Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quality Doesn’t Ensure Success for ‘Best New Magazines’

• March 17, 2010 • 4:24 PM

High quality doesn’t ensure longevity in the tumultuous print magazine industry.

Since 1986, the Library Journal has contributed an authoritative annual compilation of the “Best New Magazines of the Year.” Recent publications lauded include Lapham’s Quarterly , Monocle, BBC Knowledge, World Affairs and, yes, Miller-McCune. Singled out for their overall high-quality, forward-looking ethos and excellent writing and editing, these fledgling magazines had the honorable distinction of getting their first, tentative steps right.

New research, conducted by The College of Saint Rose librarian Steve Black (author of the Journal‘s 2007 and 2008 “Best New Magazines of the Year” column), finds that “high quality” does little to prevent many of these new magazines from failing within their first five years.

His study, which covered 224 publications Library Journal honored from 1986 to 2006 as the “Best New Magazines of the Year,” isn’t intended as a representative sample of all new magazines. But it does provide a telling snapshot of the success or failure rate of presumably good ones.

In results that the author is careful to clarify, the study finds that 34 percent of these newly launched “best” magazines failed within the first five years, with 13 failing within their first year alone. And while another 37 percent of these magazines are still being published, Black notes that this number is skewed because it includes some launched as recently as 2006.

Failure rates for all new magazines are scarce, so as a reference point, the study highlighted a 2002 research article co-authored by Dr. Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni (a Miller-McCune editorial advisory board member), which found a 90 percent overall failure rate of magazines launched between 1985 and 2002, and a 50 percent failure for new launches within the first year.

With these dour numbers in mind, the Journal‘s “Best New Magazines” seem to be doing swimmingly in comparison.

Still, Steve Black’s research finds that the fail rate for even the “best” magazines has increased incrementally since 1986. This is due, in some part, to overall diminishing returns in the industry (an assertion with which the Magazine Publishers of America takes exception). Between 1986 to 1994, an average of 34 percent of the magazines failed within five years, he writes, while the percentage rose to 54 percent between 1994 to 2003.

Black suggests the fail rate may be higher because many of Library Journal‘s highlighted magazines include literary journals, little magazines and a few scholarly journals (i.e. publications that do not emphasize big, advertising-driven returns).

The reasons for these failures are, obviously, varied. One prominent aborted magazine highlighted in the study, Conde Nast’s Portfolio, simply wasn’t able to find an audience despite being launched to “great fanfare” by a well-capitalized corporate parent and having generally well-written articles.

There are bright spots. Smaller publications like the recently launched and very narrowly targeted Brick Journal and Meatpaper are “off to good starts because they are edited well, have sustainable business models not hampered by excessive debt, and contain good writing appropriate to their intended audiences.”

Other results from the research included a very weak link between a magazine’s life span and frequency of publication, suggesting that magazines that published fewer issues per year lived slightly longer. The study found no link between subscription price and life span (The author does note that the prices of magazines have stayed remarkably stable over the last few decades).

In a follow-up study that may be published later this year, Black will expand his work and include data on Web magazines and venerable print magazines that have ceased in print but have forged on in digital form.

One can only guess the number of webzine startups that have disappeared into the online maw.

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Add our news to your site.

Erik Hayden
Former Miller-McCune Fellow Erik Hayden recently graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Religion. He regularly contributes for a variety of publications including the Ventura County Star and the alt-weekly, VCReporter.

More From Erik Hayden

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


Follow us


Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.