31 5.7 Influence of the Internet on the Magazine Industry

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe how print magazines have adapted to an online market.
  2. Indicate a unique benefit of print magazines archiving back issues on their websites.

In March of 2010, Consumerist published a story titled “Print edition of TV Guide tells me to go online to read most of cover story.” According to the article, TV Guide printed a story listing “TV’s Top 50 Families,” but shocked readers by including only the top 20 families in its print version. To discover the rest of the list, readers needed to go online (Villarreal, 2010). As dismayed as some readers were, this story reflects an ongoing trend in magazine journalism: the move toward online reporting.

Just like their newspaper cousins, magazines have been greatly affected by the influence of the Internet. With so much information available online, advertisers and readers are accessing content on the Internet, causing declines in both revenue and readership. These changes are forcing magazines to adapt to an increasingly online market.

Online-Only Magazines

In 1995, Salon launched the first major online-only magazine at http://www.salon.com. “Salon, the award-winning online news and entertainment website, combines original investigative stories, breaking news, provocative personal essays and highly respected criticism along with popular staff-written blogs about politics, technology and culture (Salon).” Like many print magazines, the site divides content into sections including entertainment, books, comics, life, news and politics, and technology and business. With an average of 5.8 million monthly unique visitors, this online magazine demonstrates the potential successes of Internet-based publications (Salon).

Other online-only magazines include Slate and PC Magazine. All three magazines, like most online publications, support themselves in part through ads that appear alongside articles and other content. Founded in 1996, Slate is a “general interest publication offering analysis and commentary about politics, news, and culture (Slate).” Considering itself “a daily magazine on the Web,” Slate offers its readers information on news and politics, arts, life, business, technology, and science via online articles, podcasts, and blogs (Slate). The successful magazine has been recognized with numerous awards for its contributions to journalism.

PC Magazine differs somewhat from Slate or Salon in that it was originally a print publication. First published in 1982, the computer magazine published hard-copy issues for over 15 years before announcing in 2008 that its January 2009 issue would be its last printed edition. In an open letter to its readers, PC Magazine discussed the transition:

Starting in February 2009, PC Magazine will become a 100-percent digital publication. So, in addition to our popular network of Websites…we’ll offer PC Magazine Digital Edition to all of our print subscribers. The PC Magazine Digital Edition has actually been available since 2002. So for thousands of you, the benefits of this unique medium are already clear. And those benefits will continue to multiply in the coming months, as we work hard to enhance your digital experience (Ulanoff, 2008).

While it is perhaps fitting that this computer-focused publication is one of the first print magazines to move to an entirely online form, its reasons for the transition were financial rather than creative. In describing the decision, Jason Young, chief executive of Ziff Davis Media, said, “The viability for us to continue to publish in print just isn’t there anymore (Clifford, 2008).” Unfortunately for the magazine industry, Young’s sentiment reflects a trend that has been building for some time. Several other publications have followed in PC Magazine’s footsteps, making the move from print to online-only. Journals such as Elle Girl and Teen People that were once available in print can now be viewed only via the Internet. As printing costs rise and advertising and subscription revenues decrease, more magazines will likely be making similar shifts.

Magazine-Like Websites

In recent years, websites that function much as magazines once did without officially being publications themselves have become an increasingly popular online model. For example, Pitchfork Media is an Internet publication on the music industry. Established in 1995, the site offers readers criticism and commentary on contemporary music and has many of the same features as a traditional music magazine: reviews, news, articles, and interviews. Whether the site is capitalizing on the success of print magazines by following their format or if it is simply responding to its readers by providing them with an accessible online experience is a debatable point. Of course, the website also has many features that would not be available in print, such as a streaming playlist of music and music videos. This hybrid of magazine-like content with new-media content offers a possible vision of the digital future of print publications.

Print Magazines With Online Presences

Indeed, most print magazines have created websites. Nearly every major print publication has a site available either for free or through subscription. Yet there are intrinsic differences between the print and online media. Bernadette Geyer, author of a poetry chapbook, What Remains, discusses the practical contrasts between online and print journals saying:

I will read a print journal cover to cover because I can bookmark where I left off…. Simply taking all of the content of what would have been a print issue and putting it online with links from a Table of Contents is all well and good in theory, but I have to ask, how many people actually sit and read all of the contents of an online journal that publishes several authors/genres per issue (Geyer, 2010)?

Her question is a good one, and one which most magazines have already asked themselves. In light of this dilemma, magazines with online editions have sought ways to attract readers who may not, in fact, read much. Most websites also include online-only content such as blogs, podcasts, and daily news updates that, naturally, are not available in print form. The additional features on magazines’ websites likely stem from a need to attract audiences with shorter attention spans and less time to devote to reading entire articles.

Another way that magazines court online readers is by offering back-issue content. Readers can browse old articles without having to remember in which issue the content first appeared. The cost for this varies from publication to publication. For example, CooksIllustrated.com reprints recipes from previous issues as part of a paid online membership service, while CookingLight.com offers back issues for free. Some magazines have online archive collections, though those collections generally do not print entire articles or complete issues. Time, for example, offers “hand-picked covers and excerpts from the best articles on a wide variety of subjects (Time).” Time suggests that one should “use them as chronological guides to Time’s past coverage of a person, event, or topic (Time).” Still, even without the entire collection online, there is a distinct benefit of being able to search back for articles from 1923 from a computer.

Is Print Dead?

The question Is print dead? has dominated the magazine and newspaper industries for several years. In 2008, The New York Times printed an article titled “Mourning Old Media’s Decline,” in which author David Carr describes multiple announcements of job loss in the print industry. Thousands of individuals working at magazines and newspapers faced layoffs because of reduced subscriber and advertiser demand. “Clearly the sky is falling,” he writes, “The question now is how many people will be left to cover it (Carr, 2008).” At the same time, Carr articulates the shift in readership from print to web, saying, “The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem—newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing—but they do have a consumer problem (Carr, 2008).” With a majority of magazines and newspapers now available for free online, one has to wonder how the industry will stay afloat. Although advertisements pay for a portion of the cost of running a magazine, it may not be enough.

The debate over whether print is still viable is a heated one that is infiltrating the magazine industry. At a 2006 magazine editorial meeting, Glamour’s editor in chief, Cindi Leive, claimed that she “loves this question…. Is print dead? Discuss (Benkoil & Stableford, 2006)!” The editor in chief of More magazine responded to the statement saying, “It’s what we talk about all day long (Benkoil & Stableford, 2006).” But for as many people who are fighting for the print industry to remain profitable, there is an equally vocal group arguing for the elimination of the print medium altogether. In a 2005 published debate on the topic, former print editor-turned-blogger Jeff Jarvis squared off against John Griffin, president of the National Geographic Society’s magazine group. Jarvis claimed, “Print is not dead. Print is where words go to die.” But Griffin countered, “Actually print is where words go to live—we’re still reading the ancient Greeks (Jarvis & Griffin, 2005).”

Regardless of your position, the fact that the print industry is facing hardships is unquestionable. Magazines are rethinking their marketing strategies to remain viable in an increasingly online world. But many are hopeful that journals will find a way to publish both in print and on the Internet. After all, “There’s something special and unique, even luxurious about reading a big, glossy magazine…. Or, in the words of Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles, ‘As long as people take baths, there will always be a monthly magazine (Benkoil & Stableford).’”Benkoil and Stableford, “Is Print Dead? Discuss!”

Key Takeaways

  • Print journals are adapting to an increasingly online market by offering web-only features such as blogs, podcasts, and daily news updates. Regularly updating websites may help publications remain relevant as more readers turn to the Internet to receive information.
  • As more magazines archive back issues on their websites, readers benefit by being able to search for old articles and, sometimes, entire editions. Many back issues are offered for free, but some publications require a subscription fee for this perk.


Explore the website of one of your favorite magazines. Consider how the site maintains the look and feel of its print edition, and how the site distinguishes itself from its original print version. Then, answer the following writing prompts.

  1. Has it successfully adapted to the online market? Why or why not?
  2. Does the website offer an archive of back issues? If so, describe the archive’s features and identify its pros and cons.

End-of-Chapter Assessment

Review Questions

  1. Section 1

    1. What medium “came to occupy the large middle groups…between the book and the newspaper (Encyclopaedia Britannica)”?
    2. How did magazines first evolve and diffuse?
    3. How and why did early magazines target women?
    4. What was the first truly successful U.S. mass magazine?
    5. Name one early successful newsmagazine and one successful picture magazine.
  2. Section 2

    1. How did the advent of nationwide magazine circulation affect American culture?
    2. Describe the controversy surrounding early pulp magazines.
  3. Section 3

    1. What are the three highest circulating magazines in the United States today?
    2. What are some long-running, influential women’s magazines?
    3. Why did feminists speak out against the 1960s transformation of Cosmopolitan magazine?
  4. Section 4

    1. How does format play a role in the way stories are presented?
    2. Why do advertisers attempt to control which stories are published and how they are presented?
  5. Section 5

    1. List four specializations in the magazine industry.
    2. How do advertisers benefit from specialization?
  6. Section 6

    1. Explain PC Magazine’s move to an online-only market.
    2. How do print magazines remain relevant in an increasingly online world?
    3. What role do advertisers play in the way the Internet is affecting the magazine industry?

Critical Thinking Questions

  1. What major contributions did The Saturday Evening Post offer to the magazine industry?
  2. How did pulp magazines move the U.S. journalism industry forward? Are there any modern examples of publications that are doing the same?
  3. Describe the differences among current celebrity magazines. How might so many journals of similar style and repute remain competitive in today’s declining market?
  4. What is an editorial slant and how does it play a role in industry control?
  5. Describe what brought about the need for niche magazines and discuss how niche magazines stay afloat despite smaller audiences.
  6. Discuss the debate over the question Is print dead? Explain both sides of the argument.

Career Connection

Specialization in the magazine industry has provided magazines and advertisers the ability to seek out target audiences, bettering a publication’s chances of remaining competitive in a declining market. Choose a specialization that interests you. Select two magazines where you might like to work within that specialization. Look through the website for each magazine, looking specifically at job opportunities and staff positions. Use the information you find to answer the following questions.

  1. What entry-level positions are available at each magazine?
  2. How might one move up within the company?
  3. What is the company’s mission statement and how might you use that information to better prepare yourself for a job in the industry?
  4. What tools might you need to acquire before applying for a position?
  5. What surprised you in your research?


Benkoil and Stableford, “Is Print Dead? Discuss!”

Benkoil, Dorian and Dylan Stableford, “Is Print Dead? Discuss!” Mediabistro.com, November 17, 2006, http://www.mediabistro.com/articles/cache/a9077.asp.

Carr, David. “Mourning Old Media’s Decline,” New York Times, October 28, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/29/business/media/29carr.html.

Clifford, Stephanie. “PC Magazine, a Flagship for Ziff Davis, Will Cease Printing a Paper Version,” New York Times, November 19, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/business/media/20mag.html.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “History of Publishing,” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/482597/publishing/28679/Magazine-publishing.

Geyer, Bernadette “Online vs. Print Journal Models,” Bernadette Geyer: Livin’ the Literary Life in the Exiles of Suburbia (blog), March 9, 2010, http://bernadettegeyer.blogspot.com/2010/03/online-vs-print-journal-models.html.

Jarvis, Jeff. and John Griffin, “Is Print Doomed?” Fast Company, December 1, 2005, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/101/open-debate-extra.html.

Salon, “Salon Fact Sheet,” http://www.salon.com/press/fact/.

Slate, “About Us: Everything you need to know about Slate,” http://www.slate.com/id/2147070/.

Time, “Time Magazine Archives,” http://www.time.com/time/archive/.

Ulanoff, Lance. “PC Magazine Goes 100% Digital,” (2008), PC Magazine, http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2335009,00.asp.

Villarreal, Phil. “Print Edition of TV Guide Tells Me to Go Online to Read Most of Cover Story,” Consumerist (blog), March 30, 2010, http://consumerist.com/2010/03/print-edition-of-tv-guide-tells-me-to-go-online-to-read-most-of-cover-story.html.


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