The number of new print magazines launched in the US dropped by more than half in 2020 to 60, compared to 139 a year earlier.

But in a surprise move, the pace of new launches accelerated in the second half of the year with food, home and fitness titles proving the most popular.

The data comes from Professor Samir Husni, founder of the University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center at the School of Journalism and New Media, who bills himself as “Mr. Magazine,” and has been tracking the number of new US magazine launches since 1978.

“Considering all the problems with the pandemic I think it shows there was still a lot of interest and vitality in magazines,” he said. “It’s almost a miracle that there were 60 new launches.”

Like in all areas of our lives, the pandemic had a tremendous impact on the titles that were launched with food, fitness, home and mags tied to celebrity influencers dominating the field. “People still believe there is a need for print,” Husni said. “People are stuck at home, bombarded by bad news. They are looking for diversions,” he said.

Professor Samir Husni in his magazine-filled office at the School of Journalism and New Media, The University of Mississippi. Photo credit: Robert Jordan

The pace of the launces were also seemingly dictated by the health crisis. After 15 launches in the first quarter, startup activity came to a screeching halt in the April-June period when popular retail outlets for buying magazines, like Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, were forced to shut their doors or curtail traffic.

But In the second half of the year, as the economy began opening back up, 45 new magazine were launched.

The pandemic even helped the launch of The Week Junior a kid-oriented weekly news magazine from Dennis Publishing that started getting mailed directly to subscribers homes in April in accordance with its pre-pandemic plans. Sales quickly exceeded expectations as parents desperate for healthy diversions for their stuck-at-home middle schoolers signed on by the boatload.

Food titles were by far the single largest launch category with new titles including Joy the Baker, Meal, 506, Sandwich, Fifty Grande, and Nourish: Plant Based Living.

And while print advertising dropped by 30 percent in the second quarter as businesses pulled back from spending, the plunge was not nearly as disruptive for new magazines, which are relying more on subscription sales than ad dollars.

“There is a new business model,” said Husni. “The new trend is high subscription and newsstand prices and very little advertising.”

Indeed, the average cover price of a new launch in 2020 was $7.99, compared to an average cover price of under $5 for most established magazines. But the extra cost is also reflected in the changing the look and feel of new titles, many of which now have “better stock paper and thicker covers,” Husni said.

“Many of them look and feel like a coffee table book.”

Husni’s data doesn’t include “bookazines,” usually one-offs dedicated to special themes. They, too, carry higher cover prices and little or no ads, selling for an average of $10.99.

“Nobody buys something for $8 to $10 as an impulse item,” said Husni. “They are buying it because they want the experience that the magazine can deliver.”

To get tallied as a new launch, a magazine must have a plan to publish at least two issues in the course of a year.

Among publishers, Husni found Meredith the most active with five new print launches, including Reveal, which stars the Property Brothers HGTV show’s Drew & Jonathan Scott. It launched in January with a 750,000 press run and $9.99 cover price.

In April, Ayesha Curry, the wife of NBA star Stephen Curry, teamed up with Meredith to launch a food, home and lifestyle quarterly entitled Sweet July.

Meredith also in April unveiled Millie, a women’s financial quarterly with Synchrony Financial as the sole sponsor. The mag was mailed to one million subscribers of Real Simple.

Meredith also got credit for a new title when its Rachael Ray Everyday monthly magazine was reflagged and relaunched as the quarterly Rachael Ray in Season. Better Homes & Gardens also spun off a new title, Farm House at Heart.

Conde Nast, under CEO Roger Lynch, was absent from the print launch market as it continues to only add digital offerings to its stable of magazines and websites. Husni only counts a launch if it makes it into print.

Hearst was also relatively quiet on the launch front. Husni said he tallied only one new print title called R+T Crew, which launched as a kids spinoff from Road & Track. The new magazine was included as part of a subscription box deal.

Despite having sold its entertainment titles like Celebrity, In Touch and Life & Style, Bauer continues to remain active in the women’s magazine market. In March, it teamed up with fitness instructor and author Denise Austin to launch Denise Austin’s Fit Over 50 with a $12.99 cover price. It also teamed up with blogger and cookbook author Joy Wilson to launch Joy the Baker magazine in November at $12.99 cover price as a quarterly compliment to her popular blog and cookbooks.

There were plenty of independent launches as well. Marvin Jarrett, who earlier in his career was a co-founder of edgy titles Ray Gun and Nylon, remerged with a new music mag simply titled Marvin. The quarterly debuted with Porsche as its sole advertiser and a $30 cover price, making it the most expensive launch of the year. It’s oversized 13″ by 19″ format also made it the largest.

Fitness guru Tracy Anderson began shipping copies of her quarterly magazine Tracy Anderson Magazine in March. And Playgirl returned to print under new ownership for the first time since 2016.

Other new launches include: Beach Happy from 30A Publishing; Oh Reader, which plans four issues in 2021; and Fifty Grande, a bi-annual food title launched in February by Chris Walsh, a former editor of Zagat with a $14.00 cover price.

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