Industry Profile - Magazine
OCTOBER 2021 PROFILE
Canada’s magazine sector includes consumer and business-to-business (B2B) brands, with content distributed both in print and digitally, via a variety of web and mobile channels. Business models in the magazine industry increasingly incorporate a range of revenue streams beyond traditional subscription and advertising, such as custom publishing, events-based and retail-based revenue generation strategies.
- Many magazine publishers have seen a significant uptick in online traffic and subscriptions since the beginning of the pandemic and the broad implementation of lockdown measures. This was significantly driven by a lack of new content to consume as people spent more time at home, leading consumers to explore other avenues for entertainment. Publications focusing on news have been in particularly high demand.
- Although demand has been greater for online content, newsstand sales (already suffering in recent years) have seen significant drops across a number of international jurisdictions, particularly in those that have deemed many venues for magazine purchasing non-essential services.
- Even with re-occurring lockdowns in Ontario and other parts of Canada, magazine distribution warehouses have thus far been deemed essential services, and remained open in spite of shutdowns.
- COVID-19 has impacted the magazine publishing industry in three main areas: proving the value of diversifying revenue streams, the loss of advertising income, and the effect on retail sales of magazines. The pandemic has also changed the way the industry thinks about issues such as the transition of live events to virtual, and an increase in hiring of remote employees.
- Some publications have made changes to content and delivery in light of COVID-19, such as Germany-based Die Zeit, which provided COVID-19 stories outside of their paywall to build loyalty and good faith, as well as hosting weekly online chats with journalists and providing pop-up newsletters on topics such as kids’ activities during lockdown.
Industry Size and Economic Impact
Note: The following information on revenue, employment and the consumer market should be considered a snapshot of activity in the industry based on the best available information. All dollar figures are in CAD unless otherwise noted.
Revenues and Related Figures
- According to PwC, the Canadian consumer magazine industry is likely to see growth in year-end revenue between 2020 and 2021, with an increase of 3.96% following years of decline, likely due to COVID-19.
- Following this increase, the industry is projected to decline at a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.53% between 2021 and 2025, from US$776 million to US$759 million. Consumer magazine circulation is projected to decline at a faster rate than consumer magazine advertising; at -0.86% and -0.28%, respectively. Both are higher than the global consumer magazine CAGR decline over the same time frame, which is projected to be -1.83%.
- Statistics Canada data shows that the Canadian periodical industry generated over $885 million in GDP in 2019, a -4% growth rate from $922 million in 2018. Just under half of this was generated in Ontario, with approximately $468 million in GDP.
- Although the GDP generated by the periodicals industry both provincially and nationally has decreased fairly steadily between 2015 and 2019, Ontario’s percentage share of the national GDP has been increasing.
- In 2019, the Ontario periodical publishing industry was operating at a 10.2% profit margin, higher than the country-wide profit margin of 8.1%, and higher than any other Canadian province or territory.
- Breaking down total sales by activity, the greatest percentage of Canadian sales can be attributed to advertising, followed by circulation. However, advertising sales have decreased over time, from 61.8% of total sales in 2013 to 55% in 2019. In comparison, the proportion of circulation sales has increased, from 27.9% in 2013 to 29.5% in 2019.
Employment and Wages
- In 2019, the Ontario periodicals industry employed 3,961 people, close to 42% of the 9,468 employed nationally.
- In 2019, the Ontario periodical publishing industry spent $240.7 million on salaries, wages, commissions and benefits. This was a 10.5% decrease from the previous year, and makes up 63.6% of the national expenditure in this area.
- Across Canada over the first three months of 2021, 80-90% of adults read magazines in some format, with 84% of Ontarians having read magazines.
- As of spring 2021, Food/Recipes were the most popular magazine category among Canadians with 67% reach, followed by Travel/Tourism at 58%, Health/Fitness at 55%, Nature at 54%, and Entertainment/Celebrity at 54%.
- Magazine readers still favour print, with 52% reading exclusively via print, 18% reading digital only, and 31% reading both print and digital formats (numbers do not add up to 100% due to rounding).
- Gen Z and Gen Y are significantly more likely to read magazine content digitally, and prefer smartphones (46% and 40% respectively) and computers (37% and 30% respectively) to access digital content. Gen Z and Gen Y, along with Gen X, are also all more likely to access digital magazine content via search engine or social media links, rather than seeking out a magazine website directly.
Trends and Issues
Some of the current key trends in the magazine publishing industry are ongoing discussions of print vs. digital media, new methods to engage readers, subscription models, environmental sustainability, and diversity.
Growth Rate and Industry Trends
- Although COVID-19 restrictions have prevented most in-person gatherings, hosting events can still be a valuable revenue stream opportunity for magazine brands to grow audiences, attract new advertisers, and increase engagement with existing readers. A new FIPP Insight Report outlines a wide variety of event types (such as festivals, informative, listen and learn, interactive, awards and activity-based) that can increase revenue through advertising, sponsorship and ticketing.
- Although digital is often viewed as a successor to or evolution of print media, print continues to thrive in many markets, and occupies a niche that digital cannot always fill. For example, while many people find digital more convenient, others find print a much-needed break from the digital data-heavy reality of everyday life. It is therefore important for magazine brands to diversify and offer both print and digital options where possible, in order to reach consumers who prefer either or both media.
- There have been changes to the place of print media specifically in a primarily digital ecosystem, many of which were already occurring but have been highlighted by COVID-19. Not only is print increasingly viewed as a luxury product, but studies continue to show that print is more trusted than digital media to provide truthful and accurate information.
- In order to maintain consumer interest in print media, some brands are exploring new and innovative methods of engaging with readers beyond simply words on a page. Methods such as Empire Magazine’s talking Deadpool cover, Audi’s remote controlled animated taillights, Old Spice’s scented paper jacket or textured sand samples included in a Dominican Republic advertising campaign seek to engage consumers’ senses beyond just print.
- In her new book The Forever Transaction, strategy consultant Robbie Baxter notes that as companies in many industries embrace a “Netflix-style” subscription model, it is important for subscription-heavy industries such as magazine publishing to stay current. Some areas to consider are the benefits of providing a straightforward and universal fixed price model; moderating free introductory offers to reduce churn and maintain subscribers after a trial period is over; moving to a reader/viewer-first mindset to help create content worth paying for; and bringing on new roles such as product managers to fully support this kind of new approach.
Global and Domestic Issues
- Increasing global awareness and concern surrounding climate change requires a response from all sectors, including publishing. The need to be sustainable is expanding from in-house considerations to examining supply changes for ways to reduce carbon footprint. Common actions include reducing non-recyclable plastics and ensuring that paper is sourced sustainably.
- A modernization of the Canada Periodical Fund is underway, with a transition from funding focused on print circulation to investment in editorial and journalistic content, as well as based on ability to reach readers. Starting in 2021-22, 15% of funding will be based on editorial, progressing to 80% editorial/20% circulation in 2025-26. As of 2021-22, the Aid to Publishers component will also be adding a sub-component for digital-only periodicals, a broader range of periodicals will be allowed to apply for the Business Innovation component, and the Business Innovation component will be increased to $2.5 million.
- In February 2020, Time released an immersive VR experience titled The March, marking the third instance of Time using this technology to bring history to life for viewers. The March immerses viewers in the crowd at the 1963 March on Washington.
- Online subscriptions have been rising in popularity, with one digital news and media company reporting subscription revenue growth of over 350% in the past seven years. While newspaper brands have embraced online subscriptions fully, many magazine brands have been more hesitant to follow, but experts say that it is essential that they do so, particularly in light of the over 9% drop in the advertising market during COVID-19.
- Key tips for improving digital subscription include the importance of registration to increase the share of known visitors to a site; the minimal usefulness of real-time propensity scoring (the likelihood of a consumer following a specific course of action) and propensity-to-subscribe scoring; the effectiveness of an intelligent paywall strategy; and the advice to provide less free content.
- Institutions such as the Belleville Public Library in Ontario are working to make magazine content more available to consumers in a digital format, through partnership with digital content service Flipster.
- Following the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, there has been growing awareness worldwide of the need to improve diversity and inclusion in many sectors, including magazine publishing. Diversity and Inclusion Director of Meredith Corporation, Shona Pinnock, gives advice for companies looking to make improvements: listening with intent to the experiences of Black employees and other employees of colour; consider competencies over personal comfort or familiarity during hiring; learn from the history of racism to create understanding and belonging; deal decisively with pushback; and make sure stories are reflective of audiences.
- The Canada Periodical Fund (CPF), administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH), offers funding to eligible magazine publishers for content creation, distribution, online activities, and business development. It also provides support for business innovation projects and collective initiatives that strengthen the Canadian magazine sector. The Fund currently includes a pilot project to support emerging digital publishers by providing up to $5,000 in start-up funding for a digital-based project.
- Ontario magazine publishers currently have access to public funding through the Ontario Creates Magazine Fund. Ontario Creates also provides funding to trade and event organizations in the province’s magazine sector through the Industry Development Program for events and activities that stimulate the growth of the industry. In some cases, magazine publishers may be eligible for the Ontario Creates Interactive Digital Media Fund.
- Ontario magazines were well-represented at the 2021 National Magazine Awards. Among these were Gold for The Feathertale Review in the Art Direction Grand Prix; Maclean’s in the Cover Grand Prix and for Feature Writing; Chatelaine for Long-Form Feature Writing; The Walrus for Essays and Short Feature Writing; and Inuit Art Quarterly for Best Editorial Package, as well as other awards. Toronto Life won six Gold and two Silver, including Gold in the Magazine Grand Prix.
Profile current as of September 20, 2021
6 Ontario Creates relies on the most recent Statistics Canada data releases to compile this profile. There is a period of time needed for Statistics Canada to collect the data (e.g. receipt of income tax returns) and compile the data releases.
16 Ibid, p. 5.
17 Ibid, p. 6.
18 Ibid, pp. 8-9.
28 Arvid Tchivzhel and Matt Linsday, Research Highlights 7 Digital Subscription Best Practices, April 28, 2020, p. 2.