As of this spring, The Beaver is extinct.
Not the big-toothed, furry rodent, but the name of the esteemed Canadian history magazine. Beginning with its April/May issue, the Winnipeg-based bimonthly, which has been called The Beaver for the past 90 years and has an estimated 150,000 readers, will be named Canada's History, its publisher announced Monday.
The new handle is not terribly, well, sexy . And that, it seems, is precisely the point. People have made naughty jokes about The Beaver moniker over the decades, and in our electronic age, spam filters have often blocked access to some of its Internet content. But it was only in the spring of 2008 that The Beaver's parent, Canada's National History Society, decided to commission some detailed market research to determine if the name really was an impediment and if a rebranding was in order.
It found that the Beaver name was indeed deterring sales, both single-copy and subscription, especially among women and readers under 45. Moreover, the research indicated that "amongst Canadians generally, those that would subscribe to a magazine were twice as likely not to" with The Beaver as the title, publisher Deborah Morrison said in an interview. (She is also president and chief executive officer of Canada's National History Society.)
"So we used all of last year to sort of really test those assumptions and make sure that a name change really made sense," Morrison said. "We wanted to do it as carefully as we could … to respect the legacy of the magazine and to ensure it was well positioned for the future."
That future, she added, includes "an aggressive strategy to move online in a much more predominant way," including the creation of numerous interactive media. "Having one brand for everything just made a lot more sense ... to cross-promote the National History Society, the educational programs and the magazines" - a reference to Kayak, a Beaver-like periodical targeted at children seven to 11 years old.
The Beaver, subtitled "Canada's History Magazine" since at least the mid-nineties, started in 1920 as a monthly periodical for the Hudson's Bay Company staff to mark the firm's 250th anniversary. Canada's oldest company, the Bay was still very much in the fur trade at that time (hence The Beaver name, which was chosen by HBC employees) and, although the company was headquartered in London, its Canadian operations were based in Winnipeg.
By the 1940s, The Beaver had ceased to be a house organ and had evolved into a history publication devoted to the Bay's involvement in the North and to the heritage of Canada's native people. In 1994, the Bay gave its archives and a substantial endowment to the newly created Canada's National History Society. The Beaver now has about 50,000 subscribers.
Morrison acknowledged that the new name is low on quirkiness and high on matter-of-factness. But "saying what it is seems to be what matters most when you're talking about magazines, especially on a cluttered newsstand," she observed. "We did test lots of different names - some of them very clever, we thought - and then we tried some very straightforward ones. Canada's History stood out … with the audiences we tested it on."