Why Some Magazines Never Die

By Swartz, Herbert | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, February 1986 | Go to article overview

Why Some Magazines Never Die


Swartz, Herbert, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


The concept of a phoenix-like rise in magazine publishing remains a constant. Magazines may die, but not all remain buried. Think of The Saturday Review, Life and Look, The Saturday Evening Post, Inside Sports and Media People.

These magazines aren't isolated exceptions to the inevitable, nor are they simply footnotes to magazine history. They represent a fact: For reasons that are inherent to the magazine business, some magazines will not stay dead.

What reasons? A survey of editors, publishers and magazine consultants revealed almost unanimous agreement on 12 factors to be found--either singly or in combination--whenever a magazine resurrection has taken place. Furthermore, these 12 factors apply as well to those many magazines of long standing--such as The Atlantic and Ladies' Home Journal--that have never stopped publishing, but have at times been rescued from a close call.

Let's take a look at these 12 factors.

1. A magazine's title is valuable

"The fact that magazines must change over time doesn't alter the proposition that the name of the magazine continues to have value," says John Peter, whose firm, John Peter Associates (New York), does consulting for the Cahners Group and Groupe Expansion in Paris.

Herbert Ahrend, president of Ahrend Associates in New York, a consulting firm in advertising and marketing with clients such as Business Week, Good Housekeeping, Van Nostrand Reinhold and Xerox, agrees: "No matter what else happens, I firmly believe that the titles of certain magazines have considerable value." A magazine title conjures up a "point of view," he says. "And there will always be an audience for the magazine until the point of view itself disappears." People who "cared once are still around, or others like them." he adds.

"That's why certain magazines are destined to live," seconds Dale Steiger of Dale Steiger Associates, New York. A former associate publisher at The Saturday Evening Post and also former executive for Look, Steiger's thesis is stark: "Magazines don't fail; management fails." And because titles are vital to the magazine, there is no reason to reject the title as title--no matter what other changes in the magazine become necessary.

The point, says Scott Kelly, president of U.S. Lithograph in New York, a consulting company in both publishing and typography for some 30 magazines, "is that names of magazines are no different from names of other consumer products. Some names do have a particular image in the minds of consumers. The public wants those names and won't stand for changes. Certainly Coke's recent experience is a lesson for magazine publishers. But the trick will be to recognize what names are still wanted and can't be changed. That's the skill a publisher must have."

2. Evolution is not death

"Magazines are organic, they are continually changing entities," says David Orlow, president of Periodical Studies Service in New York, which does consulting in magazine sales development for the likes of Newsweek, Playboy, Small Boat Journal and others.

As much as any other product, Orlow continues, "magazines are subject to the vicissitudes of the marketplace." So, "is a magazine rising from the ashes or simply going through another change?" he asks. His answer: Just another change.

"Five years from now," Orlow continues, "Playboy will have had to change in its pursuit of profits.c Some magazines are able to bring off the required changes without ceasing publication, but others have to go out and come back.

"But what's the difference?" Orlow asks. "None. It is really the same phenomenon." This is especially so, he adds, for those magazines of more than a half-million circulation.

Peter seconds the idea: "The reason a magazine can last--or should last--is because it can make the changes required to meet changing times."

"Of course magazines go through evolutionary processes," concurs David Ryus, former publisher of Natural History and manager of Time-Life International, who now consults for Mosely Associates in New York. …

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