Sunday, February 27, 2005

One magazine organization

The division of the Canadian magazine industry into several different associations -- consumer magazines, for trade, for editors, for the magazine awards, for circulators, for newsstand marketers -- has always been easy to understand, but difficult to justify. It is quite possible for disparate groups to gather in one place -- witness the Creating Canada conference in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago. But maintaining that collegiality and focus seems to be the issue.

With the likely change of name of the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association to Magazines Canada come this June, comes also a first rate opportunity for the creation of a more realistic alignment of the various organizations. Magazines Canada has the potential to be the umbrella organization for all kinds of magazines and magazine organizations. The inclusive name could be inclusive in fact.

The merger of Magazines Canada with the CMPA appeared to be achieved relatively painlessly, at least from an outside perspective. With this, the organization that used to promote the larger consumer magazines continued its promotional role but now on behalf of all consumer magazines, including the predominantly smaller members of the CMPA.

There is no obvious reason why such an umbrella can't cut similar and appropriate deals with almost any existing organization, as it has with the National Magazine Awards Foundation. The NMAF has retained its own board and its own autonomy while moving into the CMPA's offices in Toronto and enjoying the benefits of shared facilities and services. Such an arrangement would probably suit the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors (CSME). And, for instance, why couldn't there also be a self-governing division or caucus for contract and custom publishers? And for association magazines? And literary magazines? And religious magazines? Each could have as much togetherness as it could handle, perhaps with its own advisory board or committee, but enjoy the undoubted benefits of having a robust, national office with a professional secretariat.

Trade magazines naturally value their autonomy and point to their very different needs and takes on some issues like relations with Canada Post and government support programs. But there is nothing to say that the Canadian Business Press (CBP) couldn't fashion its own relationship with Magazines Canada. Maintaining autonomy in governance and programming doesn't preclude sharing offices, support staff and clout.

This last aspect -- having the various parts of the Canadian magazine industry speak with one voice -- will never be easy, but it will be made more likely and possible by cooperation on the prosaic issues of serving memberships by becoming a "big tent". For one thing, Canadian Heritage and Canada Post would have a harder time playing one part of the industry off against another.

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