THE MAIL BOX – More mail. Six days a week I get more mail. All the important stuff comes via email, tweet, twitters, smoke signals and carrier pigeons. The Postal Service brings me catalogues, ransom notes and magazines. I love magazines, having grown up when they were an important part of America’s communications. Once a week my family would get Time and Life, sometimes it was also Newsweek or U.S. News & World Report, although I could never figure out why the Saturday Evening Post arrived on Tuesday afternoons. Yes, magazines were vibrant, anticipated and carried weight. Once Life did a profile on a classmate and she was the talk of the school. My father was a pediatrician, and when he built his own office, it was on the front cover of Architectural Digest. You would have thought he had won the Nobel Prize for Architectural Splendor.
Today my magazine list is limited to the New Yorker and Texas Monthly. (The Alcalde, UT’s alumni mag, is different and mostly just hits me up for money. UT Systems has an endowment of $30.886 billion. Now, if it’s a collection for a new head football coach, I’ll listen.) But I don’t know how long mags will be around because — just look at this letter: a plea to continue my subscription. Here’s another. It’s really pathetic. These sobbings start in the dead of summer with cards sporting little snowflakes to get me in the holiday mood. “Don’t forget your subscription.” Sort of dry, businesslike. Two weeks later. “This is a Labor Day reminder to…” Then: “Don’t get spooked on Halloween. Just fill out this card….” “Thanksgiving is coming! Be thankful you can just check this box and…” As Christmas approached, New Yorker was getting desperate. “Please subscribe! We have spouses and children. Santa is hurting!” Texas Monthly tried a new plea: “We won’t list you in our Bum Steers Awards this year. Promise.” I turned down the New Yorker when it promised: “We’ll put your home on the front cover. Eat your heart out, Architectural Digest.”
We hear a lot about the death of newspapers, and we should. One in five newspapers has closed since 2004 in the United States, and about half of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties have only one newspaper, many of them printing weekly, according to a report by the University of North Carolina published in late 2018. Between 1970 and 2016, the year the American Society of News Editors quit counting, 500 or so dailies went out of business; the rest cut news coverage, or shrank the paper’s size, or stopped producing a print edition, or did all of that. Meanwhile, in the last year alone, Facebook and Google added tens of thousands of employees and reported billions of dollars in profits. Maybe there’s a link.
But not as much has been said about the demise of magazines. Again, stealing from other sources, we find that in 2011, 152 magazines ceased operations. Between the years of 2008 to 2015, Oxbridge communications announced that 227 magazines launched and 82 magazines closed in North America. Furthermore, according to MediaFinder.com, 93 new magazines launched between the first six months of 2014 and 30 closed. The category which produced the most new publications was “Regional interest,” of which six new magazines were launched. However, two magazines had to change their print schedules. Jet stopped printing regular issues making the change to digital format, but it still prints an annual edition. Ladies’ Home Journal stopped their monthly schedule and home delivery for subscribers to become a quarterly newsstand-only publication. Subscription levels for 22 of the top 25 magazines declined from 2012 to 2013. Some tried to change their format. Playboy published its first non-nude issue in March 2016. One year later it brought back the nudes, which tells us that no one bought Playboy to read Hugh Hefner’s philosophy. Some mags are going on-line, following the newspaper industry. (The New York Times, which is making gobs of money, has more on-line readers than print.)
Notice that, while mass-appeal magazines are faltering, those aimed at specific readers are growing. Go to any Barnes & Noble and you will see rows of niche magazines: Spider Collectors, Your Mustache, Flashers Weekly. Some mags are going on-line, following the newspaper industry. (The New York Times, which is making gobs of money, has more on-line readers than print.)
Just look at U.S. News & World Report. In June 2008, citing the decline overall of magazine circulation and advertising, the mag became a biweekly publication. Five months later it published monthly. At one point U.S. News was sold for a dollar in addition to the buyer assuming some $40 million in liabilities. In December, 2010, it stopped printed editions, but still turns out its list of best colleges, trucks, etc. As for Time, during the second half of 2009, newsstand sales declined 34.9 percent, and they kept going down. In the first half of 2010, another decline of at least one-third. In 2017, the mag’s weekly circulation had dropped one-third, to 2-million copies, although it still notes the “person of the year.” The company also cut the print issue frequency of Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, Fortune and four other mags. Time is running out for Time.
You want deals? Go on-line to “magazines” and you will find subscription prices slashed 20 percent, 40 percent, one mag gives you 75 percent off. Last summer, when those appeals to re-subscribe started, I began counting what I received: seven from Texas Monthly and10 from the New Yorker. That’s more pleas for money than I get from PBS and Wounded Warriors. The mags are offering to buy one, get a second subscription free, or get tote bags and calendars. The publisher will come to your house and read the cover story. So if you want to stop receiving all those pleas from magazines to re-subscribe, just wait. That problem will solve itself.
Ashby subscribes at email@example.com