Micro-Publishing versus Macro-Publishing
In 2010 Heritage Canada the Department of Canadian Heritage disqualified a significant number of Canadian cultural magazines from the Publishers Assistance Program on the grounds that small circulation periodicals were not worth supporting; in other words, in the eyes of the Harper Government, support of small circulation magazines is an inefficient use of government resources. The spokesperson who explained the decision at MagNet last June referred to the disqualified publishers as “micro-publishers.”

The Argument
Mags Canada tried to defend the cultural magazines against the decision of Heritage Canada by arguing for the cultural value of these publications, their internal operating efficiencies and their place in small niche markets.

This Discussion
Mags Canada was unable to provide a strong enough case for the cultural magazines, I suspect, because they were unable to define what a cultural magazine is and what role such magazines play in the “cultural industries.” It may be that no argument would have succeeded, given the cultural propensities of the present administration, but the lack of a strong argument for the cultural magazines was troubling: the Cultural Magazines Committee, of which I am a member, was also unable to argue the case for the smaller magazines, I suspect, because no one trying to make the argument had a very clear idea of what cultural publishing is, has been, or wants to be. Certainly, I had no such clear idea myself, and I have been publishing a cultural magazine for twenty years.

I have long suspected that the “standard” magazine publishing model, which the cultural magazines have tried to adopt in their operations and in their planning, does not reflect the reality of cultural publishing, and has, (increasingly) over the years, obscured its true nature.

Perhaps if we can talk about the realities of cultural publishing, we can find models that will work for us instead of against us. Some areas of interest that have arisen in conversations over the past few months include:

  • coop projects to develop digital tablet editions
  • coop projects to develop epub delivery
  • an arts shelf for digital mags at Zinio or elsewhere
  • a new returns policy for print mags
  • new distribution models for print
  • a readership study to follow up the Benchmarks analysis now underway

--Stephen Osborne, Vancouver


  1. Heritage Canada is not the same as the Department of Canadian Heritage. Heritage Canada makes those cute TV commercials we're all familiar with. They're a non-profit foundation. Canadian Heritage is the one who manages cultural funding for the federal government. I should know. This little mix up took up to an 1/8th of my working days when I was as a receptionist and junior grants clerk for Canadian Heritage's Ontario branch in North York.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Eric B.
    This gives me a chance to correct the mistake with strikeout formatting!