Chapter 9: Magazines in the Age of Specialization

Posted: March 24, 2011 in Chapter 9: Magazines

VIDEO: Trailer — Devil Wears Prada
I. The Early History of Magazines

The first magazines probably developed in seventeenth-century France as catalogue extensions of the book-publishing industry.

A. The First Magazines. Early magazines were channels for political commentary and argument.

B. Magazines in Colonial America. The first colonial magazines appeared in Philadelphiain 1741, about fifty years after the first newspapers.

C. U.S. Magazines in the Nineteenth Century. The idea of specialized magazines devoted to certain categories of readers developed throughout the nineteenth century.

D. National, Women’s, and Illustrated Magazines. With increases in literacy and public education and faster printing technology, a market was created for magazines such asthe Saturday Evening Post, launched in 1821.

II. The Development of Modern American Magazines

By 1870, about twelve hundred magazines were produced in the United States.

A. Social Reform and the Muckrakers. Some newspaper reporters became dissatisfiedwith conventional journalism and turned to magazines, where they could write about broader issues in greater depth. President Theodore Roosevelt dubbed these reporters “muckrakers” in 1906 because they were willing to crawl around in society’s muck to uncover a story. We like to talk about Theodore Roosevelt when we talk about muckraking reporters who wrote for magazines such as McClure’s and the early Cosmo (a much different publication then the current Cosmo you see now on shelves!).

Men with the muck-rake are often indispensable to the well-being of society, but only if they know when to stop raking the muck.”

VIDEO: Magazine History Trailer

B. The Rise of General-Interest Magazines. After World War I, the prominent publicationswere general-interest magazines, which covered a wide variety of topics aimed at abroad national audience.

  1. Saturday Evening Post. The first widely popular general-interest magazine was the Saturday Evening Post. The Saturday Evening Post actually came in the mail on Thursdays. Norman Rockwell ended up illustrating 321 covers for the magazine over forty-six years. For magazine collectors, issues withNorman Rockwell covers and inside illustrations are more valuable ($15 to $50) than issues that showcase the work of other artists. Rockwell originals now fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars,and six hundred of these are publicly displayed at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the artist painted his famous versions of small-town life. Rockwell also did print advertisements, portraits of famous people, and calendars, which were extremely popular in middle-class homes.
    VIDEO: Saturday Evening Post gets a makeover
  2. Reader’s Digest. The Reader’s Digest surpassed the Saturday Evening Post in the mid-1940s as the most widely circulated general-interest magazine.Because Reader’s Digest has a reputation for being the antithesis of hip, it is having a rather unsuccessful time trying to attract baby boomers and younger generations. Today, the company’s rev-enue is stagnant, and its profits continue to slide. To reverse this trend, Reader’s Digest invested$400 million in customer research, magazine promotion, and product development during the late 1990s. The magazine’s books and home-entertainment division actually brings in more revenue(68 percent) and profits (80 percent) than does the magazine these days. Perhaps that’s because the books address contemporary issues along with traditional fix-it advice. In one home-repair guide, readers are not only informed about how to fix a leaky faucet but they are also given advice on how not to be cheated by their plumber. However, Reader’s Digest is still the magazine with theworld’s largest paid circulation.
  3. Time. National newsmagazines such as Time were also major commercial successes.
  4. Life. More than any other magazine of its day, Life advanced photojournalism andeffectively competed with radio.

VIDEO: Life Magazine and pictures

C. The Fall of General-Interest Magazines. General-interest magazine circulation fell because of key economic shifts and a new electronically oriented culture.

  1. TV Guide Is Born. Appearing in 1953, TV Guide addressed the nation’s growing fascination with television.


2.  The Saturday Evening Post, Life, and Look Expire. Distribution and production costs were rising, while national magazine ad sales had flattened out.

3. People Puts Life Back into Magazines. People was the first successful mass-marketmagazine to appear in decades.

VIDEO: People interview with a single

III. The Domination of Specialization.

Magazines adapted to the rise of television by becoming more specialized.

A. Men’s and Women’s Magazines. Magazines found niches in the age of television. Playboy focused on adult subject matter; Better Homes and Gardens targeted women as homemakers and consumers.

VIDEO: Better Homes and Gardens

B. Sports, Entertainment, and Leisure Magazines. The most popular sports and leisure magazine is Sports Illustrated.

  • When Joe Weider launched a newsletter called Your Physique in the 1940s, he had a difficult time finding fitness-equipment and nutritional-food companies to advertise in it. Frustrated, he solved the problem by building his own line of fitness equipment, starting up a nutritional-supplementcompany, and marketing the items in his own newsletter, which developed into a magazine, Muscle and Fitness. Weider would eventually become known as a fitness and nutrition guru, aswell as one of the leading promoters of bodybuilding in the United States, helping to make the careers of people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou “the Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno.
  • National Geographic still offers its magazine to dues-paying members of the National Geographic Society. Although the society and the magazine enjoy nonprofit tax status, a decline insubscriptions (from a peak of 10.9 million in 1989 to 5.2 million in 2005) spurred the Society in 1994 to create a for-profit subsidiary, National Geographic Ventures. The new business markets anumber of television series (e.g., Stanley and Livingston, a miniseries about the legendary explorers produced with Hallmark for ABC), generates vast amounts of school-curriculum materials, owns a stake in Imax theaters, created the first-ever National Geographic Road Atlas, and is producing a CD-ROM collection of all its magazines since 1888. It has also added to its magazine holdings with the launches of National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic Kids, and National Geographic Explorer magazines. The society also owns 25 percent of the National Geographic Cable Channel, launched in the United States in 2001 withpartners NBC and Fox. The channel was launched earlier—in 1997—in Europe and Australia.

VIDEO: National Geographic and the growing populations

Magazines for the Ages. In the age of specialization, magazines have delineated readersalong age lines.

C. Elite Magazines. These political and literary magazines appeal to formally educatedreaders who share political ideas, aesthetic concerns, or social values.

D. Minority-Targeted Magazines. Like newspapers, minority-targeted magazines haveexisted since the Civil War. With increases in Hispanic populations, magazines appealing to Spanish-speaking readers have developed rapidly.

E. Supermarket Tabloids. Based on bizarre human-interest stories, unexplained phenomena, and celebrity gossip, tabloids continue to specialize in reaching audiences notserved by mainstream media. After TV star Carol Burnett won a $1.6 million libel judgment (reduced to $800,000 on appeal) against the National Enquirer in the 1980s, supermarket tabloids behaved for a time. Although tabloids have usually been protected by the First Amendment, celebrities have sued them frequently over the years for fallacious stories.

F. Online Magazines and Media Convergence. The Internet’s flexibility and vast, inexpensive distribution capabilities make it an attractive area for magazine publishing.

IV. The Organization and Economics of Magazines

A successful magazine can be produced by one person with computer-driven, desktop publishing technology, or by many people in elaborate production hierarchies. Many magazinesare also going online, avoiding some costly production processes altogether.
A. Magazine Departments and Duties. Most magazines are still put together by several departments, which often employ hundreds of people.

  1. Editorial and Production. The editorial side produces magazine content, excluding advertisements.
  2. Advertising and Sales. The advertising and sales department of a magazine securesclients, arranges promotions, and places ads.
  3. Circulation and Distribution. A magazine’s circulation and distribution departmentmonitors single-copy and subscription sales.

Editorial and Production

  • One way that many young people break into the magazine business’s editorial side is through the fact-checking department. Before an article is published, magazine fact checkers carefully go over it, correcting inaccurate spellings, double-checking dates and figures, tracking down and verifying every tidbit of data, and affirming that a person quoted meantw hat he or she said. It is a time-consuming job that is noticed only when it is not done well.Magazine editors hate it when they receive a letter to the editor complaining about a factual error or, even worse, when they get hit by a libel suit.
  • Another way of breaking into the business is through internships. Most magazines offerinternship opportunities. The American Society of Magazine Editors also sponsors an editorial internship program each summer “for college juniors who are journalism majors ordeeply involved in campus journalism.”

Magazines that have had an impact:

  • Rolling Stone: Fred Woodward became art director in 1987 and changed art design withhis eclectic and powerful use of type as a primary design element.
  • Elle: Launched in 1985, Elle transformed American fashion photography from the all-American Condé Nast style to a vibrant, multicultural approach. The magazine’s decisionto use models of different ages, races, and shapes was considered daring.
  • Spy: Like Elle, Spy, begun in the mid-1980s, had a huge impact on design and editorial innovations. Funny charts, “Separated at Birth” photo features (later made into paperbackbooks), and splashy bits of color are now common in many magazines. Spy’s hallmark snideness and irreverence also gave the mainstream media permission to be a bit more strident and cutting-edge. The magazine’s approach was ultimately more appropriate in the 1980s; by the mid-1990s moods had shifted, and the magazine folded.
  • Wired: Launched in 1993 as a member of the Condé Nast magazine group, Wired calls itself the “journal of record for the future.” Focusing on people, companies, and ideas within the high-tech industries, Wired’s splashy design has also taken magazine artdirection to daring new levels.
  • Texas Monthly: Beginning in 1973, Texas Monthly has set the standard for regional magazines,with often groundbreaking articles on politics, the environment, industry, andeducation. The magazine calls itself (and it is) the “indispensable authority on the Texas scene.”

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