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Vanity Fair, May 1987
For English-speaking Parisians and Paris-loving Americans, the magazine of choice must be Passion. Subtitled “The Magazine of Paris,” it covers fashion, art, restaurants, shopping, cinema, literature, and other Parisian pursuits, including what’s right on the Left Bank, and what’s left on the Right Bank. It’s New York magazine with a baguette tucked under its arm.
Founded in 1981 by editor and publisher Robert Sarner a (non-French) Canadian transplant to Paris, Passion is not only the city’s sole English-language magazine but also the only such guide that has managed to survive for five years in the crowded Paris market.
Sarner, 33, declares: “Our chief raison d’etre is to focus almost exclusively on Paris, almost exclusively in English, and directed simultaneously to both expatriate residents and to people in New York, Los Angeles, London and Toronto.”
The total circulation is 50,000, with subscribers in 34 countries – nearly 3,000 copies of each issue are sold in New York.
Passion also courts French-speaking readers with a supplément francais and Sarner now estimates that nearly a third of his readers are French.
Sarner has started a perfect-bound, full-color glossy called Accent: The Magazine of Paris Style, published in October and March to coincide (like La Mode en Peinture) with the collections.
P.S. Passion has the cleverest circulation-boosting gimmick of any little mag anywhere, “Kiosk of the Month,” featuring a different news vendor picture in every issue.
– Craig Bromberg
Canadian dreams up Paris magazine
By Anne Gibbon, The Financial Post, March 1989
PARIS – In retrospect, Robert Sarner believes his naiveté was a blessing in disguise.
There he was in Paris in 1981, a 27-year-old from Toronto with almost no money and no business experience. All he had was a passion for magazines and a determination to launch an English-language publication about life in Paris.
He’d already tried and failed to start a magazine in Toronto. And in Paris, efforts by others to establish English-language magazines had flopped. But after a frenetic six months of preparation in his tiny studio apartment, Sarner saw his idea come to life. The first issue of Paris Passion rolled off the presses, a funky arts and culture magazine, in English, celebrating life in one of the world’s most alluring cities.
It has been a shaky eight years for the magazine. It has operated on a shoestring budget for most of its existence and, a year ago, almost failed. But now, the 24-page, black-and-white tabloid with a circulation of 12,000 in 1981 is a glossy, 140-page magazine with a paid circulation of 30,000 and readers in 30 countries, including Canada.
Sarner is more assured than ever of survival of his magazine. A British publishing firm, Time Out Group, rescued Paris Passion from near-collapse a year ago. Time Out, which publishes the popular London city magazine of the same name, infused $300,000 and now owns 75% of the venture; Sarner owns the rest.
“For the first time, we have partners that are in the magazine business and are prepared to give us a financial commitment to let us grow,” says the intense, dark-haired 35-year-old.
The walls of his office are lined with covers of the magazine and a giant Jean-Paul Belmondo movie poster. Sarner studied film in both Toronto and Paris. The office is cavernous compared with the magazine’s first home near Les Halles, Sarner says. “That was a glorified broom closet. Now we even have a real phone system.”
How did a magazine fanatic from Toronto end up becoming a publisher in Paris?
Sarner moved to Paris in 1979 to eke out an existence as a freelance writer. A year later, he was accepted to a Paris-based journalism fellowship, Journalistes en Europe, which kept him in the city another year.
He recalls that during the course, which requires participants to publish a magazine about European affairs, he was forever trying to improve the look of the magazine.
At the same time he became more aware of the void in the English-language magazine market and decided to launch one himself.
Then, in 1980, on a busy Paris street, he happened to run into two young men from his past: the founders of the Roots clothing chain, Don Green and Michael Budman.
Sarner had approached the duo in 1977 to help finance his Toronto magazine. The magazine never got off the ground and a business relationship never developed.
He asked them to back his Paris magazine, persuading them of the need for such a publication. This time they agreed, putting up half the $30,000 needed to start it. The other half came from Sarner’s family.
As a result of the Time Out deal, Paris Passion should be profitable this year. “Not enough for me to go out and buy a car, but profitable,” he says. It is now published every two months, but will go monthly in May. Circulation should reach between 40,000 and 50,000 early next year.
“I liked the magazine a lot,” Time Out Group’s founder Tony Elliot, says. “I think it has enormous potential.”
Along with Sarner, Elliot has become co-publisher of Paris Passion. He sees his role as ensuring that the magazine doesn’t become too American in its focus. He wants to avoid pieces on “how it’s hard to find cookies in Paris like you would find at home,” he says.
Sarner and Elliot have discussed launching other magazine projects. But for now, Sarner says, the priority is to keep building Paris Passion.