Magazine Industry, Terminology & Audience Theory


As part of this topic, you will investigate genre, narrative and representation in three British magazines. However, before we examine the focus texts, you need to become familiar with –

  • What a magazine is;
  • The types of magazines available in the UK;
  • The British magazine industry;
  • Magazine-specific terminology;
  • Theoretical ideas that can be used to analyse magazine texts.

This knowledge will allow you to assess the ways in which the focus texts target and appeal to their audiences and how their audiences respond.


“Magazines are printed and bound publications offering in-depth coverage of stories, often with a timeless nature. Their content may provide opinion and interpretation as well as advocacy. They are geared to a well-defined, specialised audience, and they are published regularly, with a consistent format.” (Johnston and Prijatel, 1999:13)

Types of magazines

There are currently 8000+ magazines regularly published in the UK. They can be categorised into the following genres:

  1. Consumer – general interest and special interest, sold in newsagents and supermarkets;
  2. Business, trade and professional – for people at work;
  3. Contract publishing – produced by publishing agencies for client organisations to give to customers as a form of marketing;
  4. Staff magazines – internal company magazines, used to inform employees and to promote corporate unity;
  5. Newspaper supplements – a free magazine accompanying a (usually) weekend national newspaper;
  6. Part works – a limited number of issues that build up into an ‘encyclopedia’ on a special interest topic. Often includes a gift each issue.
  7. Academic journals – for academic discussion around specific subject areas.

The British Magazine Industry

Consumer magazines have three different revenue streams – advertising, single issue purchase price and subscriptions. The industry is dominated by major publishing companies who produce many titles. The most notable are:

  • IPC – American owned, part of conglomerate AOL Time Warner. Publishes Now, Nuts, Sugar, Marie Claire, Loaded, NME, TV Times, Woman’s Weekly, Pick Me Up and InStyle.
  • Bauer – German owned, publishes FHM, New Woman, Empire, Closer, Heat, More, Bella, Real, Spirit and Destiny, In the Know, Take a Break, That’s Life and Grazia.
  • Conde Nast – Titles include Vogue, Easy Living, Glamour, Tatler, GQ and House and Garden.
  • The National Magazine Company – Owned by global publishing giant Hearst, publishes Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, She, Prima, Zest, Country Living, Esquire, Best, Reveal and Men’s Health.
  • BBC Magazines – Many titles are spin-offs from popular BBC programmes (commercial intertexuality & synergy) like Dr. Who Adventures, Gardener’s World, Top of the Pops and Top Gear. They also publish the Radio Times; a television listings magazine.

Many popular titles are published internationally with national variations. FHM has 28 different editions and Cosmopolitan has 59.  These global titles are increasingly homogenised, but niche titles offering specialist content is a growing area of the industry. Titles like Trout and Salmon or Practical Caravan have an established and growing audience.

Like TV, this shows evidence of audience segmentation. Even within sub-genres, there is evidence of texts created for smaller niche audiences. For example Kerrang! and Mixmag target audiences interested in different types of music.

Traditionally, magazine publishing has been regarded as a growth industry. However, in recent years the industry has been experiencing more insecurity, especially in relation to youth audience titles. As younger audiences move away from traditional forms of media and towards digital and social media, the publishing industry, like all media sectors, are having to reassess their business models to integrate digital technologies. Most publishers offer digital versions of their titles now and encourage an increased level of interactivity with their audiences through social media.

ABCs – The Audit Bureau of Circulation monitor the circulation figures of each magazine over a six month period. They also assess increases and decreases in sales and analyse industry trends


Tagline / Strapline – a statement which captures the essence of the brand identity

House Style – relates to ideas about a magazine’s individual style and voice, specifically a continuity of style in language and design across issues.

Anchorage – refers to the linking of an image and text through placement on layout to direct audience’s attention to a preferred reading.

Banner – rectangular shape that extends across the page and touches two edges – usually used to draw audience’s attention to specific text.

Masthead – the title of the magazine, conventionally placed at the top of the cover

Typography – the fonts used. The choice of fonts are crucial in conveying the mode of address to the audience. The typography may be serif or sans serif, in bold or italics, upper case or lower case. Fonts may be decorative but should be easy to read.

Cover lines – the short descriptions of specific features placed on the cover. Sometimes referred to as ‘call outs’ because they are calling out to the audience.

Splashes & Puffs – blocks of colour placed underneath text to allow certain cover lines to stand out

Restricted Colour Palette – Usually two colours + black and/or white; provides graphic unity and aesthetic pleasure for audience

Mode of Address – Defined as the way a text ‘speaks’ to its audience (Branston & Stafford 2006:543). Mode of address can be assessed by analysing layout, images, language and typography.

Broadly speaking, magazines may use a formal or informal mode of address, identified by the use of language.

Magazines may also employ a direct mode of address. They might use images where the subjects break the fourth wall, engaging the audience. Also, the language might ask questions or might directly address the audience by using the words ‘you’ or ‘yours’. Magazine covers will often use persuasive language to encourage purchasing and will sometimes use claims of quality or popularity.

Discourses – the topics covered in the magazine. For example, FHM includes typically male discourses, featuring articles on men’s health, men’s fashion, women, sex, sport, technology, etc.

Synergy – A symbiotic relationship across media platforms and products. For example a feature article and magazine of an A-list actor promoting a new film.

Prioritisation – In western societies we read from left to right and from top to bottom, therefore page designers prioritise items on the page according to the way we access information. We expect the masthead to be at the top of a magazine cover, and the most important features to be in larger typography.


Stuart Hall – Preferred, Negotiated and Oppositional Readings

All media texts are polysemic, and can be read differently. The preferred reading is often the one that the target audience for a text will have and conforms to the dominant ideology of society. The negotiated reading will include some acceptance of the preferred reading but with some personal negotiation, and the oppositional reading will reject the values of the text.

Example: Vogue

Preferred – ‘I love Vogue. I buy it every month. It’s my style bible and I aspire to be the kind of woman that could be featured in Vogue.’

Negotiated – ‘I enjoy looking at Vogue when I can. The fashion included in the magazine is desirable. However I prefer a magazine that relates more to my everyday life.’

Oppositional – ‘I don’t read Vogue. I find the images of women that Vogue uses offensive and unhealthy. The magazine makes women aspire to unobtainable and unrealistic ideals.’


Psychographic profiling was developed by advertising agency Young and Rubicam. Psychographics profile audiences according to values, attitudes and belief.

Young and Rubicam came up with the idea of Cross Cultural Consumer Characterisation (4Cs) and identified seven psychographic groups.

  1. Aspirers – people who are materialistic and driven by acquisition. Aspirers respond to texts that offer a vision of their ideal life. They have a desire to improve their status through signifiers of wealth and power
  2. Reformers – people who value their own independence and individuality. Reformers will often react in an oppositional way to mainstream texts and brands. They will tend to be socially aware and will their political values will be reflected in their consumer behaviour.
  3. Explorers – people driven by a need to discover, explorers will often be the first to adopt new products or texts. They are often referred to as ‘early adopters’.
  4. Succeeders – people who, unlike apsirers, already have wealth and status. Succeeders often occupy positions of responsibilty within society and the will value established products with prestige and will often reward themselves for their hard work by purchasing high-end, exclusive and expensive products.
  5. Mainstreamers – people who live their lives as part of the masses. Mainly working class, mainstreamers want what is popular and successful. They want reassurance through from texts and brands. Mainstreamers are more likely to be persuaded by claims of value for money, honesty and special offers.
  6. Strugglers – people who, due to their financial position and social status, live for today and are unable to plan for the future. Strugglers seek distraction and escapism from their lives and are more likely to respond to texts or products that offer this.
  7. Resigners – people who are creatures of habit and are unwilling to change. Resigners are often the elderly. They tend to respond well to texts that offer nostalgic pleasures and traditional values. Their consumer activity is driven by a need to live safely and economically.


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