Canadian Magazine Awards Dispute Leads to Schism
How many awards are too many awards?
In the publishing industry, awards programs and recognition events are important. They foster a sense of community, set standards of quality for which to strive, and for many of us — Folio: produces several — they serve as a welcome supplement to the bottom lines of publishers and industry associations alike.
But what happens when industry awards programs become so ubiquitous and inclusive that they begin to erode their very meaning?
That's the question being asked in the Canadian magazine space this week after five of the country's largest magazine publishers announced plans to break away from the decades-old National Magazine Awards and form their own, ostensibly more exclusive, awards program.
The Magazine Grands Prix, as the upstart rival will be known, will be administered by Magazines Canada and will honor 26 honorees — 13 individuals and 13 brands — in an inaugural event next April in Toronto as part of the annual MagNet conference. In contrast, the 2015-2016 National Magazine Awards comprised a total of 303 individual honors spanning 39 categories.
The announcement comes several months after representatives of Rogers Communications, TVA Publications, St. Joseph Media, Reader's Digest Media, and The Walrus magazine sent a letter to the National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF) — the non-profit that administers the awards and supports itself through ticket sales and entry fees — informing the NMAF of the need for "far fewer and more meaningful awards" that were "more closely aligned to celebrating excellence at the very highest level."
"The NMAF responded with a request for additional information as well as an opportunity to meet and discuss how the needs of the magaizne industry could best be served by both parties," Joyce Byrne, then-NMAF president, told the blog Canadian Magazines in December. "This request was declined."
The 39th annual National Magazine Awards went on as planned, in June, with the aforementioned five publishers taking home more than a third of the 303 nods. Evidently, those honors did little to assuage the concerns of the Grands Prix supporters, with the schism continuing as planned.
"Our view was, if we're going to do the top magazine awards program in the country, let's make it really, really focused," Douglas Knight, chair of Magazines Canada and president of St. Joseph Communications, told The Globe and Mail last week. "To win a Magazine Grands Prix, you're going to feel, 'Okay, this is a serious award.'"
Curiously, the NMAF issued a statement the day before Magazine Grands Prix was announced promising a refined, "more focused" awards program in 2017, to mark the program's 40th anniversary. The announcement made no mention of Magazines Canada or the pressure being applied by five of the country's largest publishers.
Entry fees for the Magazine Grands Prix will be $100, with a reduced $50 fee for magazines with circulations under 5,000. For the National Magazine Awards, most entry fees run between $95 and $120, depending on the category.
Whether or not a day of reckoning looms on the horizon for either the NMAF or its upstart rival, or whether reconciliation between the two factions is imminent, all that appears certain for now is that PR pro's will have their nominating work cut out for them this winter.