There have been around 150 magazine launches so far this year, depending who you ask. How many of these will still be publishing 100 years from now? That’s an age benchmark few are fortunate enough to reach, yet one that is fraught with its own perils as titles much younger collapse under circulation pressure, fail to meet revenue projections or are simply shut down or gutted in favor of the seemingly greener grass online.
Yet many have persevered–four titles profiled here are well over 100 years old. There are dozens more, and, as revealed by these magazines, their missions have stayed remarkably true to what their founders had in mind all those years ago–albeit in the context of current market realities. For these centenarians, balancing a storied brand with contemporary social and business demands remains a challenge–one that is met with carefully thought out design changes and, as we’ve seen in the rest of the industry, diversification into other product spin-offs, including online, events and print titles serving some of the larger market niches covered by the parent titles.
A 150-year-old stalwart tries to stay true to its mission while adapting to the marketplace realities of today.
Few magazines have the pedigree boasted by The Atlantic. Launched in Boston in 1857 by a group of New England intelligentsia that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior and James Russell Lowell (who served as the first editor), the magazine was created as a celebration of the "American Idea." The Atlantic (also known as The Atlantic Monthly, although it is currently published 10 times per year) has featured authors from Mark Twain to Martin Luther King Jr.
With The Atlantic’s 150th anniversary coming up, publisher Elizabeth Baker Keffer says the original editorial mission hasn’t changed much, although it has had to adapt to the current marketplace realities. "Believe it or not, it’s been very consistent," Keffer says.
The early dull brown pamphlet design was bland even by the standards of the time. Early readership numbered in the tens of thousands, concentrated primarily in New England.
While the magazine has been celebrated for its editorial throughout the years, it’s also infamous for its dismal financial performance. That’s something Keffer is trying to change. When owner David Bradley purchased The Atlantic from Mort Zuckerman in 1999, he inherited a staggering, seemingly rudderless ship that had been taking on water. The new ownership also faced a staff that rebelled against the plan to relocate from Boston to Washington, D.C. "At the time we bought it was losing $4 million per year and it still isn’t making money," says Keffer.
The hemorrhaging can be attributed in large part to the substantial investments in editorial, ad sales and marketing, which more than doubled its losses. The Atlantic also invested $1 million in research. Now, it’s starting to see a return. "It went in the wrong direction for a while but we will end the year with losses lower than when we bought it and we anticipate we’ll reach break-even in two years," says Keffer. "We knew we’d make the economic picture worse temporarily in order to build a better product. Our focus has been to make this an ongoing commercial enterprise. It doesn’t need to be a huge cash cow but we think the right stewardship for the magazine is to have it be a magazine that can support itself."
Advertising is up roughly 50 percent over the last five years, says Keffer. However, The Atlantic generated $26.4 million in 2005, up less than one percent over 2004, while pages fell for the same period;down 12.6 percent to 649.5, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Keffer says that’s an anomaly as the magazine tweaked its advertising space. "If you decompose the numbers, we’ve reduced inventory for small space direct marketing ads in the back of the magazine," she adds. "That’s down by about a third in an effort in clean up the magazine and because those ads weren’t materially advancing the profitability. Standard advertising is just slightly down."
The Atlantic has had more success improving fundamentals such as circulation economics and newsstand sales. The magazine reduced its ratebase from 450,000 to 325,000 while doubling its cover price to $4.95 and reducing its reliance on third-party sources of circulation. The average subscription price has more than doubled to more than $21, while newsstand sales have more than doubled from less than 30,000 per issue to 65,000 per issue at the end of last year.
Today Keffer is trying to stay true to The Atlantic’s roots while making it a successful business. "We feel the heritage and the responsibility to the brand and the readers, many of whom have been with us for decades," she says. "On the other hand, we just got a brand new editor, we moved the staff from Boston to Washington and hired new people. It feels very vibrant, almost like a new start."
The Atlantic Milestones
- 1857: The magazine launches in Boston.
- 1862: Is the first magazine to publish Julia Ward Howe’s "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
- 1963: Publishes Martin Luther King’s defense of civil disobedience "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
- 1999: David Bradley buys the magazine and moves it from its traditional Boston home to Washington D.C.
- 2007: The Atlantic will celebrate its 150th anniversary.
Did you know?
While The Atlantic published several Mark Twain articles during the author’s life, it ran a Twain piece in 2001 that had escaped previous publication.
Originally an association-affiliated title, Library Journal has since become a marketshare behemoth.
Launched in 1876 as a member benefit of the American Library Association by Melvil Dewey, R.R. Bowker and Frederick Leypoldt, the American Library Journal, as it was originally called, has stuck to its original mission but shed its "journal" characteristics for a full-on, b-to-b magazine format. The title has since inserted itself at the crossroads of industry and profession by fully embracing the market and the technology that drives it, all while commanding over 50 percent marketshare. Today it is part of Reed Business Information.
Library Journal separated from its affiliation with the American Library Association in 1896 due to a rivalry between Bowker and Dewey. Current editor-in-chief Francine Fialkoff says the magazine didn’t actually start making money until the 1890s. Even so, since the beginning, the audience and "written by librarians, for librarians" mission have essentially remained the same. Today, the 19,000-circulation magazine’s readers are 50 percent public librarians, 20 percent academic, with the remaining 30 percent consisting of a mix of corporate, medical, legal and special librarians, and publishers. Circulation is paid, not qualified, and Fialkoff says advertising represents 40-50 percent of each issue.
A driving force over the last several decades, says Fialkoff, has been to make sure the brand is less of a "journal" and more of a b-to-b publication serving up actionable content that connects the readers with the industry;publishers, database providers and library systems, for example. "The audience focus hasn’t changed, but what has changed is that earlier on it was less of a trade publication and more of a professional journal. That was a major shift. It was at a time when the profession was changing because of technology," says Fialkoff.
Fortifying that industry focus is a series of awards sponsored by major library-centric companies. Thomson sponsors the Library of the Year award and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation assisted with the Best Small Library in America award. "We give out our own awards, too," says Fialkoff, "including Librarian of the Year and Politician of the Year."
Fialkoff also points to Library Journal’s 22-time frequency, 10 supplements and 37,000-circ School Library Journal spin-off, which launched in the 1960s, as critical to the trade platform strategy.
The technology coverage has shown up editorially both in the magazine via feature stories, a netConnect supplement, and an expanded reviews section, one of the magazine’s most popular departments. "We’ve changed the focus of the reviews section hugely to reflect different media, to bring more popular genres that libraries have been collecting," says Fialkoff.
The challenge these days is in managing the magazine’s rich history in such a way that it doesn’t appear, or worse, move, like a dinosaur. Librarians have always been at the forefront of digital technology and have adopted online community tools;Listserves, blogs, Webcasts;as novel ways to keep in touch with each other and stay sharp. Yet Fialkoff sees the thunder-stealing potential of her own customers as an opportunity to make sure Library Journal stays ahead of the reader curve. "Librarians are so technologically savvy and connected;they’re doing their own blogging and they connect constantly online. [Library Journal] must remain connected and continue to be a conduit and a reliable resource of information from the field."
To that end, the magazine launched a free, dual-sponsored Webcast last year, its first, netting around $25,000 and drawing "hundreds" of participants. This year, Fialkoff says they’ll do four.
Fialkoff notes the niche coverage of the supplements, the magazine’s long history and subsequent brand strength all contribute to a more than 50 percent marketshare. The magazine is also profitable. "Certainly for the last 15 years we’ve been extremely profitable," says Fialkoff.
Library Journal Milestones
- 1876: Library Journal launches as The American Library Journal.
- 1896: The magazine ceases its affiliation with The American Library Association.
- 1940: Library Journal starts a book review section, which has become one of its most popular departments.
- 1996: First Web site launched;now in its fourth version.
Did you know?
Library Journal was co-founded by Melvil Dewey. Yes, that Melvil Dewey. The one who invented the Dewey Decimal System, still used by public libraries today.
This 150-year-old magazine has roots in what was once America’s largest industry.
Railway Age, under Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, traces its roots back through another, even older magazine. Launched in 1876, Railway Age was purchased and then merged with Railroad Gazette (launched in 1856) in 1908 to become Railway Age Gazette. The magazine eventually shed that name and reverted to Railway Age in 1918. From there, the magazine has chronicled what was once an industry that literally built America via 200 railroads but has since consolidated into five, leaving the magazine to cover a much smaller, but still vital market.
"The railroads were the biggest business in the world," says Luther Miller, senior editorial consultant, who’s been with Railway Age for 48 years. "In the latter part of the 19th century, one railroad, the Pennsylvania, had a budget as big as the Federal government. The railroads controlled the country then, and their organs Railroad Gazette and Railway Age were both extremely powerful and were part of the establishment."
The magazines’ ties to the railway industry justifies what now seems like a very high $265,000 purchase of Railway Age in 1908. "It was a lot of money. They were both prosperous and rich. In about 1915 Railway Age was the world’s largest magazine in terms of numbers of pages;200 to 300 pages per week," says Miller.
These days, the magazine averages about 60 pages per month, with about 20 ads per issue. The mission is essentially the same. "The difference being the railroads were so enormously more important then. And there were many more of them," says Miller "Today, there are five class-one railroads, which are the major railroads. But for many years there were 100-150 large railways. Over the years they have gradually merged. But the mission has always been to be a railway management magazine and to keep railways acquainted with what was going on."
As magazines that are tied to a specific industry typically do, Railway Age compressed with its market. The early seventies kicked off a long period of railway consolidation which was accelerated in the eighties when the industry was deregulated.
To compensate, the magazine, over a period of about 12 years, went from weekly to bi-weekly and finally to monthly. And it transitioned in the early eighties from paid subscription to controlled. The magazine now has 24,500 subscribers and remains profitable. Staff has gone the way of the larger railroads as well. "We have much fewer full time staff. In 1960 we had 22 people on our masthead. As the industry contracted so did we," says Miller.
Simmons-Boardman has since broadened its revenue sources into a variety of other products and markets, including construction and marine. The company publishes 14 trade publications, produces 12 conferences, and started a book division, which dips into the magazine’s rich historical heritage.
The magazine’s wealth of content gives it a unique advantage in its ability to repurpose material. "We are our own history source," says Miller. "We did a 100th anniversary issue when the subways turned 100. We were able to use our own sources in our own library to do the whole issue. Stuff we had published when the subways were being thought about and built and dug. We have photographs and copy. We do a lot of special issues."
Yet despite the consolidation and competition from other haulers, such as the trucking industry, which accounts for 80 percent of freight revenues, the railroads are still a vibrant industry. "The fact is, there is still a market for railroad magazines as long as they stick to the freight business," says Miller. "The railroads spend about $15 billion a year on capital improvements and supplies. There’s a huge market out there still."
Railway Age Milestones
- 1908: Railroad Gazette (est. 1856) merges with Railway Age (est. 1876).
- 1929: Simmons-Boardman issues preferred stock to finance its first diversification move;the acquisition of American Builder.
- 1970: Rail industry begins a long period of consolidation, magazine goes from weekly to bi-weekly.
- 1990: Event division formed, with 12 now produced.
- 2006: The 150-year issue of Railway Age will be published.
Did you know?
Henry Prout, an editor at Railroad Gazette, which later merged with Railway Age, was credited with influencing the U.S. Senate to select Panama, not Nicaragua, as the site of a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The oldest continuously published magazine is turning 161, and is still watching the numbers climb.
When Scientific American was founded in 1845, America was far from the center of the scientific universe. But when the magazine’s founder, American artist Rufus Porter, started the weekly publication, he created a resource of information on mechanical inventions and patents at a time when Americans were desperate for products that would make life easier. Today, in its 161st year, the magazine reaches over three million readers across the globe.
Scientific American has naturally changed in both appearance and content since the time when Edison presented his phonograph to the editors. But it has remained true to its roots, reporting on scientific issues that impact the world. In the past six years, the title has raised its ratebase twice. Paid domestic circulation in 2005 was 580,071. "In the 19th century, the notion of technology did not exist. There were machines and there were inventions," says vice president and publisher Bruce Brandfon. "The magazine today is about public policy, business, finance and research and development while back then the issues were trains and Morse code." According to Brandfon, for as far back as financial records go, the title has been profitable.
In 1948, the title found itself under the new leadership of Gerard Piel, Dennis Flanagan and Donald Miller, who founded Scientific American Inc. They believed credibility, progress and success could be found in writers and editors who were researchers out in the field studying science. This philosophy continues at the magazine today. The benefit of being an old title, says Brandfon, is that it attracts some of the best science and technology writers in the business. To date, over 125 Nobel Prize Laureates have contributed over 230 articles to the magazine.
Editorial content has remained relatively consistent through the years, covering medicine, information technology and other sciences on topics ranging from astronomy to zoology, as well as social sciences like economics and sociology. Content is what Brandfon claims to be the backbone of the magazine’s longevity, targeting highly educated, affluent individuals who are interested in advanced information regarding science and technology. And they are willing to pay for it too. According to ABC, the average subscription price per issue of Scientific American is $2.36, 25 percent higher than Discover, and 111 percent above Popular Science.
To stay current, the magazine was redesigned in April 2001, incorporating fresher graphics, illustrations and photography. "The magazine was a little dense," says associate publisher of strategic planning, Laura Salant. "We wanted to give readers more onramps to enjoy an article." Following the redesign, both ad page numbers and revenue have increased. Revenue for 2005 was approximately $28 million, up 142 percent since 2001, while the number of ad pages increased 90 percent to 453.
Scientific American is now published in 16 languages in 18 editions across the globe. The magazine’s official Web site, ScientificAmerican.com, offers archives from issues as far back as 1993 as well as video and audio podcasts. "The advantage of a 161-year-old record of excellence is demonstrated in our ability to attract a loyal audience every month, year after year," says Brandfon.
Scientific American Milestones
- 1845: Rufus Porter founds "The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements" and sells it to Orson Desaix Munn and Alfred Ely Beach for $800. The title is changed to Scientific American.
- 1901: Scientific American publishes photos of the Wright Brothers’ aerial experiments two years before Kitty Hawk.
- 1948: Gerard Piel, Dennis Flanagan and Donald Miller purchase Scientific American from Munn & Company and found Scientific American Inc.
- 1996: Scientific American launches ScientificAmerican.com.
- 2001: Scientific American presents its April issue;the result of the magazine’s first major redesign since 1948.
Did you know?
Scientific American published a story in October 2001 predicting that if a category 5 hurricane hit New Orleans the city would essentially be destroyed, tagging it "a disaster waiting to happen."