Canadian journal wins readers in northern US
THE catalog James Lawrence found in the rooming house where Peace Corps volunteers to Colombia stayed when they were in town was different. It gripped him the way no other had. In fact, he stayed up all night poring over it, for the first time oblivious of the bugs that shared both his room and his bed. It was a copy of ``The Whole Earth Catalog,'' listing sources for a wide range of hand tools and other low-technology equipment designed to make living in the country a whole lot easier and more rewarding. The items were most appropriate for the work he was doing in Colombia with the Sibundoy Indians. And though Mr. Lawrence didn't realize it at the time, it was the also spark that launched him on a remarkably successful publishing venture, first in Canada, and since January 1986, in the United States.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Harrowsmith magazine was founded on the kitchen table of an Ontario farmhouse 11 years ago with, as Lawrence puts it, ``one doubtful advertiser, 707 subscribers, and total financial backing amounting to a collateral loan on a used Volvo station wagon.'' But he did have the firm conviction that there was an unsatisfied demand for the sort of publication he planned to offer: A magazine that spoke to people in a way that would enrich their lives in the country. He was right.
While the US already had magazines aimed toward readers living in the country, Canadian readers had nothing comparable. Harrowsmith quickly became one of the most talked-about success stories in Canadian publishing, winning some 60 awards, including ``National Magazine of the Year.'' Within a decade, its circulation had risen to 155,000, making it the most widely read special-interest magazine in the country.
And now, after little more than 12 months, the US Harrowsmith, described as a ``magazine for northern living'' is pushing the 200,000 mark and Lawrence appears to have judged correctly again.
But he's quick to point out that for the US Harrowsmith to equal the Canadian success on a pro-rata basis, the circulation would have to approach a million for the region it serves.
Harrowsmith set up its US headquarters and editorial offices in a former creamery in this pleasant Vermont town late in 1985, putting out the first edition in January of the following year. The major competing magazine, Country Journal, had changed ownership and, in Lawrence's view, lost some of its drive and enthusiam. In addition, he believed he had something different to offer.
Denis Meecham, the first managing editor of Blair and Ketchum's Country Journal, a former editor of Horticulture and now a professor in the Mass Communications department of Boston University, agrees with the latter assessment.
Country Journal, he says, caters to the ``second-home market, people who are indulging a dream [of country living]. Harrowsmith speaks to people who are already living in the country.'' What he terms ``the slow unraveling'' of Country Journal also contributed to Harrowsmith's early success in the US.
When a magazine is sold, he says, the vision and enthusiasm of the founders seldom go with it. According to Meecham, this is especially true in Country Journal's case. ``It's now one title in 10'' magazines controlled by the new owners.
Joe Hanson, editor and publisher of Folio, a magazine about magazine management, is cautiously optimistic in his assessment of Harrowsmith. ``I like what they're doing,'' he says, but it's getting subscribers to renew that counts. A year or two down the line and we'll know for sure.'' Mr. Hanson reads and likes both magazines. ``I personally prefer Harrowsmith but perhaps that's because I'm more of a farmer at heart.''