Magazines Register

A Brief History of Magazine Publishing

Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440 was one of the most significant innovations to date —not only in publishing, but in the world itself.

With this invention, the opportunity to share timely information exploded. Text no longer had to be painstakingly copied by hand but could be printed and distributed in volume. Almanacs, pamphlets, and newsletters (along with books) began to circulate, and the publishing industry was revolutionized. But it would be another couple hundred years before magazines took hold.

In 1663, German philosopher Johann Rist created what is considered the first magazine: Erbauliche Monaths-Unterredungen or Edifying Monthly Discussions. Similar journals in England, France, and Italy popped up, and young intellectuals devoured the book reviews and scholarly articles within.

At the turn of the eighteenth century, a new wave of intellectual curiosity swept across society, particularly among women. This brought new readers to magazines and increased their popularity. In 1731, Edward Cave, with his new publication The Gentleman’s Magazine, is credited with coining the term “magazine” — which he took from the Arabic word makhazin, meaning storehouse.

Around this time, magazines started to appear in the United States. Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Bradford raced to publish the first American magazine, but neither’s publication lasted longer than a few months.

By the end of the eighteenth century, however, the U.S. magazine market had exploded — with over 100 widely read periodicals.  Printing was still quite expensive, though, so most magazines were accessible only to the wealthy. As a result, content tended to be more scholarly and sophisticated.

By the 1830s, printing became less expensive, and magazine readership expanded to the general public. More entertainment magazines were published, and in 1842, illustrations were widely used in tandem with the written word. The Illustrated London News was the first publication to include woodcut designs and later the first to include photographs. About 40 years later, National Geographic was founded — and to this day is known for its gorgeous nature photography and scientific content.

As magazine publishing continued to develop, periodicals focused on more specific niches. Women’s magazines offered practical homemaking tips, and men’s magazines discussed news and culture. In the 1920s, some modern staples were created, such as Reader’s Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, and TIME Magazine. And in 1944, Seventeen was the first magazine to appeal specifically to the teenage market.

Today, our newsstands, grocery stores, and mailboxes are filled with magazines we know and love. And it all started with Johannes Gutenberg’s vision to have “edifying monthly discussions.”

Contact your Sheridan representative for a consultation or visit our contact page to learn how Sheridan professionals can help you streamline your publishing processes, reduce costs, and keep up with changes in print and publishing strategies.

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