The new magazines

Publications hit the social circuit, and reinvent themselves online and off to reconnect with readers and spice things up for advertisers.

In July, about 60 Canadian Living readers learned how to make grilled oysters and seafood brochette with the magazine’s food editor at Cirillo’s Culinary Academy in Toronto.
The Chillin’ Grillin’ Kitchen Party, sponsored by French Cross Peller Estate Wines, was offered for $65 to Canadian Living Advantage members – a ticketed social events program launched last year for the magazine’s subscribers, organized by editors and advertisers.
But besides the opportunity to taste-test a four-course meal and take home a loot bag (often worth more than the ticket), what do parties like this mean for the magazine and for its readers? By taking part in its readers’ social life, Canadian Living is upping its brand engagement – a key part of its new strategy to build emotional equity in the magazine and expand its audience pillars, explains Lynn Chambers, group publisher at Transcontinental Media.
Magazines are no longer limited to
two-dimensional print – at least the ones that have a future aren’t. They hold trade shows, tweet to their online readers and produce video content that still manages to convey the brand’s core mandate. Some, like Canadian Living, which represents about 18% of Transcontinental’s total digital revenue, have managed to successfully monetize these online efforts. The Canadian Living mobile app has had more than 60,000 downloads, and the magazine runs 13 different e-newsletters that Chambers thinks will surpass more than a million subscribers by this fall. ‘We’re growing our digital platforms at 20% or more annually,’ she says. ‘Digital assets are definitely growing at a faster pace [than print] but they still don’t represent anywhere near their share.’
Although digital profits are still minor compared to print, any income is welcome in this post-recession environment. In 2009, the print medium not only felt the impact of a collective double-digit drop in ad budgets, it was also the victim of a reduction in consumers’ disposable income that meant they stopped spending money on anything considered frivolous. Sadly, for some, this meant nixing their magazine subscriptions.
Total paid and verified circ was down 2.37% in 2009 over the previous year for the 57 Canadian titles verified by Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), according to figures from January to December. Total single-copy sales were also down 5.07% for the year. But consumers have not stopped reading magazines. Interestingly, the average readership of all the magazines reported in the Print Measurement Bureau (PMB) was 1.04 million in spring 2010 – a slight increase over the same period the year before.
This year, magazines appear to be committed to carving out a business plan for the future. Many, like Canadian Living and Toronto Life have invested in content and art redesigns, extended their multi-platform coverage and offered innovative partnerships with advertisers. Although print budgets have not swung back to pre-2009 levels, most publishers believe that their efforts will reaffirm a connection with readers, and through their leveraging of print content and experience,
co-opt some of the digital dollars meant to target eyeballs elsewhere.

The redesigns
When the crisis hit, business was a big story in the mainstream press. So while Canadian Business offers an authoritative voice and credible insight on financial markets, that’s not necessarily what readers wanted more of, explains Steve Maich, the magazine’s editor and associate publisher. ‘When they’re seeing their retirement savings eviscerated and they’re worrying about their jobs, maybe buying a magazine on the weekends to sit and read about how bad things are is not the first thing people want to do,’ says Maich.
Combined advertising, subscription and newsstand revenue at Canadian Business fell by 10.5% in 2009, according to a Masthead Online special report that uses Leading National Advertisers (LNA) and ABC data. That same year, the Rogers publication implemented a major staffing overhaul in editorial, letting go six writers, the publisher (replaced by Rogers VP Ken Whyte) and the senior editor at sister publication MoneySense.
In late fall, Canadian Business unveiled a redesign with a new editorial mandate aimed at expanding its target audience by covering consumer culture, broader economic stories and analysis pieces and issues related to personal finance. The June cover story, for instance, was on Facebook (‘Why it could be the biggest business ever’) and the issue also included a profile of American Apparel.
‘I think if you talk to your average person on the street and ask ‘would you be interested in reading a business magazine?’ a lot of people would say, ‘oh, no, I think business is terribly boring.’ And we’d like to challenge that idea on an ongoing basis. I feel like we’ve had a lot of success in doing exactly that and the advertising community seems to be coming along for the ride,’ Maich says.
The redesign also created new ad inventory. A new franchise position within the magazine opposite a Richard Branson column is completely sold out for the year to Athabasca University, he says. Another key position that generated interest, according to Maich, is opposite a new section called ‘The Performer,’ which profiles individuals who have achieved success in their field. Not just for executives, it has included choreographers, golfers and actors.
A redesigned Canadianbusiness.com will launch in the last quarter of this year, and it will offer live-blogging and Q&As with experts, photo-driven multimedia packages, and more video and audio integration, says JP Fozo, GM, Rogers Digital Media, current affairs and business. All new features will have both standard and custom section sponsorship opportunities, including the option to brand a new portfolio tracking tool. The new site will also offer half-page units and pushdown ads that Fozo says CB clients are demanding.
By spring 2010, the Canadian Business readership had increased by 131,000, according to PMB, and the number of ad pages in June of this year (including inserts) was up 81%, according to LNA.
But while the expansion of the Canadian Business core mandate worked because it also reflected changes in the industry and readership needs, the mistake some publishers make is to move too far away from their core, says Christine Saunders, SVP group director, Starcom MediaVest Group.
‘It’s sort of the Canadian syndrome that magazines become too generic because they try to capture all advertisers. You’ve got to have a reason for being. They have to remember their brand basics,’ Saunders says.
Redesigns also signal to both readers and the advertising community that a magazine’s executives are continuing to invest in their product – after a year of cutbacks, this is a welcome change. ‘Last year was really a tough year, where they’ve had to take their eye off the ball, and many publishers let folks go. Not necessarily in advertising and sales, but in the writing and editorial staff, and that’s deeply concerning,’ says Saunders. After all, if they don’t invest in their printed pages and content, ‘how are they going to get this digital product right?’ wonders Saunders. ‘That’s their future.’
Toronto Life, a city mag that’s been around for more than 40 years, is one old-timer that has figured out its place in the online realm. Traffic on Torontolife.com jumped by 47% this April over the previous year to about 340,000 uniques per month. Although the traffic on Torontolife.com doesn’t necessarily reach the sky-high figures of web-only entities, it manages to maintain its brand voice and leverage it through a connection with readers. A posting about the minor Toronto earthquake this summer generated more than 60 comments within minutes.
One great example that could rival any Gawker.com article in terms of a sarcastic take on current events is a recent posting in a section called The Informer, titled ‘Hot Cops! Fifteen of the G20′s sexiest law enforcers.’ During the G20 summit, which set Toronto on fire (literally) with controversial protests and opinions, the photo gallery on Torontolife.com featured handsome police officers outfitted in riot gear, posing with steely gaze to camera. ‘There’s a sense of connectedness and that we’re there any time of the day,’ says publisher Sharon McAuley. ‘We’re not a portal with a commodity of eyeballs – we charge a premium because of the nature of who’s coming to our site.’
This online audience is also being leveraged to boost print sales. For instance, the September issue was launched with a dramatic, movie-trailer style video promoting the cover story on Ontario’s former attorney general Michael Bryant, who last year was involved in a deadly car crash with a cyclist. This type of innovation, recently adopted by book publishers, aims to draw in a wider
web-denizen audience who will ideally pass it on to their social networks.
After all, in an age of iPads, mobile phones and free daily news online, what will make someone pick up a magazine? It’s precisely this question that the St. Joseph management team discussed when planning a redesign of the mag unveiled this past July, explains McAuley.
The result for the title was lengthier articles, a well-known (and somewhat controversial) new columnist, former Globe and Mail writer Jan Wong, and the introduction of a culture section and bold photo spreads that are strikingly similar to New York magazine.
‘In a magazine you can have very ambitious, big, juicy reads. It’s the kind of thing that you can really sink your teeth into,’ says McAuley, of the changes that resulted in a denser book. ‘It’s an object that people want to take time with. They’re very engaged with it. You’re not googling on your smartphone or watching TV – when you’re reading a magazine you’re enveloped into it.’
This kind of experience is one many readers still want to have with their favourite titles. Although paid subscriptions are down 5.55% for the period ending June 2010 according to ABC, newsstand sales are increasing and there are no drastic changes in readership according to the PMB. But buyers say print budgets are not bouncing back as quickly as they have for other mediums like television.
‘We’re still looking at a very conservative stance in terms of any kind of rate increases,’ says Tim Hughes, managing director, client leadership at Mindshare Canada, about budgets. ‘I would say that it has been a challenge for the publishers to get through the increases that they might like.’
But this doesn’t mean that publishers are just sitting back and waiting for the money to return – the move to reinvent, be more social and innovate around points of connection is not limited to editorial content.

Ad innovation in print
Recent ad campaigns, while they are not all necessarily jumping on mobile, do often span both print and online realms. For instance, Today’s Parent last fall worked with Microsoft and M2 Universal on an interesting cover execution where parents could upload photos of their kids online and have the issue sent to them with their child on the cover.
In April, Elle Canada launched a contest with Mattel’s Barbie whereby readers could style their own Barbie online for a chance to win a custom-tailored little black dress, created by the winner of the New Labels Fashion Design Competition (sponsored by Barbie). The buy, handled by Carat, featured a glossy mock-cover insert with Barbie as the cover model, and various Teresas and Skippers modelling little black numbers with drive-to-web callout.
For the same issue, the cover was wrapped in a pink (matching Barbie) Maybelline New York ad that stretched across the cover to prove that the brand’s cover-up foundation is durable and flexible, ‘beyond any stretch of the imagination.’
Dynamite, a Canadian clothing retailer, also partnered with Elle Canada and Elle Quebec to launch a viral campaign that places the viewer in a gossip-entertainment style video, and puts her face on the Elle cover. Arranged internally by the brand, the effort was promoted on ElleCanada.com and ElleQuebec.com.
Saunders recently executed a unique buy for client P&G that extended to the web property of Canadian House & Home magazine. The execution featured four cleaning and laundry products in a mini-mag, titled Clean Style, that ran in the May issue. The mini-mag drove to an online product scavenger hunt, in which consumers could win $20,000 by spotting items in a video featuring designer Lynda Reeves.
However, the paucity of this type of innovative digital opportunity for advertisers is frustrating to Saunders, and she is not satisfied with ‘we’re working on it,’ which is what she’s hearing from some Canadian publishers. ‘They’re behind in this market. The iPad has been out here for months – okay, so now what? There are no applications from them.’ They should be leading in this area, but many are not, she says.
In the fashion and parenting categories, despite the fact that both parents and the fashion crowd are digitally savvy groups, Rogers titles Flare and Today’s Parent have not executed any mobile applications. But Kerry Mitchell, VP and publisher, Rogers Consumer Publishing, who handles both titles, says they are active in the social media and digital realm, and she is not afraid of losing readers to mommy blogs and wannabe fashionistas. Today’s Parent has almost 50,000 followers on Twitter and is active on other social media sites, as is Flare, which has a small but active following on Facebook.
Magazines seem to be building in the social space in order to get the platforms – and their readers – advertiser-ready.
Fashion magazine has a multimedia producer on staff. It offers ‘behind-the-cover’ videos on its website as well as a music channel hosted by MTV Canada’s Dan Levy. Vlogger contests and music videos on Fashionmagazine.com provide fun for readers, but these offerings have not yet been monetized.
‘I think nobody knows 100% how to monetize this,’ says Lilia Lozinski, SVP, St. Joseph Media and the publisher of Fashion. However, utilizing their multimedia producer, the brand produces videos of hosted client events and brand partners (they developed three fashion vids for Holt Renfrew). ‘In a sense we’re almost providing a creative service,’ says Lozinski. ‘I think we’re still finding our way.’
Magazine publishers do know their readers, and with competition from pure play online brands, what they can offer to advertisers online is the strength of their brand and the pedigree of their editorial staff.
‘These are proven players in the marketplace who have successfully worked in the offline world,’ says Mindshare’s Hughes. ‘Does that immediately guarantee success in the online world? Well no, but at least they know their readers very well and they know how to produce a product that will attract a certain audience.’