periodical

Special-Interest Magazines

During the 18th cent. periodicals intended for special-interest groups were developed, and magazines for lawyers, musicians, artisans, and for women appeared. By the late 19th cent. magazines were reaching an audience of mass consumers; they were produced by new and faster printing processes, and they were supported by advertising. The new social critics joined literary innovators to create a number of specialized periodicals. The minority appeal of these journals limited their circulation and dictated modest formats; hence they were dubbed the little magazines. Many were short-lived; others survived because contributions of readers or philanthropists met their deficits. Yet because their readership comprised intellectuals and public figures, their influence far exceeded their circulation.

The Nation (1865–), was a forerunner of this movement. Another liberal journal, the New Republic (1909–), has had among its editors Walter Lippmann (1914–17) and Henry A. Wallace (1946–48). The American Mercury (1924–50) was founded by H. L. Mencken, its editor until 1933; it opposed orthodoxy in general. The Saturday Review (1924–86), formerly the Saturday Review of Literature, was a significant journal of literary and art criticism. The Partisan Review (1933–83), a liberal quarterly, became celebrated for its literary and political articles, as did the New Leader (1924–). Conservative magazines, arising in response to the liberal ones, include Common Sense (1932–46) and the National Review (1955–), founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.

By 1900 the number of American monthlies had expanded to about 1,800, reaching nearly 1 million families. Magazines for women came to dominate magazine circulation. The most important of these were the Ladies' Home Journal (1883–), the Woman's Home Companion (1873–1955), McCall's Magazine (1870–2001) and Vogue (1892–). Vanity Fair (1913–36), devoted to literature and the arts, was superbly edited (by Frank Crowninshield) and designed. It was revived in 1981 as a glossy mixture of profiles of celebrities and more serious articles.

Specialized periodicals serve most professions, industries, and organizations. The oldest American scientific periodicals include the American Journal of Science (New Haven, 1818–), the Franklin Journal (Philadelphia, 1826–1828), and the Scientific American (1845–). National Geographic Magazine (1888–), devoted to natural history, travel, and anthropological subjects, was one of the first periodicals to use color photographs. The proliferation of special-interest magazines in the 1980s was aimed at audiences interested in certain subjects, such as parenting, travel, or music.

Other specialized magazines of interest include Ms. (1972–), a forum for the women's liberation movement; Publishers Weekly, a trade journal of book publishing; Sports Illustrated (1954–); Ebony (1946–), a picture weekly directed toward African-American readership; and the satirical National Lampoon (1970–92). In addition, a tremendous circulation exists for the cruder magazine forms: comic books; fan magazines of the entertainment media; true romance, confession, soap opera, and police magazines; and the various periodicals devoted to sex or sexuality, including Playboy (1953–) and Penthouse (first U.S. publication, 1969). Magazines of this last group constitute a publishing phenomenon and are widely imitated.

Toward the end of the 20th cent. advances in computer technology and its wider availability to the public have made possible the delivery of magazine articles through on-line services. In addition, in the 1990s the computer revolution began to spawn entirely electronic periodicals, such as The Online Journal of Current Critical Trials, a professional medical journal that began publishing in 1992. Although it and others failed, by 2000 there were more than 8,000 electronic journals and other periodicals. Subsequently, the developed of e-readers and e-reader software for electronic tablets has created a new and thriving market for periodicals. For indexes to periodicals, see index.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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