The development of the magazine
In almost every kind of waiting room you can imagine, be it a dentist’s or a car showroom, you will find them. No matter how much of a minority sport, interest or hobby you may have or take part in, you will almost certainly find one devoted to it. Over the past 20 years, magazines have become so popular that they are now outselling most newspapers.
The forerunners of magazines were nothing like the glossy, colourful affairs they are now. They were small printed pages announcing forthcoming events and providing a little local information. They became popular during the seventeenth century, when the idea was exported around Europe. Magazines became thicker, and were not only informative but also entertaining. In addition, literary magazines began to publish short literary works. Indeed, many classic authors of the period first published their material in magazines such as The Tatler and Gentleman’s Magazine. However, they remained more of a hobby than a business, generating only enough income to cover production costs.
The American Magazine, first published in 1741, was the aptly named first magazine to be available in America. Launched in Philadelphia, it was available for only a few short months, and was soon replaced by more popular (although In the early nineteenth century, the nature of magazines changed as illustrated magazines and children’s magazines made their appearance. The illustrations were immediately popular, and within a few years every magazine was brightening its pages with them.
The Industrial Revolution that hit Europe around this time also had a great impact. With the advent of better quality printing processes, paper and colour printing techniques, magazines became lucrative as local businesses began to pay previously unimaginable prices for advertising space. This heralded a new era within the industry as magazines now represented a significant source of income for publishers.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, better standards of education were resulting in a higher degree of literacy, and this of course meant that there was an increasing number of markets to be exploited, and with better transportation, the means developed with which to reach these markets. The most conclusive factor, however, in the rise of magazines came about with the rise of national advertising. Previously, advertising in magazines had remained relatively local, but with the birth of the concept of national markets, where goods could be delivered to almost any destination and at previously unheard-of speeds, advertisers were willing to pay for as wide a coverage as possible in as many magazines as they thought would usefully promote their products.
Competition inevitably increased and this led to the development of new magazines. In the following years, magazines became more specialised, significantly rivalling newspapers as the dominant form of media and paving the way for the wealth of choices available today.
It was at this point that magazine owners and editors found another area which would guarantee a wider circulation. Attributed to Samuel S. McClure, editor of the American magazine McClure’s, the early 1900s saw the advent of the gossip column, in which the private lives of prominent political or social figures was investigated by those who specialised in what became known as ‘muckraking journalism’. They would invade the privacy of anyone they thought would interest the public, exposing secrets or even fabricating stories in order to raise the circulation of their magazine.
As the circulation of magazines increased, they began at first to reflect, then to influence, popular opinion. This led to them being heavily used by both sides during World War I and World War II as propaganda, inspiring people to join and fight against the enemy. Most people have, at some time in their life, seen the ubiquitous picture of the British General Kitchener pointing out of the poster with the slogan ‘Your Country Needs You!’ printed below, exhorting people to join the army during World War I. It was in magazines that this picture had such wide coverage.
In the 1950s, magazines took a heavy blow at the hands of the new medium of advertising – television. With sound and pictures now on offer, many magazines lost business and faced collapse as advertisers took their business to television studios. Magazines became even more specialised, hoping to still find new markets, and that is why today we find so many obscure titles on the shelves. There is no doubt that the magazine has come a long way from its humble beginnings, but when you can buy magazines devoted to the art of Body Painting or informing us of the latest Caravan Accessories, or read about the latest gossip from another Hollywood star, you have to wonder if magazines have actually come a long way in the right direction.