A Paying Readership

Benchmarks 2011 – an overview of cultural publishing in Canada
Part 1: paying readers and sales


One of the few identifying attributes of the audience for cultural magazines is precisely that it consists of people who read cultural magazines. This apparent tautology becomes the key to understanding the world of cultural magazines once we can quantify that world in useful ways.

The new Benchmarks study, for example tells us that the audience for cultural magazines is much larger than most of us have presumed:

The 60 English-language cultural magazines funded by the Canada Council share an aggregate audience of 97,000 paying readers per issue.

The 30 French-language cultural magazines funded by the Canada Council share an aggregate audience of 27,000 paying readers per issue.

Typical cultural magazine have circulations of 1500 or less; many or most have fewer than 1000 subscribers, many have fewer even than 500 subscribers; and quite a few have print runs of less than 500 copies.

These apparently small numbers have been understood to result in small effects, and lead uninformed observers to make statements such as this one published recently in the National Post, in an article justifying the cuts to small magazines made by the CPF:

The problem with the market for literary journals now is that there’s too much supply for too little demand. – Michael Lista, National Post, March 26, 2011

At least 25 of the 37 English language literary magazines, and 13 of the French language literary magazines in the Benchmarks study were defined as “micro-publishers” by the CPF – that is, magazines too small to be of significance, or worthy of operating support from the CPF. (see further detail, p. 4)

II. How big is the existing paying audience for cultural magazines?
As we have seen, the audience for cultural magazines as revealed in the Benchmarks is larger than many have  supposed. Here is a partial summary taken from the Benchmarks study:

English Language copies sold per issue: 97,000
French Language copies sold per issue: 27,000
Copies sold per issue in both languages: 124,000

Subscribers to English Language mags: 61,365 – 63% of copies sold
Subscribers to French Language mags: 15,406 – 58% of copies sold
Subscriber copies, both languages:        76,771

Single copies sold to readers, English:  35,790 – 37% of copies sold
Single copies sold to readers, French  11,179 – 42% of copies sold
Single copies sold to readers, both:     46,969

Readership by genre can be seen in this more detailed breakdown:


Literary Mags

33,945 35% 6,906 26% 40,851 33%

Arts Mags

27,420 28% 8,500 32% 35,920 29%

Total subscribers

61,365 63% 15,406 58% 76,771 62%
Singles sold / issue


Literary Mags

18,092 19% 4,512 17% 22,604 18%

Arts Mags

17,698 18% 6,667 25% 24,365 20%

Singles per issue

35,790 37% 11,179 42% 46,969 38%
Singles + Subs 


Literary Mags

52,037 54% 11,418 43% 63,455 51%

Arts Mags

45,118 46% 15,167 57% 60,285 49%

Total copies sold per issue

97,155 100% 26,585 100% 123,740 100%



III. How much money do cultural magazines earn?
Three sources of earned revenue are identified in the Benchmarks study:
– Sales to readers,
– Sales to Advertisers and
– Other Sources (fundraising, merchandise, workshops, etc)
In this summary, earned revenue from Advertising is combined with earned revenue from Other Sources (see Table 1, Benchmarks, for more detail)

1. Sales to Readers
Subscriptions, English mags:         $ 1,206,000
Subscriptions, French mags:         $    408,000
Subscriptions, both languages: $ 1,614,000

Single copies, English mags:          $ 358,500
Single copies, French mags:          $ 158,540
Single copies, both languages:   $  517,040

Total sales to readers, English mags: $ 1,564,500
Total sales to readers, French mags: $    566,540
Total sales, both languages:          $  2,131,040

Sales to readers by genre:

2. Advertising and Other Earned Revenue:
Ads and other sources, English mags:    $2,051,500
Ads and other sources, French mags:    $   799,540
Ads and other sources, both languages: $2,851,040

3. Total earned revenue, all sources:
Earned Revenue all sources, English: $3,939,186
Earned Revenue all sources, French: $1,203,676
Earned Revenue all sources, both:     $5,142,862

IV. Some Preliminary Conclusions:

These aggregated totals indicate a substantial audience for literary and arts magazines in both languages.

Cross promotions and exchange advertising among cultural magazines could be the foundation of substantial audience growth.

A closer study of this readership (perhaps through Mags Canada) might be a first step toward increasing the market size and encouraging competition among cultural magazines for share in that growing cultural market.

The cultural audience is known (from previous studies) to consist of:
– cultural practitioners – traditionally the core audience for new cultural work (cultural publishing enables communication between peers in a field of artistic endeavour)
– commentators: critics, jury members, arts administrators
– collectors, patrons
– the interested public

The Benchmarks study provides a framework for understanding and encouraging these levels of readership.