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 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

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.

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.