Last month, the federal government announced that the Canada Magazine Fund and the Publications Assistance Program — both vital to the way magazines and publications do business in this country — would be merging into the Canada Periodical Fund. The CPF is set to launch in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, but it already has many smaller magazine publishers worried.
While Canadian Heritage has not yet finalized all of the guidelines under which the new program will operate, a few have been made clear to-date — that total assistance is being capped at $1.5 million for smaller publications, and that they must sell at least 5,000 copies per year to be eligible.
John Barton is a gay poet, professor and the editor of the Malahat Review.
“That would mean that a good percentage of the literary magazines in Canada will lose their support,” says Barton. “It seems rather cynical that they are imposing this on magazines where writers first test themselves and their work. Literary magazines are where the majority of serious Canadian writers have begun. I think the best example for the Malahat Review is Yann Martel.”
Martel published in Malahat in the early ’90s, 10 years before he became the pride of Canada by winning the coveted Man Booker Prize in 2002.
Barton and the Malahat aren’t alone. Shameless is a progressive magazine for teen girls. It’s one of the smaller magazines could be hamstrung by the new rules, says Stacey May Fowles, the magazine’s publisher.
“The CMF was really helpful in building our subscriber base, and building our marketing capability,” says Fowles. “Without funding from the CMF, we’ll just shrink to our original size, and we’ll be incapable of paying our staff honoraria. We won’t be able to grow, and we won’t be able to get the magazine out nationally.”
“A lot of people have complained that if a magazine can’t sustain itself then it shouldn’t exist,” Fowles adds. “We can sustain ourselves, but only at a very small size, and the CMF was a capital investment to become bigger.”
Barton agrees. CMF money helped him address circulation problems at the Malahat, so it’s ironic that the new rules will make the grants unavailable to magazines with a circulation of under 5,000.
“The Malahat circulation has gone up eight percent over the last two years,” Barton says. “I just find it to be disappointing that they’re suddenly going to change their approach to this significant community.”
Under current CMF rules, queer publications are exempt from the minimum requirements of paid subscription, as are Aboriginal, ethno-cultural and official languages minority publications. According to Canadian Heritage, there has not been a decision as to whether or not that exemption will continue under the new CPF rules.
“It is part of our business plan,” says Fab associate publisher Matt Mills. “Fab has been able to really come a long way in terms of its editorial product over the years because of access to that money. Selling advertising, certainly in the gay press, is a very difficult business with a very tiny margin — it’s hard to make money doing this, it’s hard to pay the bills.”
Mills says that while the loss of funding may not mean the destruction of the magazine, it will mean re-writing their business approach.
Brett Taylor, publisher of Outlooks, agrees with that assessment.
“It would affect Outlooks in its long-term planning — advance distribution, that type of thing,” Taylor says. “To a certain degree, it would make a difference in how we do business. Would the doors close overnight? I don’t think so, but it would make it tougher to run.”
While Outlooks doesn’t receive a lot of CMF funding, Taylor says its biggest impact would be in slowing the magazine’s growth.
Though according to Fowles, the bigger issue is the way that the government views magazines and their contributions to the public.
“It’s equating the value of a magazine with how many people pay to read it, which is not the best way to look at how valuable a product it is,” Fowles says. “It’s putting a dollar value on a cultural product or a literary product, which is not how we value the arts in this country.”
NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus is concerned about the way that Canadian Heritage is consulting the public about the proposed changes.
“Right now, a lot of it does appear to be behind closed doors, we’re not getting a real clear picture about how they’re going to make these changes,” Angus says. “They could be very dramatic if it’s not done right.”
Jim Everson of Magazines Canada says that Heritage has been open with them in the process.
“They put out a consultation paper in February of last year, and talked about the approach of the department,” Everson says. “We’ve all had an opportunity to consult on that, but there’s a lot of details to work out.”
Smaller magazines like Shameless, Fab and Outlooks, who aren’t members of Magazines Canada, however, have not been consulted.