Spoke to my old friend Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi journalism professor who is also known as “Mr. Magazine.” That’s because for over a decade, Samir has been tracking every new magazine published in America. Last year, it turns out, was a bumper year for new launches with over 900 new magazines hitting the newsstands. That means over 75 brand-new magazines a month. In October alone there were 132 new titles vying for readers’ attention.
”We haven’t seen such vitality since 1998,” Samir told me. “Every big publishing company except Gruner & Jahr launched at least a couple of titles.” Gruner & Jahr, the exception, closed down magazines, including Rosie
–which hit the skids after the “Queen of Nice” proved to her public she was anything but–and YM
, a boy-crazy teen title that was caught fibbing on its circulation statements, which is sort of like one of their readers cheating on her SATs.
Samir is especially enthusiastic about two launched by Time Inc. They are All You, a women’s magazine that only sells at Wal-Mart, and Cottage Living, which he says is “the perfect post-9/11 magazine. All You is for women in the red states–for women in Wal-Mart nation. I applaud Time Inc. for recognizing this audience, understanding the market, and putting out the publication.” Samir, after all, lives in Oxford, Miss. “I also like Cottage Living. It isn’t about cottages but about making your home cozy and comfortable and safe. That’s what most Americans want today.”
In fact, Samir thinks the magazines that will succeed today appeal not to the buzz-based, let’s-do-lunch-at-Michael’s media elite but to the genuine interests of red-state readers. Another launch he likes is a teenage magazine called Justine, published in Memphis, Tenn. “It has beauty and fashion and relationship features but it is wholesome. My daughter reads it.”
And what do you think was the category with the most launches in 2004? “Crafts!” Samir reports. “Everybody in America is making something for their home.” And which category had far less launches than in the past? “Sex. Maybe because of the Internet. But for the first time it wasn’t even in the top ten.”
How did Samir get so hooked on magazines? “It happened when I was a little boy in Lebanon. My mother bought me a Superman comic book. My friends liked the story. I liked the ink on the paper. I started listening to the radio, rewriting the news, and every day publishing my own newspaper, which I read every night.”
He came to America in 1978 to study at the University of North Texas in Denton. “People asked me about culture shock. Yes, there was culture shock. Denton was dry and you couldn’t get a glass of wine with a meal. In Beirut we got the New York Times the next day. It took a week to get it in Texas. It was a big culture shock!” He received his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri–his dissertation was on success and failure of new American magazines–and now teaches magazine publishing and magazine design at Ole Miss as well as editing a yearly guide to new magazines. The 2004 edition will be out in February.
Although big publishers launched some of the most publicized new magazines, the majority were started by entrepreneurs, convinced they have a great idea, would find readers, and then could cash in by selling out to a big company. “When I first came to America my professor said that Americans start a committee and then put out a publication. Now they put out the publication and then start the committee.” Samir doubts most will be successful because it takes at least a million dollars to start a magazine and four years for a publication to have any value. Still, entrepreneurs keep trying. Most can’t resist the lure of being an editor or a publisher and often both. Most start magazines for readers with specific interests, sometimes niches within niches.
“Would you believe there is a magazine called Horses in Art?” Samir asks. “It is not merely for people interested in art or interested in horses but for horse lovers who are also interested in equine art.”
Other magazines with a very specific focus that were launched this year include Conceive, for couples trying to do just that; Armchair General, which has Custer on its current cover; and one I thought was called Wreck Driving. Made sense to me considering the way I drive and one of the cars my son once had. But I was wrong.
It’s really Wreck Diving, for those who think a piece of heaven is a piece of eight. But wait a minute, Wreck Driving has possibilities. After all, how many people are driving wrecks or causing them? Hey, Samir, maybe I have an idea for one of the new launches of 2005–one with some definite red-state appeal.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.