Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Women's Magazines Search for '90S Niche as Ms. Magazine Pushes New Limits, Other Editors Look beyond Glossy Covers and Ask What Women Want. PRINT

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Women's Magazines Search for '90S Niche as Ms. Magazine Pushes New Limits, Other Editors Look beyond Glossy Covers and Ask What Women Want. PRINT

Article excerpt

WHAT do women readers want?

That question, never asked by Sigmund Freud, is puzzling the best minds in magazine publishing these days. With the revival of Ms. magazine this month after a seven-month hiatus, and the announcement that Woman magazine is folding, editors are searching for the mystique of the '90s that will define the boundaries of a still-uncharted territory.

At Ms., those boundaries have been expanded to include a more global focus, summed up in the new subtitle: The World of Women. And at a time when many magazines are losing advertising revenue, Ms. has adopted a no-ads format, hoping instead that up to 100,000 subscribers will pay $30 a year for six issues.

Early response to the revamped magazine, according to editor Robin Morgan, is "amazing. We sold out on the newsstand within one week of the on-sale date. We are trying to go back to press for another printing. Mail is coming in in bags - thousands of letters."

"I think women have had it with being manipulated and patronized, with being fed junk food to read instead of something nourishing, with advertising saturation, and with the trivia that fills many women's magazines," Ms. Morgan says. "They're not fools. They leaf through magazines and there's nothing there. When they feel they're getting something for their money, they'll pay, and even pay more."

The timing may be propitious. According to Samir Husni, head of the magazine program at the University of Mississippi's department of journalism, "Circulation-driven magazines are the key to the future."

Last year, he points out, 52 percent of magazine revenues came from circulation and 48 percent from advertising.

Even so, Dr. Husni says, "Whether the concept of Ms. as a feminist magazine is still a valid concept, with people willing to pay $30 for it, is a question, because almost every magazine on the market is a Ms. You cannot pinpoint any traditional magazine and say, `This is a traditional women's magazine.' Ms. was the candle that lit the light for all the other women's magazines. But it's so hard to rebuild the candle after it melts."

To that, Morgan responds, "The candle melted because Ms., to stay afloat, turned into an imitation of its own imitators, with movie star covers, fashion, beauty. What we're doing now is pushing whole new boundaries. We're not rebuilding the same ball of wax."

Elsewhere, in the crowded field of women's service magazines, efforts to attract readers include redesigns for McCall's, Working Woman, and Woman's Day. The latter was recently taken off the auction block after efforts to find a buyer failed.

But editorial facelifts alone cannot solve more fundamental problems that sometimes keep readers away.

"I think it's an issue of time," says Mary McLaughlin, executive editor of Working Mother magazine. …

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