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MagNet, June 7-9, 2016, Toronto – Report

by Jane Hope, Vice-President, MagsBC Board and recipient of the Volunteer of the Year award for 2016.

MagNet, Canada’s national magazine conference, is one of the hallmarks of the Canadian magazine calendar. Hosted by Magazines Canada, our national magazine association, this year marked a shift in leadership, with the new CEO Matthew Holmes at the forefront of the affair.

It’s a time of evolution in magazines; for commercial publications, new revenue models are emerging and digital is now the dominant language. For small publications, there are old and new challenges to be met. For everyone, Canada Post is still a thing.

It has become clichéd to say that in magazines, old models are being swept away by digital disruption. That being said, magazines are being asked to meet their audience in both a local and international space.

Magazine brands are more and more closely identified with their region; they make local recommendations, curate regional events and act as gatekeepers of good taste, carefully guiding their readers to what is important and relevant to their particular peer group. Conversely, they can go viral, collect newsletter subscribers from around the world and take part in conversations that are bigger than Canada, a very big country.

The opening keynote by Jay Lauf, publisher of the American digital-native business news site Quartz, underlined a key aspect of how magazines make money online: they are only as good as the story they tell.

Here are some key takeaways from the conference.

Digital Audience Building

Newsletters are enjoying a renaissance, if you can correctly navigate the new CASL legislation.

For your magazine, SEO is as important as good grammar.

Social media is a new normal. Your digital audience is as large as the world itself, but it is increasingly important to develop a deep and connected relationship with your readers.

It’s not enough to get a Like on your Facebook page. You need to make (actual) friends, and understand what people want on every channel. People will still read a 10,000 word article, as this Forbes article explains – just not on Facebook.

Advertising Only Works When It’s Made For Humans

Jay Lauf made a compelling case that advertising models on the web didn’t work because we simply ported over the “dollars-for-space” model from print advertising. He argued that we should have remembered that advertising works when we engage the reader.

Through many discussions of content marketing, branded content, native advertising and sponsored content, the message was reiterated: if the story isn’t good, no one will engage with the advertising. And if no one engages, what’s the point?

It’s Time To Think Outside the Box

Representatives of the Canada Periodical Fund were prominent participants at MagNet. Some of the most interesting news included the announcement that they were actually seeking to fund content-driven start-ups, ideally from the university environment. This is a new direction and an experimental move for CPF.

The creativity of the Canadian magazine sector was in clear evidence, both in editorial and in troubleshooting business problems.

The closing party featured many smiles and words of inspiration on an industry that is a lot more agile than many suspect.