Pound magazine packs a punch with youth

With its department of fuckery, not to mention departments of mind control and half-truths, Toronto-based hip hop magazine Pound is conspicuously slick against most other Canadian youth titles.

With its department of fuckery, not to mention departments of mind control and half-truths, Toronto-based hip hop magazine Pound is conspicuously slick against most other Canadian youth titles.

And its subversive content, which flows outside the topic of music and into the realm of social and political commentary – the department of fuckery criticized the ‘insanity of war’ in a recent issue – is exactly what helps the 11-month-old publication stand out like the rapper Ghostface at an Alliance Party convention. ‘There’s an underlying philosophy to the whole [hip hop] scene and the content comes out of that rather than trends,’ explains publisher Rodrigo Bascunan. ‘So we can talk about anything as long as it makes sense to that underlying philosophy. I think that’s where the difference in content comes from.’

The sentiment is echoed by Duane Watson, artist marketing manager for Sony Music Canada, who has invested in Pound for a while now. Watson believes Pound, with its twentysomething staff, has a certain outlook and authenticity that squarely resonates with the young, mainly male demographic. (According to a recent readership survey, which garnered 1,000 responses, Pound readers are on average 21 years old, and 65% of them are guys.)

‘The integrity of the magazine means a lot because kids are smart enough to pick up on the fluff stuff, and they recognize that the magazine has an edgy attitude,’ says Watson. ‘It’s not a corporate kiss-ass kind of vibe.’

Recently other brands have come on board too: associate publisher Michael Evans reports that ad revenue has climbed by 20% in each of the last three issues, feeding the bi-monthly’s growth from a Reader’s Digest size to its current regular-sized glossy format. While most ad dollars stem from the music and fashion categories, alcohol manufacturers and brewers like Bacardi, Guinness and Heineken, and even mainstream labels like Nike are starting to show interest. ‘Nike ran an ad with us. They like the magazine, but unfortunately they don’t have many print initiatives in Canada,’ says Evans.

Despite the fact that 30,000 copies of Pound are given away free at over 300 locations across Canada – at places like HMV, universities and independent clothing stores – and despite its 100% pick-up rate within four days of release, many advertisers clamoring for youth dollars still rely on U.S. pubs for spillover. Meanwhile, the largest hip hop book in the world, New York-based The Source, sells only 20,000 copies in this country.

Yet while The Source is bulked up with ads, companies have been slow to invest in Pound, admits Bascunan, who says it’s still sometimes difficult to convince Canadian marketers about the potency of hip hop culture. ‘It’s the biggest music for young people,’ he says, pointing out that in Canada the most popular hip hop and R&B albums sell in the range of 800,000 copies. ‘It used to be grunge in the early ’90s and some people have their heads stuck in that…. Even though the first gold hip hop record was 21 years ago, you still have to answer questions about the legitimacy of this art form.’

No doubt, Canadian kids love their tongue-wagging rappers as much as their American cousins. According to Toronto-based Youth Culture Group, rap and R&B is the number one genre among teens of all ages and regions, with 69% of 1,200 Canadian youth surveyed in fall 2000 tuning into the sound.

But does this warrant our own domestic high-style hip hop magazine? While the size of the culture in Canada is like David to the U.S.’s Goliath, Watson infers that subtleties existing in this market are well heeded by Pound. ‘Hip hop’s an American art form, but I think as Canadians we have our own take on it, and I think they do a very good job of capturing that.’

And for his part, Bascunan dismisses the question, believing that, simply put, the Canadian hip hop scene needs Pound. ‘We have our own artists and…they’re not going to get a voice in the U.S.,’ he says. ‘I guess you could say the same thing about [digital channel] Much Vibe, right?’