Leah Sandals

New AudioMag: Leah Sandals on Niche Publications

In an industry that has seen general interest publications struggle to connect with readers both in print and online, many magazines that serve niche interests have seen their audiences grow.

That phenomenon—and how to capitalize on it—is the subject of the latest episode of AudioMag, Magazines Canada’s podcast.

“You can have stories for newcomers and stories for embedded experts on the same website,” says Leah Sandals, managing editor, online, at Canadian Art. “But each of them will find their own audiences on social media ideally.”

Sandals has been with Canadian Art since 2008.

In 2016, Canadian Art, founded as a quarterly print mag in 1984, fully implemented a refreshed web-content strategy that focuses on the news and think pieces that legacy readers have demonstrated they want online and that new readers have been drawn to as well. That strategy has paid off, with users, sessions and social-media audiences increasing dramatically.

Prior to refocusing their online and print approaches, Canadian Art had, since its creation, focused a lot of resources on both platforms on exhibition reviews.  But a survey of their analytics revealed that their online audience wasn’t all that interested in that content.

“So in 2016 we reoriented to let print do what print does best—thematic issues, a book-like approach with special features and pull-outs that are almost an art piece in itself, and also a review section in the magazine,” explains Sandals. “And we also let online do what online does best, which are think pieces and video. So by taking that approach our page views and newsletter sign up have all gone up dramatically.”

Making Niche Accessible

One of the challenges for niche publishers when it comes to growing their audiences is remaining true to their readership, who are likely familiar with insiders and jargon, and also to pull in new readers whose knowledge isn’t as deep.

In order to meet the needs of those different audiences, Canadian Art employs a few tricks in their editorial approach.

“One way to make a niche subject area more accessible to newcomers editorially is just to do more drilling down into the framing of the story, so really looking at what are the themes in the story that might have a meaning for wider audiences, and using that when you are framing the intro of the story and the title at the very least,” says Sandals.

New Approaches, New Audiences

Embarking on an effort to draw more readers into a niche subject doesn’t have to alienate the core readership. Sandals advises looking for opportunities to use your editorial teams’ vast networks of experts to find stories and perspectives that would have appeal to your traditional readership, as well as a wider audience.

One example she cites was a story on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tattoo, which was inspired by the work of Haida artist Robert Davidson.

The story blew up online, becoming one of their most-read pieces on 2016.

Another example is coverage of the federal budget, a topic all major media outlets tackle, but none would do a deep-dive into the implications within the budget on issues related to the arts.

“It’s not the kind of story that a general interest publication is going to be doing at all but it is information that people in the niche are really keen to know about,” says Sandlas. “We’re a print quarterly but daily online publication. So when you are a print quarterly you can’t cover breaking news like that of course but you can easily cover it online.”

Feeding a daily online readership provides endless opportunities to grow a niche audience, while remaining top of mind for long-time readers.

“There’s room for diversity of voices and styles because all the stories don’t have to hang together online in the way that a single print audience might,” says Sandals. “Stories tend to find their own audiences through social media and online. So on one count part of it is made easier by the fact that you can have stories for newcomers and stories for embedded experts on the same website but each of them will find their own audiences on social media ideally.”

Listen to the entire conversation with Leah Sandals.

Find more episodes of AudioMag in our resource centre. AudioMag is available to download and subscribe on iTunes.

AudioMag is produced by Tina Pittaway, an award-winning independent writer and broadcaster. Tina has been a contributor to CBC Radio and Television for more than 20 years. Her radio documentaries have been honoured with a 2007 Gabriel Award, 2008 Amnesty International Media Award, 2009 Gold Medal at the New York Festivals and a Science in Society Award from the Canadian Science Writers’ Association. Visit Tina online to learn more about her work.

Know someone in the industry who would be interested in receiving AudioMag? Send us an email at info@magazinescanada.ca and we’ll add them to our list. Or sign up for our RSS feeds on magazinescanada.ca or on iTunes.

AudioMag is made possible with the support of the OMDC.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)   Logo for the Government of Canada

Magazines Canada acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Periodical Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as the Canada Council, for this project.


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