the magazine industry

Like newspapers, the modern magazine took new form in the Industrial Age and for the same reasons—primarily, growing population, prosperity, technological advances, and literacy. Some of the greatest inroads in the magazine industry occurred with
women’s publications. In a pre-suffrage era, when women were not only denied the right to vote but also other fundamental rights, these women’s publications provided some semblance of community and shared interests. Sara Josepha Hale may be most remembered for her nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but her media achievement was as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. From 1837 to her 90th birthday 40 years later, Hale built a significant readership of a large segment of the general mass audience that the daily newspapers were seeking. The women’s audience segment had special value to advertisers with household and fashion products to sell. Godey’s circulation reached 150,000 in 1860.

Magazine Innovations The magazine industry produced innovative content over the next century, which attracted readers, and hence, advertisers.

Muckraking. A magazine bearing the name of its entrepreneur publisher, S.S. McClure, emphasized a new kind of investigative reporting, muckraking. The muckraking era in media content began with a 19-part McClure’s series on abusive business practices by the giant Rockefeller Standard Oil monopoly in 1902. Reporter Ida Tarbell’s expose made her a household name and set the stage for other muckrakers, such as Lincoln Steffens, Nellie Bly, and Upton Sinclair.

Personality Profiles. In 1925, Harold Ross launched the New Yorker, a weekly with in-depth articles. Under Ross, the magazine featured expansive profiles of celebrities, renowned figures, and other personalities. He wanted to present multiple perspectives on a subject and insisted his writers interview not only the subject but a range of people who could offer insight—both positive and negative views. These profiles became a signature feature of the magazine. The magazine has also featured award-winning investigative reports and serialized human-interest stories, some of which have ultimately appeared as books.

Photojournalism. With Life in 1936, magazine entrepreneur Henry Luce propelled photojournalism into new importance. The oversized weekly demonstrated that newsworthy events could be covered consistently by camera. Life captured the spirit of the times photographically and demonstrated that the whole range of human experience could be recorded visually. Both real life and Life could be shocking. A 1938 Life photo essay on human birth was so shocking for the time that censors succeeded in banning the issue in 33 cities. Life and Look, a competing magazine launched in 1937, became a showcase for the work

of photographers like Gordon Parks; Alfred Eisenstadt; film director Stanley Kubrick, who was once a Look staff photographer; and even painter Norman Rockwell. Life closed its doors in 1972 and Look in 1980.

Magazine Reinvention Although Internet competition now challenges magazines as an industry, it is not the first time that magazines have had to show resilience. In the mid-1950s, after a century as a dominant medium for national advertising, magazines lost ground due to the advent of network television. The biggest magazines soldiered on a few years, but revenues kept slipping. By 1970, a full-page in Life ran $65,000. In advertising lingo, that was $7.75 CPM, shorthand for cost per thousand—the M for the Roman numeral thousand. The network CPM was $3.60 for the same number of eyeballs. Life and other leading general-interest magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Look, and Collier’s were soon out of business.

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