Canadian women don’t have to look too far for beauty tips these days. Stores are filled with racks full of glossy women’s magazines boasting fall’s hottest eye shadow techniques or ten easy steps to achieving sexier arms. But we seem to be falling short when it comes to reaching women on a deeper level.
Women interested in social and political issues often look to feminist magazines like Bust, Ms. and Bitch to satisfy their appetite for the less shallow. However, these magazines all hail from our friends south of the border. A Canadian perspective is harder to come by.
Audra Estrones has been an avid reader of Bust for as long as she can remember. She loves the magazine because of its edgy female voice. However, she thinks Canadian women need a Canadian magazine that resonates with their own experiences. In the spring of 1999, she decided to do just that by planning the Canadian equivalent to Bust, which she decided to call Beaver.
But the story didn’t quite go as planned. Smirking friends made Estrones fear that a women’s magazine named Beaver would quickly land a spot in the pornography section of magazine racks. More practically, she had very little money for an expensive magazine start-up. So she changed the name to Marigold – after the doll on the Polka Dot Door, “because she is spunky and red-haired, like me” – and decided to publish the magazine online.
By the end of 1999, Estrones’ glossy print magazine called Beaver officially transformed into Marigold with its Web launch. Claiming to be “forty per cent political rally, sixty per cent slumber party,” the site offers articles, reviews and forum boards discussing a variety of subjects that relate to women, written by contributors from across Canada.
The Web option is one taken by many wishing to launch feminist magazines in Canada. According to Penni Mitchell, editor of feminist print magazine Herizons, this country’s thirty million population is simply too small to gain enough subscribers for a special interest magazine to stay afloat. Herizons is Canada’s only national feminist print magazine. It has been in print since 1979, but took a break from 1987 to 1992 because it ran out of money. When the magazine relaunched, it cut its staff from six full-timers to two, and moved out of its office and into Mitchell’s home. “We run a huge deficit every year,” says Mitchell, “but there always seems to be a reason to try to keep it going. We have some faithful readers who really love it.”
Magazines like Herizon can’t keep up with bigger American names like Bust on Canadian newsstands. “Because they have a higher readership,” says Mitchell, “American magazines can recover their costs much quicker.” As a result, more money has been to put into Canadian circulation and they’ve gained more prominence on newsstands.
For Mitchell, publishing Herizons online is not an option. A quarter of Herizons’ revenue currently comes from the donations of over 350 subscribers. Without these Mitchell couldn’t afford to keep the magazine running. “I hate that we have to beg for money,” she says, “but it is the only way we can survive. Online magazines are either an adjunct to print magazines or someone’s hobby.”
So far, Mitchell’s opinion has proven right. Online magazines are hobbies and hobbies don’t pay. Other notable Canadian online feminist magazines, include Thirdspace; a site “for emerging feminist scholars and Women and Environments magazine , out of the University of Toronto. Marigold used to make some money from advertising when it was affiliated with Chickclick, a community of feminist web sites. Chickclick used to broker advertisements for Marigold, but is no longer affiliated with them. As a result, Marigold is left without any ad revenue at all.
Estrones has had to take another job, moderating message boards at rabble.ca, to pay the bills. Although she wishes she could run Marigold as a full-time job, the site makes very little money and it’s just not possible. As a result, she is too busy at work and only spends about thirty minutes a day working on the site. The content hasn’t seen any significant change for months and Marigold is starting to reek of a magazine gone dead.
“These types of magazines are important,” says Estrones, “because a lot of news that influences their lives doesn’t find its way into the mainstream. We need to provide a voice that will empower Canadian women.” As more domestic feminist magazines look to the Internet to solve financial woes, it becomes apparent that this voice is barely a whisper.