Magazines – Intro
By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
For decades now, the world of news magazines has been dominated by three brands. Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report have been around for so long without serious challengers that the news genre has seemed the exception to the rule of the constantly shifting world of magazine publishing.
But quietly and subtly, the last few decades have seen internal remaking at the three traditional publications. They have transformed themselves, altered their content to be lighter and broader in topic and tone, and, coincidentally or not, lost circulation.
At the same time another group of what we call non-traditional news magazines – publications that don’t follow the usual model of what a news magazine is – have slowly been moving onto the turf of the Big Three. Magazines like The New Yorker and The Economist have historically sat at the periphery of news, or at least American news. Lately they have been staking bigger claims in the U.S. news genre and have watched their circulation grow.1
All the while, the least discussed members of the news group, the opinion journals, have also seen their numbers slowly creep up.
In 2005, it appears that the magazine news genre may soon be in for a more dramatic shift.
After years of being untouchable, the three traditional titles may face more direct competition. At least one publisher is seriously considering launching a new news weekly that would walk squarely onto the same playing field as the traditional weeklies. And as the circulations of the nontraditional news titles grow, gradually eating into the large audiences the news weeklies have always held as their key advantage, their ad rates also get closer to parity. The stable news magazine field genre could look very different in coming years.
Outside of news, there is also evidence in 2005 that the great rush to the entertainment/pop culture niche may be slowing, while a new genre of publication has emerged as a hot industry segment. Shopping magazines, once thought of as a relatively minor niche, have grown, adding titles and readers and causing problems for traditional women’s magazines. These “catalogues with content” seem ascendant as the line between lifestyle and consumer magazines blurs.
- A look in this report at the content of two of the nontraditional U.S. news publications, The New Yorker and The Economist, shows a movement toward more topical coverage and more journalism focused on the U.S.
- The traditional news weeklies continued their trend toward lighter and broader coverage in 2004, and circulation at Time and Newsweek continued small, steady declines.
- Among opinion magazines, The New Republic reported a large drop in subscribers while The Nation continued to gain.
- The traditional news weeklies saw a good year in ad dollar increases, helped along by the Olympics, the election and an improving economy. U.S. News saw a large bump in ad pages.
- The news magazine genre arena also saw the 2001 startup “The Week” begin to make its advertising data more public, posting significant ad page and dollar increases.
- Across the board, the readership of all the news magazines we looked at, traditional and nontraditional, grew grayer.
Over all, the magazine industry appears healthy, but declining newsstand sales across all genres and an aging audience have raised concerns for some publishers. For news in particular, there is cause to worry about where the next generation of readers will come from.