not to mention the public and private foundation funding that is also available. The result is that the majority of publishers (particularly publishers of cultural, literary, and scholarly titles) tap into some sort of largesse—with government grants alone amounting to 2.3% of the average Canadian magazine’s total revenue, and as high as 45% for smaller circulation titles. With all the funding programs they can access, most Canadian magazine publishers have no need to rely exclusively on advertising and circulation revenue; however, they can easily become overly dependent on the contribution of such subsidies to their bottom lines, which is problematic.
First, accepting largesse year after year creates dependence on a revenue source that may not be entirely reliable—particularly when grants and project funds are distributed in large lump sums. The very existence of government funding, particularly that which is provided to cultural industries, is vulnerable to changes in political power. At the time of writing, for instance, the Department of Canadian Heritage was holding consultations on changes to the Publications Assistance Program and the Canada Magazine Fund that may affect program eligibility, the amount of funding awarded to a publication, and how that funding can be spent. The amount of money accorded to and thus distributed through various public and private granting programs also fluctuates so magazines cannot expect to receive a set dollar amount each year. In addition, changing eligibility criteria can mean that magazines that once qualified for funding from a certain granting body and/or under a particular program may suddenly no longer qualify. When I was an intern at Maisonneuve, the magazine learning it would not receive an expected grant from the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec created a $40,000 shortfall in the annual budget—equivalent to a staff member’s salary.
Second, to receive any kind of external funding, magazines must jump through certain hoops—and any government funding usually comes with strings attached. For example, the CMF’s “Support for Editorial Content” program requires that recipient magazines publish 80% content produced by Canadian contributors. Such funding is also usually provided for one to two years, so magazine publishers find themselves having to constantly reapply—a very labour-intensive process to begin with (and even more so when a magazine is seeking funding from more than one granting body on a regular basis). Private foundation funding is no different. When Geist received $120,000 from the Tula Foundation in January 2003, it was originally only for a two-year period (which was extended) and the foundation had earmarked the use of this money.
Finally, if grant money is the only reason (or a main reason) for a magazine’s viability, it can create a false sense of security based on what is, in fact, a temporary “subsidized” existence. As Elisabeth Gontard points out in discussing the funding arrangement between Geist and the Tula Foundation, “whatever changes the magazine has made or makes to its operations because of the increased revenue—i.e., the increase in contributor fees—once the Tula money runs out, revenue will have to be in place for the changes to be permanent.”
And small magazines are in a further compromised position, in part because so many have to apply for grants and accept subsidies and donations to just to cover their day-to-day operating costs. In fact, all participants in the 2003 Circulation Roundtable for Small Magazines, regardless of size or business structure, reported receiving some kind of “funding.” First, because of their smaller size, these grants and subsidies can end up comprising a large percentage of their total revenue, which makes them even more vulnerable to program cuts and changing eligibility criteria. For example, when THIS Magazine was ruled ineligible for Ontario Arts Council funding in 1998, it represented a loss of 15% of the magazine’s total annual operating budget. Second, applying for grants requires navigating a certain amount of bureaucracy and dealing with administration. Simply figuring out if a magazine qualifies for a particular grant or subsidy, completing the usually lengthy application form (which typically requires detailed financial and circulation numbers), and then reporting back on how the funding was used and the project’s results can tax the limited human resources of even the most organized small magazines—particularly when few grants provide multi-year funding and different grant and program deadlines are scattered throughout the year. But “subsidy management” is not the only challenge facing small-magazine publishers.
Additional challenges for small magazines
“The impression that small magazines are bigger than they actually are is quite common.”
— Dale Duncan, executive editor, Spacing
As I have already discussed, Canadian small magazines operate in the same challenging marketplace as this country’s largest domestic titles but they must also overcome difficulties unique to their size that affect their day-to-day operations and put them at a disadvantage when it comes to viability.
By virtue of their size, and since most are printed by companies with multiple titles, Canada’s large-circulation magazines can take advantage of the efficiencies that come with doing everything on a large scale and with high frequency. “Vertically integrated” organizations that publish more than one magazine can increase each title’s individual profitability by combining routine operations and having centralized departments manage tasks for all their publications, such as advertising sales and graphic design. To see how doing so is more efficient and cost-effective, one needs only look at the difference in how large magazines and small magazines handle the processing of subscriptions. While multi-title publishers have well-staffed circulation departments, or outsource their subscription management altogether, that is not the case for magazine with only a handful of staff and just a few thousand subscribers. As described in Keeping Readers: Fulfillment for Small Canadian Magazines:
At small circulation levels, publishers may still handle incoming subscription orders on an individual basis — opening one envelope, entering the customer’s subscription, personalizing an invoice in a word-processing program, writing up an envelope, pulling the most recent issue off the shelf and sending it out with the invoice and a ‘welcome’ letter, writing the customer’s name and cheque amount into the bank deposit book, and perhaps entering a record of the transaction in a separate accounting systems.
The report’s authors go on to point out that “some inefficiency is unavoidable” due to the fact that when a magazine is only getting one or two new subscriptions a week, it does not make sense to wait until 100 orders have been placed to process them all at once (because that may be a year after the first order was received). In terms of costs, though, this means time lost to the time-consuming task of processing subscriptions in small batches and also increased postage costs because a magazine often will not have the minimum needed to qualify for “bulk” mailing rates unless they are lucky or limit the number of between-issue mailings they will do (though the latter is risky because fulfillment delays can irritate impatient new subscribers).
However, greater challenges are related, not surprisingly, to economies of scale and the apportioning of costs associated with the physical and “intellectual” production of an issue. It is well known that per-copy printing costs are reduced rather dramatically with the number of copies printed, but the same applies to all fixed and variable costs associated with producing an issue. For example, when it comes to distribution, it can cost the same to ship two copies to a newsstand as it does to ship a dozen—and a magazine must still pay the same fees to freelance writers and photographers—and, hopefully, salaries to staff—regardless of fluctuations in its circulation numbers. The reality is that even if the total per-issue costs are higher at large publications, the per-copy production costs (and distribution costs, to a certain extent) are much, much lower—particularly if it is just one of a stable of periodicals produced by a publishing company.
As a result, shoestring budgets are the norm for small-magazine publishers. For example, Vancouver quarterly Geist may be the largest literary magazine in Canada at the moment, but its circulation is still under 10,000 and its annual revenues are less than one percent of what a typical large paid-circulation consumer magazine grosses each year. Working with a small budget can be challenging, particularly when a few hundred dollars in lost revenue (for example, a last-minute cancelled full-page ad) can mean that a magazine is suddenly unable to print its forthcoming issue. The annual profit of a typical small magazine is usually under $5,000 and when a magazine’s financial “cushion” is that small, its year-to-year survival is precarious. The editorial and production costs associated with publishing a magazine are expensive but, obviously, unavoidable and they will always take priority over the other ways money could be invested to help “grow” a magazine, such as professional development for staff or circulation and marketing projects.
Another downside to having a small budget is small magazines’ inability to offer industry-standard compensation to their contributors and/or salaries for their paid employees (if they are lucky enough to have any). As Maisonneuve publisher and editor Derek Webster once observed, “The cultural publishing economic model runs on volunteerism, token payments, stipends, and eternally underpaid staff. (The pizza-party-in-lieu-of-wage is standard operating practice.)” As a result, most small magazines have just one or two salaried employees, complemented by an average of two to four volunteers, which means that most are produced by just a handful of people who may not even possess much magazine experience. Having a small staff typically means doubling up on responsibilities (such as the art director selling ads and the managing editor coordinating subscriptions) and people having to manage tasks that they may not be qualified to be handling, which can lead to burnout among paid employees and volunteers alike. Another downside is that, even when they have more than one job, most magazines staff will end up working primarily on the production side of the magazine (which affects growth and expansion) or primarily on the business side of things (which affects editorial quality and reader satisfaction). As the Ahnsu Consulting Group noted in The Culture of Cultural Magazines: “The difficulty with admin work is twofold: it either overwhelms and overtakes cultural magazine staff and prevents them from working on bigger-picture issues, or it gets neglected because bigger picture issues are more critical.” Typically, the latter is not the case as most small magazines are staffed by people whose preference is for editorial and design work (which is viewed, especially by volunteers, as more enjoyable and meaningful), but that means the “necessary evils” of selling advertising, bookkeeping, fulfilling subscriptions, and other business-related tasks, are the ones that most often end up neglected, ignored altogether, or handled incompetently by underpaid people who may be untrained in those areas; which, as I will explain in detail in the pages to come, accurately describes the situation at Spacing magazine in September 2005.
PART 2 – PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE OF SPACING
Having illuminated the challenges facing Canadian magazines of all sizes, and those specific to smaller publications, I will now describe my experience working for one Canadian small magazine, Spacing. I first provide some background on Spacing’s history, offer an overview of the magazine and its ancillary projects, and describe how I came to become the Toronto-based periodical’s first (volunteer) business manager in September 2005. I then discuss the strategic-planning principles that I applied in mapping out Spacing’s transition from labour of love to small business—and which informed the writing of a business plan for the magazine. Finally, I will describe Spacing’s situation two years later and evaluate the progress I made towards increasing the magazine’s viability.
Spacing was conceived in the Fall of 2002 by a group of young activists, then-members of the Toronto Public Space Committee (TPSC), who felt that Toronto needed a publication that would address urban issues like cycling, transit, pedestrianism, public art, and city-planning, which they felt local media were overlooking or addressing inadequately. Over the following year, Matthew Blackett, Dale Duncan, Lindsay Gibb, Todd Harrison, Todd Irvine, Micheline Lewis, and Dylan Reid developed the magazine’s editorial concept, defined roles for themselves, recruited contributors, and organized fundraising events. Their efforts culminated in the publication of the first issue of Spacing in December 2003, which sold out its entire 1,500-copy print run within a month of being published.
Following the release of that initial issue, certain individuals chose to discontinue or limit their editorial involvement with Spacing and new editors came onboard. Therefore, for historical purposes, the magazine’s “founding editors” are considered to be Blackett (publisher and creative director), Duncan (initially managing editor but now executive editor), Gibb, Reid, Anna Bowness, and Shawn Micallef (associate editors). These six own the company Spacing Media Inc. that serves as the current publisher of Spacing—now produced independently of the TPSC—and, with Todd Harrison and Leah Sandals, make up the magazine’s editorial collective. At the time of writing, Spacing was on the verge of publishing its eleventh issue, scheduled for release in March 2008.
Through compelling journalism and thought-provoking essays, complemented by original illustration and striking photography, Spacing explores Toronto’s architectural, cultural, social, and political past, present, and future, and covers all of the associated issues that concern life in the city’s public realm. Written for and by those who are passionate about Toronto’s public spaces, Spacing contains an eclectic mix of well-researched history, ruminations on the present, and visions of what the future could be.
Each issue of Spacing has a theme, a specific topic of particular relevance to Toronto chosen by the magazine’s editors, to which the majority of the issue is devoted. Previous themes have included public art, the transit system, pedestrianism, and the environment. A large portion of Spacing’s content is dedicated to personal journalism and essays through which writers address the unique components of the social and cultural landscape of Toronto, which in 2007 included: the soundtrack of city life; the industrial design of 1970s subway platforms; an architectural graveyard in a Scarborough park where ornamental pieces from buildings are given a second life; a group of formerly homeless people using photography to tell their stories of hope and desperation; and the use of social-networking websites to enable events like massive pillow fights to flourish in Toronto. The magazine also has regular columns, like “The Toronto Flaneur,” in which Shawn Micallef writes about a part of the city he has wandered through on foot; “Green Space,” which focuses on environmental topics and green organizations; “Outer Space,” which highlights public-space issues in other cities; and “Space Invaders,” which profiles the people behind various Toronto public-art initiatives and creative interventions.
Spacing’seditors generate many of the story ideas for each issue but there is also always an open call for submissions, which helps generate thematic content that might otherwise be overlooked. This editorial process results in engaging, creative, genre-bending content of a notably high quality, which has not gone unnoticed in the industry. In June 2007, the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors named Spacing its “Small Magazine of the Year” and awarded “Magazine Editor of the Year” to Matthew Blackett and Dale Duncan. Spacing also won a 2005 National Magazine Award for “Best Editorial Package” for its “History of the Future” issue (and was nominated again in the same category for 2006), and the magazine has been short-listed twice in the “Best local/regional coverage” category of the Utne Independent Press Awards (2005 and 2006), in addition to being nominated for “Best New Title” in 2004.
Spacing’s reputation has attracted established journalists and published authors as contributors but, like many small magazines, it has also been a career “launching pad” for a number of up-and-coming writers. Most of the magazine’s editors had published little writing before Spacing was launched but Shawn Micallef now has a column in Eye Weekly and contributes regularly to the Globe & Mail; Dale Duncan’s writing helped her secure a staff reporter contract at Eye Weekly, for whom she now writes a municipal affairs column; Lindsay Gibb and Anna Bowness are the current and former editor, respectively, of Broken Pencil magazine; and Dylan Reid and Leah Sandals freelance for a variety of publications.
Spacing has also been recognized for the overall excellence and attractiveness of its photography, which is a credit to Toronto’s talented and award-winning photobloggers. Under the art direction of creative director Matthew Blackett, Spacing was a pioneer in introducing local photobloggers—whose work is primarily published on personal websites—to the general public by publishing their work in the magazine and online, and also using their images in art-gallery exhibits and for Spacing promotional materials. But striking digital photography is just one component of the magazine’s design: Blackett also commissions original art and illustration from up-and-coming illustrators and Spacing’s atypical 10-inch by 8-inch landscape format means it stands out on newsstands. In fact, its innovative design has garnered Spacing a number of awards, including an Applied Arts award for “Best Single Issue Design” in January 2005, and a nomination in the “Best Design” category of the 2006 Utne Independent Press Awards.
In addition to producing three issues of Spacing a year, the magazine’s publishing team also maintains a website, sells Spacing-branded products, and organizes and sponsors special events.
The Spacing.ca website was launched in November 2003 to serve as the online companion to Spacing and act as a promotional tool for the magazine right from the beginning, but, over time, it has become an important entity in its own right. The website features select articles and photos from the magazine, lists retailers carrying Spacing, provides information to potential advertisers, and has an online store where people can buy Spacing subscriptions, back issues, and other products. But Spacing.ca’s most popular feature, by far, is a blog written by the magazine’s editors and contributors. Updated daily, Spacing Toronto (www.spacing.ca/wire), has developed into a hub for information about and discussion of public-space issues. It has been such a success thatSpacing-sanctioned blogs have been set up in other cities: in July 2007, Spacing editors travelled to Montreal to launch the bilingual Spacing Montreal blog (www.spacingmontreal.ca) and a Vancouver blog called “re:place” (http://regardingplace.com) began publishing in January 2008 as the precursor to a print magazine; and it is possible others could soon spring up in San Francisco, Windsor, and Halifax. Blogging allows Spacing to cover public-space issues, news, and events in Toronto, and around the world, in the months between issues of the magazine—an obviously welcome service as the readers of Eye Weekly voted it “Toronto’s Best Local Blog” (2005) in January 2006 and Toronto’s other alt-weekly, NOW Magazine, named it “Best Local Blog” of 2007.
As mentioned, the website’s store sells various Spacing products, among them Spacing’s iconic one-inch subway buttons. Since being launched in December 2004, over 80,000 of the buttons capturing the iconic and distinctive tiles of each of Toronto’s subway stations and Scarborough RT stops (73 in all) have been sold just through Spacing.ca and several Toronto stores—plus thousands more at special events. Holiday “gift packs” of back issues and a 2006 calendar have also helped to generate revenue for Spacing at various times but special events, like the launch parties for each new issue, remain a bigger moneymaker and, because they usually attract several hundred people, are a good way to increase awareness of the magazine and the important public-space issues it covers.
Since 2005, Spacing has co-hosted an annual “Toronto the Good” party with partners ERA Architects and [murmur] during the Toronto Festival of Architecture and Design, a social event whose goal is to bring different communities together to celebrate innovation in the city. Spacing has also organized the “MyToronto” video contest, hosted film nights, curated art shows, and co-organized the best-attended mayoral debate of the 2006 Toronto municipal election. Finally, Spacing is also a regular media sponsor of cultural events tied to topics explored by the magazine.
Adding a business manager to the masthead
In September 2005, Spacing had published four issues and a fifth was in production. The magazine was covering its production costs with the revenues from advertising, single-copy sales, its 400 subscriptions, launch parties, and subway buttons. However, Spacing’s founders felt they were neglecting the business side of their publishing venture, which was hampering the magazine’s growth. In an e-mail, publisher Matthew Blackett expressed their collective desire to hire someone to take charge of the magazine’s finances and business development:
We need a biz manager badly to help us move forward, cuz my skills are best used creating and not doing balance sheets. The hope is that the biz manager would help us with a long term biz plan, which would include paying the editors, our writers, and the biz manager… This biz manager position has more to do with freeing me of the biz burdens, so I can concentrate on promotions, partnerships, media outreach, and the editorial/design stuff.
Because I thought highly of Spacing and believed I might be able to assist the magazine in a business-development capacity, I met with Blackett and managing editor Dale Duncan. They seemed confident in my abilities so I agreed to write a business plan for Spacing, and soon became the magazine’s part-time, volunteer business manager.
How I came to work for Spacing in the fall of 2005 is not unusual: many people become involved with small magazines not because there is necessarily a job posting or a formal application process but often just because they happen to be in the right place at the right time and they express a certain enthusiasm for the magazine in question and exhibit a willingness to do the work that no one else wants to do (or is qualified to do)—and, occasionally, as in my case, happen to have some specialized education and/or applicable work experience.
Strategic planning and small magazines
“Planning isn’t rocket science; in fact it is a fairly straightforward process.”
— B.C. Association of Magazine Publishers
Companies of all types and sizes use strategic planning to take a critical look at the factors affecting their success and/or limiting their growth—or, as is relevant for small magazines, the factors influencing their very viability—so that they can then develop a “plan” that will help them increase their profits, expand, or achieve other major organizational goals. Examining how things are being done, and the internal and external influences that are having a positive or negative impact on the business, is a process that is often beneficial in its own right, particularly for new businesses. As Craig Riggs has pointed out, “when organizations focus on how work is done and measured and improved, things usually start to get better.” However, a strategic-planning process is generally initiated when there is a need or a desire for change, like when there is dissatisfaction with the status quo and it is felt that “charting a new course” could benefit an organization—as was the case at Spacing when I came onboard as the magazine’s business manager.
Conducting a situational analysis
“You have to understand before you can innovate”
— Craig Riggs
In August 2005, Spacing’s founders had set two long-term goals for the magazine—to pay people to work on the magazine (staff and contributors), and to sell 5,000 subscriptions—and the unwritten expectation was that I would figure out how to achieve them and, concurrently, turn the magazine into a viable small business.
When I began this rather daunting project in September 2005, I was almost completely in the dark with regards to the business side of Spacing and how things had been run up to that point. A standard tool for gaining insight into a business’ “situation” and evaluating an organization’s state of affairs is the S.W.O.T. chart. However, following some research, I decided that a Situational Analysis would be a more holistic way to obtain a detailed overview of not just the magazine’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats but also of Spacing’s accomplishments to date and the internal and external factors affecting its ability to be a profitable business. (I also recognized that this framework would create a good benchmark against which progress could be measured later.)
I loosely based my situational analysis (see AppendixA) on the framework of what is called a 5C Analysis, and it entailed reviewing Spacing’s records, interviewing staff, and conducting additional research to produce a complete “full-colour” snapshot of the magazine’s operations and a description of the market and climate in which it was doing business.
As its name suggests, the situational analysis gave me a good idea of Spacing’s state of affairs in September 2005. At the time, the magazine’s biggest assets were the quality of its products, its reputation, and its dedicated staff. Spacing’s blog was attracting lots of visitors to the website, and the magazine and subway buttons had caught the attention of the media and those who were most passionate about public-space issues (including the Mayor). As a result, organized special events were well attended and the magazine was having no trouble attracting contributors. In addition, the hard work of staff and contributors had resulted in many awards and an operating grant from the Ontario Arts Council. Despite not having an office, Spacing’s editors seemed to be collaborating well and communicating effectively to produce three issues a year and post daily updates to the blog. In addition, Spacing had established good supplier and distributor relationships for the magazine and buttons, both of which were selling very well in stores and at events. The magazine also appeared to be self-sufficient financially through revenue from newsstand, subscription, and event sales, and the sales of subway buttons were bringing in significant additional revenue—enough that contributors to each issue were being paid something and there were also small per-issue honorariums for staff.
However, there was a large disconnect between Spacing’s reputation, its apparent financial stability, and the behind-the-scenes operations. While it was a professional-looking magazine, and appeared to be highly successful based on the turnout for its events, Spacing not only did not have an office but the magazine was disorganized organizationally and financially. The biggest problems were related to Spacing not having been set up as a business when it was first launched: in September 2005, the magazine was not incorporated, nor even registered as a business, meaning that the founding editors of Spacing would have been legally responsible for it, and thus personally liable, had someone decided to take the magazine to court. In addition, Spacing was not paying any business income taxes, nor collecting sales tax (PST or GST). At the time, Spacing was able to cover all of its bills, though no one had any idea of the amount of revenue generated, or expenses incurred, on an annual, monthly, or even per-issue basis. At it was, the only person “taking care of business” was Matthew Blackett, who was simultaneously contributing to the magazine editorially, designing the entire magazine, selling ads, developing partnerships and promotions, and taking a lead role in organizing Spacing events—not to mention managing Spacing’s side business in subway buttons essentially as a one-man show. Despite his high energy levels, burnout seemed inevitable and I had a similar concern for Lindsay Gibb, who, on top of her own editorial duties and a full-time job at another magazine, was managing all subscription orders and fulfillment plus newsstand distribution to Spacing’s dozen house accounts. The magazine was also only publishing three issues a year, on no fixed schedule, which might have been one reason that Spacing had not had much success attracting advertisers. And the same could be said of subscribers, who only numbered 400 in September 2005. Related to subscriptions, I realized that Spacing was paying too much for postage and that the database used to keep track of subscriptions was disorganized, which was likely one of the reasons that Gibb was having to deal regularly with complaints about missing issues and there were frequent delays in new subscribers getting their first issues. Finally, it seemed unlikely that, despite their high levels of enthusiasm for the magazine, Spacing’s staff could continue working as many hours as they were without salaries, or that the magazine’s contributors would continue to accept rates well below the industry standard.
Addressing problem areas
The situational analysis made it obvious what Spacing’s strengths were and where opportunities for growth existed, however, it also revealed the magazine’s weaknesses and problem areas, which called out urgently for addressing prior to any attempt to capitalize on the magazine’s positive aspects.
The biggest problem I identified was Spacing’s severe neglect of basic business organization and financial recordkeeping. This finding was not surprising to me as two of the five items included in D.B. Scott’s list of “Common mistakes of small magazine publishers” are “Forgetting about Revenue Canada” and “Avoiding the icky stuff”—both referring to decisions regarding financial matters, particularly the necessity that publishers “not put off to tomorrow that which they should deal with today.” 
The people working on Spacing were skilled writers, editors, and designers but they had been avoiding dealing with (or did not have time to address) anything “icky,” a bad habit enabled by the magazine’s continual ability to pay its bills. However, the magazine’s increasing revenues (primarily from button sales, which by September 2005 totaled nearly $22,000) were worrying Matthew Blackett because of the retroactive GST he thought could be owing. It also concerned me that should anyone decide to sue the magazine, the publishing team could be held personally liable because Spacing was not incorporated nor even registered as a business. And then there were the problems related to subscriptions already mentioned.
While the founders of Spacing were eager to have a large number of subscribers, and to begin paying themselves salaries, I knew there were a number of basic things for me to address first, so I drew up a “laundry list” in October 2005:
Incorporate Spacing(“Spacing Media Inc.”)
Register Spacing Media Inc. as an Ontario-based business
Open Spacing Media Inc. accounts with appropriate government agencies (Canadian Revenue Agency, etc.)
Open a Canada Post corporate account and apply for Publications Mail number to qualify for discounted postage rates
Better organize Spacing’s subscriptions database
Set up financial recordkeeping and bookkeeping
Making Spacing legal
Incorporating Spacing under the name “Spacing Media” and registering it as an Ontario business, and with the appropriate federal and provincial agencies for tax purposes, was a relatively straightforward process and one that was eventually completed mostly online—once I learned the steps were involved (see Appendix C). At the time, I could find no resources detailing the process of setting up a magazine as a legal business, however, Magazines Canada’s online handbook How toStart a Magazine led me to the website of the Canada-Ontario Business Service Centre, where I was able to figure out the steps involved and carry out what was required (see Appendix A).
Opening a corporate account with Canada Post and receiving a Publications Mail number was a simple matter of completing some paperwork and to better organize Spacing’s subscription records, I simply spent some time reorganizing and “cleaning up” the existing 400-record Excel database (for instance, moving the names and addresses of expired subscribers to a separate worksheet from current subscribers).
Thus, all of the items on the checklist were completed by the end of July 2006 with the exception of the final item. Without a background in accounting and only a cursory knowledge of business banking, setting up financial recordkeeping and bookkeeping for Spacing was beyond my abilities so I unwisely postponed that task because I wanted to move on to writing Spacing’s business plan—a project that would be postponed itself for six months when I became preoccupied with a number of other things. The busyness that prevented me from working on the business plan immediately stemmed from my handling day-to-day business tasks (such as banking and), completing various small business-development projects (such as helping to develop an ad kit and writing grant applications), lending a hand where needed (namely proofreading and helping out at launch parties and other events), and taking over as Spacing’s circulation manager when Lindsay Gibb became Broken Pencil’s new editor—all work that I took on in addition to my three-day-a-week job working for a book publisher and a volunteer commitment at another small magazine. However, despite all this work, I did find time to start the business plan in January 2007, beginning with writing a mission statement for the newly incorporated Spacing Media.
Crafting the mission statement
A mission statement should articulate a magazine’s raison d’être and give its publishers a sense of direction that complements their goals and objectives for the publication. As Craig Riggs suggests, “defining the purpose of the organization or publishing program is the first step in creating a framework than can guide decision making.”
Having made note of all Spacing’s activities, I felt that Spacing was potentially more than just a magazine, a hunch confirmed by marketing blogger Sean Moffitt observing that “although it describes itself as a magazine, Spacing is really a mash up of public activism, cool urban ideas and events, a community of like-minded people and a multimedia platform…[that has] invested just as much resources in ‘live urban experiences’ and ‘the web’ than merely the printed guide.”He called Spacing a “category jumper” because not only was there a periodical, there was also “an engaging online forum” (alluding to Spacing’s website, particularly the blog where readers can post comments), and events that brought readers together—all of which were helping to unite a community around the issues at the core of the magazine. Thus, the mission statement I developed for Spacing Media Inc. in January 2007 expressed a broader mandate than just publishing a magazine:
To draw attention to the importance of public space in urban environments and to instill in city-dwellers worldwide—and in Toronto in particular—an appreciation of the endless possibilities that cities offer so that they will be compelled to take ownership of the urban landscape that surrounds them and be inspired to participate in city life.
The next challenge was figuring out the goals and objectives that would help Spacing Media Inc. live up to its mission statement.
Setting goals and objectives
“[A]rticulating clear goals and objectives allows management and staff to have a common idea of where the company needs to go, and how it aims to get there.”
— Craig Riggs
After articulating a “mission” for Spacing, the next step prior to writing the business plan, was figuring out what the magazine’s goals should be, since I did not think that staff salaries and 5,000 subscriptions were going to be immediately attainable based on its current situation. In this regard, I found the advice of the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers (BCAMP) to be useful. In one of the helpful booklets published by BCAMP to explain and offer advice on the various aspects of the business of magazine publishing, the organization suggests that, to “ensure a magazine’s existence,” publishers should aim to:
create and maintain a targeted editorial environment to attract and maintain loyal readers;
develop and maintain the capacity to produce and publish the magazine;
develop effective circulation and distribution systems;
develop revenues to support and justify continued publishing.
I knew that Spacing was strong editorially: over the course of the seven issues released to January 2007, members of the editorial collective had established a system for producing a high-quality, award-winning magazine and continual readership growth confirmed that they had created that desired “targeted editorial environment.” Since September 2005, newsstand sales had almost doubled and subscriptions had more than doubled. Overall, paid circulation had risen from 2,800 copies for Issue #4 (June 2005) to 4,029 for Issue #7 (September 2006); and the magazine’s print run had been increased accordingly from 3,000 copies to 5,000 copies. Spacing’s special events and sales of promotional products were also generating revenue and, along with the website, drawing attention to the magazine and public-space issues—which was noticeably bringing together a community of likeminded individuals.
However, all was (still) not well on the business side of Spacing. While Issue #7 had been the work of seven editors and three proofreaders, the only dedicated business staff were me and Spacing’s ad director, Alex McKenna, who had been hired in June 2006 to take over ad sales from Matthew Blackett. The addition of McKenna to the masthead was a good move for Spacing since the revenue from his ad sales for Issue #7 had more than doubled the $1,950 sold for Issue #6 (and he was on track to triple that for the forthcoming issue). But McKenna was only responsible for selling ads; I was taking care of pretty much all other business matters.
In the 16 months I had been working for Spacing, my contributions to developing and maintaining capacity, and the revenue levels that required, were taking care of the aforementioned “laundry list,” managing the magazine’s banking and payroll, and handling subscriptions (Blackett was now handling newsstand distribution). I had also written the grant application that secured Spacing another year of funding from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) and coordinated the magazine’s participation in several newsstand-marketing and group direct-mail campaigns organized by Magazines Canada. In addition, I had helped to secure Spacing affordable office space in the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), and arranged through Magazines Canada for a magazine-industry expert to meet with us to talk about business development.
In addition, while I still had not yet set up proper financial recordkeeping, I had begun to put some numbers related to Spacing’s finances down on paper. For instance, while preparing Spacing’s 2006–07 OAC grant application in May 2006, I produced rough financial statements for Spacing for 2006 and 2007, which proved useful for goal-setting and determining priorities for the magazine at the beginning of 2007. I had calculated that Spacing’s revenue for 2006 would be $63,675 (with expenses of $61,095) and I was projecting that 2007’s revenue to be $106,646 (with projected expenses of $86,522). I felt this $43,000 increase in revenue and rise in profits from $2,580 to $20,124 would come from primarily from advertising (since McKenna thought he could sell $7,000 in ads per issue ($21,000 annually)—and bring in more revenue potentially if we took his advice and increased the price of ads in Spacing, which he was hearing were low compared to other magazines), but I was also predicting a significant number of new subscriptions and the renewal of existing subscriptions; I was also confident that Spacing could successfully request $20,000 from the OAC for 2007–08 (double the $10,000 received in 2005–06 and again in 2006–07). The increase in Spacing’s budget for 2007 meant that Spacing Media Inc. could not only continue its magazine-publishing activities but there was a large-enough surplus income for a full-time salary in the $20,000 range for one staff member. However, the magazine’s editors felt that having a dedicated workspace would be of greater benefit to the magazine and decided to sign a lease with the Centre for Social Innovation. As a result, the anticipated “surplus” would go towards the office Spacing would begin occupying in February 2007.
While having an office took priority for the editors, they were still interested in eventually being paid salaries so the goals and objectives I developed for Spacing in January 2007 were mostly related to increasing the magazine’s overall revenues to guarantee that would be possible the following year—and also to better balance the workload of the magazine and related projects to prevent burnout:
• Build revenue from magazine sales: Hire a circulation manager; Promote new subscriptions; Encourage renewals
• Build revenue from promotional products: Hire a subway buttons coordinator; Increase the number of stores where subway buttons are sold
• Increase advertising revenue Sell more ads in magazine; Charge more for ads (adjust rates); Sell ads on website
• Cut costs where possible: Use interns to write articles, take photos; Apply for the Publications Assistance Program (PAP) to reduce postage costs; Solicit sponsorships, in-kind donations for special events
• Leverage grants and funding Request larger grant from Ontario Arts Council for 2007–08; Apply to Canada Council for the Arts to see if Spacing qualifies for funding; Apply to Canadian Magazine Fund’s Support for Editorial Content program; Apply for funding from the Canadian Magazine Fund or Ontario Media Development Corporation to conduct a direct-mail subscriptions drive
Writing the business plan
“A magazine’s business plan is the really the company résumé… You will not know how useful such a plan can be…until you find you don’t have one.”
— D.B. Scott
With a mission statement and a clear set of goals and objectives in hand, I felt ready to move on to completing the rest of the business plan for Spacing. Informed by my past participation in the writing of a real business plan for a fictional magazine, I decided to include the following sections to document Spacing’s history, current situation, and future plans:
Business Overview: History, Company Profile, Mission, Products and Business Activities, Goals and Objectives
Magazine Overview: Mandate, Editorial Concept, Sections, Themes, Past Issues, Art Direction and Production
Market Analysis: Market, Audience, Competition
Advertising: Philosophy, Advertisers, Sales Projections, Opportunities and Challenges
Distribution and Circulation: Overview, Publishing History, Circulation History, Subscriptions, Single-Copy Sales, Circulation Promotions
Marketing and Promotions: Overview, Spacing.ca, Special Events, Media Attention, Awards, Subway Buttons, Holiday Gift Packs, Calendars
Management and Operations: Staffing, Compensation
In my opinion, the point of a business plan is to capture a particular moment in a magazine’s “life”—in part so it can later be used to track progress towards stated goals and objectives. In any case, writing one forces the close and careful consideration of all of the aspects of the publishing company and, similar to a situational analysis, doing so inevitably draws attention to its strengths and weaknesses but in greater detail because many more facts and figures have to be included. As D.B. Scott points out, “It takes quite a paragon to avoid the trap of glossing over harsh truths. But such glossing is more difficult when the numbers and the market data is down there in black and white.” There is room in a business plan for assumptions and projections but any forecasts need to be supported by research, experience, and/or statistics, or they will stick out as unrealistic, which means that readers can rely on the document rather confidently to gauge a magazine’s growth potential, future profits, and room for expansion, as well as its current situation. Since a business plan includes financial statements, it is a very important document to have for potential investors, partners, and granting bodies seeking to quickly gain insight into a magazine’s operations—even if they have no specialized magazine-publishing knowledge.
In any case, the business plan I wrote over five weeks (see Appendix F) was a detailed “snapshot” of Spacing at the beginning of 2007, the magazine’s fourth full year of publishing. This portrait proved especially useful when Spacing participated in Magazines Canada’s “Travelling Consultants” program, which uses funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage to subsidize one-on-one consultations with magazine-industry professionals for small magazines.
On February 16, 2007, publisher Matthew Blackett, managing editor Dale Duncan, and I met with Canadian magazine expert D.B. Scott to talk about the future of Spacing. Our pre-stated goals for the day-long session were to figure out how to afford salaries for staff members and to receive advice on which revenue-generating activities to concentrate our efforts—in effect, we were hoping to learn how to implement the brand-new business plan to achieve the magazine’s goals and objectives.
The session, which cost Spacing $250, was helpful in many ways. Even though day-to-day operations were still somewhat disorganized, Scott thought highly of Spacing and was impressed by what had been achieved so far. He liked that we had a business plan and a media kit (see Appendix D), thought our ad sales looked good, and observed that we seemed to have a good handle on circulation and distribution. Remarking on the attention the magazine was getting from readers, advertisers, and the media, Scott pointed out that Spacing was “playing a hot hand” at the moment and suggested that we should try to capitalize on it before interest in the magazine, blog, buttons, and events waned. “It’s a new magazine-publishing world,” he told us. “You build a brand and then exploit it.” However, in order to be in a position to do so, Scott said we needed to make a few changes to the way we were doing business; fortunately, he also had some advice.
Because Spacing had a relatively small budget, and its staff was mostly made up of volunteers, Scott said it was essential that we make the best use of our time and resources. As an example, he pointed out that it only made sense to take on interns if doing so would result in greater productivity for the magazine (i.e., we did not have to spend the same amount of time managing them as it would take us to do the work they were doing ourselves). Since we wanted to increase the Spacing’s revenues, with an eye towards paying staff salaries the following year, he said that we should be looking at areas that were already generating money for the magazine, specifically circulation and advertising.
To boost Spacing’s circulation, Scott recommended that we “pick the low-hanging fruit” first; for example, by putting subscription cards in every issue, by e-mailing lapsed subscribers to ask them to renew, and by promoting subscriptions to anyone who had bought subway buttons or back issues of Spacing. After that, he said that we should prioritize a direct-mail campaign, specifically one where we promoted two-year subscriptions because they were already the most popular (and, at $25 each, would bring in a larger amount of revenue than if we sold the same number of one-year subscriptions). We also talked about expanding the number of retail outlets selling Spacing, possibly by reversing a decision made early on not to distribute the magazine in Chapters/Indigo stores.
As for advertising, Scott thought it was a good sign that Spacing had attracted a number of advertisers (many small magazines cannot get any) but he agreed with ad director Alex McKenna that Spacing had been too generous with the (low) rates we were offering to advertisers and told us that the magazine’s rate card should be adjusted as soon as possible. He also suggested that we should think about selling ads on Spacing.ca because the blog it hosted received so much traffic.
Since each issue of Spacing published could be counted upon to generate a certain amount of revenue, Scott advised adopting a quarterly publishing schedule as soon as possible, and then developing a “fifth-issue strategy” (the repackaging of existing content as a special issue or anthology and selling it at a premium price), or adding branded free-standing publications (for example, a “City Builders” yearbook). However, as with any project requiring a certain outlay of cash, he said we should only do special issues if they would earn Spacing additional revenue. From this point forward, he told us, no Spacing project should be a money-loser. Finally, Scott thought we should start soliciting donations from our supporters and—now that Spacing had a business plan—we should explore private investment as a source of operating capital.
Failing to put the plan into action
Following the consultation with D.B. Scott, optimism reigned at Spacing: the industry expert had predicted great things for the magazine and the ability to pay staff salaries seemed just around the corner if only we followed his advice. But, given the realities of publishing a small magazine, what happened over the following six months was not unexpected: the business plan was all but forgotten and only a few of the suggestions Scott had made were actually implemented.
We increased the price of ads listed on the magazine’s rate card (see Appendix E) and Alex McKenna began selling website ads, but Spacing’s editors did not feel capable of producing another issue a year so that idea was shelved—even if Matthew Blackett was taken with the idea of doing some sort of special issue. I had intended to look into applying for funding from the Canadian Magazine Fund to subsidize the cost of a direct-mail subscription campaign for Spacing but a Canada Council grant application with a March deadline postponed that plan—and all other business-development work. But I was not the only person whose attention was distracted away from figuring out how to achieve Spacing’s goals and objectives.
Almost immediately following our consultation with D.B. Scott, Matthew Blackett and Dale Duncan put on their editorial hats and began soliciting articles for the next issue of Spacing. It was easy to understand why they would be eager to get started because, even though the water-themed magazine would not be released for another five months, it was not just the day-to-day work of publishing Spacing that was keeping them busy. It seemed that in trying be more than just a magazine, Spacing was agreeing to organize or sponsor more and more special events, and getting involved in new projects all the time. In fact, the months leading up to the publication of the Water issue were packed. There was the “Public Space Invaders” film night in March, the Toronto the Good party in May, and the summer-long MyToronto video contest co-organized with the City of Toronto. Plus, there were trips out of town for meetings related to the brand-new Spacing Montreal blog and the development of a Spacing-inspired Vancouverblog andmagazine. And all of these activities were taking place at a time when a lot was happening in Toronto, with projects to make the city more livable being announced every few weeks (from cutting-edge streetcars and new street furniture to plans for a new neighbourhood in the Lower Don Lands and a major revitalization of the Waterfront)—all of which cried out for comment from Spacing editors on the blog.
However, in the midst of the madness, one of D.B. Scott’s recommendations did get acted on. In mid-summer, I learned that the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) would be awarding grants to Ontario magazines for projects that would drive sales and increase revenues. I saw that subscription campaigns were eligible so I prepared and submitted an application in June proposing a direct-mail campaign. While our funding application to Canada Council back in March had not been successful, we had more luck with the OMDC and Spacing was awarded $15,000 (75% of the project’s total cost) in August for a late-fall addressed-admail project targeting non-subscribers with a $25 two-year subscription deal.
For the most part, though, the Spacing staff members who could have moved ahead with implementing Scott’s recommendations, and achieving the goals and objectives articulated in the business plan—namely Matthew Blackett, Dale Duncan, and me, who were the ones working out of Spacing’s new office the most frequently—became busy with the things just mentioned, and the momentum to move forward with Spacing’s business development ground to a halt As I explained in Part 1 of this report, that is not an unusual occurrence at small magazines, where even just the quotidian administration work can become overwhelming, but Spacing Media Inc. was also involved in many interesting projects besides just publishing a magazine so I should have expected that these projects and initiatives would “overtake” the plans for growth and expansion and the far-less-sexy, behind-the-scenes work they entailed. In retrospect, though, I believe the real reason why nothing came of all the effort put into figuring how to make Spacing into a successful small business was that, following the consultation, we never sat down to decide who would be responsible for making sure the work happened, nor when such work would take place, nor even what resources would be required. The key to successful strategic-planning, I now realize, is not just determining what needs to be done in a particular situation (as I did when I wrote the business plan, and which was re-articulated during the consultation with D.B. Scott), but also figuring out the carry-through: who will do it, what resources will be required, and by what date things will be completed. And then ensuring the work actually happens. But, unfortunately, that epiphany came to me too late.
Deciding to move on
By the end of June 2007, I was exhausted, frustrated, and tired of being broke all the time: burnout had set in and I did not have the drive to continue as Spacing’s business manager, which was becoming a more challenging and less rewarding job for me with each passing day. I was undecided about leaving the magazine but when my other employer offered to make my part-time job into a full-time position at the beginning of September, I decided that I should quit Spacing. So, on July 12, I announced my resignation to Matthew Blackett and Dale Duncan via e-mail and we met to discuss it the following day. We decided I would wrap up the work I had underway and the resignation would be effective September 1.
In the end, it is amusing—but not surprising—that I fell victim to one of the very challenges of small-magazine publishing articulated in Part 1 of this report. I had already seen it happen to my friends at Shameless (who had started their magazine for teenage girls around the same time as Spacing was launched) and, soon after I announced my decision to leave Spacing, the magazine’s ad director, Alex McKenna, also resigned. As Melinda Mattos, co-founder and ex-editor of Shameless, put it “There’s something romantic about being up in your pyjamas until two in the morning working [for free] on a magazine—for the first few years.” After two years of hard work on behalf of Spacing, I realized it was not my dream that we were staying up late to achieve and I was tired from the lack of sleep. I also felt I had reached the limit of my ability to help with the business side of Spacing, a feeling best described in my resignation letter:
I never expected just how complicated, time-consuming, and ultimately overwhelming actually being the magazine’s business manager would be for me. I committed myself to helping out Spacing initially because I believed I could make a difference significantly and quickly, in part based on what I had learned about magazine publishing in school. But, in retrospect, I didn’t really I know what I was getting into by agreeing to be Spacing’s business manager and I overestimated my own skills, knowledge, and ability with regards to business matters…. Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I don’t seem to be cut out for the business side of magazine publishing: the stress and anxiety I’ve experienced trying to figure out everything from draconian Canada Post regulations to confusing Magazines Canada remittance reports to what to submit as financials to various grant applications has simply become too much for me.
And even though it had all become “too much” for me, I still wanted to conduct another situational analysis to evaluate the progress made towards my long-term goal of turning Spacing into a viable small business.
Evaluating the progress made
When compared with the first situational analysis I had conducted two years prior, the situational analysis I completed in September 2007 (see Appendix B) showed that my time acting as Spacing’s business manager—and my attempts to apply strategic-planning principles to improve the magazine’s business organization and operating efficiences during that period—had, in fact, had a measurable positive impact.
Spacing was now published by an incorporated business, Spacing Media Inc., which was registered in the province of Ontario, and had an office in downtown Toronto. While financial recordkeeping was still a work in progress, there was at least now a sense of annual and per-issue revenues and expenditures—and, at some point, the accounting software I had purchased would be used to set up proper accounting systems, which would be useful for tracking profits from ancillary products like Spacing’s ever-popular subway buttons and for calculating taxes owing.
Spacing was still riding a wave of popularity, which continued to help attract contributors, advertisers, event partners, and people simply wanting to support the magazine (such as the Centre for Social Innovation, which had found a way to subsidize the magazine’s rent to make it more affordable). Having published eight issues, and with a ninth on the way, the magazine’s editors seemed comfortable with the routine of producing a new magazine every four months. The production schedule Matthew Blackett had set up as the magazine’s publisher and creative director was keeping things on track so that readers, subscribers, advertisers, and retailers now knew when to expect a new issue. It was also helpful that the editorial collective had an office in which to work and hold meetings. In addition, despite the low rates Spacing continued to pay, there were still a large number of loyal writers, illustrators, and photographers wanting to contribute to the magazine and the Spacing Toronto blog, and well-known Toronto journalists like John Lorinc and Christopher Hume had become regular contributors. In general, the overall quality of of the magazine and the blogs had increased since the editors were now more experienced writers and editors. Their efforts had been recognized with more awards, including the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors naming Spacing “2007 Small Magazine of the Year” and Matthew Blackett and Dale Duncan as “2007 Editor of the Year.”
Public-space issues had begun to interest other local media outlets and editors and producers had begun relying on Spacing for story ideas for their mainstream audiences. Because of the magazine’s reputation as “the public face of public space,” journalists were also now calling the Spacing office routinely to obtain comments on cuts to transit service, the redevelopment of the waterfront, the creation of new parks, and the like, and Spacing editors were contributing to other publications on a regular basis (usually writing about public-space topics). Still, despite local media interest and increased coverage of public-space issues, no direct competitor for Spacing had emerged, which was fortunate because the magazine was still building its readership.
Subscriptions and newsstand sales were growing, albeit slowly: Spacing had 900 subscribers and approximately 2,500 copies of each issue were being sold on the newsstand (in addition to sales at launch parties and other special events). To meet demand for the magazine, the regular print run for each issue was now 5,000, and Magazines Canada was distributing more copies of Spacing in Toronto and nationwide. In general, though, not a great deal of revenue was being generated through circulation, even though newsstand sales were now generating slightly more income since Spacing’s cover price had been increased from $6 to $7.
Fortunately, advertising and button sales were still profitable for the magazine. Revenue from the former increased dramatically during the time that Spacing had had a dedicated ad director, and even though Alex McKenna had resigned recently, the relationships he had developed with certain companies were continuing to benefit the magazine through the rebooking of ads. The Toronto Transit Commission was now producing its own subway buttons, but Spacing’s versions continued to sell well at events and through the website. Additional revenue was derived from grants: Spacing had received funding from the Ontario Arts Council for three years in a row and, as already mentioned, had also been recently awarded project funding from the Ontario Media Development Corporation to conduct a subscription drive. Since per-copy mailing costs were much less now that Spacing had a Publications Mail number and qualified for the Publications Assistance Program, the cost of fulfilling new subscription orders was considerably lower.
Unfortunately, with the departure of both Spacing’s ad director and business manager, the magazine was back at square one what it came to who was “taking care of business.” Matthew Blackett had taken on ad sales and newsstand distribution again, and Dale Duncan was handling subscriptions—in addition to their respective editorial duties and Blackett’s design work. But, human resources issues aside, Spacing appeared better organized and better run than it was back in September 2005. While there were still some problems to resolve, there were more positive aspects to Spacing’s situation in September 2007 than negative ones. In general, the situational analysis suggested that if the magazine remained on the same path, its viability as a small business seemed good and it would eventually achieve its goals and objectives, as will be discussed in more detail in the next section of this report.
PART 3 – THE FUTURE OF SMALL MAGAZINES IN CANADA
“Unfortunately, magazines do come and go with some regularity—but the strong do survive. And by strong, I don’t mean the biggest… I mean those stalwart independents who carefully carve out their niches, develop strong editorial voices and consequently readerships, and continue to produce creative and pertinent content for their readers, month after month, year after year.”
— Donald G. House, president, Alberta Magazine Publishers Association
Spacing’s potential for long-term success
According to the Print Measurement Bureau, one in every three new magazines fails within the first year, and more than 40% of the Canadian magazines that folded in 2005 were less than five years old. Such statistics mean that, with each issue published, Spacing is beating the odds and I am confident that the magazine will be around to publish its planned fifth-anniversary issue this fall.
Since its launch in December 2003, Spacing has gone from being the part-time labour of love of half a dozen public-space enthusiasts, who were not sure whether they would ever publish a second issue, to a nationally distributed magazine with a passionate readership and a growing subscriber base, which is published by an incorporated small business. Through special events, sponsorships and partnerships, frequent media appearances, a line of award-winning subway buttons, and a hugely popular blog, the publishing team behind Spacing has turned its “baby” into much more than just a magazine—and, in doing so, has brought together such seemingly disparate groups as cycling activists, transit geeks, architects, pedestrians, urban planners, municipal politicians, and heritage preservationists to create a community that is unified in its concern for public-space issues in Toronto.
I believe the concern of Spacing’s own staff for these same issues—and their belief in the magazine’s ability to be an agent for social change—is at least partially responsible for its continued success, despite the odds stacked against small magazines in Canada. Which may mean that the founder and publisher of Cottage Life, Al Zikovitz, was right when he said, “I think so much of it is that [small-magazine publishers] just work on passion. Not numbers but passion—a firm belief in what we do, and goddammit, no one’s going to stop us, no one’s going to say no to us. And if anyone says you can’t do it, all the more reason why you want to prove them wrong.” The Toronto-lovers who created Spacing, and who continue to volunteer their time to prove the naysayers wrong and keep the magazine going, possess the same drive and determination that helped Zikovitz expand Cottage Life—now 20 years old and with a much larger circulation—from a small magazine into a multi-title publishing company that through the magazine, website, television program, and biannual tradeshows strives to be “the first source for cottage-related information, products, and services.” Another reason why I feel Spacing will succeed in the long run is the award-winning quality of the magazine, and the niche audience that it has developed and retained. To refer back to the advice offered to magazine publishers by the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers (BCAMP), it is clear that Spacing’s editors have succeeded in creating the right “targeted editorial environment.”
But passion and quality can only take a periodical so far. For reasons I have already presented, a small magazine is a business and, as such, should the people behind Spacing wish it to be successful in the long run, they will have to pay attention to BCAMP’s second piece of advice and “develop revenues to support and justify continued publishing.” Given the scope of Spacing’s ancillary projects and “extracurricular” activities, and the very real threat of staff burnout, the magazine’s continued existence will always be somewhat precarious until staff members can be paid to work on the magazine full-time. To afford salaries means increasing revenues and the staff of Spacing needs to become more aggressive about making money and commit to putting more time, effort, and resources into revenue-generating activities. Fortunately, the means for Spacing to generate additional revenue is already in place (and, since I stepped down as the magazine’s business manager, people are taking that aspect of the magazine more seriously).
The success of the recent subscriptions drive and the dramatic increase in ad sales revenue that resulted when the magazine had a dedicated ad director confirm that D.B. Scott was right to recommend that Spacing focus on these areas—and I feel that the potential for even greater revenue generation exists. Attracting more readers and converting newsstand buyers to subscribers would provide Spacing with a renewable source of increased income, one which would be especially welcome since the magazine receives a greater amount per-copy sold as part of a subscription than for a copy sold in a store. At present, Spacing’s single-copy sales per issue outnumber its subscription copies, when newsstand sales typically make up only 17% of a Canadian magazine’s sales, versus 83% from subscriptions. While having a high sell-through rate on the newsstand is desirable (and Spacing’s sell-through rate of over 85% is well above the industry standard of 50%), it is a variable and vulnerable source of income for any magazine because periodicals are typically impulse purchases and their sales can be affected by something as big as a downturn in the economy or something as small as choosing the wrong colour for use on the cover. In addition, Spacing is not immune to the newsstand-access issues already discussed, including the competition posed by American titles and the shrinking number of retail outlets carrying magazines.
Fortunately, Spacing’s online presence also has potential. The readership of the Spacing Toronto blog is large and its popularity keeps growing as word spreads that it is essential reading for those interested in urban issues. At present, efforts to sell online advertising have been mixed but that avenue could, no doubt, be pursued more aggressively now that Spacing.ca regularly attracts 5,500 daily visitors. Cross-promotional opportunities also exist with Spacing Montreal, which has seen its audience grow from 400 daily visitors to over 1,400 since its official launch in September 2007. In addition, Spacing has an e-newsletter mailing list with 3,500 subscribers and Spacing’s Facebook group has 2,100 members. These numbers suggest that more people are encountering and interacting with Spacing via the Internet than are buying the magazine on the newsstand or via subscription. Even if there is some overlap, there is still a sizeable community of interested readers inclined to also enjoy the print version of Spacing, and who could be convinced to subscribe or buy the magazine on newsstands (to that end, sidebar ads on the blog “recommend” subscriptions and subway buttons and link directly to the online store where these items can be purchased immediately).
There is also the possibility of deriving more revenue from the magazine itself. The cover price was increased with the most recent issue but adding another issue each year (as is planned for 2009) will have even more of an impact on Spacing’s bottom line—both by directly increasing income from newsstand sales, subscriptions, advertising, and an additional launch party, and indirectly via the benefits that accompany the adoption of a more standard (for small magazines) quarterly publishing schedule. And beginning to accept donations from supporters and inviting private investment are other avenues to explore—ones that would not necessarily increase its staff’s workload, which is important to take into consideration.
So while there is the possibility of Spacing being financially successful, I feel the human resources needed for the magazine to achieve that potential are lacking. To pursue the majority of the revenue-generation options already mentioned will require staff to work additional hours. One solution to the staff shortage on the business side of the magazine would be to streamline editorial activities to free up staff members to sell ads and promote subscriptions.But most of the people who currently work on the editorial side of the magazine are not skilled in theses areas, nor are they keen to take on additional responsibilities (or they would have already volunteered to help out in this capacity), and rather than risk a drop in the quality of the magazine, especially once Spacing begins publishing four issues a year, it makes more sense to add dedicated business staff. Already needed are a business manager and ad director, whose hiring should be followed by a circulation manager (to manage subscriptions and newsstand distribution) and an individual to coordinate the sales, marketing, and distribution of Spacing’s subway buttons. Right now, Matthew Blackett and Dale Duncan are handling all of these jobs but once the frequency of the magazine increases, their working hours should be focused exclusively on the production of new issues of Spacing given that their true talents lie in graphic design and editing, respectively.
Even with additional employees, though, the threat of staff burnout is still very real and should not be overlooked. I quit because of it and I worry that it could afflict other key Spacing staff members—particularly those who have been working on the magazine for almost five years without taking home a salary. Also, should efforts to raise Spacing’s revenues succeed to the point where salaries can be paid, publishing a magazine three (and soon four) times a year and coordinating all of Spacing’s ancillary projects is still be an overwhelming and potentially exhausting amount of work for a tiny staff to carry out. To ensure its continued survival, Spacing must figure out how a small number of people can continue to accomplish great things on a shoestring budget and not get burnt out, which is perhaps the biggest challenge facing today’s small magazines. Because no matter how passionate and energetic the individual, most people can only stay up late for so many nights in a row. I lasted two years; how long the rest of the staff at Spacing will last is to be determined. However, as long as passion fuels the publishing of the magazine and staff burnout is avoided, I believe that Spacing will last at least as long as Cottage Life has and continue to represent a Canadian small-magazine success story—in part, because it has already come so far and exceeded many people’s expectations, including my own.
In any case, the staff of Spacing continues to push onwards. According to Blackett, Spacing’s fifth-anniversary issue, titled “ThinkToronto” and scheduled for a fall 2008 publication, will see a re-design and a re-focus of the magazine’s editorial sections, with a strong emphasis on increasing the percentage of advertising in the issue to at least 25%. Because the issue will feature the results of a design competition, editorial costs will be less than usual and an opportunity to solicit congratulatory advertising (“a possible cash cow”) has been created—while simultaneously reaching out to Toronto’s professional city-building community of architects, urban planners, landscape designers, and the like. It is a smart move for Spacing and one that suggests the magazine’s staff have recognized and are embracing, at least subliminally, the goals and objectives I articulated last year for inclusion in Spacing’s business plan. Supportive of the goal of building revenue from magazine sales, this issue will no doubt attract new readers (and hopefully promote subscription purchases at the same time), and revenue from advertising will also increase—at the same time as costs are cut because of the reduced amount of original editorial content needed. Taken as a whole, this issue is a smart way for Spacing to increase sustainability by expanding the magazine’s audience and bringing onboard new funders (in this case, advertisers). It also suggests recognition of the magazine as a business and acknowledgement of the necessity of capitalizing on its growth potential to guarantee its continued ability to publish. Or, as Blackett observed in a recent e-mail, “The issue is meant to signal the next stage of Spacing, entering adulthood, so to speak.” In the same way that young people who have moved out of their parents’ home come to realize that they have to start paying their own way if they want to do anything thing, Spacing is growing up and figuring out how to do exactly that.
Proof of the continued viability of magazine publishing in Canada
Despite the challenges outlined in Part 1 of this report and the difficulties I encountered at Spacing (and those that the magazine still must counter), I believe there is hope for Canadian magazines—particularly for small publications. As Rowland Lorimer noted in his 2005 report on the B.C. magazine industry, magazine publishing in Canada is a “stable cultural industry” and one that seems to be “expanding with economic and population growth.” There are a number of factors behind this stability and expansion, which suggest that the forecast for magazine publishing in Canada is not as gloomy as some critics have suggested.
Marginal increase in magazine-reading and -buying among Canadians
Between 2002 and 2006, the Print Measurement Bureau found that the average readers per copy (“the most reliable standard of magazine readership”) for magazines in Canada rose from 5.1 to 5.5 while the number of magazine issues read by Canadians rose from 6.3 to 6.4. Also worth noting is that between 1997 and 2005, consumer spending on magazines and periodicals in Canada rose by 7% (while spending on newspapers decreased by 7% over the same period).
Increase in readership of Canadian-produced titles
Between 1998 and 2003, single-copy sales of Canadian magazines increased by 28% and their total circulation rose by 30%. Currently, Magazines Canada estimates the market share of Canadian titles to be 41% of all magazines sold in Canada—however, the organization feels it should and could be higher since it has been proven that Canadians have a preference for homegrown periodicals: 92% of the population feels that they “play a significant role in informing Canadians about each other,” 88% believe that it is important that editorial content be created specifically for them, and 90% feel that U.S. titles do not effectively cover Canadian issues. These three findings highlight the cultural importance of the domestic periodical industry and which suggest that Canadians would buy more Canadian magazines, provided they could identify them. Therefore, it is not surprising that Magazines Canada’s 2002 “Genuine Article” national circulation and promotion program, which aimed to raise awareness about which magazines were in fact Canadian, caused sales of participating titles to increase, on average, by 6%—proof that Canadians will buy more homegrown magazines if they can pick them out. This campaign continues today, with Canadian publishers encouraged to display the redesigned “Genuine Canadian Magazine” logo prominently on the covers of their publications.
Continual launching of new Canadian magazines
In 1956, Canada had just 661 periodicals to call its own (which accounted for, by some estimates, fewer than 25% of all magazine titles circulating in the country) but ever since the 1965 O’Leary Royal Commission led to the introduction of measures to protect and promote the Canadian periodical-publishing industry, the number of magazines in Canada has increased every year—as has their market share (which was just 20% in 1965). More recently, a 2005 Department of Canadian Heritage internal evaluation of the Publications Assistance Program discovered a 7% rise between 2002-03 and 2004-05 in the number of consumer magazines available in Canada, which is significant when compared to the change in the number of titles available in the U.S. (down 1.6%) and the United Kingdom (down 3.4%) during the same time period. Canadian Heritage only examined change over a short time period but when one analyzes the data over 10 years, as Statistics Canada did, it becomes apparent that between 1993 and 2003, Canada registered a 62% increase in the number of consumer magazines. Trend analysis for more recent years is not available, however, similar information can be gleaned from Masthead, which tracks magazine “starts and stops” in Canada and publishes its findings on an annual basis in its March/April issue. In 2004, the magazine-industry trade magazine reported that 139 new magazines launched, while in 2005 and 2006, the number of launches they counted was 85 and 71, respectively. And Masthead also found that the number of annual closures seems to be declining as well (from 50 closures registered in 2002 to 34 in 2004 to just 21 in 2006).
Revenues are up and the majority of Canadian magazines are profitable
Between 1998 and 2003, there was an increase in industry revenues by 23%. While it is not known how exactly periodical publishers are faring in more recent years, in its 2003-04 examination of the industry, Statistics Canada found that 62.5% of all Canadian magazines were profitable. The profit margin for these magazines is just 10% on average, however, as Globe & Mail journalist James Adams pointed out in his 2005 article about charitable status for magazines, the success of magazines like Chatelaine and Reader’s Digest proves that it is possible for homegrown titles to earn millions of dollars in profit annually and to attain circulation levels of over one million.
Profitability of magazines is tied to ad sales and magazine advertising revenue growth has been outpacing TV and other media in Canada in recent years. Magazines Canada has been investing in campaigns to convince advertisers and media buyers of the value of advertising in magazines—as least as a secondary market. And it may be paying off: between 1998 and 2003, Canadian magazines experienced a 23% increase in revenue derived from advertising.
Subscription sales are still strong in Canada
Canadian magazines also continue to overcome the economic odds stacked against them on the newsstand by successfully taking advantage of Canadians’ increased likelihood of buying magazines by subscription. In Canada, 83% of consumer magazine sales are by subscription versus just 17% at the newsstand (the opposite of Australia and the United Kingdom, where at least 89% of all magazines sold are newsstand sales).
The small-magazine advantage
Despite all of the difficulties they will face, Canadians start new magazines every year and the majority of them are small magazines, which can likely be attributed to the fact that it is easier and requires a smaller initial financial investment to launch one. Masthead’s most recent annual survey of “stops and starts” found that of the 71 magazines launched in 2006, 13% had circulations of 5,000 or less, and 60% fell into the circulation category of 5,001-25,000 (up from 41% in 2005). In fact, as Masthead observed, “small- and medium-sized publishers have always been responsible for more than 90% of all magazine starts,” demonstrating that small magazines are the ones driving industry growth in Canada.
As discussed earlier, because they are not as beholden to advertisers or other commercial interests as larger-circulation publications, small magazines are able to present cutting-edge work that might not otherwise be published. Also, as small businesses, there are fewer layers separating small-magazine publishers from their audiences, which means that publications of this size are able to establish a closer connection to their readership: at events, readers can mingle with the staff that produce the publication; at street fairs, they can buy the magazine directly from one of its editors; and, they can call the magazine’s office directly to have subscription problems resolved. As noted in the Keeping Readers report, “personalized service is, for [small magazines], not merely a buzzword about customer management, but a daily operational reality”—but one that works to their advantage in that it helps develop loyalty and a community of supportive readers.
Finally, while most magazine-industry infrastructure (postal rates, distribution channels, etc.) supports the needs of larger magazines, small magazines have some flexibility when it comes things like swapping advertising in exchange for the use of a venue for a launch party or negotiating direct-to-retail distribution arrangements. (For example, Spacing gets 90% of the cover price for copies sold at one Toronto music store to which it supplies magazines directly.) This flexibility also means they can employ creative revenue-generating strategies (such as selling one-inch buttons) and are thus not as reliant on advertising as bigger-budgeted magazines produced by multi-title publishing corporations.
Yet, even though the future of the magazine industry in Canada overall seems secure, and small magazines possess the survival skills needed, the production of individual titles year after year remains a challenge. To thrive, small-magazine publishers need passion and dedication but also common sense.
Principles for successful small-magazine publishing
Having looked closely at the challenges all Canadian magazines face, and witnessed the difficulties they can present to small magazines firsthand at Spacing, it would be misleading for me to suggest that publishing a small magazine in Canada is easy, however, for the reasons presented previously, I feel confident saying that the future of small-magazine publishing in Canada is bright. For instance, THISMagazine may still be the work of just a handful of (paid) staff but the bimonthly magazine just celebrated its 40th anniversary—and Spacing could be similar success-story-in-the-making. For that reason and because I feel there are lessons to be learned from the magazine, I have distilled the knowledge and insight I gained at Spacing into 10 principles for successful small-magazine publishing, which I present here as “food for thought” for current (and future) Canadian small-magazine publishers hoping to beat the odds themselves:
Pay attention to history: know why magazines commonly fail and what pitfalls to avoid.
Find your niche and speak to it: produce a high-quality editorial product, don’t attempt to reach too many markets, and focus on your strongest subjects.
Avoid financial fumbles: hire an accountant, balance your chequebook, and pay taxes.
Exercise smart growth: don’t have unrealistic expectations and don’t expand too quickly, but do expand and take the time to plan out how to make it happen.
Be competitive: look at what other magazines are doing and figure out who your competitors are (and recognize that they may not always be other magazines).
Use grants and private funding to your advantage: don’t rely on this source of income but, when the opportunity arises, take advantage of what is available to grow your business.
Get the word out: marketing, self-promotion, and advertising are all important and investing in these areas will pay off.
Recruit allies and supporters: figure out whom you can ask for financial support, who will buy subscriptions, and take on volunteers and interns.
Play by the rules: respect privacy regulations and advertising/editorial guidelines, don’t abuse copyright, and understand the benefits of contracts.
Be grateful: thank everyone who is contributing to your continued ability to publish—whether or not you’re able to pay them (but do that when you can).
If small-magazine publishers keep these principles at heart, and acknowledge the challenges of their industry, I believe it is possible for them to successfully (and viably) produce small-circulation periodicals in Canada today—and, for it to be a legitimate and rewarding career. To quote Colleen Seto, executive director of the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association, “While it may not be the glamorous life you envisioned, producing a glossy little number can be a pretty satisfying way to make a living.”
10 For a not-for-profit magazine to be awarded charitable status, there must be a foundation in place to oversee its publishing activities and Revenue Canada must rule that the title has, in its opinion, a strong-enough educational mandate (rather than being published for purely “commercial” or “informational” reasons). RETURN
22 A March 2002 Magazines Canada-funded study of 80 U.S. titles found that these magazines discounted their single-copy price in Canada by an average of 15.5% (or roughly $1 a copy), compared to the price that they would have been charged using the US price multiplied by the prevailing exchange rate. (Taking Back the Rack, 59) RETURN
23 Since July 1, 2002, the Foreign Publishers Advertising Services Act allows foreign publishers “to sell up to 18% of the space dedicated to advertisements in their publications to Canadian advertisers.” RETURN
24 Lorimer and Gasher, Mass Communication in Canada, 183. RETURN
25 Periodical Marketers of Canada, “The Newsstand Channel, 2005/06.” RETURN
34 McCreadie, presentation, January 24, 2005. RETURN
35 Abacus Circulation, Taking Back the Rack, 22. RETURN
36 Ahnsu Consulting, Culture of Cultural Magazines, 16. RETURN
37 Magazines Canada’s analysis of Publications Mail rate increases from 2001 to 2007 found that magazine publishers mailing at the Publications Mail National Distribution Guide (NDG) presort rate have endured—depending on their magazine’s per-copy weight—1% to 8% increases every single year to the point where, for example, the per-copy cost of mailing a 300g magazine under this system has increased by 27% overall during this time. RETURN
48 When determining how to spend a client’s advertising budget, media buyers rely extensively on audited circulation figures in combination with PMB demographics and psychographics. This information allows them to target very specialized audiences (for example, men aged 30-35 who drive SUVs and live in Calgary) in the most efficient way. RETURN
49 Hodgkinson, “The mourning after,” November 27, 2005. RETURN
50 Own addition based on available data. Figures for PAP and CMF taken from Numbers and Issues — Periodical Publishing Policy and Programs Annual Report 2005-2006; figures for Canada Council from its online database of grant recipients. RETURN
51 Statistics Canada, Periodical Publishing Survey: 2003/04; Stephen Osborne’s “Subsidy Management Model” suggests that the typical small-circulation quarterly receives 1% of its revenue from PAP, 13% from the CMF, and 31% from non-specified grants; for a total of 45%. RETURN
52 Department of Canadian Heritage, “Important Notice: Public Consultations.” RETURN
53 Gontard, Raising the Revenue at a Small-Circulation Magazine, 11–13. RETURN
68 Generally referred to by the acronym for Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats. RETURN
69 Which I did when I conducted a second situational analysis in September 2007 (see Appendix B). RETURN
70 The framework is itself an extension of the 3 C Analysis, which examines only company, customers, and competitors. (For more information, see http://www.netmba.com/marketing/situation.) RETURN
71 Without an office, publisher Matthew Blackett’s living room served regularly as the venue for meetings and copy-editing “parties.” RETURN
72 Matthew Blackett would later explain that this was due in part to the founding editors’ incredulity about the magazine’s ability to last beyond one or two issues. RETURN
73 Scott, “Common mistakes of small magazine publishers.” RETURN
74 I filed the application to incorporate Spacing Media on July 14, 2006, through CorporationCentre.ca. RETURN
75 Magazines Canada, How to Start a Magazine. RETURN
76 Magazines Canada publishes a very useful handbook, The Small Publisher’s Guide to Mailing Your Publication (2004), produced in collaboration with Canada Post, the Canadian Business Press, and the Department of Canadian Heritage, which is available online at http://magazinescanada.ca/files/Small%20Publishers%20Mailing%20Guide.pdf. RETURN
108 Of course, the two magazines he mentions are very mainstream, general-interest periodicals; he points out that “the tricky part appears to be sustaining something with a circulation between 6,000 and 60,000.” (Adams, “We want your tax dollars,” R6.) RETURN
109 Own analysis of Statistics Canada Periodical Publishing Survey, 1998 and 2003/04 editions. RETURN
110 Abacus Circulation, Taking Back the Rack, 22. RETURN
111 Just 23% of all magazines launched last year started with circulations above 25,000. (Shields, “Tally ’06,” 14.) RETURN
*This information was collected in July 2006 and should be used for reference purposes only as it may be out of date. RETURN
Abacus Circulation. Keeping Readers: Fulfillment for Small Canadian Magazines. Department of Canadian Heritage, March 2001.
————. Taking Back the Rack: Amid New Challenges, Canadian Magazines Compete for Visibility on our Newsstands. Department of Canadian Heritage, February 2003.
Adams, James. “We want your tax dollars.” Globe and Mail, October 29, 2005.
Ahmad, Anne. Geist in the Machine: A Case Study of a Literary Magazine. Master of Publishing project report, Simon Fraser University, 2000.
Ahnsu Consulting Group. The Culture of Cultural Magazines: A Report on the Critical Issues Faced by British Columbia’s Cultural Magazines. British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers, May 2004.
American Society of Magazine Editors. “Number of Magazines, 1988–2006.” www.magazine.org/editorial/editorial_trends_and_magazine_handbook/1093.cfm.
Blackett, Matthew. E-mail message to author, September 17, 2005.
————. E-mail message to author, February 24, 2008.
————. Spacing website statistics spreadsheet, February 24, 2008.
Bordon, Alessandra. Presentation to Master of Publishing class, Simon Fraser University, February 1, 2005.
British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers. Business Strategies. In print: Working Strategies for Magazine Publishers. (Vancouver: British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers, n.d.).
Canada Council for the Arts. Searchable database of grant recipients. www.canadacouncil.ca/grants/recipients/ (Accessed February 11, 2008)
Coast to Coast Newsstand Services Partnership. Canadian Newsstand BoxScore, 2007. http://ctcmagazines.com/client/ctc/BoxScoreList.htm (Accessed September 6, 2007)
Cottage Life. “Our Story,” Cottage Life website. www.cottagelife.com/index.cfm/ci_id/1294.htm.
Department of Canadian Heritage, Corporate Review Branch, Evaluation Services. “Executive Summary,” Summative Evaluation of the Publications Assistance Program, June 22, 2005.
Department of Canadian Heritage, Periodical Publishing Policy and Programs Directorate Cultural Industries Branch. Numbers and Issues — Periodical Publishing Policy and Programs Annual Report 2005-2006, 2006, HTML version.
www.pch.gc.ca/progs/ac-ca/progs/pap/pubs/report-rapport/annualreport2006/tdm_e.cfm. (Accessed February 11, 2008)
Department of Canadian Heritage website. “Important Notice: Public Consultations.” www.pch.gc.catprogs/ac-ca/progs/pap/index_e.cfm (Accessed February 21, 2008)
Duncan, Dale. “Fight Club: For Independent magazine publishers, love is a battlefield.” Eye Weekly, January 25, 2007.
Gidney, Holland. E-mail message to Matthew Blackett and Dale Duncan. July 12, 2007.
Gontard, Elisabeth. Raising the Revenue at a Small-Circulation Magazine: Geist Magazine Pursues National Advertisers. Master of Publishing project report, Simon Fraser University, 2004.
Gray, Andrew. The Production & Management of Small Magazines [Creative Writing 521 course reader]. (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1999).
Hayes, David. “Who’s the Boss?” Toronto Life, February 2008. 35–41.
Hill Strategies Research Inc. “Consumer Spending on Culture in Canada, the Provinces and 15 Metropolitan Areas in 2005,” Statistical Insights on the Arts 5, no. 3 (February 2007).
Hodgkinson, Jean.“The mourning after: Saturday Night’s latest death reinforces the notion that Canada cannot support general interest magazines — or does it?,” Ryerson Review of Journalism, online edition, November 27, 2005. www.rrj.ca/online/590/.
House, Donald G. “President’s Message.” Template: The Definitive How-to Guide to Magazine Publishing in Alberta (Calgary: Alberta Magazine Publishers Association, 2006).
Lorimer, Rowland and Mike Gasher. Mass Communication in Canada, 5th ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Lorimer, Rowland. The Heterogeneous World of British Columbia Magazines, Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, Simon Fraser University, August 2005.
————. Vibrant But Threatened. (Vancouver: Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, 1997).
Whittington-Hill, Lisa. “Magnetic North: Toronto’s magazines come off the page.” The State of the Arts: Living with Culture in Toronto, Eds. Alana Wilcox, Christina Palassio, and Jonny Dovercourt. (Toronto: Coach House, 2006).
Appendix C: Steps to Incorporating a Small Business in Ontario[*]
Choose a name that complies with corporation-naming conventions. If concerned about uniqueness of name, can do a preliminary name search of NUANS database and/or check Canadian and/or US Trademark database(s):
• Canada: +http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/app/cipo/trademarks/search/tmSearch.dolanguage=eng.
• USA: +http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exef=tess&state=mnu4c4.1.1
Choose a registered office, which should be your actual office or someone’s residence (can’t be a PO box or RR address)
Pick shareholders and decide on share allocation/allotment (one easy way is to have 100 shares, where the number of shares reflects percentage ownership)
Decide on number of directors and choose directors
Decide on number of officers and choose officers
Choose a fiscal year-end (December 31 is typical)
Making things legal
1. Use an online incorporation service like www.corporationcentre.ca to do a corporate name search (NUANS Report type) and prepare and submit on your behalf the forms required to incorporate your business federally or provincially: +++++a. NUANS name search +++++b. Articles of Incorporation +++++c. Initiation Notice of Directors +++++d. Initial Notice of Registered Office
2. Use the Canadian Revenue Agency’s “Business Registration Online” system located at http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tax/business/topics/bn/bro/menu-e.html to register for the following: +++++a. Federal Business Number (BN) +++++b. CRA programs +++++c. GST (if your annual revenue is $30,000+) +++++d. payroll deductions (for Employment Insurance and Canada Pension +++++++Plan, if have employees on contract) +++++e. corporate income tax account (automatically created when you +++++++incorporate)
3. Also use the BRO system to register your business name with the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services in order to get a Master Business License and Business Identification Number.
4. Once you have a Master Business License and Business Identification Number, apply for these accounts: +++++a. Ontario Retail Sales Tax +++++b. Ontario Employer Health Tax +++++c. Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
1. Draw up shareholder’s agreement (if one is desired)
2. Purchase or produce appropriate number of share certificates
3. Call a meeting of the shareholders and directors at which: +++a. The shareholders: +++++i. Adopt a general bylaw (or series of bylaws) to regulate the affairs of the +++++++corporation +++++ii. Elect the directors +++++iii. Adopt a shareholders’ agreement (if one is desired) +++++iv. The directors then pass resolutions to: +++++v. Appoint officers to manage the corporation’s day-to-day affairs +++++vi. Approve the share certificates +++++vii. Authorize the issuance of shares +++++viii. Set the fiscal year (NOTE: the above can be accomplished by the written consent of the shareholders: to do so, all the shareholders and directors need to sign and date the last page of the bylaw(s)/resolution(s) document)
+++b. Each share certificate is signed by two officers and is either distributed to ++++the shareowner or stored in the minutes book for safekeeping.
+++c. The appropriate registers are completed: +++++i. Securities register (alphabetically indexed list of share holders and their +++++++addresses and the number of shares held by each) +++++ii. Shareholder’s ledger (chronological breakdown of share +++++++issuance/transfer/sale by each shareholder) +++++iii. Stock transfer register +++++iv. Directors’ register (Register of all current and former directors, +++++++including names and residence addresses with date(s) of election) +++++v. Officers’ register (Register of all current and former officers, including +++++++names and residence addresses with date(s) of appointment)
4. Set up banking or make adjustments to existing banking arrangements (according to resolutions, particularly with regards to signing authority and borrowing money on behalf of the corporation)
5. Set up or make adjustments to financial accounts and record-keeping
6. Purchase a minute book (a binder with loose-leaf works just fine) and insert: +++a. Articles of Incorporation +++b. Bylaws +++c. Shareholders’ Agreement (if one exists) +++d. All minutes of meetings and resolutions of directors, shareholders, and any +++++committee(s) +++e. Securities register +++f. Directors’ register +++g. Officers’ register +++h. Accounting records ++++i. Share certificates (or if certificates have been distributed, then a sample ++++share) +++j. Register of share transfers (if applicable)