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The Magazine Century

American Magazines Since 1900


David E. Sumner

The twentieth century was the magazine century in many ways. Between 1900 and 2000, the number of magazines grew from about 3,000 to 17,815 – a 593 percent increase, which exceeded population growth by 95 percent. The typical American read less than half a magazine per month in 1920, but by 2000 that figure had tripled. This book examines how and why magazines grew so rapidly. Structured chronologically by decade, it tells the stories of innovative publishers, editors, and magazines, and how and why they succeeded. Illuminating how the move from general interest to niche audiences originated early in the century – not after the rise of television – the book also shows how the growth of advertising enabled the cost of magazines to steadily decline. However, declining costs and expanding audiences brought a steady erosion in the intellectual content of magazines, illustrated by the rise in sex and celebrity titles during the 1970s and later. The book concludes with an assessment of the decade since 2000, and offers an optimistic outlook for the future of magazines.


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Table of Contents


CHAPTER 7 The 1950s: Television Spurs Leisure Activities, Magazine Growth 117 CHAPTER 8 The 1960s: Social Change for Magazines and America 139 CHAPTER 9 The 1970s: Magazines and “The Me Decade” 157 CHAPTER 10 The 1980s: Computers and Celebrities Dominate the Decade 177 CHAPTER 11 The 1990s: New Media, New Magazines, New Controversies, New Problems 195 CHAPTER 12 Post-2000: A Look Back, a Look Forward 213 Suggested Reading A Bibliography of American Magazine History 225 Index 235 VI | A Focus on Innovators and Innovation How do you write a history of magazines when at least 20,000 magazines are pub- lished in the U.S. according to the latest 2008 numbers?1 I have asked myself that question over and over as I researched and wrote this book. Each magazine has its own history and dozens of well-known magazines have had entire books written about their histories. The problem gets more complicated because an estimated 100,000 American magazines have been published at one time or another in the last century. Experts estimate that more than 80 percent of all new magazine launches last less than three years. Many once-great magazines, such as Life or Woman’s Home Companion, were successful for decades only to succumb to chang- ing times. If I wrote a page on every magazine published at any time between 1900 and 2000, I could have a 100,000-page book. Therefore, I would like to outline the parameters of this book. First, I have limited it to the best-known...

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