Magazines first came into existence in 1663 when a German writer Johann Rist created Edifying Monthly Discussions, a scholarly periodical which caught the attention of many cultivated young intellectuals then. Fast forward 4 centuries later, we now have a myriad of magazines readily available to suit everyone’s tastes, ranging from news and current affair periodicals like The Economist to celebrity and fashion publications such as Vogue. However, with such a huge variety of publications available worldwide, why do we still find magazines’ popularity dropping over the past century? In this essay, we will discuss the reasons behind the magazines’ past popularity, the challenges it faces that results in its declining popularity and the measures magazine publication firms can adopt to stay relevant in this current age of technological advances.
So, what exactly is a magazine? A magazine is a publication that is published on a regular schedule which can contain a variety of content, ranging from art to politics and even pets. Different magazines have distinct house styles that convey their brand identity which is a vital aspect for its publications as magazines sell content that is often aspirational.This is what distinguishes them from other print materials made for the masses, such as books and newspapers. Magazines generally focus on one specific theme (e.g. fashion, lifestyle, photography, finance, entertainment etc.) – these allows consumers to pick and choose what they would like to read about, depending on their personal interests. This means that fashion fanatics can pick up publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Elle while photography enthusiast can have access to issues like Source and Aperture. This offers readers the power of choice in their consumption of media and allows different magazines to attract their own niche audience, making them a popular form of print media in the past century.
One of the media communication theories that supports this occurrence is the Attribution Theory introduced by Fritz Heider in 1958. Attribution theory explains how and why ordinary people explain the things as they do as it is human nature to call for understanding. Most of our attributions are driven by our emotional and motivational impulses as we try to make sense in this social world. Hence, the introduction of this new form of media in the 1900s was highly welcomed as people seek new and informative ways to understand the world they live in. Through the consumption of these niche magazines, readers are able to delve deeper into their interests and find belonging in a bigger community. This allows them to better understand themselves and the world around them in an era where information was not readily available via the internet.
The Hypodermic Needle Theory, which was developed in the 1920s, could also be another explanation for the booming popularity of magazines in the past. This theory believes that media can have a powerful effect on audience members by injecting media messages directly their passive brains. As technology and education levels were relatively lower back then, it was not surprising for audience members to take in whatever information they have received from the media channels exactly the way they were delivered, without rejecting and questioning them. The additional knowledge that they were able to gain through the weekly or monthly consumption of their favourite magazines could hence be a spur to the magazine publishing industry in the past. However, the popularity of magazines was not long-lived as technological advances over the years brought about the birth of the new media. The introduction of new media in the 1990s took the world by storm and has completely changed the landscape of the media industry ever since. Each form of new media is highly interactive which means that not only can audience members be consumers of new media, they can now be active producers of content and information as well. Feedbacks from media audiences can also now be be received instantly and attended to right away without having a buffer period for the feedbacks to be processed like with old media. This phenomenon was like a breath of fresh air for the media audiences as such sophisticated functions were not viable with any form of old media.
New media hence became increasingly popular around the world with more and more users jumping onto the bandwagon to be part of the online community. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC)’s consumer magazines report in 2018, overall print circulation across the entire market fell by 5% with women’s weeklies experiencing the hardest hit with an overall drop of about 11%. Even publications like Now, Woman and New! which were very well received by the females in the past are also unable to escape the wrath of the effects of the fast expanding new media industry. Information such as beauty reviews and fashion trends which could only be found exclusively in such niche magazines in the past can now be easily searched on the internet. Beauty and fashion gurus such as Kathleenlights and Jeffree Star who produce and share their own beauty related content on video-sharing platforms like Youtube are now the go-to channels for the latest make up look or the hottest lipstick shade in town. Beauty enthusiasts no longer have to flip through pages and pages of glossies in order to find the content they are interested in, making it a more convenient and less tedious process.
As a result, the magazine publication firms began to find their existence threatened as their pool of readers and advertisers were slowly moving on to digital platforms such as Facebook, Google and other more nimble online competitors. The business that long depended on their thick glossy volumes powered by high-price advertisements as their main form of revenue is now at a slower dusk, inching closer to sunset.