John W. Pinkerton

The magazine seems to be flourishing and dying at the same time.  About 10,000 different magazines are published in the U. S. each year.  Most of these have an extremely small readership.  The most popular magazines (from 10 to 1) are the following: TV Guide (est. 1953), Sports Illustrated (est. 1954), Time (est. 1923), Woman’s Day (est. 1928), Game Informer (est. 1991), Ladies Home Journal (est. 1883), Good Housekeeping (est. 1885), National Geographic (est. 1888), Better Homes and Gardens (est. 1922), and Readers Digest (est. 1922).  The only one I didn’t recognize was Game Informer; it’s a monthly magazine dedicated to video games and consoles.  Most of these magazines are seeing diminished circulations.  Many are turning to the internet as an alternate method of distribution.  The magazine magnates were a little slow to figure out how online magazines would work, but they’re getting there.

I checked out Time’s online site.  It appears that anyone can access a partial view of the current issue of the magazine.  If you want the full version, you can subscribe: for a one-year subscription which includes both the print version and the online version and the tablet version for only $30; a one month subscription is $2.99; you can get a one week pass which includes the online and tablet version for $4.99.

I checked out National Geographic’s subscription policy: you can get 12 months of the print version plus the tablet version and online archive access for $19.99.

This seems to be a transition time for most magazines.  They’ll give you the tablet and online versions if you take their hardcopy versions.  Interesting.  For most of the magazines, I doubt that the hard copy versions will ever disappear, but I do expect them to diminish as online and tablet subscriptions increase.

Presently we subscribe to Arts & Antiques, The Artist, Good Housekeeping, and World of Puzzles.  The first two because they suit my taste and the third one because Linda’s nephew, age 9, hit her up for a subscription as part of a fund raiser.  Linda bought World of Puzzles from her niece, age 7.

At one time I subscribed to Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.  I dropped Sports Illustrated because my interest in sports diminished and Time because it was pretty pricey and didn’t seem to fill my need for news.  I felt as though my need for information on what was happening in the world was pretty limited by this choice.  ESPN and FOX and CNN and newspapers, and the internet have pretty well satisfied my needs.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for the old magazines with which I grew up: Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and Colliers.  Oh yeah, Reader’s Digest.  These magazines were always in our home when I was a kid.  I attribute these magazines with giving me a more well-rounded view of the world than I would have had without them.

Life, when I was growing up, was a weekly news magazine launched in 1936.  Its forte was photojournalism printed in an oversized format.  It was published as a weekly,  then as a “special” issue, then as a monthly until 2000.  For most of those years, it was published primarily in wonderful black and white.  I say wonderful because I liked and still like black and white photos.  Their photographers were astonishing talents.

The Saturday Evening Post was everyone’s favorite if for no other reason the wonderful covers by Norman Rockwell.  We were taught by the illuminati to consider Rockwell second rate.  Folks are just now beginning to recognize him as one of America’s great artists.  In addition to general interest articles, The Post printed works of fiction by Jack London, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut, Louis L’Amour, Sinclair Lewis, William Saroyan, John Steinbeck and poetry by Carl Sandburg and Dorothy Parker.  The magazine really lost me as an enthusiastic reader when they published a story, a false story, about Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and Georgia athletic director Wally Butts throwing a football game.  The magazine declared that “the bloom must pass forever from college football.”  The bloom that passed was Post’s after $3 million were awarded in damages.  The Saturday Evening Post quit its traditional publication in 1969; it’s still published today under different ownership but in a much different and far less popular format.

Reader’s Digest, as you probably know, gathers articles on many subjects from various magazines which they sometimes condense and rewrite.  The articles plus the humor sections (I once submitted a humorous anecdote for their consideration: rejected.) have made the magazine, which was founded in 1922, immensely popular.  I remember as a young college student teachers making fun of people who read Reader’s Digest.   Most of those teachers are probably now dead: Reader’s Digest is still going strong.

Reader’s Digest unintentionally gave me a gift: the knowledge at an early age that I was no salesman.  I sent off for their sales kit and began walking door to door hawking subscriptions to Reader’s Digest.  I did this for three days without a single sale.  I was once chased down a driveway by an irate nurse who took objection to me or Reader’s Digest or both.  I guess the potential customer who broke the camel’s back was the one who proclaimed proudly that he didn’t read.  That was the day Reader’s Digest lost a sales person.   

Collier’s was comparable to The Saturday Evening Post.  It had a long history which began in 1875.  During the years of its existence, it had various names but always had Collier’s as part of its title.  During the 1950s, the magazine published “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!” which predicted man’s trip to the moon and “Preview of the War We Do Not Want” which presented a hypothetical war between the the U. S. and the Soviet Union.  I recall this particular article because the paintings they commissioned to accompany the article were pretty graphic and in the atmosphere of the time pretty scary.  Collier’s ceased publication early in 1957.

My favorite magazine in my late teens and early manhood was Esquire.  If you’re not familiar with Esquire, it’s a classy men’s magazine first published in 1933 and still published today.  It always has articles on men’s fashion.  Believe it or not, I was once a little more fashion conscious.  It featured writers of the “New Journalism” in the 60s with articles by Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Terry Southern.  It also featured writings by William F. Buckley, Truman Capote, Stephen King, and maybe even J. D. Salinger (published under a pseudonym).  I recall picking up a copy in my barber shop in the 80s; I was a little disappointed by what I read.  At the time it seemed to be attempting to appeal to men who carried unabridged dictionaries with them.  Of course, editorial staffs change, and I’m sure they have made some alterations in their style of writing simply because they are still in business.  It also contained pinups by the artists Petty and Vargas: pretty tame stuff when compared to Playboy.  And they always had wonderful cartoons.  I once, while in college, submitted one to Esquire which, of course, was rejected.  They have an online version of their publication which is available for a modest fee.

Any discussion of magazines from my youth must include Playboy.  Damn it, I DID read Playboy for the writing.  Playboy began in 1953.  It is, of course, a men’s magazine with nude women (It began with Marilyn Monroe.), definitely of some interest to a young man, but the writing was not to be missed: Arthur C. Clarke, Ian Fleming, Vladimir Nabokov, P. G. Wodehouse.  The cartoonists were first rate: Jules Feiffer, Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial cartooning, and Shel Silverstein, my personal favorite, who went on later to be an author of children’s books.  One of the highlights each month was the interview of public figures from artists to economists to novelists to athletes.  It must have been 30 years or more since I last “read” a Playboy.

Of course, the arrival of television and later the internet, has diminished the importance of  magazines in our lives.  They were once a primary source and influence of our views of the world.  Who knows, perhaps the internet will be the salvation of the magazine. 


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