Random thoughts on Canadian magazines

Magazines Canada has just finished an exciting week of MagNet. A four-day long marathon of seminars, galas, sold-out speaking engagements, endless networking, culminating, of course, with National Magazine Awards ceremony. While I couldn’t attend the awards (this thing runs late into the night – honestly), I followed the shenanigans vicariously, via twitter updates (and here), or website postings – in real-time (typically done by the winning teams)

While I attended only a few seminars (needed to refresh skills for web trends/tools) it’s still amazing just how close the magazine industry is to web world. It wasn’t the case a few years ago, we were lucky to get just 3-4 web-related sessions, but today, if you just switched up the concepts ‘print publishing’ and ‘web publishing’, or took away the medium completely, and called it ‘publishing’ – you will end up with the same people, same tools, same challenges and same success stories. For years, the two worlds have been conflicting, colliding, and trying to co-exist in balance, meanwhile the simplest solution was to merge into one. It’s comforting to see this evolution (albeit slow in some places), and to see it take place with a relatively low extinction rate. Unlike some American counterparts, nobody up here is mass-firing editorial staff and bringing in bloggers from the street while chanting ‘free content’, ‘free staffers’. Good. Content is still king, and editorial/art teams are his court. Very good.

Some random thoughts on the past week. First of all, thanks to the organizers, and their supporters for a great line-up of speakers, and improved sign-up/audio-video equipment/facilities. There’s a reason this year’s seminars were packed (many – sold out). There was something for everyone, and the schedule was a nice mix of different aspects of publishing. Just mention the words ‘gala’, ‘celebrity speaker’ and ‘refreshments’ a few times, and people flock to it. Thanks for keeping all the gears running smoothly, and keeping it fun.

Second – congratulations to all the winners this week. From Kenneth R. Wilson to  CSME Editors’ Gala to NMAs, what a great mix of people, stories, covers, and magazines to bring into the spotlight. Side note to Explore and The Walrus – we get it – you’re both well-read, well-written, well-illustrated, and well-managed. Here’s a bucket of medals for you – stop hogging the awards. He-he-he… Anyway, after a tough 2009, a lot of closures and firings, it’s a relief to see the magazines come back – leaner, more web-ready, more exciting and excited about their fantastic content, supportive readers, and of course, talented teams that deliver all this goodness to the world. Used to be ‘newsstand near you’, now – the world.

Finally, from technical perspective, it was nice to witness the big jump in web tools that publishers are using. Cms-driven, light-weight (read:low-cost) websites get noticed (This, Up Here, Maclean’s), and free tools like WordPress, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook have become ubiquitous. It’s no longer seen as a painful, expensive investment to move your print edition from paper to web, or from static HTML entity to a dynamic, far-reaching, embedded, and at the same time, unique, compelling brand. It’s seen as an exercise. You find a tool, learn to use it, and apply it to your needs.

Now, to quote a few print people (that group has been shrinking in recent years) – “how the fuck is anyone supposed to make money with this web stuff?” Well, let’s figure this out. Some people might already know the answer. MagNet2010 was a good opportunity to hear about these success stories. Hope you were all taking notes. Here’s a bluntly biased, self-serving clue – get in touch with a ‘web pro’ who has been involved in many magazine transitions from print to web, and can confidently recommend that works, and more importantly, what doesn’t.

PS: a note to MagNet organizers – it might seem counter-productive (after all, seminar registrations ARE your bread and butter, and contras with local hotels/vendors and booth sales do add up to your budget), but please consider delivering a portion of your seminars/events via web. Live streaming or downloads. Many publishers/editors/marketers would love to attend, but just don’t have the time/budget to commute. Give ‘em something they can log in to – and get a similar level of engagement via some web-conferencing tool. It’s not expensive (anymore), you can monetize it, rent it for later viewing, and reach people who would not show up. Maybe even make some of these sessions available throughout the year. Just figure out the pricing/logistics so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot. I’m sure the attendance will grow even higher. Let’s accommodate people who live/work a little farther apart (or can’t stay up late, because the damn awards run into the night).