Magazines and Dinosaurs?

April 25th, 2007 | Posted in General

Yesterday I wrote about the new issue of GAG! Magazine and recommended visiting it’s website.

Sadly, upon visiting said site and reading around a bit I saw the inevitable comparison of GAG! to MAD. That always made me angry with the old Cracked, when Dick Kulpa and Co. always had to compare their publication to MAD, of course always proclaiming they were better. Barry suffers from the same delusions apparently, where he says : GAG! is funnier than MAD, that is for sure. MAD reached its peak in the late 1960s/early 70s, and has been losing readers ever since.”

That first comment is just natural bluster by a publisher trying to sell copies. Sorry, but while there is some funny humor in GAG!, it ain’t no MAD.

As to the second statement that infers MAD‘s readership has dropped from it’s “heyday” due to a loss of quality… that is ridiculous.

It’s true that MAD‘s peak circulation was in 1974 when it sold 2,132,655 copies of the magazine per issue. In 2006 it’s circulation was 190,956 per issue. Equating that drop in circulation with a drop in quality of content is preposterous. Let’s take, by comparison, Playboy Magazine. It also reached it’s circulation peak in the early 70’s at over 7,000,000 copies per issue. Today it is less than 3 million. I guess by that same logic we can infer that the quality of naked women today just isn’t what it used to be (tip of the hat to Desmond Devlin for that bit of satire). Another example is TV Guide, which peaked at 17 million copies and today has only 4.5 million. I guess the quality of it’s TV schedule listings is really in the toilet. Virtually all long-time print magazines have seen last gigantic declines in circulation in the last decade. A drop in quality can’t be the culprit in all cases, or even most.

My point is that the magazine industry itself has been decimated by the internet. Read this article about the speculative reasons why, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out getting one’s news, views, entertainment and opinions on-line virtually instantaneously after events happen… and for FREE… beats paying for a magazine that arrives with old news topics and costs money to boot. The comic book industry has been hit especially hard, as they compete not just with the internet for pure magazine-like content but also with today’s dominating video game systems for kid’s entertainment dollars and attention. A good selling comic book today is 100,000 copies whereas 15 years ago less than a million copies got you canceled.

Every magazine on the newsstands, including MAD, is trying to buck this downward spiral. I think MAD‘s content today is stronger than in was in the 90’s, and many comedy writers like Mark Evanier agree. MAD has taken many steps to try and reach out to new readers and a new generation of fans, with some success. Time will tell if any magazine can survive the continued evolution of the internet. Portablility has always been one of the published media’s biggest benefits, but as wifi and cell phone technology keeps advancing, there will come a day when you can read your daily news while eating lunch at the deli or on the train to work on a handheld cellphone device that gives you easy to read size and features via a nationwide WiFi network. Can magazines survive that?

I think niche magazines will always be around and will settle into a balance of revenues, content and expenses. The larger magazines will need to figure out how to get their print and on-line versions to supplement each other in order to keep their printed publications going. No one has gotten a handle on how to do that yet.

In the meantime I think MAD is doing what it needs to in order to keep publishing. It’s staff concentrate on producing the best content they can, and the rest will have to sort itself out.


  1. shawn says:

    I was in the first issue of GAG! that came out in 2004, but I don’t list it in my client list or have any of the work on my site. There was some real talent there, but it just didn’t float my boat. I also did one issue of Cracked and I think I was one of the only artists who actually got paid for the work in that issue (after 300 phone calls and emails to Dick Kulpa)

    Good luck to Barry. Just stop the MAD comparison and make it something worth buying.

  2. mengblom says:

    You can also see the same sort of drop-off in the comic book biz. It their heyday, comic book titles sold hundreds of thousands, if not millions of copies each month. In fact, many of today’s most successful titles have numbers that would have qualified for instant cancellation back in the day.

    So, yeah…the guy using falling sales figures as an example of MAD’s decline is pretty silly. But, I guess when you’re nipping at the heels of the Big Dog, some people think any tactic is legit…creative fact-bending being one of them.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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