Penguin Eggs: A Successful Magazine For Discerning Tastes
The secret of the roots magazine's success lies in the fact that Edmonton’s Roddy Campbell is a businessman as much as he is an intensely-focused fan of folk and roots music. Plus, he’s got a firm grasp on his audience, and he lives to tell them all he knows about the subject.
By Eric Thom
Okay, let’s say you’re a businessman and you’ve got an idea. You want to create a national music publication dedicated to folk music (despite the fact that, for many, the genre died the day Dylan went electric). Your partner has a knack for wrestling grants from government sources, and you want to headquarter the magazine in a bustling, cultural mecca – say, Edmonton. Now let’s come up with a catchy name for its masthead – say, Penguin Eggs. How could it not succeed?
Well, the amusing thing is… it has succeeded. In this era of online publications which almost celebrate the death of print and the onslaught of social media, The Little Magazine That Could…….Is.
But the secret of Penguin Eggs’ success lies in the fact that Edmonton’s Roddy Campbell is a businessman as much as he is an intensely-focused fan of folk and roots music. Plus, he’s got a firm grasp on his audience, and he lives to tell them all he knows about the subject.
So how did this all happen?
Penguin Eggs was initially hatched as in e-zine in ’98 (to gauge interest) before evolving into its first hard copy issue in 2001. As for its odd moniker, Campbell bumped into Melody Maker’s “Album of the Year” back in his radio station days. Penguin Eggs was Nic Jones’ fourth release, and the effervescent Brit folk revivalist (with distinctive vocals and a percussive guitar style) spoke directly to Campbell, who promoted it regularly on his show.
Says Campbell, “I absolutely love that album still and play it on a regular basis… such a brilliant recording. I knew that if I ever started a magazine, it would be called Penguin Eggs. It’s such a beautifully weird title for a record and even weirder one for a magazine.” Once launched, an article on House Concerts for the Globe & Mail under Campbell’s name didn’t hurt to add momentum to the fledgeling magazine, as it plugged Penguin Eggs’ website.
But where are the readers coming from and why Edmonton? According to Campbell, “There are over 200 folk festivals in Canada each summer – which adds up to a lot of folk music fans…and our readership has been very loyal with little variance over the years….” As for Edmonton, he adds, “much of the initial encouragement for starting Penguin Eggs came from friends and associates in the city, which sports two fantastic folk clubs, a world-renowned folk festival, a superb blues festival and one of the greatest radio stations anywhere (CKUA). Thanks to InDesign and Photoshop, I can put all the key elements of the magazine together from anywhere in the country while the Internet allows me to gather all the other parts almost instantly.”
So how, in today’s online age, has Penguin Eggs been able to flourish, let alone survive? Campbell provides three critical reasons for this success. “First of all, like most cultural magazines in Canada, we receive financial aid from both provincial and federal governments (Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts).
"We couldn’t survive without their help. Second, Penguin Eggs has a full-time staff of one, me. I assign all the features, write many of the cover stories, sell all the ads, lay out the magazine and take care of subscriptions." Campbell is also quick to credit three others who assist him in accomplishing the impossible: former Edmonton Journal editor Doug Swanson; godsend bookkeeper Deb Thrall; and partner, grant-application wizard Annemarie Hamilton).
Third, Penguin Eggs has become an absolute must-read for anybody interested in folk and roots music, either in a professional capacity or as a music fan. Campbell’s enthusiasm rivals that of a proud mother…. “It started out with a colour cover and black and white contents. Now it’s full-colour and glossy throughout. We’ve also added various columns over the years – one I’m particularly thrilled with at the moment is “Long Player: The Record That Changed My Life”, in which various artists talk about a record that had an immense impact on their careers.”
Add in industry insight, like best-selling album sales charts from stores across the country, four pages of dedicated French content and an opportunity for featured artists to identify their favourite Top 10 folk, roots records and you’ve got a magazine that clearly speaks to music fans and musicians alike, making good on Campbell’s early desire to share this musical news with fellow Canadians.
Never forget the fan and the spirit of the music lover who saw a hole in the Canadian market, “For me, it’s still all about finding that spark of individuality and uniqueness that makes a record truly great. Such discoveries are rare but priceless. This is my dream job. When I started it I never considered it would fail.”
Penguin Eggs can be found on discerning music newsstands or contact www.penguineggs.ab.ca
And here's a track from Nic Jones' Penguin Eggs album