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Four things we’ve learned about Canadian publishing

Customers browse the magazine racks at the Indigo book store at the Eaton Centre in May, 2011.

Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released readership data for North American magazines this week, and as always the numbers were depressing for anyone who reads or writes for the continent's finest publications (and the terrible ones, too).

The figures show an industry grappling to hang on to readers as more of them turn to the Internet for free content. Paid and verified subscriptions in Canada fell 3.1 per cent to 6.6 million copies, while single-copy sales fell 1.6 per cent to 1.2 million.

But that's not all the report taught us – here are four things we learned about Canadian publishing after the numbers were released.

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Readers Digest is still a thing

And not just a thing, it's the biggest thing going in Canadian publishing.

About 552,664 copies of the magazine are sent out each time it publishes, making their way to doctor's offices and farmhouses across the nation. That's about 5,000 more copies per edition than Chatelaine, the next highest magazine on the list.

The August edition of the Canadian version features "short summer reads" such as "Canadian Olympians go for gold" and "Arctic Survival: The mama bear and the sea."

And it's not just Canadians who like the magazine, which is basically articles from a bunch of other magazines chopped down to easy-to-read lengths – it's also hugely read in the United States at some 5.5 million copies.

The main difference between two versions? The Canadian edition wasn't affected when the American version filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to get out from under its $2.2-billion debt.

The Top Five Canadian magazines by subscribers in the last six months were Readers Digest (552,664), Chatelaine (550,613), Canadian Living (511,817), Maclean's (332,095) and Canadian House and Home (248,158).

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Ay carumba!

While the trend for Canadian magazine subscriptions is overwhelmingly depressing, there are a few bright spots. One of them is TV Notas – a Spanish-language publication that features bikini pictures of Latin American soap opera stars.

The magazine is one of only three in Canada to post double digit subscription growth in the last six months, at an astonishing 26 per cent. New stands sales also skyrocketed, up 30 per cent.

And why not? With headlines such as "Belinda quiere ser perfecta" and "El infierno do Carmen!" we can only assume the 61,000 who rush to each new edition only tolerate the photo essays on bikini babes because of the urgency of the writing.

The next biggest gainer – French-language Premium saw subscriptions gain 18 per cent to around 14,898 – takes a different approach. It describes itself as providing "a careful selection of the best texts and articles, published in the most renowned titles in the international press and management publications of major business schools in the world, tailored to the needs and realities of Quebec professionals."

So, basically it's TV Notas without the beach bodies. And in French.

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The other double-digit gainer was a magazine about animals called Animals which saw subscribers jump by 10 per cent. There were plenty of double digit decliners, however, led by Denier Heur (22 per cent), More of Our Canada (19 per cent), Le Lundi, Maison et Demeure and Our Canada (15 per cent each).

Culture costs money

The most you can pay for a Canadian magazine audited by ABC in $9.95. That'll get you a copy of Canadian Art Magazine, which is published four times a year. It's not for everyone, of course, but it is for people who understand headlines such as "Oliver Husain's art of cinema, performance, objects and text" and "Fashionality: Dress code."

The most expensive American magazine on the list is The Knot, which costs $9.99 and also comes out only twice each year. Its articles are also fairly high brow – some of the fall edition cover teasers are "Secrets to perfect hair" and "The most amazing wedding venues."

The least expensive magazine in Canada is TV Hebdo, which is basically a French television guide. Bargains are easier to find in the United States, where copies of Cooperative Living can be found for only 49 cents.

Digital speed bumps

Magazine publishers have long dreamt of a time when digital editions would be effortlessly downloaded onto tablets, reducing the need to knock down forests, mash up trees and drive bundles of paper all over the country. That vision is now a reality, but Canadians aren't embracing digital editions the same way as Americans seem to be.

Maclean's is the most successful magazine in Canada at selling digital subscriptions, with about 8,300 subscribers on board – or about 2 per cent of its base. The next best performer in this category is Canadian House and Home, which has 7,918 – or about 3.1 per cent of its base.

The most successful magazine in the United States is Gamer Informer, which has 1.2-million or about 14 per cent of its base. Playboy – the only dirty magazine on the list – saw digital subscribers make up about 3 per cent of its base.

But they were only buying it for the articles.

Editor's note: An earlier online version of this article incorrectly stated that Canadian Art Magazine is published twice a year. This version has been corrected. 

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