A great piece from the Observer today about the new wave of beautiful independent magazines.
And here is another great piece about the evolution of magazine covers.
Anyone with a keen interest in the world of magazines will have realised the importance of Helen Gurley Brown, whose death was announced yesterday (August 14th).
Gurley Brown was editor of American Cosmopolitan for 31 years and during her time at the head of Cosmo it reached some 33 million readers worldwide. Known for the controversial best-seller Sex and the Single Girl, she took over the editorship of US Cosmo in 1965, when the magazine was about to fold. She turned it into one of the most successful women’s magazines ever.
During her time at the helm Cosmo became known for its raunchiness. Its predictable emphasis on pleasing a man and looking pretty meant that it was targeted by feminists in the early 1970s. But in fact, even then, Cosmo (in the UK as well as the US) was advocating careers for women, including financial advice in its glossy pages and suggesting that women have as much right to an enjoyable sex life as men. In the 1980s, as people became aware of the dangers of HIV/AIDS, Cosmo gave away condoms and urged women to insist their lovers use them. All of this was extremely radical for its time.
Gurley Brown may have been a trailblazer, but she cannot be called a feminist by today’s standards. In spite of her obvious business acumen, she refused to join the magazine board, she espoused severe diets and underwent drastic cosmetic surgery. She also famously criticised women who spoke up against sexual harassment.
I’ve discussed on this blog before the strange relationship many women have with glossy magazines and even today many young women are almost brought up on Cosmo’s instantly recognisable brand of cheerful sex-and-shopping. The subliminal messages the magazine sends out are not all bad – there is still the distinct expectation that Cosmo reader will have her own career and understand her own finances, and in these times of worryingly weak aspirations amongst many girls, that’s to be encouraged.
I can’t possibly defend Gurley Brown’s overall philosophy or even the role model she herself proffers. Like most of us, in spite of her forward thinking in some respects, she was a product of her time. But as a reader who, like millions of others, turned to Cosmo for frank big-sisterly advice during my teens and early twenties, it feels wrong to allow her dubious personality and ill-thought-out ideas to entirely colour her publishing legacy.
(There was a great discussion about Helen Gurley Brown on Radio Four’s Today programme on Tuesday morning – The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman was good value. I’d hoped to put up a clip here but the new Listen again page doesn’t have one (thumbs down, Today programme). If you’re really keen you can find it at around 0822 on the programme on I-Player).
But for anyone (including students) interested in the state of the industry and/or in working for magazines, I just wanted to post about this really interesting event in Edinburgh in August.
Called MagFest, this international event includes a major industry conference, an exhibition and also some practical workshops on magazine design and on working in the business.
Here's the link to the details.
In the mean time, publishers and advertisers will be watching out for those all important circulation figures that come out in August. Will Glamour stay top of the women's glossies? Will NME continue its slide? Will digital magazines make any further inroads into the market?
It's an interesting piece which draws your attention to some quality publications that you may not find quite so easily in the supermarkets. It makes an important point about the closure of the Borders stores - whatever you felt about the quality of that chain, it did stock a good selection of magazines, including some US ones which I really miss and can't source anywhere else in the UK.
One point of issue, though: the standfirst suggests that the mainstream magazine market is in some sort of crisis. It's not, chaps - not really. It'd be easy to assume that is the case, as we watch the printed newspaper market struggling to survive. But the two sectors, surprisingly, are not the same. Take a look at the latest magazine circulation figures: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/section.asp?navcode=157 .
Glamour sells an astonishing 466, 327 per month. Prima and Good Housekeeping are among the women's glossies that are on the increase (older women have the cash, perhaps?). Current affairs magazines like Private Eye and The Economist are also doing very well.
Although there's an overall fall in sales for the sector as a whole, it's reasonably small, and publications with relatively high cover prices are still selling an astonishingly high number of copies. Research shows that, unlike in daily news, online is barely denting the printed mag market, because a massive 88% of magazine readers generally prefer print. It's clear that because magazines are better than newspapers at targeting their niche markets, most of them will probably survive. The ones that don't know their audience will not.
I've avoided the obvious cliché about reports of a death being greatly exaggerated, because to write it in would just be lazy and obvious. Similarly, it doesn't take much to check whether a general assertion and assumption about any industry actually stands up, even if that ruins your ideal intro. Sometimes, the facts have to get in the way.
Like an astonishing number of people in this technologically-driven world, the glossy magazine is one of my weaknesses. I can’t really tell you why that is. I’m of the generation that still prefers the printed word to the screen, but that is obviously not the whole story. The journalism students I teach at Northumbria University rarely buy a newspaper – but many of them will still spend comparatively much more cash for a glossy mag, whether it’s a sports, music, celebrity or fashion publication. These are students who access most of their news and other information via their computer or their mobile, so this apparent addiction to the shiny page is something that’s quite hard to explain. They will, for example, still buy the printed copy of NME, even though they agree with me that its web page has much more to offer, such as audio/visual music material. They will still subscribe to Vogue, even though, again, the content on the web site is quite stunning and offers those with a keen interest in fashion something that is over and above that of the monthly magazine. “I just like to have it and I like to keep it,” they tend to shrug, when pressed for their reasons.
I was brought up on magazines. To give you an all-too-clear indication of my age, I started off with Twinkle Comic as a very little girl – and probably subliminally absorbed all those un-PC role models like Nurse Nancy and Mollie and her Dollies (aargh).
So by the time I moved onto the likes of Cosmopolitan, I was a sucker for the glossy magazine, and rarely to be found without a selection of the latest monthlies.
Now, appropriately enough, I teach the Magazine Journalism module to undergraduate students, so for this reason alone I like to keep an eye on the state of the industry. It’s a fascinating one and it’s been very little researched, for reasons which are interesting enough on their own and probably have something to do with the traditionally female workforce and readership. This is changing, of course, with the top-selling (as opposed to free) men’s magazine being Men’s Health, which retains a circulation figure of 221,176. (Feb 2012; Source). That its content of sex, style and body sculpting has such an appeal to today’s young-ish male reader is surely scope for a thesis in itself.
In a world where printed newspaper circulations are in what appears to be their death throes, the magazine is still surprisingly enduring. That may be because readers of magazines feel a genuine sense of ownership of the publication, according to the excellent Magazine Journalism by Tim Holmes and Liz Nice, one of the few useful studies of the genre that I’ve found). And so magazines are “the most successful media form ever to have existed".* There is shrinkage in the market, in general – but that’s nothing to the ills of the newspaper sector.
Even in this difficult economic market, new glossies are still being launched with apparent confidence. Hearst has just launched the quarterly glossy Good Ideas, aimed at the 35 to 50 year old woman and with a £3.99 cover price, two months after its joint venture with Rodale, Women’s Health.
So on this blog, I’ll be keeping up to date with movements and trends in the magazine market and industry and commenting on them. If, like me, your days would be poorer without a good glossy, and you’re keen to know what’s going on in the strange and fast-moving industry, then this is the blog for you.
*Tim Holmes and Liz Nice (2012), Magazine Journalism (Sage Publications), Pg.1.