Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dying Magazines and the Fall of Traditional Illustration

Leif Peng had an interesting 26 October 2011 post on his Today's Inspiration blog regarding the decline and death of some general-interest magazines that had supported what I'll call traditional illustration.

Such magazines were called "slicks" because they were printed on smooth paper instead of cheaper newsprint or rough-textured "pulp" paper. Many of these magazines had circulations in the millions of copies when the U.S. population ranged from around 63 million in 1890 to about 180 million in 1960 (the number now is more than 320 million).

The archetypical general-interest magazine was the Saturday Evening Post, whose content was a mix of short stories and non-fiction articles, the former being decorated by images from famous illustrators. Covers also used illustration, the two most prolific cover illustrators being J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell.

The advent of radio in the 1920s had no noticeable effect on circulation of "slicks," and the most prominent ones also weathered the Great Depression of the 1930s. What brought them down was television, following the end of the 1948-1952 TV station license moratorium resulting in a surge of new television stations rapidly spreading across the United States.

Below is a listing of prominent magazines with their prime publication lifespans.

Saturday Evening Post -- 1897-1963 (as a weekly publication)

Collier's -- 1888-1957 (the Post's main competitor)

The American Magazine -- 1906-1956

Liberty -- 1924-1950

McCall's -- 1973-2002

Ladies' Home Journal -- 1883-2014 (as a weekly or bi-weekly)

Life -- 1936-1972 (Time, Inc. version)

Look -- 1937-1971 (like Life, was photo oriented)

I included Look Magazine because it is another good example of a mass-circulation publication that failed to survive very far beyond the 1960s. McCall's was a magazine for women that included short stories illustrated by many of the top names in the field, including Bernie Fuchs. The American and Liberty were lesser general-interest magazines. The Time Incorporated version of Life (they bought the title from an existing magazine) was primary photograph-oriented. But when dealing with subjects where good photos were unavailable, leading illustrators were brought in to provide images.


Paul Sullivan said...

Don— This is an excellent post and a subject worthy of a volume or two. You are so right. Television brought down the slick magazines. Television hit the general-interest magazines with a one-two punch. One: TV took the lion's share of advertising budgets away from big publications. And two: Most of the magazine readers were spending time watching TV productions.

David Apatoff said...

Of course radio could not bring down these magazines because radio did not offer pictures. Images are the important thing. Once TV and then the internet provided pictures, the fate of illustration was sealed.