|THE END OF LIFE|
May 15, 2000
Life published its last monthly issue this month. The general interest magazine, famous for its photojournalism, was the victim of a market that favors special interest publications.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
RAY SUAREZ: Life magazine's last monthly issue is now on newsstands. Media correspondent Terence Smith reports on the end of Life and the changing world of magazines.
TERENCE SMITH: Life: To see it was to see the world. In its heyday, founder Henry Luce once said, it was "what the public wants more than it has ever wanted any product of ink and paper." But the May issue of Life, now on newsstands, is its last. After ceasing publication as a weekly in 1972, its monthly edition will now be gone, as well.
Life is the latest victim of an extraordinary revolution that is under way in the magazine industry. The once-great general interest giants are being crowded out by a vast new crop of special interest titles. Over 800 new magazines were launched last year alone, more than 1,000 the year before, an average of three new titles a day.
|Special interest magazines are king|
DON LOGAN, Chairman & CEO, Time Inc.: Advertisers like to run their ads in magazines that address some topic, some subject, some issue that -- "niche" is the word that's used very commonly today.
TERENCE SMITH: Don Logan is chairman and CEO of the house that Luce built: Time Incorporated. He says he could not see the kind of future for life that looks so promising for other, more targeted magazines.
DON LOGAN: We look for a couple of things: One is that we expect our readers pay a fair share for the magazines that we deliver. And the other is that we want that some advertising base that will be there to support the magazine. Life didn't have a core of advertisers that had to be in Life every month.
TERENCE SMITH: Time Inc. has 36 magazines, including People and Sports Illustrated. Brand-name spin-offs like Teen People, and Time for Kids, the nation's fastest-growing student publication, with 2.7 million copies weekly --
EDITOR: This is beautiful.
TERENCE SMITH: -- are exceeding expectations.
EDITOR: This one has more emotional impact.
TERENCE SMITH: Significantly, Time Inc., which grossed $4.7 billion last year, is aggressively launching six new magazines, even as it folds Life.
EDITOR: I think that's the clear winner.
EDITOR: It really says summer.
EDITOR: Do you want to be there?
EDITOR: Oh, yes.
EDITOR: I'd like to be there right now.
|Catching readers' eyes is key|
SMITH: Real Simple will be fighting with the thousands of other
new magazines trying to capitalize on the booming economy.
MAGAZINE SHOP WORKER: We probably have a dozen or 15 tattoo magazines.
TERENCE SMITH: Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi, is a consultant to the magazine industry. Amidst the boom, he says, things go wrong.
SAMIR HUSNI, The University of Mississippi: It's easy to start. Whether to stay in business is the hard question. Fifty percent of all new magazines don't even celebrate their first anniversary. They are dead after the first year. And after four years of publishing, we have two out of 10 who remain in business.
TERENCE SMITH: Even ambitious glossies can fail. Mirabella and New Woman folded this spring. George, the politics and entertainment monthly started by the late John F. Kennedy Jr., is searching for a new identity. And then there is Talk. It had a splashy debut, and has a celebrity editor, Tina Brown, but there has been very little talk about Talk. The moral: Know your audience. Success comes to those who do. Maxim, dubbed "the national anthem for frat houses," is the current magazine of the year in Advertising Age. After only three years in the U.S. market, Dennis Publishing's British import is selling two million copies a month. Its target: the elusive 18- to 34-year-old male.
SAMIR HUSNI: They went after the circulation. They went after -- "OK, we know you are out there, we know these are your areas of interest, and we are going to highlight them in every single issue: sports, sex women, beer, gadgets." And when we reached two million, they went to advertisers and said, "Hey, look at this generation, look at those people, look at how much money they are spending. We can deliver them to you on a silver platter."
TERENCE SMITH: But many of the new entries focus on the American deities: sports and entertainment celebrities.
NEAL GABLER, Author, "Life the Movie:" Celebrities are one of the few things that cut across demographic groups. Everybody knows celebrities. They are the common currency of conversation in this country.
TERENCE SMITH: Cultural historian Neal Gabler is author of the book "Life, the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality."
NEAL GABLER: It's the entertainment that you have to focus on. The primacy of entertainment in American life -- that converts our politics into entertainment, our religion into entertainment, our education into entertainment, and virtually all of our magazines into vehicles of entertainment.
TERENCE SMITH: With so many magazines to choose from, celebrities sell. A newsstand reader glances at a cover from 2.5 to four seconds. A familiar face may provide an edge.
SAMIR HUSNI: The minute you identify with the image, or you unite with the typography, I have a better chance, a 50 percent more chance, that you are going to buy my magazine. We tell designers and editors you have a cover that says, "Pick me up" -- I mean it has to be like punching you in the face the minute you see it. If you lose that first second, you're out.
|Competition is fierce|
TERENCE SMITH: Competition for magazine rack space is fierce, particularly for those magazines that rely heavily on newsstand sales, rather than subscriptions.
SAMIR HUSNI: There is not that much more magazine space, and we have double or triple the number of magazines that we used to have in 1980. Placement on the racks is very important, and why, for example, Oprah's magazine is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to be placed on the checkout counter, so you can see it. You can't leave the grocery store without seeing the big "O!"
TERENCE SMITH: Oprah Winfrey's new entry, published by Hearst magazines, is a triumph of the new multimedia approach. The magazine and Winfrey's enterprises in TV, film production, and the Internet will serve to promote each other. And what is the consequence of this explosion of titles and cross-promotion?
NEAL GABLER: Once upon a time, magazines competed with other magazines. Time competed with Newsweek, competed with U.S. News & World Report. That was the competition. That's not the competition anymore. Now magazines compete with the larger culture. You can read a magazine, or you can watch television, you can read a book, you can go on the Internet, you can go to a movie. So now, a magazine, in order to survive, has to provide things that those other forms of entertainment provide. That's the competition now.
TERENCE SMITH: One of every five adult Americans still reads a newsmagazine. But the weeklies have become more lifestyle-oriented, less focused on hard news. And the new approach seems to be working. Time magazine has had record profits for the last two years, when it has run covers on homework and hip-hop.
WALTER ISAACSON, Managing Editor, Time: You can see the sort of pacing of how we do things around here.
TERENCE SMITH: Walter Isaacson is managing editor of Time magazine.
Is this the death of news as Henry Luce defined it?
WALTER ISAACSON: I certainly don't think it is the death of news. I think we almost killed news by deciding that official pronouncements out of national capitals was the only definition of news.
A lot of us are leaving Monday on this Mississippi River trip.
TERENCE SMITH: Time, for example, is planning a heavily promoted July 4 issue on the "Pulse of America," highlighting people who live along the banks of the Mississippi River.
WALTER ISAACSON: News involves ideas, events, people's actions that affect our lives on a daily basis --
FISHERMAN: Can we do this for the next 20 years?
FISHERMAN: Once you get it in your blood, it's just hard to quit.
WALTER ISAACSON: How our kids grow up.
TIME INTERVIEWER: Are there a lot of teen parents in this community?
RESIDENT: Yes, there is.
WALTER ISAACSON: -- how our communities are developed, how our downtowns look.
RESIDENT: It's like downtowns many places. They are gone because of malls and Wal-Mart, and all those kind of stores.
DIANA WALKER, Photojournalist, Time: I'm gonna take your picture while I talk to you, if that's all right.
TERENCE SMITH: Time photojournalist Diana Walker.
DIANA WALKER: We are still doing the news on the outside, hard and heavy. But we also have a different look to show our readers, which is what -- hopefully what goes on behind, away from the mikes and lights.
|Paper and ink will survive Internet|
TERENCE SMITH: Much has been written about how the Internet may someday eclipse traditional magazines, but so far at least, the Web has been a financial bonanza for the industry. Don Logan:
DON LOGAN: The fastest-growing category of advertising we have now is Internet companies, and what are they trying to do? They are trying to establish a brand.
TERENCE SMITH: Even the Internet-savvy are turning to magazines for advice.
DON LOGAN: When people want to learn about the Internet, they don't go online and start picking through a bunch of buttons; they subscribe to a magazine.
TERENCE SMITH: Magazines are using the Internet to market their product. Maxim's Web site brings in over 17,000 subscriber requests each month.
SAMIR HUSNI: We are using the Internet as a testing ground. Give us your ideas of what type or articles you want, and then boom, we bring them the articles in print.
TERENCE SMITH: And what does the future hold?
DON LOGAN: I expect you are going to see a lot of additional spin-off titles come out of there, as well as new titles that fill new niches as well. But we are going to be on the Internet. At the same time, we expect print and print- related products to be producing most of our profits.
TERENCE SMITH: Plain old paper and ink?
DON LOGAN: Absolutely.
TERENCE SMITH: Paper and ink: Henry Luce would have loved it.
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