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Magazine Recovery | Best Magazines 2013

Evidence suggests that the downturn in the market for magazines caused by rising popularity of online media and the great recession has bottomed out and may soon begin to turn around. Growth in subscriptions is slow and newsstand sales continue to suffer, but nevertheless there are signs of stability in the market. As of March 1, Mediafinder.com had identified 198 launches for 2013. This compares to 227 magazines launched in 2012 and 239 launched in 2011. The shrinking rate of growth, however, is somewhat offset by the number of cessations. Mediafinder identified 87 magazines that ceased publication in 2013. That compares to 82 closures in 2012 and 152 in 2011. So the 2013 statistics are better on balance than 2011’s and only slightly worse than the figures for 2012.

These modest indicators of a stable market represent an about-face from the negative trend sparked by the recession that hit in December 2007. According to data from ­Mediafinder.com and cited by the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), total magazine sales have receded from their 2007 peak of almost 370 million. In 2012, the latest year for which data was reported, Americans bought 285,148,911 magazine issues by subscription and purchased 26,535,140 single copies, for a total of 311,684,051 unit sales; that’s an overall market shrinkage of about 15 percent over the last six years. More recent data indicates a slower rate of contraction, offset by growth in digital subs. The Alliance for Audited Media reports that compared with 2012, 2013 paid subscriptions were down 1.2 percent and single-copy sales were down 11.1 percent. Digital editions for the same period grew 36.7 percent.

Despite contraction in print sales, total magazine advertising revenue in 2012 remained an impressive $19 billion. The only medium with a greater share of ad spending is television, which accounts for 53 percent of U.S. advertising spending. The MPA reports that print magazines account for about 14 percent of all advertising spending, compared with nine percent for the Internet.

MPA annually publishes a freely available Magazine Media Factbook. According to the 2013–14 edition, 91 percent of adults read print or digital magazines, and 90 percent of college students read magazines either in print or online. More than half of digital magazine consumers read or reread back issues. When asked about advertisements in magazines, on the web, and on TV, respondents to a marketing survey referenced in the MPA Factbook agreed by wide margins that it’s most true of the magazine medium that “I pay attention to or notice ads” and “ads fit well with the content.” Other studies cited in the volume claim that people prefer to look at ads in print magazines over any other medium and that print ads are much more likely to command consumers’ full attention. The MPA’s report also cites evidence corroborating the Alliance for Audited Media’s data that paid digital magazine readership on tablets and smartphones is growing. Interestingly, though, the MPA report quotes a Condé Nast study that shows highest consumer satisfaction among readers who receive both print and digital editions.

Further indication that the magazine market is stable is that among the magazines that folded in 2013, there were no headline-making closures of prominent titles like U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 closure or Newsweek’s cessation of its print edition in 2012. In fact, the reverse is true: the New York Times reported on March 2 that Newsweek is relaunching in print.

A news release from Mediafinder.com cites Maryland Life and Home Theatre as noteworthy 2013 closures and mentions that PC World dropped its print edition.

The strongest evidence that there continues to be a sustainable market for print magazines is the quality, breadth of coverage, and diversity of publishers represented by this year’s list of ten best new magazines. Publishers run the gamut from powerhouse Meredith to private creators who might be working from their kitchen table.

Since ample high-quality print magazines were launched in 2013, this year’s list of best magazines includes no online-only titles. However, two new online-only publications are worth noting. Politico.com has added longer-form content in a free, weekly email feed titled Politico Magazine. And Verily, a women’s lifestyle magazine designed for readers tired of beauty beholden to Photoshop, is worth a look at verilymag.com.

allrecipes. b-m. $24. Ed: Cheryl Brown. allrecipes.com

Allrecipes.com (aCOVERccording to Wikipedia the most-visited online community for food and cooking) was purchased in 2012 by the Meredith Corporation, publisher of 18 magazines including Better Homes & Gardens and Parents. Meredith is clearly investing plenty to make allrecipes a success. The masthead lists more than 50 people, including four cooks in the test kitchen, a “food stylist,” and two “prop stylists.” Expertly designed to enhance and extend the allrecipes.com online community, the result is a fun to browse, well-organized collection of sound advice and tasty recipes.

Anew. s-a. $20/issue. Ed: Francesco Bonami. www.anewmag.com

Artistic impulses are expressed in myriad forms. The editors of Anew seek to “link people and places, styles and moods that would normally drift apart.” They accomplish this with an internationally eclectic mix of fashion, painting, photography, architecture, and creative nonfiction. Anew is primarily a visual experience predominated by full-page and two-page spread images. Some of the art is rather weird (but not offensive), yetljx140402webmagAnew no more perplexing than one would expect to find in any contemporary art magazine. Anew is published in Milan, Italy, but all the text is in English.

First American Art. q. $29.96. Ed: America Meredith. firstamericanartmagazine.com

Santa Fe, NM, is the independent publisher’s home of this magazine of “art of indigenous peoples of the Americas.” Indigenous art of the American Southwest is well represented, but editor Meredith identifies herself as a member of the Cherokee Nation, and the contributors and editorial advisors collectively represent dozens of Native peoples. Content includes overviews of artistic styles, artist profiles, reviews of exhibits, and information about the market for Native art. A notable strength of the publication is its emphasis on the work of contemporary artists.

Fool. s-a. $11/issue. Eds: Lotta & Per-Anders Jörgensen. shop.fool.se

Fool, publjx140402webmagfoollished in Malm, Sweden (but written in English), is a very European celebration of internationally adventurous gastronomes. Fool is an anthropology-of-food magazine (not a cookery magazine) that sports the motto “food, insanity, brilliance & love.” A brilliantly glowing, insane love of gastronomy is shared by Fool’s editors, writers, and photographers and the chefs they profile. For instance, a cover story about chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s restaurant in Charleston, SC, provides an interesting, singularly European perspective on Southern culture. Many of the illustrations are quite striking, like the full-page images of fermented rice roaches, ox spleen, and lamb tripe. Fool is not for everyone, but nothing as uniquely distinctive as this ever is.

Gygax. q. $35. Ed: Jayson Elliot. gygaxmagazine.comljx140402webmagGygax

Gary Gygax (1938–2008) in 1974 cocreated with Dave Arneson the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing game and launched a magazine to support it, The Dragon, in 1976. Gygax is very reminiscent of the old magazine, sharing typefaces, the pedigree of editors, and the balance of article topics. Game enthusiasts who played D&D back in the 1980s will appreciate Gygax on sheer nostalgia alone. Younger readers may not get all the references, but enough content focuses on newer fantasy adventure games to appeal to a broad gamer audience. Articles speak to playing tips, rules tweaks, and game starters (aka “short modules”). Gygax works as both a game aid for multiple systems and an elaborate advertisement for those systems.

Modern Farmer. q. $29.97. Ed: Ann Marie Gardner. modernfarmer.com

Witty and erudite, Modern Farmer explores where our food comes from and celebrates small-scale sustainable farming. Content includes profiles of artisanal farmers, product descriptions, overviews of varieties of farm animals, and features on unusual farms around the globe. The exceptionally well- written and illustrated content includes items like “Poop, It’s Back,” “Farmwear Goes High Fashion,” and “From MalMF_cover_newsstand_14_0203.inddawi to McDonald’s” (about mango farming). These topics could just have been silly, but all are presented with substance and wry humor. The primary audience is new or wannabe small farmers, but anyone with a passing interest in sustainable or organic farming should enjoy.

Nautilus. q. $49. Ed: Michael Segal. nautil.us

Nautilus is a serious but accessible journal about the culture of science and the impact of science on our culture. Its board of advisors includes distinguished scientists, historians, artists, and philosophers, with strong representation by the Santa Fe Institute. It has received financial support from the John Templeton Foundation, a nonprofit that provides grants for the pursuit of “Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” The broad array of disciplines represented includes physics, sociology, mathematics, and medicine. Nautilus has a style that might be described as Atlantic meets Scientific American, except that its production quality is higher (heavy paper, perfect binding), and it has very few advertisements.

[wherever]. 3/yr. $40. Ed: Rawan Hadid. www.wherevermag.com

ljx140402webmagwherever[wherever]: an out of place journal publishes travel-related fiction and creative nonfiction enhanced with a liberal dose of photography and illustration. This blend of expressive modes gives the writers a broad range of ways to convey their personal engagements with people and locales encountered away from home. The resulting variety of written perspectives and photographed or drawn illustrations gives the mag a markedly visual character. A very eclectic mix of perspectives can result in an incoherent work, but the editors do a fine job of sustaining cohesiveness in this entertainingly diverse treatment of travel experience and cultural commentary.

World of Animals. 13/yr. £50. Ed: Dave Harfield. www.imaginesubs.co.uk

Imagine Publishing, the British corporation responsible for the magazine How It Works, brings us this new 100-page per issue journal. The graphic design is reminiscent of a DK product—busy and multi­layered but well organized and visually engaging. Large, captivating illustrations catch the eye first, then one is drawn to informative sidebars and brief paragraphs of text. In the publisher’s words, World of Animals provides “amazing photography, amazing facts, and expert interviews.” The graphic design incorporating large photos, brief text, explanatory infographics, and plentiful callouts should appeal to readers of all ages. While similar material can be found in goljx140402webmagworldod animal encyclopedias, World of Animals’ myriad perspectives on the lives of animals make it an informative, eminently browsable publication.

World Wildlife. q. $15. Ed: Alex MacLennan. worldwildlife.org

The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) new print magazine promotes the work of the WWF. In the editor’s words, it is intended to “inspire you, connect you to nature, and bring you even closer to our shared work.” Ad-free World Wildlife is a member magazine also available by institutional subscription. A primary focus is on people involved in conservation efforts, both those who work for the WWF and native populations whose cooperation is required for conservation to succeed. The result is an engaging, edifying magazine that’s as much about cultural anthropology and economic geography as it is about wildlife biology and ecology.

The World Wildlife Fund was originally misidentified as the World Wildlife Federation. LJ regrets the error.

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

This article was published in Library Journal's April 15, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Magazines should continuously explore new opportunities. I am wondering why lots of traditional print magazines, still, treat digital distribution as a competition to fight with. Instead, digital can be utilized for reaching another sort of clients, the mobile readers. It would balance decreasing print subscriptions with growing digital audience.

    And since entry barrier is as low as zero (or free) it is it is just a matter of mindset…