What is a magazine?
Everyone has a stack of old magazines somewhere in the house, and whether you’re walking past a newsstand at the mall or sitting in the dentist’s office, you’ll be tempted to pick up a magazine and flip through the pages. Magazines are everywhere, but what exactly are they?
On the one hand, magazines are a mechanism for providing people with current information on a wide range of topics on a regular basis, usually monthly, but in some cases even weekly.
However, the word magazine was originally used to indicate a store of grain or gunpowder, so how did the term become associated with a periodical?
The first newspaper to use the word magazine in its title was started in London by Edward Cave in 1731. Cave used the word magazine in the name of his ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ to suggest that this new publication was a repository of information, providing all the news that a civilized person needed to be aware of what was happening in the world. Cave’s magazine was tremendously successful, and within a few years, several spin-off publications began to appear in London and the United States.
Magazines have gone through a complex evolution over the years, and it’s instructive to think of magazines as falling into one of three distinct categories: business, news, and consumer.
Trade magazines are designed to inform members of a particular professional or occupational group about topics of specific interest to them. People and businesses buy subscriptions to trade magazines, and most of the content is written by and for people in the trade, for example accountants or school teachers. These magazines are generally not available to the general public, and any advertising they may contain (usually not much) tends to be directed at members of that trade.
News magazines, which in the case of publications like ‘Time’ or ‘The Economist’ are usually published weekly, are aimed at a wide audience. These magazines are designed to provide a single source through which readers can catch up on news, current events, and hot topics. They are available in bookstores, on newsstands, as well as by subscription, and the moderate amount of advertising they contain is quite varied in terms of the products displayed, and quite general in terms of the focus of the ads.
The vast majority of modern magazines fall into the consumer category, and these magazines are aimed at very specific segments of the population, whether they be dog lovers, gardeners, brides-to-be, or people who want to get rich. Consumer magazines usually contain a series of small articles dealing with topics of interest to the target group, but in most cases most of the available space is devoted to advertising.
In consumer magazines, advertisers have the opportunity to present well-defined product mixes in a way that speaks directly to the target group. For the marketer, this means they’re getting maximum penetration with their message, and for publishers it means they can rely on advertisers to generate the majority of their revenue stream. With consumer magazines, the actual sales of the magazine are a secondary consideration. What matters is that potential advertisers think that, through magazines, information about their products is getting directly into the hands of those people who are most likely to buy what they sell.
Every time you pick up a magazine that catches your eye, even if it’s just to skim through it briefly, you’re one step closer to buying something, and if magazines are doing what they were designed to do, that something isn’t going to be the magazine. .