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Indie magazines

The Mag Hag Posted on Sun, February 16, 2014 14:11:33

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.

That rare thing…

The Mag Hag Posted on Sat, January 18, 2014 13:29:38

Feminist magazines are a tragically rare thing, we know. I got very excited about the relaunch of Spare Rib and depressed when it seemed to descend into quarrels and spats. There’s currently just a website for the Feminist Times.

But here’s a nice piece celebrating the importance of the printed magazine to the feminist reader. Thanks to Women’s Views on News for the post.

Not a Feminist – but a Forerunner

The Mag Hag Posted on Wed, August 15, 2012 14:55:31

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

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).

MagFest 2012

The Mag Hag Posted on Fri, July 27, 2012 20:20:27

Another short post at the moment.

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?

Interesting times!

The Mag Market

The Mag Hag Posted on Sun, April 15, 2012 12:02:15

This will just be a short post. But as I promised to update this section of the blog with any interesting developments in the magazine market, I thought I’d post a link to this interesting piece in today’s Observer about the resilience of independent magazines.

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: .

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.

Why the Mag Hag?

The Mag Hag Posted on Fri, April 13, 2012 20:30:24

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

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).

was the next stage, followed by the idiosyncratic Diana and eventually, of course,
Jackie, which was
like a paper version of a big sister during my 1970s teenage years.

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.

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
, aimed at the 35 to 50 year old woman
and with a £3.99 cover price, two months after its joint venture with Rodale,

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.