Magazine-Made America:

The Cultural Transformation of the Postwar Periodical

By David Abrahamson

Northwestern University

This unique volume addresses the journalistic, economic, and cultural/historical changes that have spawned the magazines of today. Specifically, it analyses the major transformation of the American consumer magazine during the 1960s: the decline of many large mass-market, general-interest publications and the emergence of a wide variety of smaller special-interest magazines focused on specific leisure and recreational subjects and aimed at specialized audiences. Like all communications media, magazines are not only self-contained artifaccts, but important products and catalysts of the social and economic realities of their times. Thus, the study uses not only established methods of historical research, but original analyses of the contemporary magazine form itself. In addition to the broader sociocultural context, the book examines the internal economic changes affecting the magazine industry, for example, competition from television, apparent mismanagement in the industry, the effect of new publishing technology, and the major shift in national advertising.

The volume is suitable for courses in journalism, publishing, magazine journalism and journalism history. It can also be used as a supplementary text in American studies and cultural studies courses.

CONTENTS: INTRODUCTION. The Argument. The Literature. The Structure. CONSENSUS, MILIEU, CONSENSUS MAGAZINES. Postwar Prosperity and Social Change. Learning, Living, and Leisure. The Age of Consensus. The Mass Magazines. CHANGING MAGAZINES IN A CHANGING WORLD. Magazines in the 1960s. The Rise of the Specialized Magazine. A Marketing Revolution. "THE OTHER 1960S." The Amoral Majority? The Triumph of Self, Leisure, Consumption, and Class. THE KNOWLEDGE IMPERATIVE. The Need to Know. The Search for the Right Reader. THE CALCULUS OF SUCCESS. Editorial Primary. Management Considerations. CONCLUSION. Internal Factors. Product and Catalyst. Appendix: Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Author Index. Subject Index.

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Kind Words:

With impressive research and a persuasive thesis, Abrahamson brilliantly illuminates how the explosive but little-noticed growth of magazines in the 1960s can provide penetrating insights into the broader social situation in America. Magazine-Made America shows how magazines were at the leverage point of the culture, shaping attitudes away from traditional values and toward new, more fragmented ideas of identity and self-fulfillment. And it is a trend that continues, unabated, today.

-- Clay Felker, University of California, Berkeley; Founding Editor, New York Magazine

Magazine-Made America is exactly the kind of book media scholars ought to be writing. It is a study of how social change and media development are connected, as well as what such connections mean for our understanding of culture. In addition, Abrahamson writes with clarity and zest, so that the work is accessible to a general readership and not only to a scholarly community.

--Neil Postman, New York University; Author, Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly

Drawing on many different disciplines to enrich our picture of American periodicals, I think that Magazine-Made America will find its way into the mainstream of media history very quickly. Going beyond the facts to tell readers the social and cultural reasons for change, the book demonstrates the need for magazine research in its fullest sense: one in which an author investigates both the impact of culture on magazines and the magazine's influence on the culture. Abrahamson does both beautifully.

--Margaret A. Blanchard, University of North Carolina; Editor, History of Mass Media in the United States: An Encyclopedia

In this definitive explanation of the reasons behind the events that transformed the magazine publishing industry in the 1960s, Abrahamson has documented the role of magazines as reflectors of American culture and society. The result, Magazine-Made America, is a must-read book for any student of American magazines, past, present or future.

--Samir Husni, University of Mississippi; Author, Samir Husni's Guide to New Consumer Magazines

A skillfully written tale of a complex period, weaving in elements of television, advertising, American values and leisure styles, social mobility and class status, and generational issues, Magazine-Made America is a valuable book that will change the way we teach about this period. It is also certain to lead to renewed historical interest in post-World War II magazine journalism.

--Patrick S. Washburn, Ohio University; Book Editor, Journalism History

Abrahamson is the first scholar to look at magazines and assess their significance in the total scheme of American life. A real scholarly feat, Magazine-Made America is the finest work to date on this genre of publication from the perspective of cultural and intellectual history. It can also serve as an excellent model for cultural studies of other forms of mass communication. This is a book that will be of value for years to come.

--Maurine H. Beasley, University of Maryland; Past President, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

In this wise and thorough book, Abrahamson strengthens our understanding of a medium that is often given short shrift by journalism historians: the magazine, and its postwar journey from general to specialized audiences. He also offers an intriguing new perspective on that much-discussed but still fog-obscured decade, the 1960s.

--Mitchell Stephens, New York University; Author, A History of News

Magazine-Made America chronicles the editorial vibrancy of special-interest magazines and their symbiotic relationship with a community of readers. Moreover, the author's original ideas about the role of editorial persona and structure will certainly not only prove useful to practicing magazine professionals, but will also be of particular help to aspiring magazine journalists.

--Sharon M. W. Bass, University of Kansas; Magazine Sequence Head, E.B. White School of Journalism

Charting a course for us through a period of critical transformation in both American life and the magazine industry, Abrahamson offers challenging and plausible explanations for the decline of certain mass-circulation magazines and the resurgence of the specialized periodical. Most important, he draws from a variety of literature -- sociology, history, cultural studies -- to give important theoretical underpinnings for the changes he describes.

--Wallace B. Eberhard, University of Georgia; Editor in Chief, American Journalism

Abrahamson knows magazine publishing well and is a careful, thorough scholar who has combed the literature of culture, business, and mass media. He also interviewed significant players whose experiences are pertinent but who may not have set them to paper. As a result, Magazine-Made America offers a thorough analysis of what has made U.S. magazines succeed or fail. It should be valuable to a wide variety of scholars, mass media practitioners, and others who want to understand contemporary consumer magazines.

--Carol Reuss, University of North Carolina; Co-Author, Controversies in Media Ethics

Magazine-Made America is a smart analysis of a neglected medium. Abrahamson skillfully integrates social theory and market research to explain the transformation of the postwar periodical.

--James L. Baughman, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Author, Republic of Mass Culture

Abrahamson has woven the magazine industry into the fabric of social change by examining the place of magazines in American history, their own history, and the myriad cultural permutations that characterize the United States in the later half of the twentieth century. Magazine-Made America should find great use by undergraduate and graduate students alike, as well as other scholars of magazines. In addition, the book's bibliography provides a good place for anyone to begin their studies of the magazine in America.

--Barbara Straus Reed, Rutgers University; Co-Editor, Outsiders in 19th-Century Press History: Multicultural Perspectives

An elegant survey of the rise of the consumer magazine in the 1950s and 1960s, Magazine-Made America is a welcome contribution to the scholarship on recent media history. It goes beyond conventional wisdom in refusing to treat its subject as simply a marketing ploy. Instead, it insists that the consumer magazine be understood within the sociocultural context of rising consumer individualism.

--John Nerone, University of Illinois; Author, The Culture of the Press in the Early Republic

A sophisticated economic analysis for the success of specialized magazines, Magazine-Made America nicely combines data and the telling observations of practitioners. Especially original is the analysis Abrahamson draws from his insightful reading across disciplines seeking to understand American culture.

--Trevor Brown, Indiana University; Dean, Ernie Pyle School of Journalism

A welcome addition to the history of the American magazine, Magazine-Made Americais one of the only books to combine an analysis of American culture with a detailed understanding of the business of magazine publishing. Most strikingly, Abrahamson recovers the terms in which industry personnel and advertisers, not just critics, imagined social change in the 1950s and 1960s, and in the process illuminates the cultural history of postwar America using the consumer magazine as a representative artifact. For media historians, Magazine-Made America represents a refreshing change in emphasis, and its argument helps us understand why the consumer magazine has displaced the daily newspaper in the affections of many readers.

--John J. Pauly, St. Louis University; Former Editor, American Journalism

Filling a large and significant gap in an under-studied field, one of the major strengths of Magazine-Made America is its intrinsic appeal as a work of art. The chapters are magnificently constructed, and the literary style moves the reader through this intense history with care and imagination.

--David R. Spencer, University of Western Ontario; President-Elect, American Journalism Historians Association