Formatting of US print magazines
December 6, 2012 3:15 AM   Subscribe

So this has been bothering me for a while: I am living in Germany and had and have some subscriptions to US Magazines (Wired, Locus, NY Times Magazine). Why do they have this strange formatting where they interrupt articles in the middle and continue them on the end of the magazine? No German or other European magazines I came across do this and its uncomfortable to read. Is it some kind of remnant from ancient times, where every section had a predetermined allowance for pages and once an article exceeded its allowance the rest got tucked onto the end?
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I always thought that was for advertising reasons, to get your eyeballs scanning more pages.
posted by 6550 at 3:22 AM on December 6, 2012

Uninformed, I-always-thought answer: I assume there is some idea that people tend to look more at or start the magazines in the front half. So the the more articles you can have in the front half, the more chance of hooking someone and dragging them in.

Alternative thought: a relic from old style typesetting? When a assembling the magazine, it may have been easier to get all the full pages together and then work on arranging all the remnants at the end?
posted by outlier at 3:38 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Uninformed, I-always-thought answer: I assume there is some idea that people tend to look more at or start the magazines in the front half. So the the more articles you can have in the front half, the more chance of hooking someone and dragging them in."

But for example in Wired, they always have 3-4 multi-page feature stories at the very end of the issue and they to it to them.

I also suspect it has to do something with advertisement placement, but it would be nice to know for sure.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 4:00 AM on December 6, 2012

"Vanity Fair" and "New York" mag definitely do this in the US editions as well (And I think "Rolling Stone" used to do this as well). I get "The New Yorker" and "New York" sent over here and both are identical to the 'US' editions.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:22 AM on December 6, 2012

Anecdotally, this phenomenon does appear in the magazines going back to the 1920s on Google Books. There are magazines from several decades earlier but I don't remember whether the ones I've skimmed through did it.

This also happens in American newspapers and it always frustrated me as a little kid because I'm pretty sure they would screw up with some frequency and fail to print the 2nd part of the article or would list it as continuing on a page that did not exist.
posted by XMLicious at 4:27 AM on December 6, 2012

I used to work for a newspaper, but I suspect it's a similar process at most US magazines, too. Ad placeholders were always placed on the pages first. They are placed based on size, cost, positioning, and whether they are b&w or color, probably not an issue for a magazine. Advertisers want their ads placed alongside (and sometimes within the copy of) the stories, so creating all-ad and all-news pages wasn't an option. In fact, we'd charge less for an ad that was on a page full of only advertising.

The stories are fit into the area that's left over -- we called it the newshole. Because there's limited space on the pages once the ads are on the page, the stories jump to other pages. It's annoying to read through and for a while we had an in-house initiative to not jump a story more than 2 pages away from its start. But advertisers always, always win.
posted by kimberussell at 4:37 AM on December 6, 2012 [15 favorites]

Articles showcased on the front cover drive readers and, especially, newsstand purchases by non-subscribers. Meanwhile, ad rates at the back of the magazine are cheaper because fewer eyeballs land there; people lose interest, don't make it that far in the doctor's waiting room, spill coffee on the pages, etc. Putting part of the lure articles in the back delivers more eyeballs to the cheap seats, as it were, making it possible to charge more for them than otherwise might occur. The layout folks can also fill the nooks and crannies left over once page space is allocated to ads with the ends of articles. And for newstand flippers, having a new article start every few pages makes the magazine look like it offers more. Having a bunch of short and/or regular features in the early pages is also a way to balance content and ad pages and force people--including subscribers who know where everything can be found in a typical layout-- to look at the ads to find their favorites. Source: dimly remembered article I read somewhere and can't find now.

Hooray for The New Yorker, which eschews all of the above.
posted by carmicha at 4:40 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The thing is that most advertisers insist on being adjacent to editorial matter, on the theory that readers will just skip over page spreads that are all advertising. The exception to this is the "front of the book" where you will often find a number of consecutive ad pages from advertisers willing to pay a position premium to be located there, in this case on the theory that up-front placement trumps editorial adjacency in terms of readership and effectiveness. Or the very back of the book, where there may be discounted space.

Now, what editors like is open page spreads, that is, facing pages without ads. But the more of those they are allowed, the fewer pages with editorial adjacency ad space are available. So the arrangement you describe, with stories continued in the back of the book, often with just one column of text surrounded by ad space on two facing pages, achieves a balance between satisfying the editors' need/wish for spreads uncluttered by ads, and the advertisers' need/wish for editorial adjacency.
posted by beagle at 4:50 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Economist also does this, which means it is not strictly a US phenomenon. I'm pretty sure I've seen it in magazines like Vogue France as well - how many other European magazines do you read? Are you sure you've never seen it in a European magazine?
posted by jacalata at 10:51 AM on December 6, 2012

Does the Economist do it? I don't think I've ever seen it in quite the same way.

The worst offenders IMHO are US newspapers, partic the WSJ and NYT.

I also have never encountered a European publication that does this. The UK version of Wired most certainly does not.
posted by tonylord at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2012

The Economist also does this, which means it is not strictly a US phenomenon.

The Economist does not do this.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

hm, I could be wrong - I read it just the other day and thought I saw this. Perhaps it was a reference to another article.
posted by jacalata at 1:40 PM on December 6, 2012

I used to be a copy/production editor at a real estate trade magazine in the US. Kimberrussell is right: It's all about space and getting everything to fit.

When you start the process, you have a bunch of template pages for the magazine that tell you where the ads go, and you work to place the articles around the ads. You'll also have a road map before you start saying Article A will be on pages 3-5, Article B will be on 7-8, and Article C will be on 10. Sometimes, an article will be too long to fit in the space you allotted it, though, and it'll be important information you can't just cut. But you can't just keep the text running onto the next page, because you might be eg. laying out pages 8 and 9, but already sent pages 10-17 off to the printer because that story came through editing and was approved first.

So the solution: You leave space at the back of the magazine for filler content; that can be the great articles that came in too long, or space where other articles ran short. Note that if nothing comes in long and everything is short, filling that space is a huge pain in the neck.

In magazine print production, it's allllll about managing article length vs. available space. You have to fill every line of space available... and nothing more. There's a real art to it, and you develop a robust set of tools for dealing with it: the jumps, but also creating kerning, adding in or resizing art and headlines, pull-out quotes, removing instances of the word 'that' and purging passive sentences... good times. Good times.
posted by Andrhia at 8:01 PM on December 6, 2012

(Also note that none of this had to do explicitly with moving eyeballs anyplace or how much an ad was being charged. It was only a matter of solving the problem, "I have this many words and only this much space to put them in.")
posted by Andrhia at 8:03 PM on December 6, 2012

« Older Statistics on apartment sizes   |   Hacked. Hope me. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.