For very close to 20 years now Toronto Life has been unchallenged as Toronto’s city magazine. Toronto Calendar provided some rivalry, at least in the listings area, but it merged with Toronto Life about four years ago. Avenue, a controlled-circulation magazine for those who frequent Yorkville, was started in 1981 but has recently suspended publication indefinitely. TO., which publishes only eight times a year, and is geared toward younger, trendier readers, seems to be holding its own after a year-and-a-half; it has done little to change Toronto Life’s upscale market position. But now a new challenger has appeared-The Globe and Mail’s Toronto. Its editors feel confident it will equal, if not surpass, Toronto Life’s success and status. The Globe and Mail has certain advantages over most other publishers in launching a magazine. Because the hew monthly comes enclosed in the paper, distribution costs are eliminated. Mailing to subscribers costs Toronto Life from $6,000 to $9,000 per issue and distribution to newsstands, about $3,000 per issue. The Globe has an established circulation base of 200,000 in the city of Toronto with which to attract advertisers, plus huge financial resources on which the magazine can draw. The Globe’s assistant editor Les Buhasz had the luxury of being able to say that he wouldn’t know his start-up costs until well after the first issue came out. These same advantages helped the Report on Business magazine make a small profit in 1985, its first full year out-a rare feat in the magazine business. They should help sustain Toronto.
And Buhasz says his magazine enjoys other advantages over Toronto Life, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this November with a 350-page issue. First, he cites the fact that Toronto Life must compete with hundreds of other magazines on the newsstands. Second, he insists that his magazine has a better defined and more attractive [to advertisers] target audience, “those at the upper end of the income/educational scale.” In fact, both magazines share a nearly identical reader profile. Toronto Life’s readers are primarily in the preferred 25-to-49 age range, with high levels of post-secondary education and annual household incomes in excess of $48 ,000.
As far as newsstand competition goes, Toronto Life editor Marq de Villiers says that his magazine does have to try hard to catch people’s attention on the newsstand, but that even controlled-circulation magazines like Toronto have to make people pick them up. De Villiers points out that it’s difficult for those magazines to prove to advertisers that people are really reading them, especially in the early stages before reader surveys have been done.
Says de Villiers, “At least we can prove that there are X number of people out there who have paid for the magazine on the newsstand or by subscription and therefore presumably read it. I think Toronto’s people will have a harder sell [to advertisers] than they think.” (His point brings to mind the death of Quest, a controlled-circulation magazine published by Comac Communications Inc. Advertisers began pulling out when a 1983 Print Measurement Bureau study showed Quest had lost 600,000 readers since 1981. A complete redesigning of the magazine and lower advertising rate failed to save it. Publication stopped in late 1984.)
An earlier city magazine published by a newspaper, The Toronto Star’s The City, lasted only two-and-a-half years, and “never made money,” says Joey Slinger. Slinger, now a Star columnist, was editor of the weekly magazine, started in 1977. He says, “If you’re an advertiser looking to reach the BMW market, there are only about 75,000 households in Toronto in that market-that’s the audience Toronto Life goes to. You don’t care about the other thousands the newspaper goes to, and you don’t want to pay for advertising to those people.”
But Buhasz isn’t worried about attracting advertisers. “It’s true reader acceptance will be hard to judge,” he says. “The magazine is part of the paper and we won’t have newsstand sales. But advertisers had one Globe and Mail magazine product to look at, and were given flats to show them the appearance, tone and quality of Toronto.”
Buhasz also believes Toronto will be superior in quality to Toronto Life. “We’ll provide a listing service as well, but we won’t be doing any service pieces, that is no where-to-get-your-plumbing-fixed pieces; but we will have some where-to-get interesting-buys pieces, where you can get something different and unique.” (At Toronto Life service pieces are a staple. Its annual “Where To Get Stuff Cheap” issue is one of its best-sellers.) Buhasz continues, “I think our magazine is a little more substantial and serious in content.” Quite simply, “We can put out a better product than anything else on the market now.” For that to happen Toronto will have to be good-Toronto Life won three gold medals and four silver at the 1985 National Magazine Awards.
Toronto aims for quantity as well as quality, that is, for a higher percentage of editorial content than Toronto Life: a 50-50 ratio of advertising to editorial space. And Buhasz thinks this will also attract readers. “They’ll go broke with a ratio like that,” de Villiers predicts. Toronto Life has 43 per cent editorial content to 57 per cent advertising. That doesn’t seem much different than 50-50, but to a magazine like Toronto Life, one per cent is about 15 pages a year. And 15 pages of advertising can mean as much as $25,000 in revenue. De Villiers doesn’t expect to lose any advertising to Toronto- “I don’t believe there’s just a small pool of ads out there” and says he didn’t prepare any new strategies to combat the magazine’s launch in March. In fact he claims to be anticipating the rivalry. “I think it’s going to be fun,” he says “We’ve been without competition forever.”