The recent announcement that long-established Scene magazine was going to cease publication after its June 2018 issue, and the earlier demise of The London Yodeller and Our London, stirred up my creative juices and got me to thinking about the four years I spent publishing The Beat Magazine (at first called The Beat: Arts In London) from 2009 to 2013.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, they were both the best and worst years of my post-teaching retirement life.
The best of times in that our creative team — editor Nicole Laidler, art director Lionel Morise, online theatre editor Donald D’Haene, copy editor Beth Stewart, arts calendar editor Valerie Cavalini, and photographers Paul Miszczyk and Deborah Zuskan — churned out London’s premier arts and culture magazine monthly and then quarterly from October 2009 to June 2013, until the money finally ran out. Moreover, the local and regional artists we had the privilege of getting to know and covering in the magazine and on our website was truly a transformative experience for all involved.
However, it was also the worst of times in that it was a constant struggle to garner sufficient advertising revenue from local arts organizations and businesses to keep the magazine afloat and pay our freelance contributors and printer.
I take great pride in saying that we always paid our writers, and the fact that we never asked anyone to contribute articles, photographs or reviews in return for exposure or learning on the job.
And this brings me to my question: Why does London seem incapable of supporting a locally produced arts and culture publication?
Other writers like Jay Menard have addressed this question in blogs and articles, suggesting that everyone wants something for nothing and they aren’t willing to pay for the creative efforts of their peers, either in the form of cost per issue or paid advertising.
Some have suggested that government subsidized not-for-profit operations like London Fuse and organizations like the London Arts Council and Tourism London make it difficult to establish and sustain a privately operated publication.
Others identify the corporate machinations of organizations like Postmedia Network (owners of the London Free Press and The Londoner) and TorStar Corporation which seemingly go out of their way to extinguish local competitors in pursuit of monopolizing the market and limited advertising dollars as the problem.
All three of these explanations have a lot of validity and they are closely interconnected.
If an operation like London Fuse can function on grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Employment Ontario, and yet still manage to get people to write for free by offering “experience for emerging talents and allow[ing] volunteer contributors to hone their skills of content creation,” then power to them, I suppose.
It is my belief, however, that creative contributors should always be paid for their work either in cash or in the case of reviewers, in-kind in the form of tickets to events.
Then there are municipally subsidized organizations like Tourism London and the London Arts Council, both of which offer free events listings and promotional articles and press releases about local arts and culture events and personalities. Although, unless things have changed, I think a paid membership of some kind is required for Tourism London to include a venue’s events on its website. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong. It’s kind of tough for private publishers to compete with the City Culture Office with its seemingly endless supply of promotional cash.
I’m sure most readers are aware of the shameful treatment of the staff at Our London (our friend Sean Meyer immediately comes to mind) by Postmedia Network and TorStar Corporation a few months back when the two corporate giants conspired to shutter the informative weekly — thus guaranteeing Postmedia’s Free Press and The Londoner a monopoly on local print news and local print advertising dollars. To be sure, the real loser here is the local community which has had its voices limited by greedy corporate collusion.
That brings me to my last point about everyone wanting everything for nothing, all the time, everywhere, no exceptions. This one is a tough one. The Internet ushered in this attitude, especially among millennials, with its immediate access to information with the push of a button.
But, as we have learned recently with revelations about social media platforms like Facebook selling client information to corporations in search of compliant consumers, nothing is really free. There is a price to pay somewhere.
So, in a nutshell, that’s why it’s extremely difficult and challenging to sustain a print publication of any kind, let alone one that focuses on arts and culture, in a medium-sized market like London.
That’s why the path is strewn with the bodies and memories of past publications like Artscape, The Beat Magazine, The London Yodeller, Our London, and, now, Scene.
But, why am I telling you all this?
Call me deranged, deluded or insane — but I still believe Londoners deserve a locally produced high-quality print and online arts and culture publication that tells the stories of the creative artists who call our beautiful city home.
Rick Young, April 29, 2018.