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Editorial Practices for Small to Mid-Size Magazines by Sheila Sampath

By Sheila Sampath, Editorial and Art Director, Shameless Magazine

Editorial practices are a combination of professional, interpersonal and political structures set up to help guide decision making and workflow through the production process. From conceptualizing an issue to executing it, these considerations will help articulate and inform the why, what and how of your work.

The Political: Defining editorial scope (or: WHY do we publish?)

1. Articulate a clear mandate.

Regardless of whether you’re working on a new or established publication, taking the time to articulate (or gain deep understanding of) your magazine’s mandate is foundational to creating frameworks for transparent and accountable decision-making. What role does your publication play in a genre, industry or demographic? Are there existing mission, vision or philosophy statements? If so, how do you understand them, or how can you and your existing editorial staff elaborate on or reinterpret them? A staff (and board, if applicable) discussion can be facilitated internally or with the help of an external facilitator.

2. Decide to whom you’re accountable

Negotiating accountability in publishing can be a challenging task, but it’s helpful to, at the very least, build off of your mandate and map out who you are publishing for. What is your funding structure and what expectations come from those revenue sources? Who is your readership and what role do you want to play in their lives? If these two groups aren’t the same, or have conflicting agendas, how do you intend to resolve those tensions?

3. Prioritize voices that matter

Working from your mandate and thinking around accountability, ask yourself, whose voices do we need to centre? Are those voices currently represented in leadership roles at our publication? And, what practices and policies do we need to implement to reflect that vision? Understand that outreach to new communities of writers and editors is an ongoing process of trust and relationship-building.

The Professional: Ensuring clear workflow and quality (or: WHAT do we do?)

1. Define roles and responsibilities

In small- to mid-size publications, staffs tend to wear many hats. Whether your publication is in its infancy or is more established, it’s helpful to schedule semi-regular audits to make sure people are being recognized for their contributions and to see if there are better ways of structuring power or redistributing labour. When job expectations are clearly defined, people know when to ask for support, where to focus their time and energy and how to relate to their coworkers.

2. Map an editorial process and calendar

Defining the phases of a production cycle is particularly important for both staff and contributors to your publication. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How are issues conceptualized? Who is a part of this process?
  • What processes are in place to outreach to writers or respond to pitches?
  • How will you determine if a writer is a good fit for a story (and how does this relate to how you’ve defined your editorial scope)?
  • How do you want your process with writers to look? For example, do you expect an outline, first, second and final drafts? Is it an ongoing conversation between the editor and the writer? What are the deadlines that you want writers to follow and what deadlines can you guarantee you’ll follow as well?
  • Once a piece is filed, what is your process of copy-editing, fact-checking and proofreading? If there are major issues or changes late in the game, how will those be communicated to the writer?
  • As pieces move through layout and art assignments, if applicable, how will your editorial scope apply as your art director works with photographers and/or illustrators?
  • When can contributors expect payment? How will you notify them when their work is published?
  • What overlap will exist between issues?
  • How can you build in space for contingencies in your editorial calendar?

As you map out this process think of how you want to communicate it to your team and what ongoing communication looks like for your organization. Note: there are many free or inexpensive online systems that can support managing this process once it’s mapped out (e.g. Google calendars,, Slack, etc.).

3. Build in spaces for flexibility—ask people what they need to do their jobs well

While it’s helpful to have a clearly articulated editorial process and calendar, a part of working well with people of diverse backgrounds means building in spaces for flexibility. For example, a writer submitting a personal piece on a traumatic life event may realize the editorial process is taking an emotional toll on their wellbeing; an interview subject may be facing a challenging personal situation and be unavailable for an immediate interview, etc. In these cases, it is helpful to go back to your editorial scope, particularly what it means to be accountable and to centre specific voices and to ask people what they need to be able to file on time. The more you’re able to keep communication open and problem-solve with the people you’re working with, the smoother the process (and the working relationship) will be.

The Personal: Defining ways of working (or: HOW do we work?)

1. Position yourself within your mandate

For us to be able to go deeper into the editorial process—that is, to not just define what happens when, but how that work happens, we need to be able to unpack our relationship to our mandate, our readership and our contributors. Do you identify as being a part of your readership? What communities and identities do you represent and are those the voices that you are aiming to centre? Answering these questions can help you articulate the nuances of your role (for example, editor-as-facilitator vs. editor-as-expert; publisher-as-ally vs. publisher-as-representative, etc.). Your relationship to your mandate and readership might change over time, so it’s helpful to think of this as an ongoing and iterative process of self-reflection.

2. Practice care in your work

Often we inherit ways of working from spaces and experiences that are inequitable or contribute to erasure or harm (e.g. unpaid internships, J-school, etc.). There is nothing that is stopping us from reimagining our relationships with the people we work with through a framework of care and respect. Ask yourself, How can I implement a strong editorial vision, adhere to the challenges of a deadline-driven environment and foster care for my co-workers and contributors, so they can produce their best work and be their best selves, along the way? What learning and unlearning needs to happen to create a new kind of work environment?

3. Think of editorial process as a form of relationship/community building

Very few publications exist just to publish—often, we are trying to connect readership to knowledge, connect the public to new ideas or connect communities to each other. As editors and publishers, we are conduits for these relationships and so relationship-building is always a central part of what we do. Keep this in mind as you continue to define how your work happens.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


Compliance with Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation by Adrienne Rutherford

By Adrienne Rutherford, Barrister and Solicitor

Stop living with the stress of CASL—it is easier to be in compliance than you think.

What is CASL?

In July 2014 CASL was enacted to reduce the sending of commercial electronic messages without consent. Electronic messages can be email or text (or forms of social media), which means CASL doesn’t affect communication by mail or telephone. CASL also requires consent for downloading software—e.g. software updates for app users.

While there are several exemptions within the Act, resulting in confusion regarding the application in some circumstances, for most businesses it is sufficient to know that most emails and texts would be governed by CASL, so must include the proscribed information about the sender, provide a readily available unsubscribe mechanism and must be sent with the provable consent of the recipient.

Why is compliance low?

CASL has become a familiar word in business because the consequences of non-compliance are significant and everyone can relate to receiving email, text or even software that they don’t want. The CRTC receives thousands of complaints every week and several organizations have faced heavy fines or settlements. Yet statistics show businesses are slow to bring themselves into compliance.

This is partly because the obligations are new ones without built-in business budgets. It’s also because the legislation seems complicated and full of pitfalls. It is often because there is insufficient education on what to do. Too often, it is because of push back from those concerned about thinning the list of contacts the business has acquired.

Does compliance harm business?

CASL compliance has been shown to improve the quality of the lists of contacts for a business because it is forces the removal of those who are not receptive to communications from you. In fact, with the right lists and good engagement practices, many publishers are finding email and text as a renewed cost-effective resource for building business.

What is the risk of non-compliance?

Due to heightened consumer awareness and the ease of lodging a complaint under CASL, the risk of being reported is real. While most of the focus of risk is on the millions of dollars of potential fines and the direct criminal and monetary exposure of individuals who directed the communications, the cost and inconvenience of an investigation alone should be sufficient risk to motivate compliance. As consumer demand grows in the area of privacy, the risk to reputation has become a bigger driver in promoting compliance.

Is compliance difficult?

Certainly large businesses with decentralized collection, storage and use practices face a lot of heavy lifting to bring themselves into compliance. But for most businesses, a little focused effort can greatly reduce the risk under CASL and a little education on CASL (and Privacy in general) can ensure that practices and systems are developed in compliance.

Can third parties be compliance solutions?

Many businesses use third parties for email. Some of these take the CASL obligations very seriously with audited/certified practices and therefore present a good way to manage your CASL risk. Yet some are less knowledgeable or careful about CASL, which presents a risk that they will often transfer to you through the service agreement. A careful review of vendors and of the legal terms is needed to outsource your CASL compliance. Remember that CASL makes the sender responsible for compliance, so using third-party lists doesn’t alleviate your responsibility. Even when relying on a third party, you will still need some internal education and practices to ensure newly acquired contacts are brought in with the appropriate consent.

What are the basics of compliance?

CASL compliance mandates three things: (1) that you have consent to send messages by email or text or to update software, (2) that you always are clear about who is sending the message with the proscribed information and (3) that you provide an easy way to unsubscribe.

CASL doesn’t apply: CASL does not apply to electronic messages sent within an organization or between organizations in a relationship, where the message concerns the recipient. Of course, CASL doesn’t affect emails or texts by people in your organization that have a “family” or “personal” relationship with the recipient.

CASL consent exemptions: With many of your business communications, CASL applies to mandate sender information and unsubscribes, but consent is not required. This could allow you to send email or text without express consent if it is in furtherance of an existing transaction, including warranty, product recall, safety information, delivery of products, updates, or upgrades that the recipient is entitled to receive.

Implied consent: In other business communications, CASL applies to mandate sender information and unsubscribes, but consent is implied because the recipient and sender have an “existing relationship.” But be careful to keep track of communication sent under this category because your “implied consent” expires two years after a product is purchased or a membership/subscription has expired. CASL also allows you to rely upon implied consent for emails sent to recipients who have conspicuously published or provided his or her email address but, again, be careful because it is only valid as long as the email is still conspicuously published without restriction. Cull your lists or convert these recipients to express consent, which never expires.

What is consent under CASL?

While there may be circumstances in which you wish to rely upon an exemption to consent or implied consent, the most reliable approach to CASL compliance is to ensure you have proof of express consent, which does not expire unless it is removed by the recipient.
Express consent requires that at the point of collection you advise:

  1. of the purpose of requesting consent (let them know you will use it to send them offers or updates; let them know whether the email would be shared with anyone else);
  2. of the name of the entity requesting consent (e.g. be clear if it is on behalf of the parent organization);
  3. of a mailing address plus phone number, email, or web address; and
  4. that consent can be withdrawn.

Also be sure to make it an affirmative opt-in mechanism, which means checking a box or having to input an email address to sign up for these communications. Be careful with a process that has the email already provided (for sign in or other purpose) and just a notice that it will be used for communications. This would likely not constitute express consent, forcing you to rely upon an exemption or implied consent that may not be available in the circumstances.

The onus is on your to prove consent if it is contested by a recipient or you are investigated, so be sure to keep accurate, updated records of the consent you are relying on for each email or text that you send.

Do a CASL compliance test:

  1. Does your business send email or texts to customers?
  2. Does your business update software—e.g. through an app?
  3. Do your emails or texts include an unsubscribe option that can remove someone from your list within 10 days (and do you regularly test it)?
  4. Do your emails or texts include the proscribed information about the sender?
  5. Do you have express consent, implied consent or an exemption to consent that you can rely upon?
  6. Do you have a fair allocation of risk with your vendors that are relevant to your CASL obligations, whether it services for your email, IT services, storage, list sharing, customer service, etc.?
  7. Do you have senior management involvement, a written policy, risk assessments, record keeping, staff training and a complaint-handling process?

If you have questions about this fact sheet or wish to review some of the concepts as it applies to your business, you can contact me at

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


The Quick and Dirty on Demystifying the Slush Pile by Chelene Knight

By Chelene Knight, managing editor at Room magazine, CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials, author of Dear Current Occupant

The Mystery of the Slush Pile

Photograph of Chelene Knight
Chelene Knight

What is a slush pile? The definition changes from person to person, from magazine to magazine, and from publisher to publisher. To most, the slush pile is the towering stack of submissions that were not selected to be published at first read-through. The emergence of online submission managers such as Submittable, has turned this tangible tower into an out of sight, out of mind virtual filing cabinet.

To others, slush can mean “any unsolicited submission,” but for literary magazines, (aside from the commissioned pieces) wouldn’t that mean that all submissions are unsolicited? Now that so many literary magazines have shifted to online submission managers, there is no real slush pile; instead there are a series of processes in place to sort where a submission “lives” while it’s not currently being read, edited or considered. Although having the option to submit your work online has it conveniences, the influx of submissions has increased substantially.

The practices and procedures for reading submissions will differ depending on the magazine, their staffing and volunteer levels and a few other key factors, but the idea is the same: to log and track all incoming submissions and to have readers read and rank EVERYTHING (this is what takes so long).

So then…your gorgeous short story, essay or poem is already labelled slush, before you even hit send. So yes, let’s demystify the slush pile because slush piles can harbour gold, too.

Timing & Submission Deadlines

If a call opens on November 1 and closes on January 31, is there a best time to submit? The truth is, it does not matter. As long as your submission falls within those deadlines, you are fine. What so many folks do not know (and this is especially true for quarterly magazines) is that when the call is open, the submissions generally aren’t read until the call closes. What does this mean? If you submit your piece on November 1, chances are it will not be looked at until at least the end of January. The reason for this is that with quarterly magazines, editors and editorial teams are working on four issues at once, with all of them at different stages of production.


Second editor forwards:
If your piece makes it to the editor and that editor likes your piece but cannot use it, they will usually forward it to another editor for a subsequent issue (it’s nice when magazines send you an email letting you know, because this basically means your wait time doubles, and it’s important to keep writers updated). Note: this is a process some magazines use, not all.

What you need to remember:

  • Most magazines will have first readers and your submission needs to make it past the reader before it gets to the editor. This is the tricky part because even though you may have researched the editor and have a good understanding in terms of what they like and what they usually publish, your submission might not even make it to them. I know that sounds disheartening, but rest assured, if your work shines, it will get published one way or another.
  • Production time is long. There’s no way around this. A lot goes into putting the issue together and a lot of this work goes above and beyond just reading and selecting pieces. Most issues take one full year with four issues in production at once but all at different stages (this is true for quarterly mags). If anyone has questions about production, please post in slack and I will do my best to include simplified answers.

To Check In or Not to Check In

I think it’s totally acceptable to reach out to a magazine about your submission if you haven’t heard back in six months or longer. But in doing this, be careful with what you are asking for.

Unpaid labour is real. Most literary magazine editorial teams are volunteers or paid small honorariums and do this work before and after their day jobs. Asking a magazine editor to provide you with substantive feedback is not something you should consider doing. You can, however, ask if the rejection was an issue of not having enough space in that specific issue (which is a real thing). Another acceptable ask is if you get an email directly from the editor, you can ask if there were any notes left on your piece that can be passed on. But note, this is rare. Just be polite in your ask and realistic with your expectations and acknowledge the added labour you are asking for.

Summary of Best Practices and Key Takeaways

  • Nowadays the slush pile is a virtual filing cabinet of submissions marked “to be read.”
  • Due to the shift to online submissions, the number of submissions magazines receive has increased substantially.
  • Editorial teams are usually working on more than one issue at once in various phases of production.
  • If one editor does not have space for your piece for whatever reason, they might forward it to the editor of the next issue (or if there’s only one editor, they may hold it for the next issue).
  • There are usually readers who take a first read before deciding to pass it on to the editor.
  • Production can be a long process. There are a lot of steps involved in putting the magazine together:
    • Interviews
    • Organizing art
    • Reading submissions
    • Formatting and graphic design
    • Soliciting ads
    • Backend admin
    • Copyediting
    • Proofreading
    • Theme tie-ins
  • You can check in on your submission, but be sure not to ask for substantive feedback as most editors are volunteers and unpaid labour is always something they are battling.
  • Always send your best. Chances are, if it sings, it will find a home.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


Clean Up Your Copy: 10 Common Spelling and Grammar Errors by Jaclyn Law

By Jaclyn Law, Freelance Writer and Editor

We know what you’re thinking: “A Hotsheet on spelling and grammar mistakes? Isn’t that what spell-checkers are for?”

Yes, but spelling and grammar checkers have limitations. For one thing, they don’t check word usage. They might not alert you if you use the wrong word but it’s correctly spelled or if you type in a homophone (a sound-alike word, such as pour instead of pore). They often fail to notice missing words and punctuation problems. Spell-checkers set to autocorrect may pick the wrong words or change correctly spelled words that they don’t recognize, such as words from other languages. Grammar checkers often misdiagnose complex sentences.

We’ll give you just one example of why proofreading is essential. This sentence got a clean bill of health from a word processor’s spell-checker: Tizzy beta too halve) gloved und list’ then”, nerve/ too half loafed aa tall. (Apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson.) There’s just no substitute for careful reading by human eyes.

Below is a list of errors that copy editors encounter all the time. It will help you create cleaner, clearer and more authoritative copy, whether you’re writing a magazine article, a blog post, a sales campaign or an email.

Common Copy Errors

1. its or it’s

People often mix these up. Use its to indicate possession: The shop has changed its hours. Use it’s when you mean it is: It’s nice to meet you. How to remember the difference? It’s is a contraction (two words combined in a shorter form); the apostrophe replaces the letter i in is. Try plugging it is (or it has) into your sentence. If it doesn’t sound right, use its.

2. they’re, their, there

These homophones are a triple threat, but the first two have narrow uses. They’re is a contraction of they are: They’re outside. Their is a possessive pronoun: I like their outfits.

For other situations, you likely want there.

  • As an adverb or a noun, there refers to a place or position: I worked there for years or I went over there.
  • As a pronoun, there introduces the subject of a sentence: There was a cat on the roof.
  • As an interjection, there expresses satisfaction or sympathy: There, it’s done and There, there, don’t cry.

It may help you to remember that there contains here, and both words refer to places.

3. your or you’re

Your is a possessive pronoun: Your keys are upstairs. You’re is a contraction of you are: You’re a good listener.

4. Shifting verb tenses

In each independent clause, keep your verb tenses consistent. For example, this clause mixes present and past tenses: Ben waves and drove away. It’s better to use only one tense: Ben waves and drives away or Ben waved and drove away.

5. Lack of subject-verb agreement

Singular subjects take singular verbs: Amy is. Plural subjects take plural verbs: Amy and Alex are. You might make a mistake if you’re not sure whether the subject of a sentence is singular or plural. Which is correct: The range of colours is amazing or The range of colours are amazing? Range is the subject, and it’s singular, so the correct verb choice is is. (The word of is often a clue; look for the subject in front of it.)

If you have two singular subjects with or, neither/nor or either/or, use a singular verb. For example, this sentence uses the singular verb has: Either Jing or Shan has the book.

In a similar sentence that has both singular and plural subjects, the verb agrees with the closest subject: Neither the dresses nor the parka fits in the closet or Neither the parka nor the dresses fit in the closet. However, not every grammar authority endorses this solution. Some authorities advise writers to provide a verb for each subject: The dresses do not fit in the closet, and neither does the parka.

There are exceptions. Watch for these common ones:

  • Collective nouns take a singular verb when the members of the group act as a single unit: The committee has called a meeting. Collective nouns take a plural verb when the members of the group act as individuals: The committee have been debating for hours.
  • Some pronouns—some, all, more, none—take singular or plural verbs. The verb form depends on the noun that the pronoun refers to. Examples: Some of the food has spoiled and Some of the bananas are mushy.
  • When treating time, distance or money as a single unit, use a singular verb: Five million dollars is a lot of money. Ten years is a long time.
  • Some plural words—such as measles, physics and billiards—are treated as singular. For example: Physics is a challenging subject.

6. Joint and separate possession

Joint possession, or compound possession, means that two parties share something. Add an apostrophe and an s to the second name only: Canada and Japan’s trade agreement. Separate possession means two parties each have something, but they don’t share it. Add an apostrophe and an s to both names: Canada’s and Japan’s trade agreements.

7. Comma splices

A comma splice occurs when a comma connects two independent clauses. Sometimes we use comma splices for effect—for example, Julius Caesar’s famous words “I came, I saw, I conquered”—but in general we should avoid them.

This comma splice—I was in a hurry, I forgot my wallet—is an error. To fix it, we could create two sentences: I was in a hurry. I forgot my wallet. We could use a comma and a coordinating conjunction to make a compound sentence: I was in a hurry, and I forgot my wallet. We could replace the comma with a semicolon: I was in a hurry; I forgot my wallet.

Watch out for run-on sentences (two independent clauses with no punctuation between them): I was in a hurry I forgot my wallet.

8. Dangling modifiers

A modifier is a phrase that describes or clarifies something else. If it’s unclear what the modifier refers to, or if it appears to modify the wrong part of a sentence, the modifier is “dangling.”

The results are often confusing or funny. An example: Camping in the woods, the bear startled us. The modifier Camping in the woods is too far from the sentence’s intended subject (the campers), so it looks like the bear was camping. A possible fix: Camping in the woods, we were startled by a bear.

Another example: Born in Singapore, his novel was a bestseller. The modifier Born in Singapore mistakenly refers to his novel. The intended subject, the author, is missing, and his is insufficient. Correction: Kevin Kwan, who was born in Singapore, wrote a bestselling novel.

9. Lack of parallelism

A sentence that features parallelism repeats a grammatical form or word pattern to indicate that two or more ideas are equally important. Parallelism adds clarity and a pleasing flow to your writing.

Here’s an example of a sentence that lacks parallelism. Note how awkwardly the sentence reads: Maya loves swimming, marathons and to climb. We can improve this sentence with consistent verb forms: Maya loves swimming, running marathons and climbing or Maya loves to swim, run marathons and climb.

Here’s another example of a sentence that lacks parallelism: Adam works quickly and finished the project. It’s better if the verb tenses match: Adam worked quickly and finished the project.

Sometimes a sentence that lacks parallelism reads as an interrupted list: The house has leaky pipes, crumbling walls and the heating is faulty. Better: The house has leaky pipes, crumbling walls and faulty heating.

10. Double-spacing after a period

This punctuation habit is a holdover from the era of typewriters. Don’t double space after a period. Period.


These resources can help you learn more about grammar, punctuation and word usage:

Editing Canadian English, 3rd edition (Editors Canada)
The Canadian Press Online Stylebook (Canadian Press)
The Chicago Manual of Style Online (University of Chicago Press)
The Canadian Style (TERMIUM Plus, Government of Canada)

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


Writing about Indigenous People and Communities: Three Tips to Get it Right by Angela Sterritt

Angela Sterritt
Angela Sterritt

By Angela Sterritt, Journalist and Writer, CBC

I often get asked, what makes an Indigenous story different? And I always say the say the same thing. Nothing.

That might seem counterintuitive when we are often reminded about the sensitivity, needed context and previous gaps in stories on Indigenous people and communities. But it’s about getting it right and that means striving to cover Indigenous stories with the same investigation, rigour, sensitivity, depth and accuracy as any other story.

The difference is the acknowledgement that as an institution, the media has not done a good job covering Indigenous stories in the past. We have left out details, such as how much a family member loves a missing or murdered love one, or been too gratuitous with other details, like spending the most time on who killed her or how she died. In many cases, we have also got facts wrong, talked to too few sources or worse, not covered a story at all.

Trust has been broken with media and now some are trying to build it back up.

I’ve been covering Indigenous stories, not exclusively, but often over the last several years and there are some tips I have picked up along the way—often from making my own mistakes.

1. Don’t rush a sensitive story

For some Indigenous people, in particular survivors of residential schools, the sixties scoop or family members of missing or murdered loved ones, this may be the first time they have shared their story because of a lack of trust in media.

Some may have witnessed or experienced a negative interview or had a story published about them or their community that was not accurate or misrepresentative.

Do let interviewees know about your deadline, the treatment of the story and your direction, but be open minded about how long it may take to gather, especially if it is a sensitive story.

I once expressed my frustration with how long an interview with a survivor was taking to set up and not only did I lose the interview and the story but the contact. It was a big reminder that some stories cannot be rushed. I now make a point of being gentle with time.

That being said, you might need to let your editor or producer know that this story might take more time in the gathering stage.

Also keep in mind this may not be true for everyone. I’ve also had many survivors feel good about sharing and want the story to go out as soon as possible. Others have worked with media before and can help turn a story around in a few hours. Keep in mind, like everyone, Indigenous people do not all have the same experience.

2. Be objective, and mindful of stereotyping

One of the main flaws of the past in writing about Indigenous communities was that they were often presented in an oversimplified way. We saw tropes of Indigenous people as only of the past, only in a cultural lens or bleakly.

We’ve left out important context that helped to understand a community or person or added context when it wasn’t needed.

For example, in an excellent news story about voting in an Indigenous community, two Indigenous youth were featured. It was compelling and powerful. But at one point the reporter questioned the youth about the type of drugs he used growing up—”oxytocin or meth”? It gave the story weight and context about the hurdles this community had overcome, but how often would we ask non-Indigenous people this same question for a story unrelated to drugs and alcohol? Many people of different races have had brushes with and even struggled with addictions but often it’s highlighted in Indigenous stories.

I also had a keen non-Indigenous student recently tell me that he was told by another student not to ask Indigenous people about their community as it may be too traumatizing for them. This is an inaccurate assumption, as for one it infers that all Indigenous people are victims, and for two it suggests we should steer away from difficult stories in Indigenous communities. We should strive for balance in our coverage of Indigenous communities and this means being brave enough to cover the hard stories and knowing the value of doing the lighter, more positive ones.

It’s a lesson about inserting our own bias about Indigenous people, intentionally or inadvertently, into our storytelling. The tip here is to think about what biases or tropes you are bringing to your stories with your own preconceptions about Indigenous people.

Here are some to avoid:

  • The victim narrative: Depicting Indigenous people or a person as collapsing under the burden of history or current realities, or overcoming tragedies that have no root cause.
  • The addict and alcoholic stereotype: Exhibiting a person’s past or current substance abuse when it is unrelated to the story.
  • The warrior trope: Rather than looking at concerns as legitimate political, environmental or socio-economic ones—painting an Indigenous person as a trouble maker, or as irrational, even violent.
  • The greedy/lazy label: Instead of telling a robust story about finances, treaties and lands in Indigenous communities, showcasing a narrow, crude or inaccurate presentation of the issues such as Indigenous people getting free stuff (education and gas are popular errors) or tax breaks.

3. Actually visit an Indigenous community

One of the things I notice more and more is that reporters end up tethered to their desks due to budget cuts or tighter deadlines, so I understand, this is a hard one.

But it’s difficult to actually understand the complexity of a community without going there, talking to people there and seeing the state of the community. For example, many reporters had covered a Stolo community close to Chilliwack, B.C. but without ever going there. Most of the reports focused on one chief who was in support of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and from one perspective. But going there showed me a diverse cross-section of the community: some who were clearly against the expansion, others who were for it, but for a vast array of reasons. Going there also showed me just how small the community was, how tight knit and how connected to other communities it was.

Being in a community can also show you the distance it is from larger centres, the challenges it may face to access education, health care and transportation.

Make sure not just to show up, ask permission from a resident (doesn’t have to be from the band leadership) and try to plan it around a community event. When I was covering stories about the oil sands in northern Alberta, we planned it around a career fair and a trapping trip.

The biggest, more important piece of advice I can offer, is start to see Indigenous people as not black-and-white caricatures who exist in homogeneous ways, but as three-dimensional, complex and diverse people, with various opinions, ways of life, experiences and values.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) Tips for Your Website by Caren Watkins

By Caren Watkins, MDes; Inclusive designer, IDRC, FLOE, OCAD University; coordinator SNOW: Inclusive Learning and Education

An accessible website means that all information found on a web page or web application, including text, images, forms and sounds, must be accessible to physical, sensory and cognitive diversities. As of January 1, 2021, all public websites and their web content published after January 1, 2012 belonging to and controlled by a private, non-profit or public organizations with fifty or more employees must conform to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 Level AA (excluding live captioning and pre-recorded audio descriptions). While you don’t have to make content prior to January 2012 accessible you will be required to accommodate anyone who asks for alternative and accessible content.

In the 2016 AODA Hotsheet we discussed the importance of knowing how users access your content, staying proactive, and reframing accessibility: “Think of accessibility less as a compliance process and rather as an exemplary design process, the objective of which is to reach people of all abilities.” This year we dig deeper into tools that can help you get your site to Level AA and maintaining compliance.

The Facts about Deadlines and Compliance

The 2021 deadline is approaching and compliance monitoring will likely become stricter. Reporting compliance should be part of your accessibility goal, both to help you map a strategy to achieve accessibility as well as to avoid fines.

Here is a snapshot of web accessibility deadlines for private businesses and not-for-profits with 50 or more employees leading up to the big 2021 deadline:

Private & Not-for-profit Organizations (50+ employees)
2014All new internet websites and web content on those sites must conform with WCAG 2.0 level A
Multi-year accessibility plans in place
File accessibility report (by December 31)
2017File accessibility report (by December 31)
2020File accessibility report (by December 31)
2021All internet websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 level AA
(excluding live captioning and audio description)

See a full list of deadlines at Access Ontario:

For this Hotsheet we’ve focused on section 14 of the Information and Communication Standard of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) of the AODA called “accessible websites and web content.” It is important to understand that there are many other standards within the IASR that include not only the information and communication standards but also the transportation standards and the employment standards, each with their own accessibility requirements. Publishing companies may need to comply with various sections within all three of the standards.

The mandatory compliance report includes 17 questions mainly related to services and built environments (space). The final question of the report encompasses website compliance: “Other than the requirements cited in the above questions, is your organization complying with all other requirements in effect under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation?” Even though wording doesn’t specifically indicate web-related compliance, the broad statement is a catch-all for all mandated requirements.

There are specific accessibility rules for publishers of educational materials, which I think is useful to mention here, given magazines often repackage materials into special editions or books. If those materials are intended as learning resources for educational and training institutions then they must meet accessibility standards in Ontario. Find out more here:

Getting It Done

There are two useful guides to help support understanding of accessibility and specifics of what needs to be done to your site based on WCAG criteria.

1. Accessibility guide based on four principles

W3C, the Web Accessibility Initiative, has put together a useful guide for web accessibility requirements organized under the four intrinsic principles of web accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR). Under each principle there are links to relevant WCAG criteria and several stories from people with lived experience. Below is an overview, but be sure to check out the full guide to get the most out of this useful learning guide:

A. Perceivable information and user interface includes text alternatives for meaningful non-text content, captions and other alternatives for multimedia, and options to control an audio or video component, for example.

B. User interfaces and navigation that is operable means a person can use a keyboard to move around your site rather than by gesture, mouse or trackpad, and that people have enough time to read and use the content by postponing or suppressing interruptions. It may also mean that the keyboard focus is visible, pages have clear titles and the purpose of a link is clearly evident.

C. A webpage is considered understandable when text is readable and understandable, content appears and operates in predictable ways, and users are supported in avoiding and correcting mistakes (when filling out forms for example). You can support broader “understanding” by providing definitions for unusual words, idioms and abbreviations and using the simplest language possible (or even provide simplified versions); having consistent navigation and prompts throughout all pages to let people learn how to move around the site with actions they can predict; and giving people the opportunity to review and correct content during and after filling out a form.

D. Making sure markup can be interpreted by assistive technologies (such as screen readers) is part of creating robust content that includes a name, role and value for content so that assistive technologies can process the content reliably. “ARIA is the means of supplying names, roles and values for common UI designs that aren’t part of the HTML standard, such as tabbed navigation interfaces,” notes Alan Harnum, senior inclusive developer at the IDRC. (See “What to Expect in the Near Future 2. ARIA 1.1” below for more info and learn about what name, role and value mean in context of technology here).

2. WCAG’s quick reference tool

This reference tool has a filter to help you zero in on the areas of your website that need to be addressed under the POUR accessibility principles. By setting the filters to 2.0 level AA you will be able to scroll through the approximately 13 requirements to fulfill AODA compliance. Level A has approximately 25 criteria and if you have already fulfilled all or most of them then you are well on your way to being Level AA compliant. And to make it even easier, each criterion displays expandable areas for further information, such as full descriptions, techniques and failures, and deeper information to help you understand the specific criterion.

WCAG's quick reference tool filter tab showing selection options.

Figure 1: WCAG’s quick reference tool filter tab showing selection options.

What to Expect in the Near Future

Work continues around the world to inform best practices and international standards. Working groups, research centres, advocates and others are focused on building a more inclusive world by making ICT (information and communication technology) accessible to all. We can, therefore, expect there to be valuable updates to criteria, standards and compliance requirements. Here are two worth noting:

1. WCAG 2.1

WCAG released version 2.1 in June of 2018. “The main goals of version 2.1 are to improve accessibility for mobile, low vision and cognitive differences,” says Lisa Liskovoi, designer and accessibility specialist at the Inclusive Design Research Centre. “The focus on mobile is significant because many people use and need a mobile device to navigate their world, so for example in 2.1 it is required that orientation cannot be restricted so users can operate a site or app vertically or horizontally on their device. Complex gestures such as pinching or twisting require alternative ways of performing the action. For example pinching to zoom in also has a plus (+) and minus (-) option that people can select to perform the same function.” In her reviews of website accessibility, Lisa often sees that contrast of non-text content such as buttons, icons and other important user elements is poor so that they become very difficult to find. Version 2.1 addresses access to non-text content with a new requirement for better designed contrast and visibility. WCAG 2.1 has been adopted by the European Union but has not been incorporated into any Canadian legislation as of November 2018.

We are starting to see more and more work being done around inclusion of cognitive differences and ICT. Last fall the IDRC (Inclusive Design Research Centre) had the opportunity to organize a workshop that brought together global procurement and accessibility leaders to inform a progressive accessibility policy for the Federal Government of Canada. A key recommendation from the group was the importance of supporting cognitive differences. WCAG 2.1 has begun to incorporate some functional requirements that support cognitive differences, such as giving people warnings about tasks that have time limits. For example, if someone needs to gather credit card or address information for a timed task they are told about the requirement before entering into the timed action, allowing people to gather information within their own time.

2. ARIA 1.1

ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications specification) is a set of attributes for web markup that “defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities” by adding a semantic layer of information that can be picked up by assistive technologies. For example, it allows users to communicate the functionality and current state of toggles that collapse and expand content, something that is generally only communicated visually. Developers can make advanced Web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities, especially people who rely on screen readers and people who cannot use a mouse.

ARIA has several updates in the latest version 1.1. Lisa points to sites that use infinite role feeds like Pinterest, where a screen reader doesn’t tell a user that the page has been refreshed, something that is easy to identify for a visual user. With ARIA 1.1 there is now an attribute that prompts a screen reader to voice when a page in role feed has been refreshed.

Being Agile and Inclusive Go Hand-In-Hand

The most important adjustment you can make is with processes. How you design and build your web content can make it easier to be compliant. “Move away from one champion and have accessibility scaled laterally,” says Lisa, “and better yet, make accessibility a value in your company.”

Maintaining sustainable compliance is about embedding accessibility thinking at every stage of your design process by having your practices be inclusive of a diversity of people. The Inclusive Design Guide‘s insights, practices, tools and activities are resources you can easily layer into existing processes (in particular if you have an agile publishing process in place). Also check out the “inclusive design practice” section on the FLOE resource page for more helpful links.

Here’s an idea: consider accessibility as your fourth bottom line in a quadruple bottom line model and you will no doubt be a leader in inclusion.

Thank you to Lisa Liskovoi, Dr. Vera Roberts, Justin Obara, Alan Harnum and the inclusive design community.


2016 Hotsheet on AODA Tips for Your Website

Inclusive Design

The Inclusive Design Guide

List of Inclusive Design Practices resources and more

The Inclusive Learning Design Handbook

Different types of assistive and accessible technology used to access content

The Inclusive Design Research Centre

The Business Case for Digital Accessibility

This resource, published by The W3C WAI Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG), includes direct and indirect benefits of accessibility, the risks of not addressing accessibility adequately, and case studies and examples that demonstrate how continued investment in accessibility is good for your organization. It shows how accessibility can:

  • Drive Innovation
  • Enhance Your Brand
  • Extend Market Reach
  • Minimize Legal Risk

WCAG 2.1 blogs

How to Meet WCAG 2: Quick Reference Tool

Accessibility principles: POUR

Understand the concept of ROBUST and what name, role and value mean in the context of AT


The standard (

The authoring practices document (

User Interface Options (accessibility add-on for your site)

UI Options is a tool that allows individuals to personalize web content and other user digital interfaces to meet their needs and preferences. It works by adding to the existing styles of a website or application, and can be integrated into a design with relatively minimal effort.

Accessibility checker tools & guides

Check your website to see if it’s accessible:

Check your markup for accessibility best practices:

Check your colour contrast:

Understanding users of all abilities:

Web content accessibility guidelines: introductory guide for web developers:

Authoring tools accessibility guidelines (ATAG 2.0):

50+ employees:

Minister Qualtrough’s site:


Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


Developing an Editorial Mix for Your Regional Magazine by Anicka Quin

By Anicka Quin, Editorial Director, Western Living and Vancouver magazines

So you’re running a regional magazine—that’s great! The good news is, publications that celebrate community and connect with their readership on a personal identity level are more important than ever—and more popular than ever, too. Some of the most successful magazine launches in recent years have been focused around celebrating those unique communities and connection that is built around them—often creating an identity where people may have not recognized their need for one (think Garden and Gun, Burnt Roti, Kinfolk). Great regional magazines spark the imaginations of their readers, who will identify with your message of community and celebration of home.

So how do you do that?

Understand Your Audience

You’ll want to understand just who the reader is, and be able to paint a clear picture for your editorial team. If you’re just launching, some of this is going to come from gut check—you and your circle of friends and prospective readers who will express what really gets them going. Even new launches need to spend a lot of time out in the community, getting a sense of who their ideal readers will be. If you’ve got an advertising model for your publication, you can informally poll your clients as potential readers. (You’ll want to separate what works for them as a client—write about me!—to what works for them as a resident of the community, of course.)

For established publications, Vividata stats are gold—dig deep into figuring out your reader’s habits. (Do they own pets? Are they likely to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine, or are they more interested in learning about the deals out there? Do they travel internationally, or do they explore the local haunts?) The closer you can get to what makes them tick, the better filters you will have for determining the ideal stories for your magazine.

If you’re not a member of Vividata, make your own readership survey, ideally with a great prize attached to generate more interest, and ask the psychographic questions you’re wrestling with yourself. Rather than just “How do you like our column by X?” find out what makes them tick as people: what are they passionate about in their communities and in life?

Your online readers and social media followers can also be a source of feedback. While they aren’t always the same people reading print and online—so do not assume the info you gather here is the final word—the stats you can garner from Google Analytics will give you a richer picture. And a story that goes viral online can also give you some instant feedback on what people want.

Who Are You Celebrating?

Magazines can be a powerful force in a community. When they get it right, they can both effect real change (see Toronto Life‘s story on police carding in Toronto, and its after effects) and strengthen a community. Western Living runs a Designers of the Year award program, for example, and the winners of those awards see their businesses change overnight—our readers support them by hiring them. What communities are underserved in your region and how can you reflect them in your pages?

People Want to See People

The success of regional magazines is often about reflecting the faces of those people in your community on the page. National magazines can struggle to truly represent all areas of the country, but you don’t have to. Whose story needs being told? In Western Living, “people seeing people” can be as simple as ensuring the homes we photograph have the real people living in them, and photographed within them. We highlight local designers, doing work here in our region. People connect with seeing their neighbours in print.

Develop Connections Across the Region

Your head office is just one part of your community, and it is important that you understand the issues and people of importance throughout your region. At Western Living, we have freelance city editors based in every city we write about. They file monthly updates with us about local events, new stores and new people we should be covering and paying attention to. Because we are a design-focused magazine, they will also scout homes for us, and they will attend events on our behalf. We also cultivate relationships with writers across the region who pitch local stories, but having this official, monthly check-in with our city editors keeps us better connected. Bring those writers into your editorial meetings when you can as well—they’ll make the brainstorming process even richer.

Ask, Why Now, Why Us?

One of the toughest decisions as an editor is to turn down a pitch not because it isn’t great, but because it isn’t a great fit with the magazine. This is where both your vision for the publication, and your knowledge of your ideal reader, is all too important. Every story should answer the question, why now—why is this subject or content important to talk about right now, as opposed to last year, or any other time? And it should also answer, why us? Why is this the right fit for your publication—could it better live in a more general interest publication? Does it celebrate or reflect a member of your community that your readers should really get to know? Does it have an angle that only you and your team can properly execute? If it is a no to any of the above, think about what would make it so.

Get Off the Page

Readers want to be feel a part of the brand. Take Garden and Gun for example. Jessica Derrick, their brand development manager, noted that “They just knew that if we were going to write about music, then our readers were going to want to listen to it.” They wrote about Alabama chef Frank Stitt, and then sold out a dinner for 50 people in Birmingham. The magazine starts the conversation, and we as human beings crave the community to discuss and experience it—to live in the world that this magazine has created. These events can be revenue generators for your brand, but they will also get you out in front of your readers and give you another opportunity to know who they are and what stories would connect with them.

Finally, Map out Your Yearly Calendar

Once you have narrowed in on topics that have local resonance, give your editorial team, your readers and your advertisers plenty of advance warning. Your readers (and when they will want to read about certain topics) are your priority, but do not forget to check in with your advertising team for times of year that certain content is helpful for them. If you’re planning to do an annual package celebrating the Top 40 Foodies in your region, check in with the sales team to see if there are healthier advertising budgets for restaurants, suppliers, markets, etc. at certain times of the year.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


The Facts: Magazine Media Tells and Sells by Linda Thomas Brooks

By Linda Thomas Brooks, President and CEO, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media.

I am often asked, “If advertising in magazines is still proven to be more effective than other media, provides a brand safe environment with trusted, credible, fact-checked content and reaches larger audiences than even television, why aren’t marketers reflecting that in their media mixes?”

My answer, “Beats me.”

Maybe somewhere there is a study on human nature that explains why people have a tendency to pick the latest fad over the tried and true. I, however, have always had a preference for choosing the option with the greatest likelihood of success.

With that in mind, MPA has collected outside, industry-accepted research that speaks to how and why magazine media works.

FACT: Consumers Invite Magazines into Their Homes

Consumers’ relationship with magazines generally begins with the customer reaching out and saying, “Here is my name. Here is my home address. Here is my credit card information.” That is different than every other media channel. When you think about all third-party data appends and cookie data, they don’t really know who you are. Instead, they can geo-locate you. They can ping you with a Starbucks message even if you aren’t a coffee drinker. They can intercept you and interrupt you.

As a customer reading a magazine, I understand the advertising. I like the advertising. The advertising is part of the experience. It is not an annoyance. The magazine is an invited guest, and the advertiser is welcome as a “plus one.” This is validated in Simmons Multi-Media Engagement Study, where attributes like “ads fit well with the content” and “has ads about things I care about” are highest for magazines.

FACT: Paper-Based Reading is More Effective

MPA looked at a compilation of outside research done by more than 100 neuroscientists, learning psychologists and cognitive psychologists to understand how people interact with print. What did we find? People process print content with greater focus of attention and with much more intense emotional reverberations than the screen format.

Scientists concluded through eye tracking, comprehension testing and FMRI machines that subjects had less distraction when reading on paper. Paper-based reading also has impact due to the additional sensory involvement—the feel of the pages, the smell of the paper and the sound of turning the sheet.

When subjects were tested while reading paper-based formats, they had higher comprehension and recall. They spend more time with printed pieces and at slower reading speeds, which stimulates emotions and desires. That emotional impact is very important to advertisers because a lot of advertising leans on emotional triggers.

The scientists also looked at preferred reading methods for what they call robust reading—really wanting to understand core material. All adult age groups, including millennials, favoured paper-based reading.

Why does all this matter to advertisers? If you are putting an ad out there, you want to know if your target audience saw it, paid attention to it, understood it and will remember it. All of those things are elevated with paper-based reading.

FACT: Print Boosts the Effectiveness of Cross-Platform Campaigns

Any strategic communications planner knows that when you add a media channel your numbers go up. According to Millward Brown, the single best channel to increase all upper and lower funnel metrics is magazines. The Millward Brown study compiled over 150 client studies in four categories—CPG, Auto, Entertainment and Financial Services—and looked at mixtures of media. They found that when print media is in the mix, critical KPIs go up the most.

Adding print is the best way to build awareness and consideration as well as move brand favourability and purchase intent. For example, the Millward Brown research shows that you get a 17% lift on purchase intent when you have print working in your media mix.

Understanding consumer journeys can be complicated, but the idea is always the same: You can’t harvest people at the bottom of the funnel, if you don’t put them at the top of the funnel first. The single best way to move both upper and lower-funnel metrics is to have print in a campaign.

FACT: Magazines Have the Highest Return on Ad Spend

When clients say “I already have high awareness and consideration, I just need to move some product,” I say, “Magazines are the best place to drive sales.”

Nielsen Catalina did a roll up of over 1,400 client studies that they had conducted over a year. They looked at their key metric, Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), which measures what you get back for every dollar you put in the marketplace. Magazines delivered a $3.94 return on every $1. The next highest, digital display, trails by more than $1.30 at $2.63.

For clients who already have high awareness and consideration, Neilson Catalina found that high frequency of use and high awareness brands have a much higher frequency of return on their spending in magazine media, a whopping $5.94. Those are the brands that have the highest return on their media spending and should be leveraging print.

FACT: Magazine Media Offers the Only Industry-Wide Sales Guarantee

About eight years ago, Meredith Corporation did research using Nielsen Catalina for CPG products to look at the results of a specific ad campaign. They boldly promised that if a qualifying campaign does not demonstrate positive ROI, advertisers can have their money back.

Meredith made their methodology available to any other MPA member publisher who could participate, and more than 80 campaigns have offered the guarantee. Some of those were print only and some of those have been multi-format campaigns.

Any guesses on how many times the guarantee worked? How many times clients got a positive ROI? Every. Single. Time. No other media offers an advertising guarantee. What does that tell you?

FACT: Magazine Media is Powerful Across Platforms

Not only is magazine media more engaging thanks to its paper format, even digital readers average 50 minutes with each issue. On social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter—magazine companies are the number one brands and they elicit more engagement than non-magazine brands.

When you look at magazine media audience across all platforms—Print, Digital, Web, Mobile and Video—magazines have enormous reach: 1.8 billion to be exact.

People enjoy print; better yet, consumers are adding other magazine media platforms while still enjoying that tangible copy. If audiences are engaged across platforms, why aren’t marketers?

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


Financial Planning and Budgeting for Small and Medium Sized Magazines by Mindy Abramowitz

By Mindy Abramowitz, CPA, CGA

Of the many tasks that the staff (or volunteers) of small or medium-sized magazines must wrangle, financial management is one of the least glamourous, yet most indispensable to the success of the enterprise. Lapses in oversight and management can result in cash shortages and unnecessary panic at tax time or when grant applications are due. Fortunately, a diverse range of affordable software applications are available to assist with some of the repetitive and time-consuming aspects of bookkeeping and financial management. Many of the bookkeeping applications on the market offer an option to download bank and credit card transactions and integrate with other third-party applications you might use to track sales, staff time and expenses. These standard features automate a lot of the data entry required to complete your accounting. Spending less time recording data means you have more time to make informed decisions and plans for your organization. Here are a few other considerations to help introduce financial planning and management efficiencies.

Integrate Bookkeeping and Budgeting Functions

A budgeting tool is a common feature of most commercial bookkeeping applications and most of them allow you to budget on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis to suit whatever reporting frequency works best for your organization. The obvious advantage to building your budget directly in your bookkeeping software is that it eliminates most of the manual effort involved in preparing budget reports. Assuming your books are up-to-date, producing a report should be as simple as selecting a budget versus actual report from the application’s menu choices. From there, you can customize the report to set appropriate date ranges, the basis for comparison, and other useful criteria. Or, export the report to Excel or any other compatible spreadsheet to carry out more complex analysis.

Create Discrete Budgets

Depending on the size of your organization and the nature of activities it carries out, you might find it helpful to create budgets with various benchmarks and measurements in mind. For example, for a print magazine, a production budget that sets out the anticipated revenues and expenses for the magazine on an issue-by-issue basis might prove most meaningful. An online publication might benefit from budgeting for content acquisition and publication separately from its other revenue-generating activities.

These discrete budgets should tie to the organization’s annual budget. Think of them as nesting budgets. The figures detailed by the editorial budget should match the corresponding section of the overall financial planning document for the magazine as a whole.

The names for this type of budgeting differ from one bookkeeping application to another, but make sure your software has the ability to subdivide your budget by class, customer, project or fund. Please bear in mind this budgeting feature is usually restricted to paid applications and might entail an upgrade to a more robust plan or software edition. However, you’ll probably discover the value of the time saved and improved functionality will exceed the incremental software cost.

Define Clear Responsibilities

Who creates the budgets in your organization? Who makes financial decisions? Who records financial transactions? Who reviews reports and monitors financial performance? These roles likely overlap in organizations with a small number of staff and volunteers to do everything that needs doing, but it is still important to be aware of these tasks and whose responsibility they are.

The budget should reflect the magazine’s strategic plan for a fiscal period. For it to do its job, it is crucial that you develop and communicate a plan for its execution. People should be made aware of what budgets or parts of budgets they control and what authority they have to carry out their duties within the budget framework. For the budget to work as a roadmap, people have to follow it and evaluate whether it is doing its job.


One of the chief complaints about the financial planning and budgeting process is that budgets become obsolete too soon to be useful. Circumstances differ from what they were expected to be and the budget loses its relevance. However, it might be helpful to think of the budget in more flexible terms. Plans change, so do budgets.

Once you have established your systems for budgeting and reporting, use the information you now have at your disposal. Run budget vs actual reports regularly so that you know what is going on in your organization’s finances in time to address any areas that are not meeting the targets set for them. After you have identified problems and successes, consider how best to correct course. Does the budget need updates to better reflect the evolving realities in your business and publishing environment? Should you delay, accelerate or otherwise revise your plans to avoid running out of cash at critical times or to take advantage of positive trends? Is the magazine heading where it should and, if it is not, why not? What has to happen to align the present reality with the desired outcomes?

An effective budget and management practice should be responsive and flexible. It should help focus and streamline the financial activities of your organization by providing the means to assess whether they are accomplishing their goals and by revealing strengths and weaknesses in the current plan of action. For many organizations it is a matter of shifting the emphasis from data collection to strategy and analysis. Or from an operational perspective, it might make sense to break down plans or budgets into manageable components. Explore the tools that will permit you to dedicate less time and attention to the mechanics of tracking and reporting financial information. Automate data entry where possible to increase the availability and timeliness of your data. Delineate clear roles and protocols for evaluating the plan on an ongoing basis. Refine and recalibrate the organization’s goals on the fly instead of reviewing them from an historical vantage point.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


Typical Renewal Rates by Eithne McCredie

By Eithne McCredie, Founder, McCredie Circulation Management

Renewals are the most important source in circulation for three reasons: they are profitable; they account for at least three quarters of circulation revenue; and they are a reflection of your editorial content.

Having worked with numerous Canadian magazines for over 20 years, there are definite “Typical Renewal Responses” that differ by magazine type in general, and specifically by source. The highest rates tend to be B2B, especially if there are no competitors; consumer/niche have the next highest rates; followed by consumer/general interest.

Renewal Response by Magazine Category

Business to Business = 65% to 85%
Consumer/Niche = 55% to 65%
General Interest/Literary = 50% to 58%

Of course, every magazine has different editorial, reader demographics and subscriber life spans, but there’s a proven approach to renewing subscriptions that is common for all.

Assuming great editorial, a strong renewal series, consistent frequency and good customer service, here’s what a “typical” renewal by effort analysis looks like:

Fall 2018 ExpiresMail Date# Mailed# Response% ResponseRev @ $20/PerExpenseProfit/Loss
1st EffortMay 150012525%$2,500$525$1,975
2nd EffortJun 24256415%$1,275$446$829
3rd EffortJul 13193210%$638$335$303
4th EffortAug 3300248%$480$315$165
5th WrapperSep 1260135%$260$104$156
6th EmailedSep 1524041.5%$72$36$36
7th EffortOct 1021063%$126$221-$95

Consider this: If you boost the above renewal rate by two points to 55.51%, this would bring in $290 cash, costs would remain the same, and the end result would be an 8.6% increase in revenue.

The first renewal should get the highest response and steadily decline with each subsequent effort. If the response tail is staggered there’s a problem. Perhaps the mail dates are too close together or the price/offer is not compelling, or you haven’t mailed enough efforts or each renewal has the same copy and/or creative. Other reasons could be inconsistent frequency or problems with customer service. Editorial is another factor. Did the content change (for better or worse!)?

How many efforts to mail? At least five for most magazines, but the best answer is as many efforts until they become unprofitable. It doesn’t matter what the magazine frequency is. Many quarterlies send six to eight renewals. Mailed efforts get better responses than emailed or wrappers. Perhaps because the magazine arrives in the mail and/or a renewal notice is a “response device.” Emailed efforts can boost overall response by a point or two, but it’s rare that an emailed renewal gets more than a mailed effort. Emails are less expensive, so it is worth adding one or two. Wrappers are cost effective but also tend to get fewer returned than mailed, likely because it’s included with the magazine or there’s no reply envelope. Telemarketing can be expensive if outsourced but can work for certain types of magazines and sources, especially donor renewals.

Long-term analysis by source from start date onwards provides critical information on when each source becomes profitable. Some sources make money or break even when they start their first issue: agencies, gifts, web and insert cards. Others take two or more years to recoup expenses, especially direct mail and free-standing inserts, both of which can cost up to $30 per order to obtain.

As the cost to obtain each source varies, so too does their renewal response as per the outline below. Note that the “Renewal” source is the subscribers who have been with the magazine for three or more years. They are your best and most loyal readers. You want lots of them. “Conversions” are people who are up for renewal for the second time, i.e. year two. The other sources listed, direct mail etc., are all first time renewal rates.

Circulation Sources:Total Renewal
Gifts – Donors85%
Renewal (3+ years)73%
White mail70%
Insert Cards51%
Conversions (2nd renewal)52%
Direct Mail38%
Free Standing Inserts32%
Agency – School Plans17%
Gift – Recipients15%
Library/Catalogue agents*6%

*Library/catalogue agents renew very well, but not direct-to-publisher. There’s a good reason for this: Libraries can get over 800 subscriptions, so imagine managing expirations and dealing with each magazine directly? Ordering through catalogue agents such as EBSCO makes sense. Quite often magazines will not send all mailed efforts to that source. Instead they’ll just mail a wrapper effort on the expiration issue which is very cost efficient; the postage is already paid with the magazine mailing.

Donors renewing their gifts tend to renew over 80%. Interestingly, renewing recipients (when their donor didn’t) renew quite poorly, and are usually less than 20%.

Another consideration is the subscription lifespan of your magazine. For example, a children’s magazine has a short life span, but likely has a large percentage of gift subscriptions making this type of editorial viable. However, you must replace these with new subscriptions more often than a general interest title.

Copy and Creative

Each renewal effort should be different, with a unique design and benefit-oriented copy including editorial and price savings. Each compelling offer could focus on two or three points, depending on the timing of the effort. If you’re mailing to your subscribers six times, you need to have six different reasons. The most important package element is the outer envelope, so you need to entice the reader to open it. Here’s a few outer envelope and copy pitch ideas:

  • Special early long term renewal savings
  • Last time for special 2 year offer
  • It’s time to renew
  • Hurry! Just one more issue to go
  • Last time to save before your subscription expires
  • You just received your last issue
  • Welcome back

The offer is the next most important factor in boosting response, so try to vary each effort with a mix of price savings using dollars and percentages, and mix up the one, two and three year options but only in the first few efforts. If someone hasn’t renewed by the fourth effort, then it’s best to stick to a one year only.

The letter copy for each effort should be based on the outer envelope. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use the word “you.”
  • Add an offer deadline and/or guarantee.
  • Include editorial benefits such as a special annual, upcoming anniversary issue, particular column (or columnist).
  • Every effort should be a “last chance” for something, i.e., for three-year savings, to renew before subscription expires, to ensure you don’t miss an issue, etc.
  • Each effort should be signed by a different person, i.e., publisher, editor, circulation director.

Other points to consider:

  • Test auto renewals by adding a box to the order form
    • [ ] Automatic Renewal: Yes, please extend my subscriptions for another year prior to expiry so I don’t miss an issue. I may cancel at any time and get a refund. My CC # is _____________________
  • The more efforts sent before the subscription expires, the higher the response.
  • Consider inserting a buck slip to promote upcoming editorial, gift subscriptions, anniversary issue, literary contests, premiums, etc.
  • Mail the renewal effort just after they receive an issue.
  • Some circulation audit bureaus report on renewal rates so see how your competitors are faring.
  • A UK magazine study tested removing the actual expire issue date on the order form and focused on number of issues to go and found that responses increased.

Have renewal rates declined over the last five years?

For some yes, but for others responses have been stable, especially for trade and niche magazines. The only way to determine the efficacy of your renewal series is to implement a strong compelling multi-effort series and to analyze responses regularly.

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