On Canadian Content: By the Numbers

If you’ve ever listened to a Canadian radio station, you probably noticed an over-abundance of Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, and the ever-berated Nickelback. This is because most stations in Canada are required to play at least 40% Canadian content (or as we lovingly call it: CanCon), and there are similar rules for Canadian periodicals. If you want to be supported by the Canadian Periodical Fund, as The ALP does (because we’re in this double bind of having no money yet wanting to pay our contributors), then a certain percentage of your content needs to be Canadian. This number varies somewhat from one grant to another, but for lit mags it’s often as high as 80%.math-1500720_960_720

We’ll jump into the hot mess of “what makes something Canadian?” in Part 2 of this mini blog series, but the big question, for now, is “how do we calculate that 80%?” This might seem like it has a straightforward answer, but many of the grant applications let you decide how you calculate your CanCon so long as the calculation is clearly explained and justified. So, do you go by number of pages, number of contributors, or number of contributions? This distinction can drastically swing the final number since many poets submit numerous short pieces that get published together while prose writers tend to take up more pages but usually only have a single entry. Consider Jessica Mehta’s two poems on the first two pages of antilang. no. 2 in contrast with Michaela Stephen’s five-page single story: who is contributing ‘more’ content to the magazine? And how problematic is it to imply, through the criteria we choose, that a one-page poem has the same content ‘value’ as a five-page story or, from the opposite approach, that a story has five times the ‘value’ as a poem? These issues get even more flustered when dealing with soundbite, which doesn’t have pages but could be considered in terms of time or number of pieces. And, though we consider these as distinct entities, or sister-publications, do they actually count as such, or should we be accounting for the total amount of CanCon published by the entire organisation?

At this point, if you haven’t gotten bored of all the math questions, you might be wondering “so what? just pick the formula that makes the most sense and send in your numbers.” At The ALP we want to publish the best short writing that we receive and we feel it’s unfair that a great piece might be cut or bumped to the next issue simply because of the contributor’s nationality (the complexities of which we’ll delve into in the next post). We hate the subtext of implied value systems and hierarchies that any one of these formulas imposes. This might sound a little melodramatic, but these questions of CanCon cause us to wrestle with what give writing its value. So, when caught between the rock of grant regulations and the hard place of financial dependence, we’re going to do everything we can by the numbers to ensure the largest quantity and the greatest possible diversity of good short writing appears in our publications. And to help us with this, we want your input! What do you think would be the best solution: page count, by piece, or by contributor? Leave your input in the comments (either on our social media posts or on our blog) and join in the conversation.

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