Not with a bang…
The April issue of MONiTOR magazine, a regional computer and Internet monthly serving Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, Canada, will be its last.
Proprietor Performance Printing Ltd. announced yesterday it was pulling the plug following several quarters of declining advertising revenues.
It was a sad end to the epic story of how a small group of naive but energetic graphic artists, writers and long-suffering significant others created and built a publishing institution that ran for over 15 years, fending off all competition in what’s widely regarded as one of the toughest media markets in the country.
Sounds like the trailer for a new Hollywood movie, I know. But I can vouch for every word of it. Because I was there, in one capacity or another, from the very beginning almost to the end.
A stormy start
MONiTOR was born, back in August, 1993, as a hedge against the early-90s recession. GRL Communications Inc. wanted an in-house project to help smooth out the bumps in the revenue roller coaster it had been riding for the past couple of years.
MONiTOR was actually ‘Plan B’ in that program. GRL President Glenn Lisle, his staff and a partner were originally planning to launch a lifestyle-oriented tabloid weekly with a downtown focus. But, just days before they planned to make their maiden pitch to advertisers, not one but two other, larger publishers announced that they would be ‘on the street’ with premiere issues of their own lifestyle papers within a couple of weeks.
“We were devastated,” Lisle recalls. “We never saw it coming. We took some comfort in the fact that we had read the trends and the market right and it was time for a new lifestyle weekly in the Nation’s Capital. It just wasn’t going to be ours.”
Leveraging GRL’s experience as a pioneer in screen-based graphic design in the Ottawa market, Lisle opted to explore another, less crowded niche. He knew that ‘computer papers’ were doing well in other markets. And he saw how quickly the few copies of those tabloids that made it into Ottawa computer stores were grabbed up by information-starved readers.
MONiTOR’s first year was a struggle. There weren’t that many retail computer stores around, yet, in 1993, and the Internet was still ‘waiting to happen’ for consumers and small businesses.
But Lisle’s elastic business model was designed to let the magazine grow with the growing market. The magazine averaged just 24 pages per month over its first year. Prospective advertisers were skeptical and there weren’t all that many potential readers outside of the regular customers — mainly hobbyists and technicians — who kept the stores afloat.
Then, in July, 1994, Lisle’s original partner left the project and a new sales manager was recruited, straight off of the floor of a major computer retailer. It was risky proposition but it paid off.
The new sales guy might not have known a lot about selling advertising, but he knew his customers’ business inside and out. MONiTOR’s average Monthly page count more than doubled in the next year and the MONiTOR team never looked back.
Tomorrow, in Part II, we’ll chronicle MONiTOR‘s meteoric rise to the top of the market.