The Evolution of Teen Magazines - From Print to Digital
Nov 28, 2023 22:26
The teen magazine, in all its forms, has been around since the 1940s. These publications reached into the female adolescent experience, influencing fashion trends through articles on celebrity style and introducing new crushes to readers.
But, as Quartz explains, the concept of a magazine aimed at teenage girls was flawed from the start.
The teen magazine industry exploded in the post-Second World War era with teenage leisure time and income growth. The teen magazine market was fueled by the growing demand for intimate celebrity connections among teenagers and by a societal view that teenagers are a distinct and separate age group with unique lifestyle demands.
As a result, teen magazines often played the role of gatekeeper to youth culture. For example, many of these publications began with the mission to teach young women how to dress and groom themselves. They also served as a forum for girls to express their views on important social issues such as relationships, sex, and fashion.
Most importantly, teen magazines offered the opportunity to connect with celebrities in an unprecedented way. This was especially true in the early 1960s when these publications grew in popularity and size. Cluttered cover models of wholesomely handsome male celebrities and music stars were popular in the magazines, frequently marketing their own line of clothing and accessories in partnership with the celebrities featured on the covers.
Although magazines targeted at younger children existed before the 1940s, the teen magazine industry took off in the 1950s and 1960s as baby boomers reached their teenage years. With a newfound sense of independence and spending power, these teens sought a magazine that spoke to their culture and values.
Seventeen magazine launched in 1954 and was a trailblazer for the genre. The publication was modeled on adult fashion magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Vogue but with a focus on the youth market. Its success was due largely to its ability to tap into the lived experiences of young female readers and speak to them as well-meaning equals rather than condescending authority figures.
As the teen magazine industry grew, other titles were created to meet the needs of specific sub-sectors of the market. Unlike Seventeen, YM and Tiger Beat focused on music and celebrities and were rivals for readership. The teen magazine Teen Beat, which began in 1967, eventually folded, and its successor, Teen Now, was merged into the British celebrity weekly Now in spring 2007 and later closed.
In the 1940s, Helen Valentine launched Seventeen Magazine, the first known publication geared towards teenage girls. It capitalized on what was then a coveted demographic of young women unafraid to swoon for their favorite celebrities, feed on pinup photos, and feast on celebrity gossip. The magazine’s success helped usher in a new era, and the rest is history regarding teenage magazines.
Over the decades, many teen magazines have come and gone, but some have been able to stick around and even thrive. Some have even shifted formats and moved to digital. Regardless of format, however, most of them share the same basic business model: They address teenagers as a monolith, offering up evergreen obsessions (makeup! relationships! crushes!) and smiling cover models to lure them in.
The ’90s saw an influx of magazines, including Sassy, BOP, and J-14, targeting a female teen audience with a focus on fashion, style, and celebrity gossip. These publications largely followed the same business model as their counterparts, but some of them had to deal with controversy—like when Women Aglow boycotted Sassy for its frank coverage of sexuality.
More recently, magazines aimed at teen girls have tended to avoid the celebrity and fashion news that their racier forebears did, opting instead for more personal content like advice columns, horoscopes, and “letters from readers.” The ones that really stick out to me, though, are the ones that don’t limit themselves to a shallow world of shiny celebrities and cute clothes. Tavi Gevinson knew this when she started Rookie Mag at age 15. As The Globe’s Susan Krashinsky Robertson notes, its content is “explicitly feminist, occasionally snarky and generally respectful of its audience’s intelligence.”
Its success demonstrates that it’s possible to tap into a teen’s interest by offering something more substantial than makeup tips or the latest gossip. And as we move further into the era of the Internet, it’s likely more teen magazines will take note of this fact and make similar shifts. The teen magazines that will survive will be the ones that can do more than rely on ad sales and subscriptions to keep them going.
Seventeen has been a staple in teenage girls’ lives for over a century. Its smiling cover models, cheerily cheesy headlines, and evergreen obsessions (makeup! celebrities! relationships!) have made it a cornerstone of adolescent culture and an essential part of the female teen magazine landscape.
Founded in 1944, Seventeen became the trailblazer in the field of teen girl magazines after being approached by publishing magnate Walter Annenberg. Originally, the magazine was intended to serve the market of teenagers in postwar America, a demographic that tended to be white and middle class, with an interest in popular culture and an idealistic vision of the future. Advertisers took note of the demographic and began to invest in teen magazines. As the magazine’s advertising revenue increased, so did its editorial content, which began to reflect a more wholesome teen girl image.
A recurring feature in Seventeen and other teen magazines was the “Say Anything” column, which asked readers to submit their most embarrassing true stories. These anecdotes largely revolved around a few key themes: awkward encounters with crushes, embarrassment at school, and the horror of bodily functions. These articles were meant to entertain and amuse the reader and bolster the Seventeen brand by portraying it as a trusted source of information.
In addition to the slew of teen-oriented titles, other publications targeted a younger audience and offered advice on more practical subjects such as dating, sex, and money. These titles included publications such as Right On!, J-17, and Tiger Beat. But, as the market changed for magazines and they struggled to compete with mobile, online, and other media, many of these titles went under.
In recent years, many new digitally focused-teen publications have emerged and moved from print to online. But, despite the success of some of these new titles, many publishers have decided that the viability of print is simply not there anymore. As a result, many magazines that once stood at the forefront of their industry have now moved to online-only publication. As a result, some teen-focused titles, such as PC Magazine, have completely stopped publishing in print and can be found exclusively on the web.
While the overall decline in print magazine sales has affected most consumer publications, teen magazines have felt it the hardest. Their readership typically outgrows them within a couple of years, so they need to spend a lot of money on advertising to replenish their subscription base. This can be challenging when readers are increasingly shifting to digital media.
Magazines that cater to teenagers have long been a glossy byproduct of US postwar consumer culture, writes Kelley Massoni in Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen. They were designed to appeal to a specific audience of teens who were obsessed with rock ’n’ roll music, fashion fads, and celebrity crushes. They were a desirable target audience for advertisers who hoped to sell them products and services designed to help them achieve the American dream of homeownership, careers, and marriages.
Throughout their history, teen magazines have capitalized on the frenetic fan frenzy that exists among this demographic of young, primarily female consumers. They were unafraid to swoon over their music and TV idols, eager to devour their gossip, and excited to scour the latest pinups for their bedroom walls.
In the ’90s, there was no greater example of this than Tiger Beat, which launched in 1967 and closed its print operations in December 2018. Luckily for fans, the publication is still active online today, covering everything from young Hollywood to quizzes, fashion, posters, and more.
The rise of the Internet and the increasing popularity of mobile devices has made it easier for teens to access the content they want. That’s why more and more publishers have moved to make their print content available only in digital formats. Some of the oldest and best-known teen magazines have made this transition, including Seventeen, Sassy, and J-14.
Others, however, have adapted and thrived in the changing media landscape. A recent article in The Globe and Mail talks about the success of Rookie Mag, a teen magazine founded by Tavi Gevinson at age 15. The independent online publication is edgy and feminist and focuses on writing and art created by and for teen girls. It also features some snarky and controversial commentary.