By Frank Moher
Does a magazine’s title determine its chances of success?
It doesn’t seem to. The Walrus, having weathered that not-paying-freelancers-on-time thing, seems to be doing all right, despite being named . . . The Walrus. And despite being . . . dull. (The Walrus reminds me of nothing so much as The New Yorker in its pre-Tina Brown and David Remnick days, when worthiness was everything, and style and entertainment-value had died about the same time as Harold Ross.)
But enough about them; let’s talk about us. This magazine is called backofthebook.ca. The back of the book, in publishing parlance, is the latter, say, third of a magazine, where most of the commentary usually goes. I like to think of it as the place where the smart kids hang out. But then I would; almost everything I’ve written for magazines over 25 years has been for the back of the book.
One colleague has suggested the name is a bit of a mouthful. Fine; call us “Bob,” then. Bob. There’s a nice, friendly name for a magazine.
By either name, we aspire to be nothing less than a successor to the late, strangely under-lamented Saturday Night magazine. The key word here being “aspire.” I realize, given the humbleness of our beginnings — you’re looking at ’em — any such claim may seem risible. But give us 118 years, which is how old SN was at the time of its apparently final death, and then see how we’re doing.
There will be differences, of course. Plenty of them. The main one, you will have noticed, is that we’re online. When I worked for Saturday Night as a writer and editor, back around the fin de siecle, I lamented the fact that it didn’t have a better website. And as it was going through its various death throes, I wondered why it didn’t just morph into a Canadian version of Salon or Slate and be done with the cost of mass-murdering trees. Readership would have dropped, sure. But it might have survived.
But of course, the generation responsible for publishing our magazines and newspapers remains paper-centric. So much the worse for them (and those trees). We note that the success of Salon and Slate has put to rest the old canard that people won’t read a magazine online. Some won’t. And for them we recommend the Print function in their web browser. (Try it now. There. See? How easy was that?)
We also come to you from the West. We don’t intend to make a big deal of that; it’s not our intention to be a non-crazy version of Western Standard. But it will, no doubt, inflect the way we choose and write our stories. Place does that — something which editors in Toronto have never managed to figure out.
Our politics are liable to be left-of-centre, if only because my own are. But mostly I hope we’ll be contrarian, afflicting conventional wisdom of all kinds. Personally, I don’t care what a story’s politics are as long as it’s smart. And entertaining. Did we mention entertaining?
The rest we’ll make up as we go along.
Welcome to backofthebook.ca