Magazines, a storied media industry, have seen a large development since their creation in the 1700s. The word “magazine” means storehouse in French and is a collection of stories, ads, and other writings assembled together for a target audience. They originally began in England as a source of public political publications. As America began its colonization, magazines spread to Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Into the 1800s, with a rise in education, new transportation methods, and postal loopholes, the magazine market expanded. This rise also changed the structure of the industry. Magazines began to rely on a collection of freelance writers rather than one lone author. Printing technologies also allowed the ability to reproduce pictures that correlated with a rise in literacy and population growth. Once markets were established and growing, the industry created brands — products with distinctive identities to stand out. This was the new business strategy for magazines; subscriptions prices would drop and advertisements would become the main source of income. Although this was very successful, magazines became more concerned with attracting advertisers than subscribers.
During the late 1900s, television hurt mass-circulation magazines with dynamic ads that print media couldn’t offer. It took the industry a few years to adapt; new magazines tapped into the affluent society and targeted smaller, more specific audiences with their content and ads. The industry then split into five major types of magazines and became dominated by large firms covering business, consumer, literary, newsletters, and comic magazines. The success with profit was achieved because the consumer segment of the industry has drawn a loyal audience, and provides an environment conducive to the sale of products at reasonable prices. Despite the success with those goals, the magazine industry has been suffering a significant decrease in popularity and revenue. As the digital age continues to develop, print media have been experiencing drastic losses. This is the foremost issue in the magazine industry. As a result, they have begun expanding online into digital magazines. Even though online media only contributes a small portion of revenue, it is still seen as the future to remain relevant. By becoming available on computers and mobile devices, the publishers hope to attain the exposure they previously had. Though this may not save the magazine industry as it traditionally exists, these alternative formats may provide opportunities for the industry to adapt and transform. One way to adapt is to shift some content towards digital publications and integrating within social media. That way, top magazines wouldn’t gave to downplay their print, they just realize that print isn’t the key to future growth. Big magazine companies are now realizing that there is a multiplier effect when comparing print to digital media. The margins of the online publications are significantly better than print considering the low cost of digital media production and free marketing with social media.
A successful magazine company worth looking at is Sports Illustrated, SI for short. First published in August 1954, this magazine has built an audience of subscription base of over 3 million people. The American sports magazine began as a branch from Time-Life media, becoming the first large-base, general, weekly sports magazine with a national following that covered current events. SI gained traction in the 1960s after the acquisition of managing editor Andre Laguerre. He instituted the addition of a single long story at the end of the issue called the “bonus piece” as an in-depth, well-written article that differentiated itself from other publications. But perhaps Laguerre’s most famous contribution was the creation of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which remains the most popular issue each year. In 1990, Time Inc. merged with Warner Communications to become Time Warner. Later in 2014, Time Inc. got spun off from Time Warner. In January 2018, Meredith Corporation acquired Time Inc., but several months later stated that it would explore selling SI and other time properties. Meredith Corporation just recently sold Time Magazine to Salesforce founder Marc Benioff for $190 million along with stating that it is expecting to announce the agreements for the sale of SI soon. The magazine has introduced several innovations that have allowed it to be a top sports magazine throughout its time. SI became well known for its use of scouting reports, high school player of the month, along with putting sports cards in the middle of the issue. These additions have allowed SI to increase subscription size and remain relevant in the print media. Notably, the magazine company bought a few software companies to create Sports Illustrated Play, a platform service for sports league management. SI remains one of the top sports magazines, competing against other companies such as Athlon Sports, Hoop, and ESPN The Magazine.
Athlon Sports focuses heavily on football news and predictions. Its expertise allows it to be a popular magazine but Sports Illustrated stands out against them because they cover other sports for a broader audience.
Hoop, an official NBA publication, is popular because of its partnership with the NBA for exclusive information and coverage but again has a more specific audience, limiting the reach and popularity.
ESPN The Magazine and SI have always seemed to be considered the two top sports magazines. SI seemed to be favored because ESPN The Magazine focused on longer, denser articles while SI maintained a variety of articles that allowed it to be read lightly. Being considered one of the best sports magazines means that instead of battling against other publications, SI is more concerned about fighting the industry. SI is dealing with the same issues that all companies in the industry are forced to confront: the decline of print media. The magazine industry faces a tough economic environment where both readers and advertisers are abandoning print and focusing on digital media. As a result, SI has had to lay off 300 more people and cut back their issues to only 27 a year. This is an astounding fact considering that in 2015, Sports Illustrated published 50 issues. The company is labeling this as “re-branding” in which although the issues will be less often, there will be more content. However, the problem with this is the issue schedule. For example, looking at last year’s publishing schedule, SI’s March Madness issue was released the day after the tournament teams were announced, meaning that SI had to preview the tournament without knowing the specific teams and matchups. SI faces uncertainty as it’s looking to be sold this Fall along with its new issue re-branding. Although the print business still accounts for roughly two-thirds of Time Inc.’s $3 billion in annual revenue, the company is shifting resources to video and television.
The magazine industry faces a critical period in which it either needs make serious changes to its prints or fully adapt to online media. Although the future is in online media, magazines will still have a small home. As Terry McDonell, a former top editor at Sports Illustrated, said, “Eventually, they’ll become like sailboats: they don’t need to exist anymore. But people will still love them, and make them and buy them”.