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A Brief History of Magazines and Subscriptions

1/30/2014

Brief History of Magazine Subscriptions            Magazines have been a staple of information and entertainment for the masses for nearly 300 years! The earliest English-language magazines date to the 1730s with The Gentleman's Magazine being the very first.

Think GQ for the early 18th century, and you've about got it, except for the fact that there were no glossy pictures. The Gentleman's Magazine contained stories, poems and articles on politics and the issues of the day.

In 1739, The Scots Magazine was first published, and it remains in print today, making it the oldest magazine in the world, though there have been a few gaps in publication.

For many years, magazines were typically bought at newsstands. Gradually, however, subscriptions began to be an important means by which magazines were paid for and distributed. A subscription entitles the subscriber of the magazine to a copy of each issue during the length of the subscription. Common subscriptions lengths are six month, 12 months, 24 months and 36 months.

Starting Dates for Well-Known Magazines (1)

The number after some titles is where the top 15 most popular magazines ranks in subscriptions in the United States, according to the Wikipedia article footnoted below.

In parenthesis, you'll find their 2011 circulation, the latest year for which comprehensive figures are available.

  • 1821: The Saturday Evening Post
  • 1843: The Economist
  • 1857: The Atlantic
  • 1883: Ladies' Home Journal #14 (3.2 million)
  • 1885: Good Housekeeping #8 (4.3 million)
  • 1888: National Geographic #7 (4.5 million)
  • 1895: Collier's
  • 1919: Homes & Gardens
  • 1922: Better Homes and Gardens #5 (7.6 million)
  • 1922: Reader's Digest #6 (5.6 million)
  • 1923: Time #12 (3.3 million)
  • 1925: New Yorker
  • 1931: Women's Day #9 (3.9 million)
  • 1932: Family Circle #10 (3.8 million)
  • 1933: Newsweek and Esquire
  • 1944: Seventeen
  • 1953: TV Guide and Playboy
  • 1954: Sports Illustrated #15 (3.2 million)
  • 1955: Car and Driver
  • 1958: AARP The Magazine #1 (22.4 million)
  • 1965: Cosmopolitan
  • 1966: Southern Living
  • 1967: Rolling Stone
  • 1974: People #11 (3.5 million)
  • 1990: Entertainment Weekly and Martha Steward Living
  • 1991: Game Informer #4 (7.5 million)
  • 1993: A Taste of Home #13 (3.2 million) and Wired
  • 1997: Maxim
  • 1998: ESPN The Magazine
  • 2000: O, The Oprah Magazine
  • 2011: HGTV Magazine
 

Recent Trends in Magazine Subscriptions
From 2000 to 2013, there was an overall loss in subscriptions of printed magazines because more people are getting their information from the internet including online editions of their favorite magazines. According to Statista.com (2), only 12% of American read magazines on a regular or semi-regular basis. However, that still leaves a large niche of magazine readers who enjoy having a physical magazine in their hands to relax with. There are still at least 25 magazines with circulation rates of over 2 million. (3) One interesting note is that the magazine that is rising in circulation rate faster than any other is Game Informer Magazine, a magazine dedicated to digital gaming! It has gone up in circulation from about 5 million in 2010 to more than 7.8 million in 2013. (4) Good Housekeeping (+1.2%), Time (+0.7%), Ladies' Home Journal (+0.8%) and Family Fun Magazine (+7.3%) are among magazines that went up in circulation from 2012 to 2013. Among those that lost circulation are Sports Illustrated (-4.4%), Woman's Day (1.6%), Reader's Digest (-6.0%), AARP The Magazine (-2.7%) and National Geographic (-5.4%).



Footnotes:

(1) http://www2.uncp.edu/home/acurtis/Courses/ResourcesForCourses/MagazinesHistory.html
(2) http://www.statista.com/topics/1265/magazines/
(3) http://stateofthemedia.org/2012/magazines-are-hopes-for-tablets-overdone/magazines-by-the-numbers/
(4) http://www.auditedmedia.com/news/blog/2013/august/the-top-25-us-consumer-magazines-for-june-2013.aspx