In the six hundred years that have passed since Johannes Gutenberg first was first credited with inventing ?movable type?, periodical literature has become a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that rivals no other. While some may argue that it was actually the eleventh century Chinese publisher Pi Ching that devised such a system, it is no doubt that advances in technology are responsible for the growth of magazines, and in many cases, magazines are in part accountable for the growth of society.
Movable type, whoever its creator, was merely a system of interchangeable printing ?blocks?, each containing a different character in the alphabet. These blocks could be put in any order, creating an endless vocabulary that capable of being printed. Prior to the invention of movable type, printers had to sometimes carve an entire page into a piece of wood, or cast the page in metals. Once the page was completed, the slab was essentially useless, except for printing a reproduction of the same page.
With the onset of the twenty-first century, other technological advancements have revolutionized the publishing world. Hand drawn illustrations and black and white photographs have become antiquated by color photography and computer generated imagery. Whereas Gutenberg simply modified the manner in which paper was printed upon, the Internet has eliminated the paper altogether. Subscribers are often given the option of receiving their magazines via email. Other subscribers are not even given a choice, as certain magazines are only offered in an online format.
However the publishers of a given magazine are choosing to reach their audience, one fundamental truth has remained at the forefront of international commerce: Magazines are an invaluable tool in promoting any product. Almost every day, another magazine is published, catering to a group of individual desires. With those desires, advertisers are able to target their audience, never losing sight of who the reader is, or what the reader could potentially want to purchase.
Such elementary marketing techniques are visible every time a reader fingers through a magazine. A copy of Sports Illustrated, for example, may contain advertisements for products such as automotive supplies or power tools, since the publication is geared toward primarily men. Women?s Day may be filled with ads for cosmetics and household items. And one might find that Seventeen is comprised of advertisements for beauty and skin products. Of course, as with any mass media, there are going to be exceptions as to who the reader is. Women read sports magazines, while men may read home journals. But as a collective, publishers need to know whom they are writing for. Because readers? tastes vary so greatly, many publishers have decided to take a more active, specialized approach. Rather than having just one magazine aimed at a large market group, they have narrowed the topic of their publication. Suddenly, serials such as Women?s Day (which had originally been created to canvass women?s issues in general) found themselves being outsold by the likes of Ladies? Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, and even New York Woman.
Assuming that the internet is responsible for changing the face of modern magazine publishing, television has virtually eliminated the need for them altogether. Before information could be transmitted through the airwaves and into one?s home, the only means in which that information could be relayed was via printed page. Magazines have not been completely erased from the formula, but a steady it became significantly easier for the reader to simply not read at all, once a television set sat in their home. Manufacturers continue to reach their target audience with advertisements, and the producers of a program can still develop entertaining material for the former reader to enjoy.
History has chronicled the chronicle itself over the years. In 1741, Benjamin Franklin published the first of his short lived The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle. This magazine is often credited with being the first published in the colonies. Franklin?s rival, however, would prevent such a distinction from being Franklin?s at all. On February 13, just three days prior to the release of The General Magazine, Andrew Bradford published his American Magazine. (Ironically, both magazines displayed a cover date of January, and the ?missed deadline? was born.) Franklin and Bradford argued publicly about whose magazine premiered first, but their efforts could have been better spent on publishing. Bradford?s magazine stopped printing in May, and Franklin?s in August.
In 1775, three months after relocating to the colonies, Thomas Paine produced The Pennsylvania Magazine, a publication in support of the anarchistic ways of the colonists. In 1776, The Pennsylvania Magazine went out of business, its last issue containing a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
In the mid-nineteenth century, slavery began to be frowned upon by the northern half of the United States. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison hand pressed the first edition of The Liberator. ?I am in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch. And I will be heard.? These words rapidly became some of the most well known in American publishing, and for thirty-four years Garrison?s audience grew, until nearly an entire nation rallied to end slavery. However, not everyone was impressed by The Liberator?s theme. Crowds would destroy his presses, and mobs would burn piles of the magazine. Any ?colored person? who subscribed to, or held a copy of The Liberator faced the possibility of a fine, or even 30 days in jail. Since most slaves maintained meager lives, they were unable to pay the heavy fine, subsequently spending a month behind bars.
The National Era was the most effective tool in the abolishment of slavery. It contained installments of Harriet Beecher-Stowe?s Uncle Tom?s Cabin, perhaps one of the most well known voices of the indentured slave. But the effect of the magazine on society?s view of itself was astounding. According to historian Kenneth Lynn, President Abraham Lincoln whimsically credited Uncle Tom?s Cabin with starting the Civil War. In 1865, the Civil War came to a close. Slavery had been successfully eliminated. With no social unrest to tackle, The Liberator ceased publication.
Big business began to boom toward the turn of the century. Many employers over-worked and under-paid their staff. Publishers took notice of this growing trend, and began to publish articles exposing the trend. Soon, the exploitation of the American worker would become the topic of its time. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, and it rapidly became one of the most infamous pieces of literature. The Jungle exposed the Chicago meat packing industry, and told the stories of immigrants who went to their deaths trying to make a living. President Theodore Roosevelt would later call this type of journalism ?muckraking?, due to the ability of the author to ?uncover dirt?.
The twentieth century brought forward a newer, modernized sense of self within society. By this point, magazines could be found in every doctor?s office, on every coffee table, and in almost every mailbox around the world. Magazines for men, women, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and even pets were readily available for anyone interested in reading them.
Due to the almost overwhelming impact that magazines have on society, it should come as no surprise that the publication is sometimes looked upon as the way that the reader ?should? look. Especially common among teenage girls, but not confined to such a group, magazines have been blamed for everything from a poor sense of style to deaths from eating disorders. According to an article published in the Hartford Courant Star Tribune, ?A study of girls from 5th to 12th grade has found a correlation between reading fashion magazines and a negative body image. Girls who avidly read fashion magazines are 2-3 times more likely to diet after reading a magazine article than girls who seldom read such magazines.? Additionally, a 1992 study found that women’s magazines contained ten and a half times as many advertisements and articles on weight loss as men’s magazines.
According to a 1996 article published in the International Journal of Eating
Disorders, the amount of time an adolescent watches soaps, movies and music videos is associated with their degree of body dissatisfaction and desire to be thin. Despite the steps being taken by multiple organizations, the problem of a woman?s body image and her role in society does not seem to be diminishing. In September of 1995, The United Nations Conference Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing, China. They concluded that ?The continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media communication ? electronic, print, visual and audio ? must be changed. Print and electronic media in most countries do not provide a balanced picture of women?s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. In addition, violent and degrading or pornographic media products are also negatively affecting women and their participation in society. Programming that reinforces women?s traditional roles can be equally limiting. The worldwide trend towards consumerism has created a climate in which advertisements and commercial messages often portray women primarily as consumers and target girls and women of all ages inappropriately.?
In conclusion, mass media has been responsible for changing the face of society itself. Nations have been formed, African-American men and women freed, businesses exposed, and young girls have gone hungry, all for a society that has become accustomed to receiving its information on a monthly basis. Regardless of the advances in technology, that same information would have been relayed, were it not for the impact of periodical literature.
Brennon, J & Jones, B (1991). The American Magazine, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated.
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