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Magazines see silver lining in COVID lockdowns: More glossies launched in 2021

COVID lockdowns apparently are good for at least one thing: all that extra time to spend flipping through a magazine — a down-and-out corner of the media industry that got an unexpected boost last year. COVID lockdowns apparently are good for at least one thing: all that extra time to spend flipping through a magazine — a down-and-out corner of the media industry that got an unexpected boost last year. The second year of the pandemic brought a surprisingly sharp rebound in new print magazines, fueled by special interest, niche glossies. And — perhaps not so surprisingly — sex mags. New magazine launches totaled 122, up from 60 that launched in 2020. The data comes from Samir Husni, a recently retired professor and founder of University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center at the School of Journalism and New Media, who bills himself as “Mr. Magazine.” “If there’s one word that sums up the recent crop of magazines it’s individualism,” said Husni, who has been tracking new US magazine launches since 1978. “More individuals are finding an escape in print and sort of a validation of what they’re doing.” The new launches are overwhelmingly niche-oriented, with low frequencies — quarterly or bimonthly, and although they more than doubled from the prior year, they are far from the industry’s last golden era when the internet was in its early days of growth. For instance, in 2000, there were 333 new launches, and in 2003, there were 454, a year later, in 2004 Husni recorded a record number of new launches, with 473. (Even as recently as 2019 there were 139 new launches.) Somewhat ironically, Husni said the pandemic is “helping” grow niche magazines that cover topics ranging from cannabis, cryptocurrencies and sex to women in business, African-American culture, life in the mountains and fashion. In 2021, the most launches came from the special interest category with 17 new glossies, followed closely by sex magazines with 14. Husni said that the resurgence in adult magazines like “Jugs” – not to be confused with the ’90s nudie mag “Juggs” – is due in part to the fact that consumers prefer “privacy.” He explained that adult magazines declined with the rise of online porn, but now, more than ever, consumers are opting to buy print magazines because they are wary of being “tracked” online. Husni also called out “Bitcoin Magazine,” which covers the world of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, as an example of the power of print. He explained that the magazine, which initially launched in 2012, made its return in print after a five-year hiatus in order to give “validity” to a currency that isn’t tangible. “If it’s not in print it’s not really real,” he surmised. He also noted that some launches are coming from familiar faces. Alan Katz, the former publisher of mags like New York, Interview, Vanity Fair and the defunct Cargo, launched “The Mountains,” an upscale lifestyle glossy targeting people who live in the Catskills and the Berkshires. The retired professor also gave a nod to the Grazia’s US debut, which was launched by Dylan Howard, the controversial National Enquirer editor turned CEO of Grazia US-parent Pantheon Media, as well as Empire Media and Radar Media Group. The quarterly fashion magazine stood out to Husni because it launched in the US in September with 356 pages, three separate covers and carrying roughly 80 advertising pages. Grazia, which carries a $14.99 cover price, uses a closed circulation model, meaning it is distributed directly to 200,000 high-net worth individuals who are responsible for 50 percent of the nation’s wealth and luxury spending, the company said. That offers a potential high return-on-investment to luxury advertisers, according to Tanya Amini, Grazia US Vice President & General Manager. “It’s unheard of. It’s the exception,” Husni said of the Italian fashion magazine’s US launch. “The other magazines that launched this year barely have advertising. They are circulation-driven.” But one thing Grazia has in common with those smaller publications is that it is released four times a year, which is a sign of the times, he said. “It’s an economic issue. Magazines are no longer an impulse buy,” Husni explained. “Nobody is going to buy a $14 magazine on impulse.” The decline of magazines has been a constant over the years as the internet has exploded and consumers are reading publications digitally or streaming content instead. According to Alliance for Audited Media, print circulations across the top 50 US magazines have fallen by 7 percent over the past two years to 116 million, while newsstand sales declined 11 percent to 2.8 million in the first half of this year. “We are so bombarded by information,” Husni added. “There’s no more room for general interest magazines. Magazine editors now have to be more curators than creators. I tell them, if I can find the answer on Google, it doesn’t need to be in a magazine.”

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