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

November 24 • 6:00 AM

They Steal Babies, Don’t They?

Ethiopia, the Hague, and the rise and fall of international adoption. An exclusive investigation of internal U.S. State Department documents describing how humanitarian adoptions metastasized into a mini-industry shot through with fraud, becoming a source of income for unscrupulous orphanages, government officials, and shady operators—and was then reined back in through diplomacy, regulation, and a brand-new federal law.


November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

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