Our March speaker, Norm Rosen, spoke on the status of photographic magazine publishing today in Canada. Norm is the current editor of Photo News. He spoke with great enthusiasm about the business of publishing photography magazines in Canada. Norm graduated from McGill University in Montreal. He lives here in Toronto and has over 40 years of experience as a teacher, photographer, and editor.
Norm and several of the attending PHSC members brought along many hard copy examples of magazines covering the mid 1800s up. He asked that the audience take care in handling the samples as many are rare and in delicate condition. Norm began his talk by providing the assembled audience with handouts of his talk and the most recent issue of Photo News magazine (I read it the day before with the Globe and Mail over my breakfast).
He began his presentation by acknowledging the people who mentored him over the years including such early PHSC members as the late John Barras Walker, Gunther Ott, and Ms Lorraine Monk. And as a Montrealer, he slipped in a few French sentences along the way, including a poem (Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays c’est l’hiver) usually sung by its writer Gilles Vigneault. During his talk, he chose his words to confirm his strong identity as a Canadian. For the first few minutes Norm read with emphasis from a carefully scripted paper, then he was off to a Power Point file and set the paper aside.
During the Power Point slides, Norm credited many of his contacts and associates and provided many off the cuff amplifications to each slide. He divided his talk into the past; today; and the future.
For the “past” portion, Norm used magazine issues from his personal collection as well as those held by the Toronto Reference Library on Asquith Avenue just above Bloor and Yonge. The bulk of the Reference Library magazine issues are buried in the stacks (in the basement) and can only be requested one issue at a time. Norm suggested we look up Early Canadiana Online (www.eco.canadiana.ca). He said it was an interesting site but unfortunately you can see only a brief portion of any book before being asked to subscribe and pay a small fee.
In the discussion of periodicals from the post-WWII period to recent times, he noted that some magazines, like Canadian Photographer emulated the American Modern Photography and Popular Photography magazines, but with Canadian prices and photographers. In the “today” portion of the talk, Norm gave some background comments about each magazine including Photo Canada, Photo Communique, Photo Digest, Photo Life, and Photo Selection.
Norm mentioned that Outdoor Photography was a great magazine but still a one man operation. He encouraged the audience to buy and subscribe to it as “Canada needs such a magazine”. Canada Camera recently resurfaced as Canadian Camera produced by CAPA and targeting a world-wide audience. Norm talked at length about PhotoEd and its high quality – each issue is an outstanding read focussed on the high school and post secondary student-photographer audience (he congratulated Rita Godlevskis who was in the audience).
Much of the “today” portion of his talk centred on the magazine he currently edits. Photo News has the best of both of our cultures as it is published in both English and French editions. Norm is very proud that today it has some 110,000 copies in circulation. The magazine has evolved from its origin as a newsletter to become Canada’s largest circulated photo enthusiast magazine. The Zak Media business plan that Norm and Photo News publisher Jacques Dumont envisioned has increased the quality and distribution of the magazine – enhancing its value to both advertisers and readers. It went from 16 pages to 32 glossy pages at the outset, and rapidly grew to 68 pages. The magazine is published in Quebec City and printed at Solisco. Photo News is distributed free of charge by subscription, through Canadian photo retail shops, and inserted into home delivery copies of The Globe and Mail.
The “tomorrow” part of his talk addressed the future of print magazines. Some say print is dead. However, in a continuing survey of readers Norm has found that many people prefer the hard copy version of a photo magazine over its online counterpart. He feels this is because internet content has dubious credibility today; and printed versions of magazines are more convenient and reader-friendly. Nevertheless, Norm suggested that online content can be used to augment print. Using Photo News as an example, in addition to offering free print copies with great photos, the magazine uses online resources effectively.
For example, its web site www.photonews.ca offers back issues (at least 30). Each issue is complete and free. The online magazine concept can be expanded to include articles and items not available in the printed version.
Reader participation is the key to the success of a modern publication. Each issue of Photo News (4/year) has a gallery of reader’s photos, and a reader’s challenge with a theme. A winner is chosen and receives a Panasonic camera (about $1,000 retail value).
Photo News is also on Social Media. (A concept like our use of PHSC News, Facebook, and the web site to complement Photographic Canadiana.) The magazine uses a Flicker group (www.flickr.com/groups/photonewsgallery/) to interact with readers (Norm cautioned the audience to keep control of their images by posting small size image files and by not ticking the Flicker option which lets Getty Images market their work). Photo News TV is an online YouTube channel that gives lots of informational videos about photography and photo techniques.
Norm feels strongly that the Photo News model is the future of photography today. He noted that in the United States, some of the oldest photo enthusiast magazines have failed to evolve with the times and the needs of the readers – for example, Popular Photography recently ceased publication after 80 years as one of the world’s largest photo enthusiast magazines. One of its last articles discussed using a smart phone to photograph…
Norm expressed confidence in printed magazines while recognizing the serious challenges faced by publishers. The costs of the magazine he edits are covered by the advertisers making it possible to offer it free (his favourite price point break on any magazine).
He mentioned Karsh and his keen interest in the 1984 Photo Life display of his prints, especially the depth of the blacks (shades of Bob Lansdale and his diligence in ensuring Photographic Canadiana has suitably deep blacks). Norm gave anecdotes of Karsh’s photographs of Cellist Pablo Cassels (from back), and Albert Schweitzer (his hands).
In discussing the means to succeed, he felt there was a need for Canadian photography magazines to satisfy Canadian readers in a way in which no American or other nation’s magazines can do. In any magazine he has edited, he chooses not to compare camera makers, only comparing models from one manufacturer showing which model is suited to a particular type of photographer – this way he avoids offending other manufacturers. And he ensures that the reader is considered first and foremost. His magazines always exist for the reader, so the reader’s interests are deemed to be critical for success. Contents are chosen to educate, inform, entertain, and inspire the reader – every issue has something for each type and skill level of photo enthusiast.
N.B. In Norm’s discussion he mentions the History of Photography issue (20-2, Summer 1996) which was edited by Dr Joan Schwartz of Queen’s University in Kingston and has a number of articles by PHSC members. He missed our own journal (40 plus years in print), Photographic Canadiana.
The talk was professional and smooth reflecting Norm’s skill as a teacher as well as an editor and photographer.