Have you ever wondered what makes a magazine successful enough to last through wars, shifts in culture, inventions like radio, TV, and internet—and even transformations in popular values? A lot has happened over the last 100 years. Some magazines not only captured these changes within their content, but also used them as ingredients to shape culture and reasons to thrive. And they still do this today. Why? Because there’s something special about reading the same magazine that your great grandparents read. Magazines that collectively cover important aspects of the world will continue to flourish.
Before we look at some specific examples, here are a few action steps that the experts at 212 Media Studios would like to highlight from these case studies:
- Know Who You Are.
The successful magazines listed below don’t try to be all things to all people. They know their niche markets. They are specialized within an industry, but broad enough to cover multiple disciplines. But, they stay true to their core readership (e.g. National Geographic doesn’t delve deeply into politics or fashion, unless there’s a direct tie to nature).
- Stay Current.
As times changed, knowledge and culture changed, and these magazines adapted. They didn’t get away from their core, but they stayed fresh. Good Housekeeping presents new trends, new cooking techniques, and new gardening ideas. They no longer depict ladies in pearls vacuuming…but they also don’t stray from the best practices that made them successful.
- Remember: Millennials Read!
Not just blogs and social media posts, but long-form stories—especially when they’re specialized. Current data shows that 18% of people ages 19 to 24 have read a magazine in the last six months. These are all specialized categories.
- Embrace New Technology.
All of these magazines have adopted some form of digital media, short-form media, and push technology. An old marketing phrase is “be where your customers are.” Make yourself available to clients when and where they prefer.
Now let’s look at some examples:
Nature and Culture: National Geographic (1888)
- Readership: More than 600 million people per month
- Mission: The first president of the National Geographic Society (NGS) opened the magazine’s first edition by saying, “I am not a scientific man, nor can I lay claim to any special knowledge that would entitle me to be called a geographer. Our society will…include that large number, who like myself, desire to promote special researches by others, so that we may all know more of the world upon which we live.”
- Living the Mission: Since starting, NGS has funded more than 11,000 research projects. According to the NGS press room, ”The Society’s unending commitment to integrity, accuracy and excellence has positioned National Geographic as a benchmark brand and a leader in publishing, photography, cartography, television, research and education.”
- Reason for Success: As a non-profit that inspires people to care about the planet using bright, unique photos, and capturing interesting stories about places most people will never see, and unique people groups that are hard to reach, National Geographic is every man’s chance to explore the world, feeding a thirst for adventure and stirring passion to care about something greater than himself.
- The Take-Away: BRING READERS INTO THE STORY.
Science and Innovation: Scientific American (1845)
- Readership: 5 million readers per month
- Mission: To be the world’s premier source for advances in science and technology and how they shape our world.
- Living the Mission: Scientific American founded the first branch of the U.S. patent agency in 1850. By 1900, more than 100,000 inventions had been patented. Not only did they help scientists create inventions, but also highlighted them. Scientific American covered major discoveries and inventions of the Industrial Revolution (including the Bessemer steel converter, the telephone, and the incandescent lightbulb). According to the Scientific American press room, “Edison presented the prototype of the phonograph for inspection by the editors, and Samuel Morse—father of the telegraph, and Elias Howe—inventor of the sewing machine, were frequent visitors to the offices in downtown New York City.” The magazine made a habit of pinpointing emerging trends. At the turn of the century, one article covered a new speed record: a mile driven in 39.4 seconds by Henry Ford in 1904 while driving across the ice of Lake St. Clair, Michigan.
- Reason for Success: In 1948, the magazine decided to strengthen the articles’ authenticity and accuracy by having them written by scientists—those who did the work themselves. 148 Nobel Prize Scientists have contributed 240 articles to the magazine.
- The Take-Away: GIVE EDUCATIONAL DETAIL.
Fashion: Vogue (1892)
- Readership: 3 million per month
- Mission: Arthur Turner originally created the magazine to “elaborate the ceremonial side of life”…now Vogue aims to be the world’s most influential fashion magazine.
- Living the Mission: “From its inception, the magazine targeted the new New York aristocracy, establishing social norms in a country that did not value class and ceremony as much as England or France. After being bought by Conde Nast in the early 1900s, the magazine was started in Britain, Spain, Italy, and France, where it built a reputation and targeted an elite audience.” Vogue used to feature drawings on the cover, and published its first color photograph in 1932. (Since then, the world’s best photographers have contributed.) The magazine began to shape the culture’s view of good fashion, and how women should look.
- Reason for Success: Through its 100+ years, Vogue hasn’t been deterred, nor has its reputation been harmed. The desire to be the most fashionable and beautiful is always a part of womanhood. Vogue remains paramount in professionalism for designers, writers, artists, and photographers.
- The Take-Away: BUILD A FIRST-CLASS REPUTATION.
The Home: Good Housekeeping (1885)
- Readership: 4 million per month
- Mission: “On May 2, 1885, Clark W. Bryan published the first edition of Good Housekeeping, setting forth the purpose of the magazine as ‘a family journal conducted in the interests of the higher life of the household.’”
- Living the Mission: “For more than a century, we’ve worked to make your home safer, your family healthier, and your life hassle-free. Before there was an FDA, a Consumer Product Safety Commission, or regulatory law, there was the Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI). We began evaluating products and issuing consumer alerts in 1900, and we’re still at it: Today, our staff of engineers, chemists, textile experts, food and nutrition pros, and other scientists test thousands of items every year. Here, a look at some of our most memorable moments of advocating and agitating.” In 1900, the Phelps Publishing Company purchased the magazine and created the Good Housekeeping Experiment Station, which became the foundation for later success.
- Reason for Success: Good Housekeeping maintained its readership by keeping a stronger focus on the home than its competitors. “Survival of this women’s magazine among so many others is largely attributed to the financial strength and editorial clout of the Hearst organization.” Good Housekeeping’s evolving message kept its audience by inspiring women to move outside the domestic sphere during this shift of the ideal American woman.
- The Take-Away: HAVE GOOD RESOURCES.
Bonus: Forbes (1917)
- Readership: Forbes currently has 25 million readers (the highest readership in its entire 97-year existence) because it has made itself a recognized and trusted source for professionals and entrepreneurs—offering content they can’t find anywhere else.
- The Take-Away: HAVE RELEVANT, ONE-OF-A-KIND CONTENT
With the right tools, you can build success that will last over a century. How will you leave a legacy?