Thursday, December 27, 2007

How Many Magazines Debuted This Year?

How Many Magazines Debuted This Year?
By Carl Bialik who examines the way numbers are used, and abused
If you want to know how many magazines debuted in the U.S. this year, you have to start by answering the question: What is a magazine launch?

The Magazine Publishers of America, a New York-based trade group, counts only magazines that plan to appear at least quarterly, spokeswoman Cristina Santos Dinozo said. Its New & Noted list, compiled from press releases and various media sources, included 204 titles, by my count Wednesday morning.

Southern Beauty is one notable magazine launch this year., an online magazine database, announced last week that 389 magazines had launched this year. The database, owned by New York-based Oxbridge Communications, counts any magazine that has a regular publishing schedule, even if it's only annual. "We don't include what we call 'one-shot' publications because we don't consider them periodicals, publications published more than once on a regular, even an irregular, basis," president Trish Hagood told me.

One-shot publications do count for Samir Husni, chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. Through November, he'd counted 636 titles - but 363 of them, or 57%, were what he calls "specials." He reasons that sometimes what initially appear to be one-off issues evolve into periodical publications, such as People's Style Watch, which now appears 10 times a year. "That's the only reason I include all the specials," Prof. Husni told me. "Because you never know." But sometimes you do: Prof. Husni "guesstimates" that fewer than 5% of these specials become full-fledged magazines. Even among the sturdier launches, attrition is common. Just over one-quarter of the 459 magazines launched a decade ago with a publication schedule of quarterly or more frequent still come out at least four times a year, and only two in five of last year's such launches have maintained that pace.

There are other idiosyncrasies that make the numbers distinct from each other. MediaFinder includes Canadian titles, but the other two don't. Also, the MPA counts announcements of magazine launches, even if the title hasn't debuted. Meanwhile, Prof. Husni only counts magazines for which he's acquired a physical copy (a lifelong magazine obsessive, he says he claimed $37,000 on his taxes last year for magazine purchases, which he keeps for his personal collection). "I know a few magazines that have been published, but I could not get my hands on the issue," Prof. Husni said. "I've seen so many times where people produce a pilot issue and get publicity, but no magazine ever comes out."

Meanwhile, the rate of launches has slowed, by MediaFinder's and Prof. Husni's definitions. Unless December brings an unusually large set of launches, this year will see the fewest since 1991. And there have been only 221 quarterly titles launched, the fewest since 1986. Nonetheless, Prof. Husni calls on other numbers to argue for the health of the industry: He says that in 1980, he counted 2,000 consumer magazines available to the general public. Now, he says, there are 7,200.

Further reading: The industry publication Folio also noted the disparate numbers. Prof. Husni's site includes covers of every 2007 magazine launch.

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