Tech Style: Publishers and readers hunt for the elusive print/online balance

Dr. Tom Keenan

Business Edge News Magazine


My morning ritual is about to change. After putting on the coffeepot, the dog and I would normally take a short walk to the Star Metro Calgary newspaper box for a copy of their commuter tabloid. It provided the perfect mix of local reporting plus a crossword puzzle that wasn’t too challenging for my just-out-of-bed brain.

About one time out of three, the box would be empty, either because the person who fills it didn’t get out of bed, or the handful of copies had been grabbed already. Now it will always be empty, or probably gone completely, as the money-losing parent company Torstar has cancelled its free city dailies in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Halifax.

Yes, the company announced it will open new Star bureaus in all of those cities except for Toronto, where they already have a substantial operation. Current journalists can apply for those jobs, and whatever they produce will be available online, though I haven’t figured out how to do the crossword digitally.

To add to the list of disappearing print publications, 115-year old Redbook magazine ended its print edition in 2019 and The Western Sentinel, a monthly that served Canadian Forces members in Western Canada, is stopping the presses. 

I am certainly no Luddite when it comes to online consumption of media. I’ve read thousands of books and articles that way, and since I am affiliated with both the University of Calgary and Columbia University libraries, I have copious online access. 

Indeed, I can read today’s Toronto Star in digital form for free right now. 

You may be able to do this, too, through That site features “more than 5,000 full-content publications from 100+ countries in 60+ languages” and is available at libraries, hotels, cafes, airport lounges and even hospitals. As a bonus, some libraries, such as the Calgary Public Library, extend the free access to patrons with library cards no matter where they are located.

So, what about the publication you are currently holding, or reading online? Twenty years ago, Business Edge started out in the world of print, with a plan to be on the reception room tables of firms across Canada. It has always had an online presence and is back in both forms.

Publisher Rob Driscoll says Business Edge will be publishing in print each month in 2020, as well as “overhauling our website in order to better showcase our fantastic content as well as the most pertinent business news and features from around the globe.” He will also make great use of their LinkedIn network of 27,000+ professionals, “the vast majority of which are handpicked local and international business leaders.”

Rather than hire a bunch of newspaper delivery boys with bicycles (remember them?), Driscoll will rely on Canada Post unaddressed mail to reach 157,000 business addresses with every issue.

He adds that “The digital marketing space is extremely crowded. For many companies, advertising on the Internet and in social media works well, and that continues to be their focus. Other companies are not seeing a satisfactory return on their marketing investment and are returning to traditional media.”

Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO at the Association of Magazine Media certain agrees with him. In a recent article, she wrote “The old trope that print is dead is just lazy thinking.” “Several publishers who are successful in the print media are focusing on niche audiences who are willing to pay more for a higher-grade product. They are creating higher-quality products for them, and some are also cutting down on the frequency.”

Brooks cites the example of the prestigious Harvard Business Review, which in 2017 went from 10 to six even higher-quality issues per year and saw a 10% increase in subscribers. Likewise, good old Popular Science cut back from monthly to quarterly and subscriptions went up 30%.

I am living proof that people will pay for great content, well delivered. Every month I gladly fork over US$10 to for access to online books and magazines. I could probably hunt them down in some library, but my time is worth something. I even give Wired Magazine an annual digital subscription fee because I like reading their publication as it’s laid out, not in a sterile digital format or at a library. Being eyeball friendly is worth a lot to me, as well as bonus content.

I love walking into the Air Canada lounge in Toronto’s Pearson airport and scooping up a handful of great magazines and newspapers. Sadly, their new lounge at LaGuardia airport in New York is paper free, and I’m not happy about that. Someone should tell them that the printing industry is going greener, and that too much screen time can be bad for us.

We’ll all have to adjust to a world with less paper. It will drive publishers to work even harder to earn our eyeballs and subscription fees. I just need to explain that new reality to our two cats, who up until recently had been really enjoying their Star Metro litterbox liners.


Dr. Tom Keenan is an award-winning journalist, public speaker, professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary, and author of the best-selling book, Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.

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