Ken Alexander, publisher, The Walrus

Who'd have thought that the lumpy walrus could whip up so much buzz?

Who’d have thought that the lumpy walrus could whip up so much buzz?

But if you tried to get your hands on the premiere issue of the Canuck Harper’s-style magazine The Walrus, which launched at the end of September, you probably had little luck – the $5.95 magazine sold out at several bookstores.

Publisher Ken Alexander notes that the magazine had a 25,000 guaranteed circulation to start with, but will likely exceed that by a long shot. And with advertisers such as Roots, Porsche, National Ballet, Glenfiddich, Audi, General Motors, Iceberg Vodka, Jackson Triggs and Corus Entertainment, some of whom are paying $4,250 for a full-page four-colour ad, he has high hopes for that increasingly rare creature – the general-interest magazine.

Alexander, a book author, turned high school English and history teacher, turned CBC Newsworld counterSpin producer, promises that Walrus content will focus on long-form essays with an international thrust.

For its readers – whom Alexander considers to be sophisticated, affluent and educated – the magazine includes shorter essays from worldwide contributors, columns, three to four features (including an investigative piece, a ‘think piece,’ a culture-based story and fiction), as well as book, documentary and performing arts reviews, crosswords, brainteasers and photo essays.

Alexander recently took 30 seconds out of his day to catch his breath and chat with Strategy.

Why call it The Walrus?

Why not? It has a tremendous resonance with people. Some find it wonky at first, but then come back and really like it. The beast herself is distinctive in so many ways, and underappreciated, I would argue.

What magazines do you read?

The Guardian, The American Spectator, Harper’s, New York Review of Books, Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker most definitely. Periodically Mother Jones and Esquire.

Are you sure you’re not leaving any off the list?

I was always a fan of Mad Magazine.

What’s the problem with the Canadian magazine industry?

I don’t think there are enough wide-distribution magazines like The Walrus. We got ourselves into a belief system that says the market can’t sustain it, or the population is too strung out over this vast geographic territory. So we’re fighting that negativity.

How is The Walrus different from, say, Saturday Night?

There’s nothing wrong with reflecting Canada back to Canadians. But in this world today, I would argue that approach is just too parochial. Canada has to see Canada as one of a world of nations, and it’s very much part of an international arena. And we need to have international contributors weigh in on what might be described as Canadian content.

What characteristics of the namesake beast do you associate with your magazine?

On land, a walrus looks like an immovable object and can be quite curmudgeonly. That might be a characteristic of the magazine – not easily blown off shore or swayed. And underwater the walrus is a much more light-hearted beast, almost a dancer. It certainly has two selves.