Magazine Industry

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To understand the scope of the magazine industry, it is necessary to define the term "magazine." And while the translation of the word "magazine" may simply be "a storehouse," technological advances constantly challenge how people define the word in their own minds. In the modern world, online websites and television broadcasts are considered to be magazines, but in the traditional sense, a magazine is printed on paper. At the most basic level, a magazine provides information that may be more in depth but less timely than that of, for example, a newspaper. A magazine can typically focus on trends or issues, and it can provide background information for news events.

Magazines have the luxury of focusing on a smaller target audience, which means they do not have to try to please all of the people all of the time. Instead, they can narrow their audience to a very specific population—such as the sports enthusiasts or amateur gourmet chefs. By focusing on a specific target audience or niche, magazines know what their readers want to see in the magazine, and advertisers know more about the target audience for their advertisements.

Types of Magazines

In general, there are three categories of magazines: consumer, trade, and organization. A consumer magazine is what comes to mind most readily for most people when the term "magazine" is mentioned. Consumer magazines are on newsstands and in grocery store aisles everywhere. They can be bought as single issues or by subscription, and they are marketed like any other product (using advertisements and special promotions). There are actually fewer consumer magazines than any other type, but the consumer magazines generally have the largest audiences. Consumer magazines can be broken down into a large variety of specialized categories, such as men's, women's, entertainment, regional, political, general interest, and so on.

A trade magazine specializes in a particular business, so its content is focused on job-related subjects and its readers have specific occupations. Many of these magazines are provided at no cost to a controlled audience. Because trade magazines are able to deliver a highly desirable audience to advertisers, they are able to charge higher advertising rates.

Organization magazines can be divided into three categories: association and society, public relations, and custom. The association and society magazines are often provided as part of the membership in the organization. The purpose of these magazines is mainly to enhance the organization. They can provide unity and a forum to discuss issues and to draw members closer to one another. Association and society magazines may carry advertisements, and they may be sold through reader subscriptions (which may be incorporated into membership dues). Regardless, the basic purpose of these publications is still to enhance their organization rather than make a profit.

Organizations and companies publish public relations magazines for self-promotion, and they may each have more than one such magazine to do this. For example, an internal publication may target the employees of a company (to keep them abreast of the progress of the company and help them to feel a part of it), while an external publication may target the same company's clients (to explain how the company works and to provide a better understanding of the company's philosophy or mission). Traditionally these magazines do not have advertisements and are provided at no cost to the readers.

The third type of organization magazine is the custom or sponsored magazine. A client may receive a magazine of this type as a result of purchasing a particular product or using a particular service. Typically, custom magazines are provided free of charge, but they may be also be sold on newsstands or through subscriptions. The purpose of a custom magazine is to promote or enhance the use of a company's products. For example, the in-flight magazines that are provided by airlines are designed to keep the passengers occupied and to make the flight more pleasant. It may be obvious who the sponsor is, or a company may team up with a consumer magazine to create a more subtle approach. Advertisements are usually part of these magazines, and advertisements from other companies may be included as well.

Basic Staff Structures

With such a wide variety of magazines, it is almost impossible to estimate the number of magazines that are published each year. The counts completed by various agencies vary so significantly that it becomes difficult even to put together rough numbers. In addition, most counts do not include the organization magazines. So, while it is difficult to estimate the actual numbers of magazines, it is certain that the magazine industry holds a prominent place in the economy. It provides an important outlet for advertisers to reach a very specific target audience, which helps their companies to continue to grow and succeed.

In the United States, many of the consumer magazines are published in New York City, but Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania are also responsible for a large number of titles. It is common for one company to own many magazines. This allows them to shift money around and take chances on launching new titles. The largest magazine producers include Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Hachette Fillipachi, and Time Warner. A small number of consumer magazines make up most of the industry's total revenues, but there are many small magazines and small businesses in the industry, too.

Whether a magazine is published by a small company or by a huge conglomerate, it is still possible to discuss a "typical" structure of a magazine. This is because, regardless of the scale, there are basic principles that lead to the success of a magazine. In most cases, a magazine is divided into two parts, the creative side (i.e., the editorial and art departments) and the business side (i.e., the advertising, circulation, and general management departments). All of these divisions must work very closely to ensure the stability of the magazine and to deliver the publication on schedule.

Often overseeing the entire process is the president or chief executive officer. This person may have an extensive background in the publishing industry, but in the case of large media companies, it is possible that the president may not have any experience in the industry. Typically, this person reports to the board of directors of a company and is held responsible for the profits and losses, direction, and reputation of the magazine. At smaller companies, this person may also be responsible for the development of new products, the management of personnel, and other financial aspects of the magazine. The duties of this position may even be combined with those of the publisher.

The publisher traditionally has an advertising background, although this is not always the case. For example, magazines that depend heavily on circulation as a source for revenue may be more likely to have a publisher who has experience in the circulation department. For the majority of magazines, however, the main source of revenue is advertising. A publisher typically ensures the visibility of the magazine in the marketplace and helps define the audience of the magazine for advertisers.

The publisher and the advertising director often work closely. It is the advertising director's job to convince companies to advertise with the magazine. Often, magazines will advertise to potential advertisers by placing advertisements in trade publications that reach the media buyers or those people who are in charge of advertising for their companies. Advertising directors may also create printed brochures and media kits about the magazine and send them to the advertising departments of companies. An advertising director may also work with the publisher to ensure that they reach potential readers. For those magazines that rely on subscriptions and sales rather than advertisements, guaranteeing that the publication reaches the potential readers would be the main focus of the advertising director's job. Instead of advertising to companies, the advertisements would be directed at target readers.

The circulation director keeps a close eye on just who is reading the magazine. When a magazine's revenue depends heavily on advertising, it is important to be able to identify the type of audience an advertiser can reach by placing and advertisement in the magazine. Most important, the circulation director maintains the rate base, or the number of readers the magazine is guaranteed to reach. This is the number that the advertising rates for the magazine are based on. When a magazine's revenue is based on sales of the magazine alone, the circulation director provides the crucial measurement of the magazine's performance. This person can help to identify trends, such as what type of magazine covers sell more on the newsstand; for example, a food magazine may or may not sell more magazines when a dessert is featured on the cover. The information provided by the circulation department guides the publisher and advertising director as well as the editor.

The editor is responsible for the content of the magazine, which includes the visual elements as well as the written elements. Thus, this position requires a strong sense of the overall editorial message of the magazine. A good editor is both creative and a good manager. He or she must work closely with the magazine designers and department editors or writers to ensure continuity. The editor focuses on delivering the kind of magazine that the core readers and subscribers want to see. If a magazine fluctuates too much from this core design, readers will be lost, which results in a loss of revenue from advertising and magazine sales

Bringing the advertisements and the editorial content together in one finished, printed piece is the job of a production director. The production director ensures that the magazine is in the proper format for the printer, and he or she then oversees the printing. This can include finding the most feasible paper stock and negotiating prices, as well as monitoring the quality of the printing job. The production director may also be responsible for the distribution of the printed magazine. Otherwise, the circulation department is responsible for the distribution.

Many magazines use outside companies to handle the mailings to subscribers, and the circulation director oversees this process to ensure that it is being correctly executed. For newsstand sales, publishers may work with a distributor to determine the number of magazines that should be sold on the newsstand. The distributor also finds wholesalers who will receive magazine shipments and deliver them to retailers. Distributors keep track of the number of magazines that are sold, and they collect the unsold magazines.

While the specific roles performed by the people who hold the above positions vary according to the size of the magazine staff and the type of magazine that is being produced, the basic structure and functions are all necessary for the efficient production of a magazine. These positions have evolved with the development of the magazine. Education, technology, and distribution are important factors that have shaped the growth of the magazine industry.

Historical Changes in the Industry

When the first magazines were published in the United States in the eighteenth century, the majority of the population could not read. The magazines targeted the elite and were quite expensive. They were packed full of information, often gathered from British magazines, with little or no artistic embellishment. The publications were printed by hand-set type on hand-operated presses, which was time consuming and labor-intensive. Often, the only illustration for a magazine was the cover art. These were usually made from crude woodcuts, although a few magazines used the more expensive copperplate engravings. Later in the eighteenth century, magazines were used for distributing political essays and ideas. Typically, the publisher was also the editor, printer, and main writer. In many cases, the articles were all unsigned.

The distribution of the early magazines was difficult. Either by hand, horse, or carriage, they were delivered to subscribers. Since postmasters decided whether or not magazines could be mailed through the formal postal system, many magazines employed their own carriers. It was not until improved roads and railway systems were in place in the nineteenth century that the distribution of magazines became easier.

In the nineteenth century, the number of magazines increased, as did the rate of literacy. Women became targeted audiences for the first time, and they devoured magazines that discussed leisure activities and homemaking. Magazines began to have paid editors, and writers signed their articles and essays. Content expanded to include literary essays, short stories, and poetry. By the middle of the century, the types of magazines had expanded to include trade, professional, and corporate magazines. The look of the magazine also improved tremendously during the nineteenth century. Copperplate and steel engravings became more feasible, and some magazines even hired watercolorists to hand-tint the engravings. Woodcuts were much less expensive and had improved from the crude eighteenth-century prints. As a result of their increased quality, magazine illustrations began to be used to decorate homes. By the end of the century, printing presses were able to print both sides of a continuous roll of paper, which made the process of creating a magazine more cost efficient.

Magazines, at the beginning of the twentieth century, began to appear in households that did not even contain books. Content became more concise. The essays became shorter to accommodate the increasingly fast-paced society. While photography had been invented in the nineteenth century, it was not until halftone printing was invented in the twentieth century that magazines were able to reproduce photographs easily and inexpensively. Artists and engravers found themselves no longer in demand, and art directors became part of magazine staffs that had previously consisted of only writers and editors. Since the early 1980s, computers have significantly changed the production process for magazines. When Scientific American published its January 1995 issue, which highlighted "The Computer in the 21st Century," it became the first magazine to publish without the use of film. While these technological advancements could reduce the time and cost of producing a magazine, the postal costs did not follow suit. In fact, postal rates increased dramatically during the twentieth century, making it difficult for many magazines to survive.

Technology and Trends

Magazines are everywhere. They are easily accessible and geared toward all facets of the population. Clearly, the magazine industry has gone through many changes that reflect the evolutions in society and in the technology that is used to produce magazines. Technology, such as television was first thought to be a great competitor for the magazine, but many magazines now have television shows as counterparts, and vice versa. In addition, specialized cable channels resemble magazines in many ways, including the fact that both formats attempt to serve specific targeted niches. As with television, the Internet was initially considered to be a major foe for the magazine. However, many magazines have already developed a "new media" staff to produce an online version of the magazine. The people in charge of these magazines realized that the Internet provides a viable way to maintain a close relationship with readers and offers another forum in which to sell advertising. Also, because there are no real production costs, the Internet is a very practical way for magazines to reach potential new subscribers.

A stronger emphasis on visual design is a continuing trend in the magazine industry. Television and computers have strongly influenced this trend. Journalists need to be able to think in terms of visual communication as well as written communication. Magazine art departments are growing larger in order to encompass online design as well as print design. They understand that a strong, effective design is increasingly crucial if they are to continue attracting readers.

With increased outlets to promote magazines and their advertisers, strong branding of a magazine is becoming increasingly important. Audiences need to recognize instantly a magazine's masthead on various products, television shows, and the Internet, and they need to associate it with quality and integrity. All of this means that editors need to continue working closely with publishers and advertising departments to develop a strong marketing strategy.

See also:Magazine Industry, Careers in; Magazine Industry, History of; Magazine Industry, Production Process of; Newspaper Industry; Printing, History and Methods of.


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Daly, Charles P.; Henry, Patrick; and Ryder, Ellen.(1997). The Magazine Publishing Industry. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Johnson, Sammye, and Prijatel, Patricia. (1999). The Magazine from Cover to Cover. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group.

Mogel, Leonard. (1998). The Magazine: Everything You Need to Know to Make It in the Magazine Business, 4th edition. Pittsburgh: GATF Press.

Stacey Benedict