A “magazine” is a type of periodical characterized by entertaining and miscellaneous matter written by more than one author, often with illustrations. It is usually distinguished from a newspaper by containing less news coverage and by a lower frequency (weekly, monthly, or less). In the nineteenth century magazines were distinguished from reviews or quarterlies by an emphasis on light entertainment, and by the inclusion of fiction. From around 1910 the term “little magazines” came to denote low-circulation periodicals produced by and for the avant-garde. Since the twentieth century, “magazine” has been used above all to denote entertainment periodicals with a high visual content.
Types Of Magazines
There are various ways of classifying magazines. The closest to the core meaning of “magazine” for most people today comprise the expensive “glossies” on high-quality, glossy paper. These promote consumer culture, sometimes with global reach and national variations (Cosmopolitan [1886 –], Vogue [1892 –], GQ [1958 –], Time Out [1968 –], NME [1952 –]). Related but usually less glamorous are the highly specialized or local publications such as Book and Magazine Collector (1984 –), Kent Life (UK, 1962 –), and Metropolis (Tokyo, 1994 –). They mainly derive profits from advertising revenue.
Glossies are often differentiated from “pulps,” printed on low-quality wood-pulp paper. These latter comprise mainly cheap mass-market fiction magazines, and derive profit from high circulation. They vary between themselves as much as the glossies, from the story papers aimed at older people, such as the various national versions of Reader’s Digest (1922 –) or the Scottish People’s Friend (1869 –), to the energetically illustrated Filipino Liwayway (1922 –) aimed at the general public or the youth-targeting British Boy’s Own Paper (1879 –1967), Magnet (1908 –1940), and Peg’s Paper (1919 –1940). Such magazines often elicit readers’ contributions to keep down costs. The term “pulp,” however, mainly refers to 1920s–1950s periodicals such as the American science fiction Amazing Stories (1926 –2005) or the “hard-boiled” fiction Black Mask (1920 –1951).
Other categorizations of magazine may be made based on the demographic of the target audience (“lads,” “girl teens,” “computing,” “football,” and so on) and/or on the genre of material covered (e.g., Argosy [1882 –1978], an American “sweat” which ran men’s adventure stories). “Trade” magazines (e.g., the Builder [1842 –], the Grocer [1862 – 1978]) and, more recently, those associated with specific retail outlets can be thought of as further sub-categories of the demographic model. Comics and Japanese manga, although strictly a subset of magazine, are usually dealt with separately.
These categorizations evolved historically and are culturally specific, depending on printing and paper-production technologies, distribution capacities, work and leisure practices, and high standards of living and literacy rates. For this reason, magazines are principally read and produced in the industrially developed world, with the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan among the highest consumers.
There is no exact equivalent for “magazine” in other languages unless the word and meaning are directly imported from English, such as in German or French. While related words may be used to translate it, they almost always have different associations (e.g., rivista in Italian and zasshi in Japanese indicate both “magazines” and academic journals). “Magazine” derives from an Arabic word denoting a storehouse and came to have its common meaning from being used metaphorically. Book titles had used “magazine” before (e.g., Robert Ward, Animadversions of Warre; or, a Militarie Magazine . . . ), but the Gentleman’s Magazine was the first periodical to claim the word for itself. In the advertisement for its first issue (January 1731) it justified its title by claiming that it “treasured up, as in a Magazine, the most remarkable Pieces” copied or abridged from texts then being printed in Britain.
While the Gentleman’s Magazine is often stated to be the first magazine as regards format, it imitated previous periodicals, most notably the Gentleman’s Journal (1692– 1694) and the Mercure galant (1672 –1724). Other predecessors include key periodicals of the Enlightenment: the German Erbaüliche Monaths-Unterredungen (1663 –1668), the British Philosophical Transactions (1665 –), and the French Journal des Sçavants (1665 – 1753), which all provided abstracts of books for learned readers. The Gentleman’s Magazine did not take over the practices of what is erroneously called the first magazine, Richard Steele’s Tatler (1709 –1711). This latter originally comprised an original single-author essay on a topic of the day (and so resembles a blog more than a magazine).
Despite its predecessors, the Gentleman’s Magazine may still usefully be regarded as the first magazine since it spawned many imitations, both within and outside London, including the Scots Magazine (1739), the American Magazine (1741), and Benjamin Franklin’s General Magazine (1741). Other colonies were slower in producing their own. The weekly Gazette de commerce et littéraire (1778 –1779) has been called Canada’s first, succeeded a decade later by the English-language Nova Scotia Magazine (1789 –1792). Colonial India already had its Oriental Magazine or Calcutta Amusement (1785) and Australia produced its Australian Magazine in 1821.
Blackwood’s (1817 –1980) was a notable six-shilling British monthly that sought to differentiate itself from the then culturally dominant quarterly “reviews.” Running fiction and scurrilous series on topics of the day, it sustained a circulation of only a few thousand, its importance stemming from the social positions of its readers and contributors.
More influential in terms of design and price was the Penny Magazine (1832 –1845), the flagship publication of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It contained no fiction, but, making use of stereotype technology, graced its articles with high-quality woodcuts. It inspired many imitators, including the Pfennig-magazin (1833 –1842) and Le Magazin pittoresque (1833 –1914). In the 1840s newer, less didactic, rivals appeared – the fiction weeklies Family Herald (1842 –1940), London Journal (1845 –1928), and Reynolds’s Miscellany (1846 –1868). These sustained circulations of 200,000 – 500,000 in the 1850s, enabled by the new railway distribution networks. Analogs included the American New York Ledger (1847–1903) and the Philadelphia Saturday Night (1865–1901); in New Zealand the Colonists’ Family Herald (1864–1865), the Penny Auckland Journal (1867), and Saturday Night (1874–1850); and in Australia the Australian Journal (1865–1965).
These magazines often ran the same serials, sometimes at the same time, indicative of the beginnings of a global Anglophone entertainment culture from the 1850s.
Most of these proto-pulps used stereotype to combine images and words on the same page. More up-market British fiction magazines, such as the shilling Cornhill (1860 – 1975), favored full pages of text with separate high-quality prints. This was not the case in the US, where Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (1850 –) and later Scribner’s Monthly (1870 –1930) integrated word and image by exploiting the new process of half-tone illustration. By 1880 Scribner’s was pioneering a fluid layout whose influence spread across the Atlantic to the English Illustrated Magazine (1883 –1913) and the famous Strand (1891–1950). By the 1880s photographs appeared regularly in the press, and celebrity in a modern form was established. The new formats were glamorous, and magazines that adopted them derived larger proportions of their income from adverts, providing clear precedent for modern glossies in their financial organization as well as their layout, and helping establish national markets for brand-name products.
Through their emphasis on conspicuous consumption, women’s magazines were key in the evolution of the glossy. Originating in the eighteenth century, they were aimed at tiny elite groups until the Beetons’ Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (1852 –1881), which appeared when living standards for the first time allowed large numbers of women to spend money on leisure, fashion, and the home. The oppositional feminist magazine began almost simultaneously, the American Amelia Bloomer having launched the Lily in 1849 (–1855). In Britain the most significant examples were the Englishwoman’s Journal (1858 – 1864) and the Englishwoman’s Review (1866 –1910). In the 1880s long-lasting women’s consumer periodicals were born, including, in the US, McCall’s (1880 – 2002), Good Housekeeping (1885 –), and the Ladies’ Home Journal (1883 –).
“Little magazines,” although they can be traced back to the American Dial (1840 –1844) and the Germ (1850) of the British Pre-Raphaelites, are a phenomenon particularly of the early twentieth century. Promoting what the editors perceive as artistic quality over commercial expediency, and often “sponsors of innovation, the gathering places of . . . ‘irreconcilables’ ” (Hoffman et al. 1946, v), they rarely achieve a circulation of more than a few hundred. Wyndham Lewis’s BLAST: A review of the great English vortex (1914) is a typical instance, with work by Ezra Pound and others set in a revolutionary modernist design. Although descendents survive (Poetry Review was begun in 1912), few have the potency of these early shockers. Japanese dojinshi, which took inspiration from little magazines, are issued by groups united by interest in minority arts, but they are not necessarily avant-garde. Dojinshi in turn inspired magazines such as Blithe Spirit (1991–), the organ of the British Haiku Society, which has a circulation of less than 300. Mutants of “little magazines” are the self-published fanzines of the late twentieth centur.
The early twentieth century saw an intensification of trends already established in the nineteenth, with technological innovations such as color printing (established by 1914) and offset lithography enabling ever greater variety of layout. This in turn allowed the revitalizing of the notion of the “digest” for the busy citizen in the form of photojournals, e.g., Time (1923 –), Newsweek (1933 –), Life (1936 –), and Picture Post (1938 –1957).
While high national circulation remained important, reflected in the publishing industry’s responses to new media (e.g., the British Radio Times [1923 –] and the American TV Guide [1953 –]), new kinds of niche magazine emerged, enabling more specific targeting of consumers by advertisers. Whereas hitherto technology had helped expand the magazine industry, television began to rival it. As a result, several of the major photojournals went under or specialized in in-depth reporting. Others, such as ParisMatch (1949 –) and the German Bunte (1948 –), became celebrity magazines relying on paparazzi photographs.
Advertising became ever more the bedrock of magazine finance. New techniques enabled the production of small print runs as cheaply as large, in turn rendering profitable the targeting of specialized audiences. The fragmentation of the market was counterpointed by the dominance of global publishing empires such as EMAP, IPC, and Hachette Filipacchi Medias. The size of these companies meant that experiments targeting new demographics could be made, e.g., Computer and Video Games (1981–2004), Loaded (1994 –), and Nuts (2004 –). However, privately owned and independent publishers remain strong. Some target specific audiences (e.g., Gay News [1962 –] and MS [1972 –]), whereas others, such as Hello! (1988–, an outgrowth of Spanish ¡Hola! [1944 –]) or those magazines owned by the German firms Bauer and Hubert Burda Medias, aim for massmarket profit.
Trade magazines (e.g., PRWeek [1984 –], Campaign [1978 –]) continue to occupy a major slice of the industry worldwide. Significant new developments in the late twentieth century lock magazines into consumerism ever more tightly. They include magazines aimed at customers of particular retail chains or services (e.g., the supermarket Sainsbury’s Magazine [1993 –]). These are glossy developments of nineteenth-century catalogues and publishers’ “house magazines,” such as Macmillan’s (1860 –1907). Magazines that form supplements to newspapers, the first of which was the Sunday Times Magazine in 1962, were introduced both to extend advertising space and to compete with glossies.
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