Specialization of Magazines

University of Minnesota

Over the last century, magazines have slowly moved into more specialized, fragmented groupings. This transformation from general-interest to niche publications began with the popularization of television. To survive the threat posed by the success of broadcast media, print publications worked to stand out from their competitors by developing market niches. During this transition, magazine editors found that by specializing they were also appealing to advertisers hoping to reach specific audiences. From the medical field to the auto industry, specialization has become necessary to compete in an ever-growing market. Yet the trend is perhaps most obvious in mass media and in the publishing industry in particular. The wide variety of niche publications reflect the increasing specificity of markets and audiences.

Professional Trade Publications

Nearly every trade group produces some sort of professional publication for its members. Many trade organizations even have their own libraries that house publications solely dedicated to their specific groups. For example, if a person wishes to find information on agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting organizations, the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland, near Washington, DC, might offer a starting point. This library is one of four national libraries of the United States and has one of the world’s largest agricultural information collections and links a nationwide network of state land-grant and U.S. Department of Agriculture field libraries (Career Resource Library). This is but one example of the array of trade-group publications available.

Scholarly Publications

Academic journals have, in some form, been around since the early years of magazine publication. During the 17th century, the Universal Historical Bibliothèque became the first journal to invite scholarly contributions. Today, hundreds of scholarly journals exist, such as the American Economic Review and The Journal of Marriage and Families, and every academic field has its own array of journals to which scholars can contribute. Most university libraries allow students and faculty access to these journals via library databases.

In every academic field, journals are ranked based on the types of articles they publish and on their selectiveness. Most academic journals use a peer-reviewing process to determine which articles are printed. During this process, a panel of readers reviews an anonymous article and then decides whether to accept the paper, accept with changes, or reject it altogether. Scholarly publication is essential for graduate students and university faculty members alike as they seek to disseminate their ideas and progress in their careers.

Religious Groups

With faith at the center of many individuals’ lives, it is hardly surprising that there are hundreds of magazines dedicated to religious groups. From Christianity Today to Catholic Digest, Christian publications make up the largest group of religious magazines. But Christianity is not the only faith represented in periodicals. Kashrus Magazine targets the Jewish community, and Shambhala Sun is affiliated with the Buddhist faith. Additionally, certain magazines, such as CrossCurrents, are designed for people of all faiths. The magazine’s publishers state that CrossCurrents “connects the wisdom of the heart with the life of the mind and the experiences of the body (Cross Currents).”

Hobby and Interest Magazines

Perhaps the most populated classification is that of hobby and special-interest magazines, a reflection of the wide array of hobbies and interests that different individuals enjoy. Within this classification of journals, one can find magazines on such topics as sports (Sports Illustrated), wellness (Health), cooking (Bon Appétit), home decoration and renovation (This Old House), and travel and geography (National Geographic).

Readers interested in specific hobbies can generally find a magazine that caters to them. Photographers, for example, can subscribe to the British Journal of Photography, the world’s longest-running photography magazine, in publication since 1854. This journal prints “profiles of emerging talent alongside star names, a picture-led Portfolio section, business analysis and detailed technology reviews (British Journal of Photography).” Music enthusiasts can choose from an array of publications ranging from more general ones such as Spin and the International Early Music Review to highly specific such as the Journal of the International Double Reed Society and Just Jazz Guitar. There are also magazines entirely devoted to crafting, such as Creating Keepsakes for scrapbook enthusiasts, and for pet ownership, such as the appropriately named Pet.

Fashion has provided a highly lucrative and visible interest magazine market. Founded in 1892, the most famous fashion magazine is Vogue. “Vogue has been America’s cultural barometer, putting fashion in the context of the larger world we live in—how we dress, live, socialize; what we eat, listen to, watch; who leads and inspires us (Vogue).” Despite Vogue’s high circulation, most special-interest magazines have a smaller readership. This can be worrisome for editors charged with adding more subscriptions to make a larger profit. However, the appeal of such specific audiences generates more revenue from advertisers, who can purchase magazine space knowing that their ads are reaching a targeted audience.

Differences Between Magazine and Newspaper Formats

Magazines control the public’s access to information in a variety of ways. Like the newspaper industry, the magazine industry not only dictates which stories get told, but also how those stories are presented. Although significant similarities between the newspaper and magazine industries’ control over information exist, some notable differences within the industries themselves deserve exploration.


In general, the format of most magazines allows for a more in-depth discussion of a topic than is possible in the relatively constrained space available in newspapers. Most large newspapers, such as The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times, generally cap even their longest articles at 1,000 words (State of the Media, 2004). Magazines, however, frequently allow for double that word count when publishing articles of great interest (State of the Media, 2004). Length, however, varies from magazine to magazine and story to story.

Choice to Publish

Just as newspapers do, magazines control which stories reach the public by deciding which articles to include in their publications. As might be expected, the choice of stories depends on the political climate and on global events.

Leading newsmagazines Time and Newsweek both underwent major transitions in their content during the late 20th century. Between the 1970s and 1990s, both greatly increased science articles, entertainment articles, and stories on personal health. Interestingly, despite both publications’ stated commitment to news, a dramatic decrease took place in articles on domestic- and foreign-government affairs. Whether these changes reflected a change in reader interest or an alteration in the editors’ perspectives remains unclear; however, these shifts demonstrate that what is published is entirely up to the magazine and its editorial staff, as they are the ones who have the final word.

Advertisers’ Influence

Magazines depend on advertisers, subscriptions and newsstand sales for revenue. Advertisers have a large stake in the magazine industry and can play a major role in deciding which stories are printed. Because magazines are so dependent on advertisers for their revenue, they are cautious about the content they place in their pages. Magazines tend to shy away from controversial content that can turn off advertisers. The balance that magazines must maintain to keep advertisers happy is a delicate one. With ad prices driving the magazine industry, many publications are forced to satisfy advertisers by avoiding potentially controversial stories.

While advertisers may exhibit some control over stories, they also have a lot at stake. As online media grows, today many advertisers are pulling their expensive print ads in favor of cheaper, web-based advertisements (Knarr). Advertising revenue has decreased steadily since the 1990s, mirroring the rise in online readership (HighBeam Business). This drop in advertising may, in fact, force magazines to give advertisers more control over their content to avoid losing further funding. While it may be difficult to precisely pin down the level of influence advertisers exert over magazine content, evidence suggests they do exert some control.

Editorial Leanings

Each magazine has its own editorial slant, which helps determine which stories get published and how those stories are presented. A 2003 study examining leading newsmagazines Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report verified these differences by demonstrating variations in how the publications presented their articles to the reading public.

U.S. News & World Report…is the most information-laden, the most likely to publish highly traditional hard news topics and the most likely to report in a neutral manner—a more straightforward accounting of the facts of events with less of a writer’s “take” or opinion on what those events mean. Newsweek is lighter, more oriented toward lifestyle and celebrity coverage, and more likely to publish stories that contain an emotional component. Time magazine is something of a hybrid between the two. Its content is more like U.S. News’—neutral and information driven. Its covers, on the other hand, look a good deal more like Newsweek’s—highlighting lifestyle and entertainment(State of the Media).

These distinctions among the three publications may seem slight, but they have an effect on the information contained between their covers. However, these editorial leanings do not make one magazine more prestigious or valid than the others; U.S. News & World Report may offer facts and figures about a particular event, while Newsweek may provide the human side of the story. Readers should understand, though, that several variables affect the articles that they see in each publication.

Online News Sources

The Internet has significantly changed the way that the public receives information. The advent of online news sources has somewhat lessened the control that magazines have over information. Today, several online-only magazines provide, for little to no cost, news and coverage that would have previously been available only through print publications. Online-only magazines include Slate, which offers a daily digest of information from newspapers around the globe, and Salon, which provides readers many stories for free and more in-depth coverage for a subscription cost. Like their print counterparts, online magazines rely on revenue from advertisers, but because that advertising is less costly, advertisers may have less of a stake in online content. All these factors contribute to changing perspectives on the way that information is being controlled in the journalism industry.


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