get it for $0

alexandra demaria

Just inside the front door of Get Outside, a trendy downtown Toronto shop, between racks of flip-flops and stilettos, lays a collection of colourful and diverse fliers, leaflets and a few small magazines.

This is the spot where, every few weeks, a stack of Klublife is dropped off.

“We only get a small pile of Klublife,” says Vad Mangal, Get Outside’s manager. “They are the first to go. It’s a prized possession to get one. Like a coveted read!”

Coupe Bizzarre Hair Salon, The Drake Hotel, HMV and a small collection of retail stores are among the spots in downtown Toronto where people can sometimes find a copy of Klublife. But they go quickly.

This year, eight issues are scheduled to be published. In the past, there have been as many as 11 per year. It all boils down to dollars and cents.

Urbanology is another lifestyle magazine geared to the young and young at heart. It has chosen a different route. A subscription base combined with newsstand sales will determine this new magazine’s longevity. So although both magazines are part of the same market, they have each mapped out their own way to success.

Only 40,000 copies of Klublife are published nation-wide, and a big percentage of those are distributed in Toronto. After nine years in circulation, it has a faithful following with a demographic ranging in age from about 16 to 45, the latter usually being those who have followed it through the years.

Every issue of Klublife has a section dedicated to cross-Canada club listings, events and music reviews. Supplementing this are restaurant spotlights, interviews, profiles and a fashion section creating a diverse and stimulating read. It is a magazine geared towards progressive urban living.

Marketing director Jason Thomas has been with the magazine since its birth in 1996. He says after a weekend drop-off he gets bombarded with calls from stores requesting more issues.

“When our magazines are picked up and handed out to the specific locations, they’re gone by the end of the day,” said Thomas.

Although Klublife attempted a short stint with subscriptions, it has always been “free,” a term that, in industry parlance, contains its own boundaries.

Klublife and other free mags are overlooked by the Canadian Magazine Fund, which is administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The fund is designed to support production of Canadian content and strengthen the long-term competition of the Canadian magazine publishing industry.

Although Klublife is a national magazine and meets many of the fund’s Canadian content requirements, there is no chance of funding because of its association with the word “free.”

William Fizet, director of Periodical Publishing Policy and Programs, of which the CMF is one, explains that freebie magazines were chosen to bear the brunt of federal cutbacks.

“Instead of cutting a little bit across the board, we focused in on a specific area,” says Fizet. That focus was free publications, allowing the CMF to further support magazines for which Canadians were willing to shell out money.

Thomas chalks up this lack of support from the CMF to industry politics. He says dealing with the CMF has never been beneficial. “We tried in the past, but we’ve never met their strict criteria. Basically, it’s politics. There are more politics in the publishing business than there (are) in the recording industry . . . It comes down to where you put the money and who you’re paying in order to get any money.”

An option for the future is to focus on subscribers. Not only would this allow the magazine to reach people outside the 12 cities in which it is currently available, but it might also make the CMF take a second look and reconsider fundingKlublife.

Urbanology is also lined up for funding from the CMF but, like Klublife, it might just have to take a number.

Priya Ramanujam, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Urbanology, says the magazine has been circulating for less than a year, making it ineligible for any government money. But Ramanujam says once the one-year marker hits, she is hoping for her number to come up. Until then the magazine survives on advertising dollars and its employees’ personal funds.

The first issue of Urbanology saw 6,000 magazines printed. The second had 10,000 copies and the numbers are expected to climb for each of the six issues a year scheduled for distribution. Each magazine goes for about $5 and is available at Chapters, various convenience stores, newsstands and other similar locations.

Urbanology’s targeted audience is within the same range as Klublife. Urbanology’s paid circulation is what sets it apart.

During the magazine’s creation process, Ramanujam put some thought into deciding whether Urbanology would be more successful as a paid or controlled distribution magazine. She says she considered doing a free magazine, but chose not to for a number of reasons.

Advertisers are willing to put money into publications that go onto a newsstand because, it is thought, if consumers purchase a magazine there is a chance they will probably hold on to it, take care of it, look at the ads and eventually purchase some of the products. Whereas, if it was free and they dropped it on the subway, I don’t think they (readers) would go back to it.”

So back it goes to the dollars and cents.

“I can guarantee a certain amount of readers,” says Ramanujam, “whereas with free magazines, one issue might get a 100 per cent pick up rate because they have a great person on the cover and then the next issue no one notices it because there was nothing interesting to draw someone in. So there is no guarantee.”

No, there is no guarantee. Ramanujam relies on quality to keep up subscriptions at Urbanology. Thomas at Klublife has found, through specific distribution, a successful way to reach his demographic. Each is taking a risk in different directions. Yet both have managed to find a route to achieve their goals, and ensure their publications make it to the hands of those they are geared toward.

Photos by Alexandra DeMaria