TORONTO — Rogers Media announced Friday a sweeping overhaul of its magazines — with Flare, Sportsnet, MoneySense and Canadian Business becoming online-only publications — in response to declines in subscribers and print advertising revenue.
Other changes to take effect in January will see Maclean's, Chatelaine and Today's Parent cut the number of print editions that they publish. Maclean's, the national current affairs magazine founded more than a century ago, will go from weekly to monthly issues, while Chatelaine and Today's Parent will now be published six times a year.
"What we've seen is over the past five years a gradual dwindling of the subscriber business across most of our titles," Steve Maich, senior vice-president of digital content and publishing at Rogers Media, said in an interview.
"There are certainly exceptions. But the bigger issue is our ability to monetize those audiences through advertising. The magazine business held up relative to the newspaper business quite well for a long time, but in recent years what we've found is the advertising dedicated to Canadian magazines has started to drop off quite rapidly."
A copy of Flare magazine is seen at a news stand in Montreal on Nov. 7, 2015. (Photo: CP)
For instance, print advertising revenue for Rogers Media plunged more than 30 per cent this year compared to last, Maich said.
The Toronto-based media giant, a subsidiary of Rogers Communications, is also looking to sell all of its business-to-business magazines as well as its French publications. Maich said the company is already in active discussions with potential buyers and hopes to close those sales by the end of the year.
Maich could not say how many positions will be lost, but added the cuts won't be significant.
"There will be some job loss, particularly related to people whose jobs are overwhelmingly focused on print today," he said.
"But our decisions that we're announcing today are really not primarily focused on reducing our labour force. We're in the quality content business. We are already operating very efficiently and we think there's a big opportunity to deliver more digital content to our audiences."
"There will be some job loss, particularly related to people whose jobs are overwhelmingly focused on print today."
Rogers Media said its subscribers can request full refunds on their accounts.
The revamp is a huge shift in strategy for the company, which came into being after the takeover of Maclean Hunter in 1994 and from there built a publishing empire that features more than 50 consumer magazines and trade publications.
In announcing the changes, Rogers Media touted its digital operations, pointing out growth of 41 per cent over the last two years in the number of unique visitors to its Rogers magazine websites. The amount of time people spend on those sites monthly is also up 34 per cent year over year, the company said.
But Rogers Media has been afflicted by the same forces that have taken a bite out of the newspaper industry, a sector that has coped with rounds of mass layoffs this year because of falling print advertising revenue.
In early September, the Globe and Mail issued a call for 40 employee buyouts. About a month before that, Torstar announced it was laying off more than 50 people, mostly from the Toronto Star newsroom. In January, Postmedia cut 90 positions and merged newsrooms in four cities.
"It does seem like the sky is falling when you make a decision like this, but on the other hand, maybe you have to make a drastic decision at some point."
Bill Reynolds, the director of Ryerson University's graduate program in journalism, said he's encouraged that Rogers Media is keeping Flare, Sportsnet, MoneySense and Canadian Business alive in a digital format rather than killing the brands outright.
"It does seem like the sky is falling when you make a decision like this, but on the other hand, maybe you have to make a drastic decision at some point," Reynolds said.
He expects there could be more magazines that go digital-only as advertising dollars continue to migrate away from print.
"I think some publications will probably resist this temptation and some will see it as being important to have a physical publication and have that presence," Reynolds said.
"But it's a business for most of them, and if they're losing money hand-over-fist every year and the revenues keep shrinking and there's really no money to produce the magazine, what recourse do they have?"