Canadian literary, arts and scholarly magazines are likely going to die while large-circulation periodicals like Chatelaine and Maclean's will have to make significant adjustments to operations as a result of new funding rules announced Tuesday by the Harper government.
While the overall aid-to-publishers budget is roughly the same as last year - $73-million - a single title can now receive only a maximum of $1.5-million a year. The only exception to this cap are agricultural publications such as The Western Producer, Canadian Cattlemen and Grainews.
Moreover, small publications with a total annual paid circulation of 5,000 copies or less are ineligible for any CPF assistance, with exemptions for aboriginal, ethno-cultural and official language publications.
The rules are part of the new Canada Periodical Fund that Heritage Minister James Moore announced last year would be replacing two funding streams; the Canadian Magazine Fund, which supported editorial content and business development, and the Publications Assistance Program, which subsidized the mailing costs. (For instance, it costs Maclean's 80 cents to ship a copy to Newfoundland while for downtown Toronto it's 38 cents.)
The motivation, Moore said, was to create a more streamlined, flexible and balanced system.
Details of the two other components of the CPF, dealing with business innovation and collective initiatives, are to be released later this month.
Most of the country's literary, arts and scholarly periodicals - they number in the dozens and include The Malahat Review, Grain. Arc Poetry Magazine, BlackFlash and Fiddlehead, and tend to publish bi-annually or quarterly - fall into the "small publications" category. Many joined the Coalition to Keep Federal Support of Literary, Scholarly and Arts Magazines, formed last year, to beat back the 5,000-copy threshold.
Among the magazines most affected by the $1.5-million cap are Chatelaine, a monthly, and Maclean's, a weekly, both published by Toronto-based Rogers Media. Each is now facing what Mark Jamison, executive director of Magazines Canada, calls "a big, big hit" of more than 40 per cent.
Maclean's, for example, with a circulation of more than 350,000, received almost $2.6-million through the PAP in 2008-2009, plus $393,000 in editorial assistance via the CMF. With a circulation of more than 560,000, Chatelaine got just over $2.7-million from the PAP/CMF.
Michael J. Fox, senior vice-president of Rogers Publishing, called the trims "substantial but not unmanageable. ... It makes you look at all the levers of the business more carefully, including circulation levels and everything else [but]all in all, I think we'll be okay." He believes publishers are "more concerned about the program itself, that it be implemented smoothly and fairly."
David B. Scott, the well-regarded magazine consultant, said he expected the new funding regime will result in the demise of several small magazines: "How many I can't say."
The money these publications have been receiving hasn't been much, he says, "but they've had a significant amount of good effect." In 2008-2009, for example, Victoria's 43-year-old Malahat Review quarterly, which sells about 4,000 copies a year, received $17,297 from the CMF, $1,938 from the PAP, plus (in 2007-2008) $39,100 from the roughly $3-million literary-and-arts magazine fund overseen by the Canada Council for the Arts.
"The one thing I'd say about small literary and cultural publications is that they're enormously resilient," Scott observed. "Otherwise they wouldn't continue to do what they do." But "There's no way some of them can meet the new requirements," Scott said.
He along with Magazines Canada hope the Canada Council can pick up some of the slack to minimize the damage. However, yesterday the council was saying it was on tap to provide about $3.2-million in magazine publishing assistance in 2010-2011 and that said "no additional funds will be transferred from Canadian Heritage to [the council]to replace the former Heritage program."
Malahat Review editor John Barton is miffed that "circulation is the only criterion" in the new regime. "It's not about cultural policy any more, it seems. Canadian Heritage is not functioning like a cultural body. The policy is bums in seats. How do you grow a culture that way?"
From another perspective, Barton added, Canadian Heritage can be seen as "issuing a challenge to small magazines: Prove you have readers. But how did they come to the number 5,000? And was it done purposely to screen out all these small journals that they find administratively irritating to fund?"
All magazines applying for funding this fiscal year have to show they sold at least 50 per cent of the copies they produced in 2009-2010. The exceptions, at a 25 per cent threshold, are GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual), aboriginal, ethno-cultural and official language minority periodicals.
The new rules give the Heritage Minister overriding discretionary powers to approve or reject applications and to make changes to the application process. The minister's decisions will be deemed final.