Magazine Vital Signs: Best Magazines of 2012

ljx130501webBestmag Magazine Vital Signs: Best Magazines of 2012

LJ‘s first feature on the best new magazines was William A. Katz’s “Magazine Madness” published April 1, 1988. In that inaugural essay, Katz noted that 500–600 new magazines were launched each year, but “only a handful are worthy of attention.” We all know that the web and smart devices have changed the publishing landscape, and one consequence is fewer new print magazines. According to ­Mediafinder.com, 227 magazines launched in 2012, compared to 239 launched in 2011. While the number of new publications is half the rate of the 1980s, Katz’s point about the portion worthy of librarians’ attention remains valid.

Noteworthy or not, magazines inevitably come and go. The death rate improved a bit last year, with 82 closures versus 152 in 2011. As any librarian not living under a rock knows, Newsweek ceased as a print publication at the end of 2012 (following U.S. News & World Report in 2010). Individuals can pay $2.99/month to read it on their iPad, NOOK, Android, Kindle, or computer. The best access option for libraries is probably to rely on aggregated databases, as Newsweek is very commonly included in database offerings from ProQuest, EBSCO, and Gale.

Big budgets and wide distribution aren’t enough on their own to sustain a magazine. Witness the demise of Holmes: The Magazine To Make It Right after less than two years of publication. Occasionally, it’s the low-budget, kitchen table–produced new periodicals that end up showing the most resiliency. An example of a past “best magazine of the year” published on a shoestring is hand-sewn Vintage, which against this reviewer’s expectations has published three issues and continues to thrive. Despite the occasionally grim fate of individual titles, magazines remain a potent economic force. Periodicals make up 28 percent of the publishing market in the United States, with total revenues on the order of $12.5 billion per year (“Publishing Industry Profile: United States,” Mar. 2012).

Eyes on the future of news weeklies have turned to Time. News stories in early 2013 reported that Time Warner would sell Time, Inc. to Meredith, which publishes 18 magazines. But in March, Time Warner announced that it is going to spin off its entire Time Inc. subsidiary into a separate publicly traded company.

The company will have from $500 million to $1 billion in debt and falling revenue and will no longer be able to draw funds from Time Warner’s lucrative film and television assets, the New York Times reported. On the other hand, Time Inc. accounts for one-quarter of the revenue of the top 50 magazines in the United States. Time, Sports Illustrated, People, and InStyle continue to represent some of the strongest brands with the most loyal subscriber bases in the industry, so the company has a solid foundation from which to work.

A key to any magazine’s success nowadays is its ability to develop online revenue streams. Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) reported that as audiences increasingly access magazine content across multiple platforms, more companies are buying magazine ad space on tablets and the web (“Huge Increase Reported in Brands Advertising with Magazines on Tablet, Online and Print Platforms since 2010,” Oct. 12, 2012). The same press release from the MPA reports that the number of magazine apps released has grown from 192 in the third quarter of 2010 to 1,728 during the same period of 2012. Perhaps to underscore the importance of nimbleness in new media, the MPA recently changed its name to the Association for Magazine Media. (But despite the name change, it’s keeping the acronym MPA.)

Ellen Levine of Hearst Magazines represented the MPA at a September 2011 Senate hearing on the postal service’s continuing financial difficulties (Congressional Digest, Feb. 2012). She stated that subscriptions account for 90 percent of circulation and that 90 percent of readers still want a printed copy. This amounts to 300 million paid subscriptions per year. Noting that postage represents about 20 percent of the cost of producing a magazine, she emphasized the need for affordable and reliable delivery but expressed neutrality on the issue of five-day delivery.

The best magazines launched in 2012 include one sport magazine, a travel magazine, two in the lifestyle genre, an art journal, and five literary magazines. None this year are strictly online; all are available in print.

American Reader. m. $39.99. Ed: Uzoamaka Maduka. theamericanreader.com
Editor in chief Maduka received attention that should delight the founder of any literary magazine, a feature praising the merits of American Reader (AR) in the New York Times (1/2/13). The magazine is visually quite traditional, with a subdued cover, refreshingly unremarkable typography, and sparing use of mostly black-and-white illustrations. Yet AR is by no means staid. The twentysomething Princetonians responsible for this journal have wrought a thoroughly contemporary, independent, high-quality collection of reviews, fiction, and poetry. It’s rounded out with light touches of photography, translated works, and reprints.

ARTMargins. 3/yr. print + online. $200. Ed: Sven Spieker. www.mitpressjournals.org/loi/artm
MIT Press’s new scholarly art journal explores artistic endeavors from regions formerly considered as peripheral to the art world. The editorial board intends to use perspectives from areas such as Latin America and Eastern Europe to enrich the dialog in art history; to study “the migration of initiatives, ideas, and artistic practices across continents now and in the past.” While regrettably prone to the dense and jargon-filled prose so typical in current humanities scholarship, ARTMargins provides a valuable venue for international perspectives in art history from formerly underrepresented points of view.

Blindfold. q. $33.80. Ed: Jeramy Pritchett. www.blindfoldmag.com
Blindfold implores us to “take it off”e_SEmDthe blinders, that is. Having both eyes open will reveal patterns of destruction wrought by inattention to our impact on ecosystems. Blindfold is for readers who, in editor Pritchett’s words, “don’t want to wake up one day to find our planet dead.” The message is conveyed mostly through profiles of individuals acting in environmentally conscious ways. The magazine tends toward a hippie vibe, but the messages are tempered and the writing level-headed. Blindfold is colorfully illustrated and physically well constructed on good quality 9e_SDRq x 11e_SDRq paper. Larger fonts and less saturated colors would improve this worthy voice espousing sustainable harmony with our fragile planet.

Decades. irreg. $15/issue. Ed: Chloe Schildhause. www.decadesforever.com
Edgy and weird, Decades gets a nod as one of the best magazines of 2012 owing to its creative originality. Three twentysomething women teamed up with simpatico peers to inaugurate the magazine with a “beet stain issue,” as in using beet juice to simulate blood. It’s odd, and a bit gross, but they manage to pull off a legitimate compilation of avant-garde art. The beet theme is not overdone, as much of the inaugural issue spans a range of diverse topics. While not for every library, Decades provides an interesting example of contemporary literature from witty and brash members of the Millennial generation.

Empirical. m. $54.95. Ed: Tara Grover Smith. empiricalmagazine.com
Chico, CA–based Empirical publishes essays on current events, poetry, short fiction, photography, and a few reviews of works in various media. Billing itself as having the pioneering spirit of the Pacific Northwest, the editors of Empirical lean in a decidedly liberal direction. Nonfiction essays in recent issues address the plight of organized labor, the perils of ignorance, and the necessity of sustainable agriculture. Firmly held perspectives are rationally argued in an openly unapologetic manner. Insofar as directness is a virtue, Empirical provides a worthwhile and visually attractive outlet for liberal ­perspectives.

Howler. q. $50. Ed: George Quraishi & Mark Kirby. howlermagazine.com
The founders of independent soccer magazine Howler have a range of experience on the staffs of prominent publications including GQ, Esquire, and ESPN. The depth of their professional experience is apparent in Howler’s expert graphic design and inspired editorial content. The title Howler comes from the British term for a blunder and is a nod to British humor. The editors intend to “explore the ways soccer helps us understand social problems, ethnic tension, big business, youth culturee_SEmDand we can poke fun at ourselves for being people who say stuff like that.” Visually gorgeous, intellectually engaging, Howler provides a unique take on one of the world’s favorite sports.

Inspirato. 3/yr. $9.99/issue. Ed: Mendy Charlton. inspiratomagazine.com
Editorial content makes up a relatively small portion of this coffee-table visual feast of luxury travel destinations. Inspirato is a destination travel club targeted to members willing and able to enjoy vacations at multimillion-dollar homes in prime tourist locations. About a third of the magazine describes those locations, so the prime audience are members of the club. But articles also cover destinations and experiences available to anyone, and the photography is first-rate. Beautiful and opulent, Inspirato should delight armchair travelers.

Louisiana Kitchen & Culture. bi-m. $35.82. Ed: Jyl Benson. louisiana.kitchenandculture.com
How can one not like a magazine with a masthead that includes a “master intoxicologist & music editor” and a board of six “contributing taste buds”? Louisiana Kitchen & Culture (LK&C) is a gumbo of authentic New Orleans published from an office on Annunciation Street in the Lower Garden District. Its pages are a delightful visual feast of chef and restaurant profiles, local folkways, and, of course, recipes. Food is the centerpiece—crawfish hash, bacon fat doughnuts, duck soup with quacklings, ­bananas foster martinis, plus many disarmingly simple recipes for Cajun and Creole dishes. LK&C is an especially fine effort that will entertain and inform patrons, not to mention make their mouths water.

Mother Earth Living. bi-m. $27.95. Ed: Jessica Kellner. motherearthliving.com
Formerly Natural Home & Garden, Mother Earth Living is a breezy, easy read. “Back to basics” topics include clutter-free living, foods for feeling young, principles of old-fashioned cooking, and basic information about genetically modified foods. While none of the information presented is especially new, the pleasing graphic design and straightforward writing style make it an attractive offering for public libraries. As with all the titles in the Mother Earth brand, advertisements complement editorial content.

Radio Silence. bi-a. $25. Ed: Dan Stone. maintainradiosilence.com
One element of a multimedia nonprofit organization, print magazine Radio Silence (RS) is ostensibly about “literature and rock ’n’ roll.” But Radio Silence eloquently embraces the richly varied affinities creative writing shares with all kinds of music. Writers relate how music has influenced them, and musicians write about influences of literature on their lives and work. At the heart of the success of RS is the editor’s fine ear for lyric prose. Stone has wrought a very cool, eminently readable new literary magazine. Its attractiveness is boosted by the publisher’s donation of a portion of sales to buy books and musical instruments for kids. n


Steve Black for many years was LJ‘s magazine reviews columnist. He is a Serials and Reference Librarian at the College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY

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