Find the alt-weekly in any city, open up to the back pages and chances are you’ll find the same thing — thinly-veiled prostitution ads. However, Toronto’s Eye Weekly will be dropping the escort ads ahead of the publication’s rebrand launch as The Grid on May 12th.
Publisher and editor-in-chief Laas Turnbull, who announced the move on Twitter, says carrying the escort listings, the bread-and-butter of many an alt-weekly’s ad revenue, just didn’t fit with the paper’s overall shift in direction towards a more mainstream city magazine.
“Given what we’re producing editorially, which I think is really quite beautiful and innovative, I think it would be really incongruous to have those nasty looking things in the back of the book,” he said.
Turnbull said that while he has no moral objection to people paying for or receiving money from sex, he does have a problem with the institution of prostitution. “Because inevitably, people are treated badly, taken advantage of, and subjected to living and working conditions that are just really inhumane,” he said. “What really drove it home for us was being contacted a few times by the police, asking for our help because they found out that a 14, 15 or 16-year-old girl was abducted and they suspect that she had been inducted into some prostitution ring. That’s the part of it I find really unacceptable.”
Alt-weeklies have long been criticized for reaping ad revenue from the sex trade. Over the last decade, as classifieds of all stripes have migrated online, some papers have distanced themselves from the controversial ads, while others have hung on in order to maintain whatever print ad revenue they can.
“It’s an extremely profitable part of any business that carries them,” said Turnbull, one-time editor of The Globe and Mail‘s ROB Magazine. “It’s just time for us to get out. We’re launching a new brand, we’re excited about it and it doesn’t fit into our thinking. Yes, it’s a lot of revenue to walk away from but I feel like it’s the right decision and ultimately it opens up distribution avenues and revenue we had no access to before.”
By dropping the escort ads, Turnbull says The Grid has opened itself up to national advertisers, previously unwilling to be seriously involved in the publication.
The move also changes the distribution of the magazine, reining it in from the outer reaches of the GTA to focus more on downtown.
“Virtually all of our 905 distribution existed to support that part of the business, so out near the airport and at hotels, out in Markham and Scarborough,” said Turnbull. “But everything is aligning for us to really be a city of Toronto magazine. It’s not that we don’t care about the suburbs, it’s just not our sweet spot, editorially. “