While newspapers, TV stations, and radio broadcasts are filled with news about the latest number of cases reported, vaccine updates, and overviews of new restrictions, magazines appear like a safe space where pandemic-related news is not allowed.
Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center and a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi — who is also known as “Mr. Magazine” — provides some insight as to why magazines are so popular at the time of COVID-19.
“Magazines, in this ocean of media and this bombardment of information, are still the highland of hope, the highland of positive news, […] the me-time,” says Husni.
The audience already knows about the pandemic, about the killings of African-Americans, about the elections, and about social injustice. Husni says that when the audience is reaching for a magazine like Southern Living or Better Homes and Gardens, they are looking for an escape time, a way to cope with everything that is going on in the world, a break from the frenzy.
“Everything that was coming our way was a bombardment of negative, depressing information. And there comes the magazine in your mailbox, there comes the magazine on the newsstand, saying, ‘cheer up, life can still be good. Make this recipe, relax a little bit, read this piece of fiction. Have fun.’ It’s all positive,” says Husni.
Magazines staying true to their editorial line also played an important part in their popularity during the pandemic: editors did not deviate from the mission of their magazine. Farming magazines talk about farming, cooking magazines talk about recipes. The one common thing that magazines do is to “stay the course.”
“I spoke with one publisher, for the Farmer’s Almanac, a magazine that has been published for more than 200 years. She told me that the magazine had lived through the pandemic of 1980, lived through the civil war in this country, but they never deviated from the focus of the magazine. You were not going to find articles about the Civil War. They leave that to the newspapers,” explains Husni.
And it worked. Established magazines, almost with no exceptions, have witnessed an increase of 25 to 30% in subscriptions. People largely returned to print because of all the screen fatigue, as well as a longing for more uplifting news. They are also providing continuity in their coverage on a certain topic.
“The beauty of a magazine is it’s not a one-time thing, it’s like a soap opera: there’s always a second, and a third, and a fourth. So it always fascinated me since I was 10 years old, that art of story-filling and how it’s continuous from one issue to another. Because anybody can write a book about change. But in a magazine, you have to see it issue after issue after issue. And still be true to your DNA,” concludes Husni.