Frank folds while US publications make deep cuts

Economic uncertainty is battering the already fragile print-media industry. Canada’s first casualty is Ottawa-based national satirical…

Economic uncertainty is battering the already fragile print-media industry.

Canada’s first casualty is Ottawa-based national satirical magazine Frank.

“Our backers had suffered from the economic downturn,” said Michael Bate, the magazine’s founder and publisher.

“They found it difficult to justify supporting it any further,” he said.

The economic crisis made it difficult to rely on a long-term turnaround for the magazine.

“We didn’t see any sign of profitability even for the next year or two,” he said.

“It seemed like we may as well ­— rather than drag it out — end it now.”

Frank didn’t have any advertisements. It relied solely on investors and subscribers to make ends meet.

“It got worse this past year, but it’s been a struggle with Frank to make ends meet,” said Bate.

“It’s a subscription-driven publication,” he added.

Shifting from just a paper publication to the internet has also been rocky.

Selling subscriptions online instead of offering a free site was a “tough sell,” said Bate. But he would not revisit the decision, he said.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I thought it was time to just move on to something else,” he said.

The act was also getting a little old.

“I was getting a little bit limited myself creatively,” said Bate.

“It was a bit of Frank formula writing.”

Bate plans to write a book about the Frank years, he said.

Canada may not have been made for a national satire magazine, he acknowledged.

“(Canada) is a small country and it’s so fractured and regional, that when your doing a satire about the mayor of Ottawa, the people in Toronto don’t care and don’t get the joke, and then someone in Halifax doesn’t get the joke in Vancouver,” he said.

Frank’s Maritime edition, published out of Halifax, is still going strong.

“It’s a different market there,” said Bate.

“Halifax is it’s own world and it’s own little universe. They’re strictly local,” he said.

“(Halifax) is telephone book journalism. They make sure they get as many people as possible.”

Satire needs a close community to survive, he said.

“I think Halifax is a one-off thing and you can’t really duplicate that.”

It was difficult to draw people outside of Ottawa into its little world, let alone politics, he said.

“We were trying to do a national thing with politics out of Ottawa. But I don’t think there’s very much interest in politics. I mean, look at the turnout at the election.”

Beyond Canada, stock market troubles have hit the publication industry hard.

Due to declining advertising revenue, Time magazine will likely cut up to 600 jobs, reported the British daily the Telegraph. Time is part of the Time Warner media conglomerate, whose other branches are also expected to suffer from drops in advertising.

The magazine giant Conde Nast, publishers of such esteemed magazines as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired, told the heads of 26 of its magazines to make two five per cent cuts to their budgets. This could include job cuts or non-payroll expenses, the group said in a statement.

And the Christian Science Monitor will end its print publication due to financial troubles, reported the New York Times. The national paper published a print edition without interruption for the last century, the Times said. Executives blamed the cut on a projected drop in subscriptions.

New startups to replace a magazine like Frank seem unlikely in these troubled times, said Bate.

“I think it would be a tough go.”

Financing a good opinion publication has changed with the advent of the internet.

“I have yet to see a business model where anyone is making money on doing satire or doing a gossip type of thing strictly online,” he said.

The most popular sites on the internet aren’t always the most lucrative.

“If you look at Huffington Post for example, it’s an aggregator plus some regional stuff,” said Bate. The popular, left-leaning news and opinion site includes blog posts from around the US. “A lot of people write for them for free. How does that help? I don’t see how that works,” he added.

The same goes for the popular Canadian news aggregator — National Newswatch.

“Do you think National Newswatch is making money?” said Bate.

“He’s got a few ads on there, but I can’t believe he’s making any money.”