MOREHEAD CITY —
While it was kind of folksy in the 1940s to refer to the leading monthly magazines in the “women’s interest” sector of the market as the “Seven Sisters,” the “girls” didn’t play well together. In those days, each magazine was independently owned and fiercely competitive in reaching out to attract a bigger slice of the “homemaker” market.
Today, four of the “Seven Sisters” still exist as monthly magazines, having not only grown older but wiser, adapting to changing times. Alphabetically, the surviving sisters are: Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day.
Good Housekeeping was launched on May 2, 1885, by veteran journalist Clark W. Bryan in Holyoke, Mass., with a fortnightly (every other week) schedule. He was fond of publishing his own poetry within the magazine. After Bryan died in 1889, John Pettigrew of Springfield, Mass., took over as publisher. Good Housekeeping was converted to a monthly in 1891.
Phelps Publishing Co. bought the magazine in 1900 and created the Good Housekeeping Experiment Station to study problems facing the homemaker and to develop up-to-date, firsthand information on solving them. This led to the introduction in 1909 of the Good Housekeeping “Seal of Approval.”
In 1911, the Hearst Corp. bought Good Housekeeping and moved its operations to New York City. Good Housekeeping served for many years as Hearst’s flagship magazine and its most profitable periodical.
Better Homes and Gardens is rooted in Iowa. It was the brainchild of Edwin T. Meredith, who started a commercial printing business in 1902, known as the Meredith Corp. Meredith’s first magazine was named Successful Farming, which brought a “how-to” service approach to farm families, sharing income-producing ideas from the soil while advocating the “rural way of life.”
Meredith created a new magazine in 1922 — Fruit, Garden and Home —to serve urban families in much the same way, by introducing the concept of “good taste, good living and a good family life.” The magazine’s title was changed in 1925 to Better Homes and Gardens.
FOLIO Magazine, based in Norwalk, Conn., specializes in reporting news within the publishing industry.” Its survey of U.S. magazine readership data. With 32.5 million readers, Better Homes and Gardens ranks third overall, slightly behind People magazine, which has 35.9 million readers.
(The industry leader, with 38.6 million readers, is AARP The Magazine. The AARP organization gets an asterisk notation, however, because its magazine is free and distributed as a benefit of membership.)
Good Housekeeping is sixth overall, with 18.4 million readers, according to the FOLIO report. The youngest members of the “Seven Sisters” also continue to rank within the top 16 U.S. magazines in the latest survey.
Woman’s Day ranks 11th with 14.9 million readers, and Family Circle stands in 16th position with 11.8 million. They have similar backgrounds, having made their debuts in the 1930s, while the national economy was struggling to emerge from the Great Depression. Both publications were designed to appeal to middle class homemakers.
Woman’s Day is a product of The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which was known as A&P, America’s premier, modern supermarket chain in its hey-day. In 1931, A&P began publishing and distributing a free in-store menu/recipe for its customers.
A&P expanded Woman’s Day in 1937 into a full blown magazine sold exclusively in A&P stores for 5¢ a copy. The company held on to Woman’s Day for two decades, eventually selling the subsidiary in 1958.
Family Circle also has an interesting background. In 1926, Wall Street investment banker Charles E. Merrill (of the Merrill, Lynch & Co. brokerage firm) created the Safeway supermarket chain by way of a merger of western U.S. family-based chains, Skaggs Stores and the Sam Seelig Co.
Merrill, who had controlling interest in the new multi-store company, brought in a wily journalist, Harry H. Evans, in 1932, to start a weekly tabloid newspaper named Family Circle, to be distributed free of charge at Safeway and other grocery chains, including Piggly Wiggly. Family Circle was converted to magazine format in 1946, available for 5¢ at grocery stores other than A&P. It was sold to new owners in 1962.
Both of the supermarket sisters bounced around for a number of years, looking for permanent homes. There was an 11-year span when CBS owned Woman’s Day, and Family Circle had a 23-year run under the umbrella of The New York Times Co.
Will the four surviving members of the “Seven Sisters” live happily ever after? We’ll wait and see, but they are now strategically well positioned within the industry. Woman’s Day joined the Hearst team in 2011, and Family Circle has been part of the Meredith family since 2005.
Clearly, Hearst and Meredith are the biggest players in today’s magazine business and are well diversified, owning a host of other media platforms.