Dear Maisonneuve readers,
Some of you may be wondering what the hell is happening to your favourite magazine. You may have heard rumours, innuendo and perhaps even scuttlebutt. So allow me to set the record straight.
Our offices have been buzzing through the winter and spring with the development of a new, sister magazine to Maisonneuve. The name is still a secret (or "under embargo," as the lawyers say) but this title is scheduled to launch in the next nine months. I'll tell you more about the new magazine in a minute.
Now, what about the Maisonneuve you've come to know and love? Well, we'll continue to publish "classic" Maisonneuve-with some dynamic new features. However, starting this fall, the magazine is becoming a quarterly. The team that has produced some of North America's best editorial will continue to do so under a new, more financially viable model. Maisonneuve will carry on as the delightfully unpredictable magazine that debuted at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Spring 2002. Rest assured, you'll still be getting your Maisy fix of eclectic curiosity, just four times a year instead of six.
Our reasons for changing the frequency of publication shake down, unfortunately, to money. There are simply not enough subscribers, advertisers or government grants to maintain a bimonthly schedule. With apologies to Animal Farm: six mags bad, four mags good. That's our new reality. We don't intend to compromise on the quality you've come to expect.
When I started editing and publishing in early 2002 with my friend and fellow poet Carmine Starnino, I wanted to bridge what I perceived as a gap between cultural magazines and commercial magazines. Cultural publishing thrives on ideas, expression, fine writing, art. In cultural publishing, it doesn't matter how many people read your work-what matters is who reads it and how it affects them. Many of the great works of world literature were originally published in magazines with irrelevant, unrecorded circulation; Eastern European literature in the twentieth century, for example, was virtually created in small magazines or even smaller samizdat (clandestine, carbon-copied manuscripts). Cultural publishing exists anywhere a few people gather around an idea and muster their will to make it presentable. Commercial publishing, on the other hand, is about engaging with very large numbers of readers. The people who produce commercial magazines are far from conventional-they are, in fact, some of the most brilliant creative minds you're likely to meet-but the need to speak broadly and successfully has a definite effect on subject matter and expression.
To delineate the difference more bluntly: the cultural publishing economic model runs on volunteerism, token payments, stipends and eternally underpaid staff. (The pizza-party-in-lieu-of-wage is standard operating procedure.) Meanwhile, people actually make a living through commercial publishing.
Around the time Maisonneuve was gestating in my noggin (circa 2001), Noah Richler wrote in the National Post that there was no magazine in which Canadians could have a nationwide political conversation about the things that truly mattered to them. His words resonated with me. There was certainly room for such a magazine. Saturday Night was producing more deaths and resurrections than a Stephen King novel. The Walrus and Toro had not yet launched. Shift was on the ropes. The time was nigh.
I had been planning to launch Maisonneuve in the autumn of 2002, but two things happened that made me fast-track its development. Linda Leith, artistic director of Blue Metropolis, invited me to launch Maisonneuve at the spring festival; the opportunity to debut the magazine in such esteemed literary company (plus free booze) was too generous, and too good, to pass over. The other factor was my February visit to the Canada Council in Ottawa, where I presented a business plan to Joanne Larocque-Poirier, the publishing agent for magazines. I had edited various student and literary magazines, but had never created a business plan before. My confidence was not at an all-time high. Much to my surprise, I had everything I needed and was told Maisonneuve qualified for a seed grant...if the magazine hit the streets by the beginning of April, a little over a month away.
Working out of my home study, Carmine and I designed, edited and published our first issue in three weeks, receiving the magazine from the printer two days before the launch. Maisonneuve's inaugural issue may have been short on visuals, but it's nonetheless an excellent read. I still don't know how we did it.
Starting out, I didn't understand why the cultural/commercial publishing gap existed; I just knew I wanted to fill it, and I had a world-beating desire to craft the best magazine in existence. Here we are, four years on, and I'd say we got pretty close to reaching that goal; until thinking-person's magazines like ours inspire spontaneous orgasms, there will alwaysbe room for improvement (I hear Vanity Fair and the makers of Viagra are holding confabs toward this very end...). Since then, I've gained a better sense of why magazines like Maisonneuve are hard to sustain. Problems? How about figuring out how to reach a huge, ill-defined audience, and finding the money to reach them? Or our challenging name (wonderful for those who know it, difficult for potential first-time buyers). Or not having any idea of how to speak to ad agencies, or convince them to advertise with us. Or not having a circulation anywhere close to meaningful in a mass market. Ah, problems. I just love the problems.
Well, we didn't reconfigure the world of publishing-like Jon Mooallem's gravity hunters (see pages 32-37), we simply took its measure. We may not have been able to escape reality's pull (despite our unflagging, youthful enthusiasm), but Maisonneuve nevertheless remains what it has always been: a damn fine cultural magazine that will be enjoyed by a relatively small group of readers.
And that's a great thing.
Over the past four years, we've learned that you love this magazine and want to keep reading it. So we've found the way to make that possible. Our goal: to keep producing something you're proud to slap down on your counter, or coffee table, or the back of your toilet, or next to your bidet (shout out to Jean-Michel, our longtime subscriber in France!). We-that includes you, O reader-remain a group of young, hard-working, engaged writers, readers, designers and dreamers.
But (sigh, this is so PBS) we need your support to carry on producing this ass-kicking, thought-provoking magazine... If you like a good read, or the sense of humour found herein, or pretty pictures, or appreciate the more than thirty major nominations and awards Maisonneuve has enjoyed since it began (including 2005 Magazine of the Year), then show your support by taking out a two-year subscription or signing up a friend or family member for a gift subscription.
Okay, so what about this other, new magazine with the top-secret name? Well, Boston has Boston magazine, Toronto has Toronto Life, New York has New York and the New Yorker. Montreal has no equivalent. Did you know it's been almost fifteen years since this city has seen itself in the glossy mirror of a lively, well-run, successful local magazine? That's all going to change.
Maisy's sister publication will be smart, and it will be sexy. It may even be bilingual-we're working on that as you read this very letter-with vocabulary and other linguistic support material to make the whole thing enjoyable and accessible for all readers, regardless of mother tongue.
What Maisonneuve and the new magazine share is a desire to bring the margins to the mainstream, in ways that do not sacrifice a cutting-edge aesthetic. Attractive covers, great illustration and photography, and classic layouts are our wings. Compelling narratives and a quirky sense of humour will continue to be the engine.
Our aim is still to fly above the crass and commercial, to compete with the behemoths of publishing on our own terms. It's been, and continues to be, a heckuva ride. Thanks for riding shotgun.
Derek Webster and the Maisonneuve team
Note to Subscribers:
Maisonneuve is changing its annual publication cycle from bimonthly (six issues) to quarterly (four issues). Present subscribers will continue to receive Maisonneuve (along with the obligatory encouragements to keep subscribing!). Please note: If you subscribed before May 15, 2006, you'll continue to receive the full number of issues you signed up for (i.e. six or twelve issues). No worries!
If you love this magazine-and we know you do-then why not take out an eight-issue subscription (two years)? We need you, our loyal readers, to step up and support this magazine: a two-year subscription helps us save on renewal costs and spares you the irritation of all those "time to resubscribe!" mailers falling like little paper zombies on your doorstep. (Plus, better for the environment.) See the blow-in card in this issue, or check out our website.
Maisonneuve is also launching a sister publication, a Montreal-focussed city magazine. Maisonneuve subscribers will receive information about this new title later in the year. (Information will also be posted online at Maisonneuve.org). Even if you live outside of Montreal, you may wish to take a look at it. To help you decide, we'll be offering a special rate for people subscribing to both Maisonneuve and the city magazine.
For information for contributors, click here.