Client: Penguin Random House Canada, Toronto
Redefining the lit mag
An award-winning and groundbreaking experiment that helped one of the world’s leading book publishers better orient itself in the digital world.
“What on earth is Hazlitt Magazine? It’s so quirky, so weird, and so utterly gorgeous that I can’t believe the forces of capitalism allowed this thing to exist.”
Nicholas Quah, HotPod News
Together with Alexandra Molotkow, Chris developed the idea for Hazlitt — an online literary magazine and multimedia platform with a broad interest in culture, society, and current affairs, publishing non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and comics, underscored with a taste for experimenting with new forms of digital storytelling. Its premise was simple, but still novel for the time: that publishers should embrace the web as a platform for actual publishing and thoughtful engagement with readers. That it shouldn’t simply be about marketing or selling books, but nurturing writers of all sorts and cultivating new audiences, while bringing the house’s authors into everyday conversations about culture and current events. Also: it should be fun, lively, and as original as possible.
Ignoring out-dated distinctions between high and low culture, our goal was to redefine the notion of what a “literary journal” could or should be. Literary was meant more in the way of dealing with a subject than the subject matter itself. As Alexandra described it, “You can take a literary approach to a ‘low’ subject, and the writing doesn’t need to be dry or inaccessible.”
Art directed in collaboration with Toronto studio Monnet Design (who we later worked with again for Canadian Art) and named for the 19th-century English journalist and anti-slavery activist William Hazlitt, the site launched to rave reviews in the summer of 2012. Within the first month, articles published on Hazlitt, as well as the site itself, were cited favourably by the New York Times, New Yorker, Globe and Mail, The Atlantic, and many others. Traffic quickly exceeded every expectation. Rare for a Canadian website, more than three-quarters of its audience was international. During Chris’s tenure, Hazlitt’s traffic hit a high point of 1 million unique users in a month.
In just its first year competing at the National Magazine Awards, Hazlitt won gold in three out of the four categories it was nominated under, including best design and best overall magazine website.
“Hazlitt’s minimal design style draws you in with engaging imagery and genuine voices. The stories it publishes play to the strength of the medium both in tone and technique. There is no other publication quite like Hazlittmag.com; their confidence in their mandate is an invigorating example of what magazines can be online.”
National Magazine Awards, 2013
Hazlitt immediately exceeded all traffic and critical goals. Chris built and developed a strong in-house editorial team—and community of freelance contributors—that saw Hazlitt winning numerous awards, as well as being positively cited and regularly linked to by major international media outlets. Chris brought much to the company: his profile within the media landscape, his international perspective and contacts, his strength as an editor and writer, his design sensibility, and his consistent commitment to excellence.
Robert Wheaton, chief operating officer, Penguin Random House Canada