Flagship of the Trade
When Toronto Life executive editor Lynn Cunningham gets her Esquire, Saturday Night, Canadian Business and Masthead magazines on the same day, it’s Masthead she reads first. “The information is so vital to me in what I do on a day-to-day basis,” says Cunningham. “While other publications are optional reads, Masthead is a must read.” In its fourth year, Masthead magazine writes about the people in the magazine industry, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and what battles they face. It’s information most industry members agree they can’t do without. “It’s hard to believe that we carried on without Masthead for so many years,” says Catherine Keachie, executive director of the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association. “The CMPA thinks the world of it.” Reactions like this are smoothing Masthead’s bumpy ride over the industry’s hard times. Partly because of its acceptance, Masthead has shown a steady progress in advertising revenue. For the first time, it broke even last year. It also increased its ad pages 22 percent over 1989. That’s helped the magazine grow to a consistent 32 pages from its initial 20 pages, with one issue reaching 48 last year. And editor Doug Bennet believes it hasn’t tapped the full market yet.
“It’s becoming more and more an authority in its field and if people look at it as such, advertising success will follow,” says Martin Hochstein, president of The Auditor, a Canadian ad tracking service.
Masthead publisher Sandy Donald is confident enough to test this when he sells advertising for the magazine. In the early days, he told prospective advertisers “to pick 10 people that count in the magazine industry and phone them up and ask them if they read Masthead.” One publisher of a large firm tried it. The result: a perfect score.
But like so many publications with’ less than 50 percent of their circulation as paid, Masthead must deal with a large hike in postal rates. An issue now costs 26.25 cents to mail, an increase of 50 percent. With a circulation of 4,700-0f which only approximately 150 sellon newsstands -Masthead will be spending almost $4,000 more in postage alone.
Partly because of industry acceptance, however, Donald might have an easier battle to fight than most publishers-he’s considering the switch to paid circulation from controlled. Paul Doyle, publisher of Canadian Aviation, summarizes why Donald might make the move: “If you’re delivering a good enough product to the reader, they’ll pay for it. I’d pay for Masthead magazine because it’s a good publication and it’s a publication I have to read.” Cunningham agrees. “I would be happy to fork over whatever cost. I’d be amazed if the primary readers were reluctant to pay for it.”
Another hurdle for Masthead could be the Goods and Services Tax. As a flow through tax, the GST isn’t foreseen as a financial problem. But costs could accumulate when accounting staff sorts through the administrative paperwork the tax requires. It could also cause cash-flow problems if the government is slow in reimbursing tax credits.
Despite these obstacles, recent Masthead issues have added sections for the farm and church press in an effort to cover all areas of the industry. To create a more national content, Masthead also has a loose network of stringers in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax. Some magazine representatives believe Masthead’s coverage is concentrated on the big printing houses. “A lot of things they write about tend to have some connection to Maclean Hunter,” says James Warrillow, president of Canadian Publishing at Maclean Hunter. “Then again, we are a large part of the magazine industry.”
But indisputable is Masthead’s thorough coverage of government policies like the GST, postal costs and free trade. “We have become an information source for the industry,” says Bennet. Some publishers even ask Bennet what their new postal rates will be.
Ironically, Masthead almost didn’t get born. Donald wanted a new magazine to complement his seven-year old Graphic Monthly, aimed at the Canadian graphic arts industry. The choice was between a publication that served the magazine industry or the desktop publishing field. Donald opted for the former, partly because Bennet, who was familiar with the industry, was already working for him.
Modeled on the American Folio magazine, its first issue appeared in October 1987. But Bennet emphasizes that Masthead sets itself up as a newsmagazine.
Bennet remembers the industry’s first reaction as, “What the hell is this?” He says that was partly because its founders deliberately started small and didn’t make a large announcement. Others believed it lacked a large enough marketplace. “I didn’t believe there would be enough subscription and advertising revenue to continue publishing,” says Michael de Pencier, president of Key Publishers Co. But despite the early pessimism from some members, Bennet received compliments from many.
Even de Pencier changed his first view. “It continues to be very useful for those of us in the magazine business to have a journal that covers the industry in-depth because nobody else does.”
by Fina Scroppo
Fina Scroppo was the Managing Editor, Circulation for the Spring 1991 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.