Overview: History and Future of Magazines in New York

Magazines! The glossy periodicals have delighted readers for over a century, their paperback binding full of big beautiful photographs and intriguing articles. The experience of reading, carrying, and flipping through a magazine is something that many have cherished, and still do;

Most consumers still prefer to read hard copies of magazines… (source)

New York City is undoubtably the center of the magazine industry in the USA, both because it is the home of three massive publishing houses (Condé Nast, Hearst, and Time Warner) and because it is a media linchpin in general, for the nation and the world.

Two magazines that are native to the city and still have strong followings (within and beyond the city) today are The New Yorker and New York Magazine. The New Yorker was founded in 1925 as a “sophisticated humor magazine”, gradually evolving into its current identity as a leader in magazine journalism and literature (source). In recent election years (2004, 2008), the magazine endorsed the Democratic candidates, cementing its status as a publication targeted at the ‘liberal élite’. It is now owned by Condé Nast. New York magazine is a newer publication, printing its first issue in 1968 as a competitor to the The New Yorker (yet their styles and focuses quickly diverged). In 1972, the magazine launched Ms. magazine as a special issue, spearheaded by Gloria Steinem (source). Aligning themselves with feminism, modern culture, and a unique lifestyle/city living hybrid, New York also securely attached itself to liberal ideas and political inclinations. New York is not owned by any of the big three publishing houses, and instead operates under its own corporation.

The three publishing giants have their own stories to share. Condé Nast was founded in 1909 with the purchase of Vogue magazine. The eponymous publishing house passed ownership to the Newhouse family in 1959 and they have owned the house ever since, now as a division of Advance Publications. Hearst, on the other hand, is a mass media group with divisions including Television, Magazines, and Interactive Media. It was founded in 1887 by William Randolph Hearst in San Francisco and is continually acquiring various print and digital media brands. Time Warner, the largest of the three by far, is a combination of Warner Communications, Time Inc., and Turner Broadcasting System (source). Time Warner has the diverse media assets of Hearst, including Movies, Radio, and Publishing, but is a larger corporation.

Before the advent of widespread internet access and the rise of free and abundant online content, magazines were a popular and lucrative form of media. They generate most of their income from advertisements printed in the pages of the magazine. Looking at some figures, it appears that they are doing very well, and that magazines are perhaps stronger than ever! In 1994, total advertising revenue was $8.5 billion, while in 2011 that figure was $20 billion. Even after accounting for inflation this is an undeniable increase. So print isn’t dead after all!

That single figure does not quite tell the full story about the changing state of media. 2012 is the first year that online advertising revenue is expected to surpass ad revenue from newspapers and magazines combined. The amount of money spent on online advertising has skyrocketed, and the overall amount spent on advertising is also on the rise. Perhaps this is due to the multitudes of new media outlets that are created each day with the resources of blogging websites and easily available publishing tools. Increased competition is forcing many magazine publishers to cut back, sometimes on staff, sometimes on entire magazines. Call it creative destruction, but in my opinion, this change is not necessarily a bad one. As the internet allows for the democratization of media and turns everyone with a smartphone or laptop into a reporter, it also gives large media companies many new opportunities and ways to reach out to larger and more diverse audiences than they could have before.

One of the biggest challenges that magazine publishers have in the coming years is figuring out ways to diversify, modernize, and generate real revenue from their content. Internet users quickly adapted to the idea that while books, newspapers, and magazines all cost money, the same articles and images will be online for free. People are slowly adapting to the idea that perhaps we will have to pay small fees for professionally generated digital content, but this must be both cheaper than print and also give us something that paper could not (source). There are many opportunities to do this, including integration with social media, transforming the typical medium into something more personalized that revolves around an all-encompassing brand, and updating the traditional magazine page to include to include videos and interactive elements in an e-reader or tablet app. There is also potential for new methods of distribution, including a sort of “all-you-can-read” model and instantly-updated digital subscriptions. The ubiquity of mobile technology is no doubt a boon to the industry as they look to shift into digital magazines.

Magazines in New York City have a rich history behind them, and a bright future ahead!


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