At its monthly peak, Oilweek magazine was 130 pages of insight and influence. Its editors and writers covered the gamut, from Alberta’s glorious highs – oil being sold for $147.27 (U.S.) a barrel in July, 2008 – to its crippling lows – oil for less than $30 a barrel in February, 2016.
But, last week, it was revealed that the magazine with more than 60 years of history had no future in its printed form. Faced with a downtrodden Alberta economy, with the price of oil struggling to stay above $50 (in West Texas Intermediate prices), and with print journalism desperate in its quest for advertising revenue and committed subscribers, Oilweek became a symbolic casualty – and ceased to publish.
“All the cards were stacked against Oilweek,” said former columnist David Yager, “the cost of advertising, the lack of cash, all that’s happening in the industry – what are you really selling? Six-hundred-and-thirty rigs and only 200 of them drilling? …They don’t need to advertise that any more.
JWN’s Alberta Construction Magazine shut down in March citing advertising and sales challenges. Venture Publishing, with its premier magazines Alberta Venture and Alberta Oil, was closed in August after its founder Ruth Kelly died suddenly in June. She had purchased Venture magazine from the provincial government for $100 in 1997 and transformed it, and Alberta Oil, into an industry dynamo. In its final months, however, Venture was inundated with financial hardships and owed freelance writers and photographers $40,000 for unpaid assignments.
“It’s unfortunate that we have lost another energy industry print publication,” says Fred Yee, President of ActiveConversion, a Calgary and Houston based software company that specializes in converting digital advertising into identifiable leads and business. “The reality is that advertising in print publications pays the bills and there has been a dramatic shift in recent years away from print publications towards digital marketing platforms where you can focus on a specific target audience and where advertising is often measurable and leads can be identified. You just can’t do that with print. Print publications like Oilweek are suffering as a result in this digital world despite generating some good industry content.”
Oilweek’s story essentially began with the ink-stained partnership of Les Rowland and Carl Nickle. Mr. Rowland, who would write about the business for more than 40 years, and Mr. Nickle, who started off as a radio reporter in Calgary, co-founded Oil in Canada in 1948, not long after the Leduc No. 1 well spewed black gold and signaled the start of the modern-day oil boom in Western Canada. In 1963, Oil in Canada merged with Oilweek and grew into a position of prominence with a readership in excess of 50,000. By the early 1990s, Oilweek opted to become a monthly.
Dale Lunan was editor of Oilweek until 2016. He recalled the publication’s “salad days” as being “not that long ago, pre-2014 when oil was over $100.
“Everyone was flying high. Oilweek was running 130 pages every month,” said Mr. Lunan. “There was a lot going on and a lot to write about. There is still lots to write about, but when the Internet came along, and when [oil] prices cratered, the advertising budgets disappeared. You just can’t sell advertising, and for a magazine like Oilweek, that’s its life blood. It doesn’t exist on subscriptions.
“They say they’re going to have a digital presence,” Mr. Lunan added, “but we’d been trying to create a digital presence of some sort when I was there and it just never seemed to take.”