Quick: Name three passions. Now, name your go-to resources for keeping up with the latest news, trends and opinions on these passions.
For the second request, chances are you mentioned your favorite news sites or social feeds or the sites of companies or associations that specialize in these topics. But did you also mention magazines? You wouldn’t be alone.
That’s part of the format’s magic: It can be as mainstream or as niche as you want or need it to be, and it changes often enough to remain relevant and worth revisiting.
The magazines found in bookstores and on newsstands run the gamut of popular interests. Factor in the titles produced by custom publishers or brands for specialty audiences, and the well of information and inspiration that shapes the way we live and work deepens considerably.
Despite the tired tropes that “print is dead” and that today’s readers lack attention spans, recent research from MPA—The Association of Magazine Media shows that 9 in 10 American adults (including millennials) read magazines. The format is unique, MPA says, because it transcends any one platform: “Whether they are consumed in print, on tablets, on a smartphone or on the web, magazine media fulfill readers’ desires for timely information and entertainment that appeal to a broad spectrum of personal interests.”
They also “deliver powerful relationships that influence, inspire and endure,” MPA adds.
To which I say: yes—and yes!
But what makes a magazine a magazine?
Each magazine has a unique mission and vision, target audience and subject matter focus—not to mention its own pool of contributors, publication process, and methods for attracting readers.
And yet, there are certain attributes that distinguish magazines as a whole from other media. When clients ask what makes a magazine a magazine, my go-to answers are these:
Magazines have (and need) structure
Take a look at the latest issue of your favorite magazine, and then compare it to a preceding issue. The individual stories will be different, of course, but you’ll see that the bones are the same. In publishing parlance, you’ll find:
- Cover pages
- Front-of-the-book content, which may include: a table of contents, a masthead, columns (including an editorial) and assorted departments such as letters to the editor, news, quick-hit trend pieces and publisher-focused content
- The feature well, typically made up of two to five long-form articles that are more extensively reported and more creatively designed
- Back-of-the-book content, which may include: more columns and more departments (for example: reader-engagement pieces, such as quizzes and puzzles, and product-focused content, such as reviews)
The reason for this boils down to one simple truism: There’s comfort in continuity—both for readers and for the people producing the magazine.
Some readers consume a magazine from cover to cover (front to back or back to front). Others gravitate first to favorite writers or departments. They read those pieces and then flip through the rest of the book, stopping to read only what interests them. Either way, they come to expect a certain experience each time. If there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s in each issue, they’re less likely to become invested—both emotionally and financially—in the experience.
On the other side of the equation are the publishers, editors, writers, designers, photographers, illustrators, advertisers and others who labor to create what ends up in readers’ hands. Having a basic framework of elements that remains constant from issue to issue allows for maximum creativity within that framework. Reinventing the formula every single time is exhausting, quite frankly—and deeply confusing to the readers you’re serving.