The Magazine’s Not Dead, It’s Just Being Published by Your Favorite Brand

The 21st century has not been kind to the magazine industry. Between 2007 and 2017, newsstand magazine sales declined from $4.9 billion to $2 billion.[1] Numerous magazines ceased publication or were sold off while companies struggled to adjust to the new realities and challenges of the digital media landscape. Kurt Andersen, former editor for New York magazine and co-founder of Spy magazine, has even suggested that “the 1920s to the 2020s was […] the century of the magazine” and now the industry is in “a dusk, a slow dusk, and we’re closer to sunset.”[2] But sunset is a long, long way off—if it’s coming at all. According to the Association of Magazine Media’s 2019 Factbook, 91% of U.S. adults have read magazine media in the last six months, magazine brand cross-platform audiences have grown 25% between 2014 and 2019, and the number of print consumer magazines in the US has remained steadily above 7,000 publications over the last decade.[3] Increasingly in the mix, in print and online, are brand magazines­,[4] from Airbnb Magazine to Red Bull’s The Red Bulletin to John Deere’s The Furrow, which is often cited as the first brand magazine, in publication since 1895. Brand magazines are uniquely able to thrive in and bolster the industry in the wake of new changes and challenges. They are able to do so because they are backed by brands that can share their resources with the publication, have clear demographics and existing audiences, have preestablished means of distribution, and support media companies, industry professionals, and retailers. Furthermore, they do so while providing readers with a publication and content with no significant difference to traditional magazines.

Brand magazines are often reduced to content marketing, but this concept undervalues these publications and the content they provide readers. The Content Marketing Institute, founded by Joe Pulizzi, defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”[5] A stigma exists against brand magazines, fueled by the assumption that the publication will simply advertise the brand. However, that is not the case. Sheridan’s Publications Marketing Manager, Susan Parente, advocates that successful brand magazines don’t “press their products…instead, they rely on the merits and value of the content itself to engage the reader.”[6] Christina Perozzi, editor-in-chief of Goose Island Beer Co.’s Ingrain, and Paolo Mottola, director of content and media at REI, both follow a story-first, product-integration-second approach.[7] Dara Caponigro, Schumacher’s creative director and the driving force behind the company’s brand magazine The Bulletin, argues that “producing a branded magazine is the same as producing a traditional editorial publication.”[8] Not putting content first is apt to land brands in hot water. Condé Nast, who collaborated on Goop magazine, “reportedly objected to [its] promotion of Goop products, insisting that they publish magazines, not catalogues,” and only two issues of the magazine were published.[9] Research has shown that readers are sensitive to the commerciality of the content of these publications, which impacts their credibility.[10] However, the commerciality of their source does not impact perceived credibility,[11] and one study found that readers were more likely to identify content-marketing publications as magazines than they were to identify consumer magazines as magazines.[12] While brand magazines may be examples of content marketing, they are also magazines in their own right.

Brand magazines have a unique, valuable relationship with the brands themselves, which lend their resources and provide an established readership and means of distribution to these publications. Many brand magazines are created and supported, wholly or in part, by marketing departments and staff members, allowing these publications to get off the ground. Kayleigh Barber suggests that marketing departments can “absorb the costs associated with launching a magazine,” which is the case for Ingrain.[13] Similarly, Mottola “anticipates that the startup costs of [REI’s Uncommon Path magazine] […] will be offset by other revenue streams within the co-op.”[14] Furthermore, brands already have built-in means of distributing print magazines. Uncommon Path’s first issue was distributed to a “limited group within the 18 million members” and sold in REI stores,[15] Bumble Mag’s first issue was “distributed by [Bumble’s] 3,000+ brand ambassadors” and to users requesting a free copy of the magazine in the app,[16] Airbnb Magazine is sent to Airbnb hosts and guests,[17] and Away’s Here Magazine “is included inside every piece of luggage people purchase.”[18]The brand’s existing audience is also a crucial, valuable resource for the magazine. Catherine M. Staub posits that today, there is a “recognized necessity of providing content for specialized audiences,”[19] and brands don’t have to search for such specialized audiences­–they are already their clientele, and they have already collected data about them. Jen Rubio, the CEO of luggage company Away, notes that because the magazine is sent in every suitcase, they know “that anyone who’s buying it has a certain amount of income, is about to travel, and […] exactly […] the demographic it was going to.”[20] She also highlights that “knowing that customer base became ‘very appealing’ to advertisers and partners.”[21] Data is valuable; Airbnb Magazine’s customer service website acknowledges that they “make [their] subscriber list available to companies that sell goods and services […] [they] believe would interest [their] readers” and “send […] promotional materials on behalf of Hearst and/or other companies” by email.[22] Brand magazines thus are backed by the brand’s resources, means of distribution, and preestablished audiences, allowing them to emerge and thrive within the current industry despite the impact of the changes and challenges traditional magazines face.

Rather than merely weathering the storm traditional publications are facing, brand magazines are also bolstering the industry by supporting media companies, industry professionals, and retailers. Media and magazine juggernauts Condé Nast and Hearst have been diversifying and adapting to the new digital landscape. One way in which they are doing so is through collaboration on brand magazines; Condé Nast has collaborated on Goop and Swarovski’s SALT, and Hearst has collaborated on Bumble Mag, Casper’s Woolly Magazine, and Uncommon Path. The relationship between brand and media company is mutually beneficial. Michael Hurley, the director of the custom publishing division at Hearst, suggests that “companies are attracted to publishers such as Hearst because of their industry experience,” and in return, Hearst has a guaranteed revenue stream “because [they] charge for everything [they] do.”[23] These publications also provide work for freelance industry professionals, as is the case for Uncommon Path[24] and The Bulletin,[25] among others. Pulizzi highlights that the landscape is shifting for industry professionals: “in the past, many journalists were against working for non-media brands, as it was seen as tainting their profession. Today, writers, editors and journalists are available in literally every industry to help brands produce great and compelling storytelling. The majority of journalism jobs available today are on the brand side, not in traditional media.”[26] Many brand magazines; including Airbnb Magazine,[27] The Bulletin,[28] and Uncommon Path[29]; are also sold on newsstands, supporting magazines’ traditional retail framework. Although brand magazines often feature practices outside of the traditional industry, like in-house content creation and distribution through the brand’s products, many of them also support the existing industry by providing work for media companies and industry professionals and contributing to the traditional retail framework.

Brand magazines are more than thinly-veiled advertising, more than content marketing–they are, simply, magazines. In the midst of a shifting publishing landscape, brand magazines are supporting the industry and uniquely able to withstand such shifts because of their brands’ resources, audiences, and means of distribution. Some brands, like Goop, have struggled to produce a successful magazine. Others, like Airbnb, have needed multiple iterations[30] to achieve success. Many, like REI and Bumble, are just beginning to dip their toes in the water. And then there’s John Deere, with The Furrow coming up on 125 years in publication and still going strong with 1.5 million circulation and distribution in over 40 countries in 14 languages.[31] Marketing is undergoing seismic shifts, with companies recognizing the importance of content marketing to “attract and retain customers.”[32] As Pulizzi posits, “who would have ever guessed that the future of marketing is, in fact, not marketing at all, but publishing.”[33] To answer the question Jessice Dailey asks in her article about The Bulletin, [34] before we know it, our new favorite magazines may very well be published by brands.

[1] Tony Silber, “Big Ideas For A Magazine Newsstand Industry In Distress,” Forbes, May 29, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonysilber/2018/05/29/big-ideas-for-a-magazine-newsstand-industry-in-distress/.

[2] Sydney Ember and Michael M. Grynbaum, “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines,” The New York Times, September 23, 2017, sec. Business, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/23/business/media/the-not-so-glossy-future-of-magazines.html.

[3] MPA, “Magazine Media Factbook 2019” (MPA, n.d.), accessed December 6, 2019.

[4] Brand magazines are, simply, magazines created by brands across all different industries (finance, travel, apparel, technology, etc.), digitally and/or in print.

[5] “What Is Content Marketing?,” Content Marketing Institute, accessed December 6, 2019, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/what-is-content-marketing/.

[6] Piet van Niekerk, “How Brand Magazines Are Becoming More Sophisticated – and Successful,” What’s New in Publishing, August 8, 2018, https://whatsnewinpublishing.com/how-brand-magazines-are-becoming-more-sophisticated-and-successful/.

[7] Kayleigh Barber, “Why Are Brand Marketers Investing in Magazines?,” Folio:, August 6, 2019, https://www.foliomag.com/why-brand-marketers-investing-magazines/.

[8] Jessice Dailey, “Is Your New Favorite Magazine Published by a Brand?,” Business of Home, September 18, 2019, https://businessofhome.com/articles/is-your-new-favorite-magazine-published-by-a-brand.

[9] Harriet Alexander, “Gwyneth Paltrow Says Goop Magazine Ended after Disagreement with Publisher over Fact-Checking,” The Telegraph, July 26, 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/26/gwyneth-paltrow-says-goop-magazine-ended-disagreement-publisher/.

[10] Eva A. van Reijmersdal, Peter C. Neijens, and Edith G. Smit, “Customer Magazines: Effects of Commerciality on Readers’ Reactions,” Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising 32, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 59–67, https://doi.org/10.1080/10641734.2010.10505275.

[11] van Reijmersdal, Neijens, and Smit.

[12] Under the definition that magazines are “original, specialized, regularly produced content in a consistent voice that was created following journalistic principles and ethical standards, that has gone through a formalized editorial process, and that tells an engaging story of interest to a targeted audience.”

Catherine M. Staub, “Does the Definition of a ‘Magazine’ Encompass Content Marketing? A Preliminary Study,” Journal of Magazine Media 19, no. 2 (November 26, 2019): 1–24.

[13] Barber, “Why Are Brand Marketers Investing in Magazines?”

[14] Barber.

[15] Barber.

[16] Sarah Perez, “Bumble Goes to Print with Its New Lifestyle Magazine, Bumble Mag,” TechCrunch (blog), April 4, 2019, http://social.techcrunch.com/2019/04/04/bumble-goes-to-print-with-its-new-lifestyle-magazine-bumble-mag/.

[17] Airbnb, “Why Am I Receiving Airbnb Magazine and How Can I Manage My Subscription?,” Airbnb, accessed December 4, 2019, https://www.airbnb.ca/help/article/2472/why-am-i-receiving-airbnb-magazine-and-how-can-i-manage-my-subscription.

[18] Sara Jerde, “Why Young Companies Are Starting Print Magazines as a Way to Help Build Their Brands,” Adweek, October 3, 2018, https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/why-young-companies-are-starting-print-magazines-as-a-way-to-help-build-their-brands/.

[19] Staub, “Does the Definition of a ‘Magazine’ Encompass Content Marketing?”

[20] Jerde, “Why Young Companies Are Starting Print Magazines as a Way to Help Build Their Brands.”

[21] Jerde.

[22] Hearst Magazine Media, “Quick Help,” Airbnb Magazine Customer Service, accessed December 4, 2019, https://w1.buysub.com/pubs/HR/ABB/FAQ.jsp?null=214413&cds_mag_code=ABB&id=1543271645831&lsid=83301634058026092&vid=1&cds_page_id=214413&cds_to_id=faq#account7.

[23] John Gartner, “Custom Publishing; Are You Sitting on a Gold Mine?,” Publishing Executive, February 1, 2005, https://www.pubexec.com/article/custom-publishing-are-you-sitting-gold-mine-19336/.

[24] Barber, “Why Are Brand Marketers Investing in Magazines?”

[25] Dailey, “Is Your New Favorite Magazine Published by a Brand?”

[26] Joe Pulizzi, “The Rise of Storytelling as the New Marketing,” Publishing Research Quarterly 28, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 116–23, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12109-012-9264-5.

[27] Airbnb, “Why Am I Receiving Airbnb Magazine and How Can I Manage My Subscription?”

[28] Dailey, “Is Your New Favorite Magazine Published by a Brand?”

[29] Barber, “Why Are Brand Marketers Investing in Magazines?”

[30] Steven Perlberg, “Here’s What Happened to Pineapple, Airbnb’s One-Off Print Magazine,” The Wall Street Journal Online, December 9, 2015, sec. Business, http://global.factiva.com/redir/default.aspx?P=sa&an=WSJO000020151209ebc9006v9&cat=a&ep=ASE.

[31] van Niekerk, “How Brand Magazines Are Becoming More Sophisticated – and Successful.”

[32] Pulizzi, “The Rise of Storytelling as the New Marketing.”

[33] Pulizzi.

[34] Dailey, “Is Your New Favorite Magazine Published by a Brand?”

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