It’s not easy publishing a magazine. Many people have tried and most have failed. You have to be willing to work hard harassing and cajoling businesses to advertise so you can pay your expenses; work hard dealing with writers, photographers, printers, distributors and their peculiarities; work hard risking some losses in the early years—and oh yeah, did I mention you have to work hard!
I knew all this back in the 1990s when I was both a freelance writer and Coordinator of Information and Education for the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division. In the latter position, I was responsible for producing several publications, including the various regulations guides that must be published each year. I dealt with a lot of publishers over the years, and like many Albertans involved in the outdoors, I was concerned about the lack of an independent, monthly or bimonthly, outdoor magazine that dealt solely with Alberta subjects and issues. A couple of publishers had tried such magazines in the past but they only lasted a few months.
I remember sitting down with a major publisher of books and magazines who was particularly interested in my idea of a bimonthly outdoor magazine (I already knew a monthly magazine was not possible). We discussed the idea for quite a while and he said he would give it serious consideration. A few weeks later he telephoned me and said he and his staff had looked at the idea, had worked up a business plan and contacted potential advertisers. He was sorry to report there just wasn’t enough of a market in the province (i.e., advertisers weren’t willing to spend money just in Alberta). There might be nationally or regionally, but not in Alberta.
Of course, there were already magazines covering the outdoors in Canada nationally and regionally, so another one was not going to happen. Therefore, I put the idea of an Alberta outdoor magazine on the shelf and continued trying to sell my articles to those national and regional magazines. The only problem was that my stories were competing with many more from Ontario and British Columbia, where the markets were larger. Thus, many of my articles were returned because they didn’t have wide enough appeal.
So, you can imagine my surprise when Rob Miskosky of Sports Scene Publications contacted me in 1999 and asked if I would be willing to write, as a freelance contributor, for his new monthly magazine, the Alberta Outdoorsmen. I asked him where he’d gotten that idea, and he said it had been something he had been thinking about for quite a while and he thought he could do it.
Now, I knew a bit about Rob Miskosky, his partner Paul Milberry and their successes with publishing the Edmonton Sports Scene, the popular monthly tabloid newspaper about amateur and professional sports in the Edmonton region, and the Fish and Wildlife regulation guides which saves the Alberta government thousands of dollars each year. I knew they would not take on such a project unless they genuinely thought they could. So I agreed to write a column and a feature article for the inaugural April/May 1999 issue.
I was not alone. Rob also convinced well known Alberta writers, Ken Bailey, Brad Fenson, Duane Radford, T.J. Schwanky, Jim Shockey and Kevin Van Tighem to contribute articles to that issue. As well, writers J.B. Struthers and the late David Tomlinson contributed their expertise respectively in enforcement and firearms legislation matters. That was quite a team of writers for the first issue and they did not disappoint. From articles about charging seniors for fishing licences to the morality of hunting grizzly bears and the effectiveness of gun control, that edition hit all the major concerns of the day, most of which are still alive today.
However, it is one thing to print a magazine with a lot of articles most outdoors people would want to read, but another to get it into the hands of those people. That’s difficult for a new magazine with no track record of sales. So, Rob, Paul and the Sportscene staff either mailed or personally delivered that issue to news stands and sporting goods stores across the province. These trips also provided opportunities to visit prospective clients to advertise in the next issue.
And as we know, there was a next issue a month later, and a third a month after that, and so on. Rob and Paul visited trade and outdoor shows where potential advertisers and subscribers were chatted up and magazines were given away to create interest. Subscriptions and orders began to roll in; but it took time, perseverance and a belief in what they were doing. Eventually, the magazine gained enough popularity to use the services of distribution companies. Now, it’s April 2009 and this issue (Volume 10, Number 12), marks ten full years of publishing “The Voice of Alberta’s Hunters, Anglers and Trappers.”
A lot has changed over the years. That first issue was in a 10 1/2 x 14 inch format printed on quality newsprint. The emphasis was on getting the stories out at the least expense. That format held for the next five years as Sportscene slowly built its advertising and circulation bases. Then in May of 2004 they switched to the present high-gloss 8 x 10 1/2 inch format with the accompanying high quality images and color.
Writers have come and gone, but the core group has remained relatively the same with the additions of Bob Adams, Brian Bildson, Wayne Clark, Kelly Hymanyk, Richard Mellon, Fred Noddin, Claudio Ongaro, Neil Waugh, Kevin Wilson and the dean of Alberta outdoor writing, Bob Scammell. Another welcome addition is the fine photographs of Duane Rosenkranz and his new column about photographing the outdoors. That’s an impressive stable of writers that provides their observations, thoughts and concerns about fish and wildlife conservation in this province. Many of these writers have won national writing awards with articles published in the Alberta Outdoorsmen.
So, why did Alberta Outdoorsmen succeed where so many others failed? First of all, at the outset Rob Miskosky made it clear to me and the other writers that he wanted us to take on the issues of the day and not be afraid of generating controversy. “Although I may not agree with everything you write,” he told us, “if you make a good argument, I’ll print it.” Other publications had often balked at some of the issues I wanted to raise for fear of offending subscribers, or worse advertisers. Rob welcomed them and ignored all threats to pull subscriptions or advertising. The result, in my opinion, was that more people read the magazine because it raises concerns that matter to them; and more readers means more companies wanting to advertise.
The second reason is that the magazine is current. Many magazines require articles to be written two to four months ahead of publication. Rob’s deadlines are less than a month ahead. That short turn around allows writers to react to issues that matter now, not three months from now. Such a short turn around is not easy to do, but the staff at Sports Scene gets it done, month after month.
Third, did I mention hard work? I don’t know more hard working people than Rob, Paul and the Sports Scene staff. Besides the Alberta Outdoorsmen, the Edmonton Sports Scene, the government regulation guides, they also maintain the Alberta Outdoorsmen Forum on the web, as well as other projects. It’s a lot of work, but I know they enjoy doing it because they believe they are making a difference for Alberta, its wild heritage and the people who value that heritage.
Happy 10th Anniversary, Alberta Outdoorsmen! May you have many more!