The Seven Sisters and Their Siblings Go Digital

The Seven Sisters and Their Siblings Go Digital

McCalls 1905For more than a century, the “Seven Sisters” have dominated the women’s magazines category (Johnson and Prijatel, 2007). They have also been leaders in magazine publishing overall, with some titles ranking in the top 10 for circulation and advertising revenue. The eldest sister, McCall’s, was born as The Queen: Illustrating McCall’s Bazaar Glove-Fitting Patterns in 1870 (Endres and Luech, 1995). Her siblings appeared from the1880s to 1930s: Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Woman’s Day, and finally Family Circle.

Over the years, the magazines have undergone periodic makeovers, as feminists and others questioned their relevance and historical focus on homemaking especially during the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the most severe makeovers led to the death of McCall’s, which morphed into Rosie the Magazine in 2001 to compete with upscale women’s magazines such as O the Oprah Magazine and Martha Stewart Living. In November 2000, comedian and talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell signed an agreement with Gruner & Jahr to be a partner in what was originally conceived as Rosie’s McCall’s (Kuczynski, 2001). By the end of 2002, Rosie had ceased publication amid a flurry of counter-suits (McCafferty, 2003).

In light of one of the most radical eras of media transition, this study will analyze whether the survivors are keeping up with technological advances to serve readers and remain competitive with younger women’s magazines. It will seek to determine if the magazines are effectively using websites, cell phones, and iPads — the primary tools at the center of this digital transformation. Effective use of these tools can impact a media company’s success, and the success of the major publications examined in this study has implications for magazine publishing in general.

“If you don’t read the signs that tell of a changing field, a successful title can become a disaster (p. 87),” warned magazine consultant James B. Kobak in a March 1990 article in Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, “25 Years of Change; What’s Been Happening in the Consumer Magazine Industry? Emerging Trends May Come as a Surprise.” When Kobak (1990) sounded his alarm, combined circulation for the Seven Sisters had fallen to about 37 million, down from 45 million in 1979 near the end of the first wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Carmody, 1990). Twenty years later in 1999, it stood at 32.6 million, according to the Association for Magazine Media. By 2009, combined circulation had fallen to 20.7 million for the surviving six sisters. Even with O the Oprah Magazine as a replacement for McCall’s or Rosie, the number hit just 23 million (Association for Magazine Media [MPA], 2009).

Nevertheless, at least five sisters held onto spots in MPA’s top ten for paid and verified circulation. Better Homes and Gardens led the pack at No. 4 with 7.6 million in circulation, followed by Good Housekeeping (No. 5), Woman’s Day (No. 7), Family Circle (No. 8), and Ladies Home Journal (No. 9). Redbook held the 30th spot at 2.2 million.

MCX100110_050 MCXIn the mid-nineties, many consumer magazines, including Woman’s Day, launched online versions of their publications (Daly, Henry, and Ryder, 1997). “The Internet is now the third most popular news platform, behind local television news and national television news (p. 2),” according to a March 2010 report by Pew Internet & American Life Project, Understanding the Participatory News Consumer: How Internet and Cell Phone Users Have Turned News Into a Social Experience (Purcell, Rainie, Mitchell, Rosenstiel, and Olmstead, 2010).

The social experience also included tablets or e-readers, which took off with the introduction of Apple’s iPad (Stone and Vance, 2009). “As of September 2010, 4% of American adults own a tablet computer such as an iPad,” up from 3% four months earlier in May, according to a 2011 Pew report, “Generations and Their Gadgets (Zickuhr, 2011, p. 13). Apple Inc. (2011) sold 15 million iPads between April 2010 when it was released and March 2011. On a typical day, Pew reported, 92% of Americans obtained news from multiple platforms and only 7% used one platform. To what extent are the remaining Seven Sisters keeping up with technological advances to serve readers and remain competitive with other women’s magazines? Are the magazines using technology effectively? These questions will be addressed in this chapter.

Langmia, K., Tyree, T.C.M., O’Brien, P. and Sturgis, I., eds. Social Media: Pedagogy and Practice. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, Ltd.: “The Seven Sisters and Their Siblings Go Digital: An Analysis of Women’s Magazine Content on Websites, iPads and Cell Phones,” with Kendra Desrosiers, MBA

13-Chapter Eight – Lamb Desrosiers

Click here for project description.

Literature Review

Scholarly research is limited on magazine use of platforms such as tablets or e-readers. This study seeks to add to the body of knowledge during this era of rapid media transformation. A major characteristic of this media revolution is the focus on “personal media” with greater consumer interaction (Moggridge, 2010, p. 14), notes trend forecaster Paul Saffo, a consulting associate professor at Stanford University, where he is also a visiting scholar in the mediaX research network. Traditionally, Saffo noted, mass media has allowed for limited participation or talkback by consumers. In the 20th century, interactivity in media meant consuming advertisements or an editor printing a handful of letters submitted by readers.

“The personal media world, in contrast, is a world where answering back is not an option — it’s required. Otherwise you don’t have a personal media experience,” Saffo said. “That is a profoundly new territory for people designing systems” (Moggridge, 2010, p. 14-15). This two-way conversation is increasingly important as more people use iPads, smartphones, and other mobile devices to view magazines.

Saffo described the following as the core differentiators between mass media and personal media revolutions: the nature of the experience, the location, and the nature of the dominant players. Mass media was delivered to consumers’ living rooms, and the industry was dominated by “the few and large” major television networks, publishers, and producers. Personal media, conversely, became dominated by “the many and small,” allowing consumers to participate. Consumers could always “carry personal media” with them (Moggridge, 2010, p. 16).

With the digital, or personal media, revolution came a large demand from consumers for new media options. In 2010, for example, 49 digital and online magazines were launched and 53 publications ceased printing on paper and moved exclusively online (State of the Media Report, 2011). Additionally, the number of consumer magazines with websites increased by 50% since 2006 (MPA, 2010). With the rise of web and mobile, it was clear that as consumers adopted emerging platforms they expected media to evolve with their consumption behavior—an expectation magazine publishers were slow to realize.

Consumers are interested in reading magazine content across platforms. Of print subscribers, the majority are also interested in digital content and of non-subscribers, 61% are interested in digital-only magazine options, according to MPA (2010).

About 31% of readers used a computer or a mobile device to visit a magazine’s website during a six-month period as reported in 2011, and the majority of U.S. consumers planned to purchase an e-reader or tablet within the next three years. Of the prospective e-reader consumers, 80% wanted to read magazines on their e-reader/tablet devices (MPA, 2010). Researchers predicted that this trend towards web, mobile, and e-reader content and applications would continue to increase (State of the Media Report, 2011).

Early adopters of tablet magazine technology were able to remain competitive in the changing media consumption landscape. However, this competitive advantage didn’t always translate in sales. This only added to the apprehension of latecomers to tablet publishing.

The percentage of newsstand sales captured by early purchases of iPad magazine apps ranged from single to low double digits. With its technology-oriented audience of early adopters, Wired was the front-runner and began developing its app even before the iPad had been released. The magazine exceeded its newsstand sales by selling 105,000 copies of its inaugural iPad edition. Sales later leveled off to about 37% of monthly newsstand sales. Glamour, one of its sister magazines at Conde-Nast, came out with an iPad edition just months after the iPad’s debut. “Glamour—one more major newsstand seller—sold 4,099 copies of its first issue on the iPad, the big September issue,” Nat Ives (2011, p. 1) wrote in a fall 2010 issue of Advertising Age. “That’s again equivalent to less than 1% of its newsstand sales (Ives, 2011, p. 1).”

While no one could foresee the high demand for iPads, this knowledge might not have made a difference for magazines that took a wait-and-see approach. Many companies are afraid of making the wrong decision and unwilling to take a chance in investing blindly on emerging technologies, according to studies by George S. Day and Paul J.H. Schoemaker (2000) cited in “A Different Game” in Wharton on Managing Emerging Technologies.A preeminent challenge facing magazines when embracing new platforms is tailoring content for each particular platform—developing a cross-media publishing strategy (Paxhia and Rosenblatt, 2008).

Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s theory of a practice can be useful in balancing out the challenges of cost versus comprehensiveness in achieving such an online strategy across platforms, suggested David A. Craig, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma. Craig examined the pressure of profits and the difficulty in dealing with so many multimedia platforms and devices in his book Excellence in Online Journalism: Exploring Current Practices in an Evolving Environment. “Online journalism has the potential to be more thorough than journalism in any other medium,” he noted. “By pursuing a standard of excellence of comprehensiveness, which shows up online in distinctive ways, journalists can help realize internal goods such as knowledge and inquiry and reshape what excellent journalism looks like (Craig, 2010, p. 56).”

Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., who has conducted extensive research on website, mobile, and app usability, noted that media companies should not only tailor content to each platform, but that they must also design for the specific platform to improve the user experience. Nielsen defined a mobile site as “one designed specifically for use on mobile devices, whereas a ‘full’ site is a regular website designed mainly for use on a full-screen desktop computer.” The key, he said, was to design for small screens to minimize “the fat-finger syndrome” and to include only the features that matter most. “While a mobile site is good, a mobile app is even better,” added Nielsen (2011, p. 1), especially if there is more interactivity. Given recent improvements, the usability success rate increased to 76% for mobile apps versus 64 percent for mobile sites.

Nielsen’s research supports other findings that reproducing print content in digital with little to no added value, a practice often referred to as “shovelware,” is disadvantageous. According to National Museum of Design chief Bill Moggridge, magazines were shoveling print content down digital channels:

They had content that they could send down different pipelines—the print pipe, the Internet pipe, the mobile phone pipe—and they thought that the more pipes they sent it down, the more value they would gain. They were wrong. This dangerously simplistic view didn’t take into account how people consumed each medium and what mode they were in. The art of creating content that is tuned for consumption in each medium tends to separate the versions, so that the material prepared for a glossy magazine—rich with images and elegant typography—will not fit well on a pixilated screen of limited size, be it personal computer or a PDA (Moggridge, 2010, p. 73).

According to Neil Stevenson, leader of design firm IDEO’s Kid+Play domain, magazines that use the same content on all of their platforms have bleak prospects of success. “The magazines that have done well have optimized their content over a long period of time to deliver exactly the right magazine experience, which means that it is exactly wrong for these other media” (Moggridge, 2010, p. 73).

Merely adopting iPad, mobile, and web technology is not enough to be competitive for magazine publishers. Efficacy across those platforms is imperative to their success but the costs of the resources required often outweigh the benefit of optimization. This is exacerbated by the growing competition from amateur blogs and websites with low cost and quick time-to-market advantages.

Leaders in the digital publishing realm such as Wired, whose magazine is optimized for web, mobile, and e-reader, have been able to adapt their content successfully to various platforms. According to Wired editor Chris Anderson, magazine websites should take advantage of the unlimited space on the web and not serve as lower-quality versions of the print editions, but in doing so there are challenges in production cost and competition (Moggridge, 2010).

“The cost structure is not right,” Anderson said, “because we’re competing with amateurs who are creating an infinite amount of content on very narrow subjects for free” (Moggridge, 2010, p. 57). The “many and small” dominant players described earlier by Saffo in personal media also included a number of outlets producing content for free consumption (Moggridge, 2010, p. 16).

To combat this, Anderson recommended that media companies embrace user-generated content. “Our challenge is really is how to bring amateur energy into our domain—how to use our brand, our kind if catalytic power, our leadership, and our technology to incentivize people to create valuable content within our confines” (Moggridge, 2010, p. 57).


This study incorporated Nielsen’s widely cited usability research as a theoretical framework to analyze 10 magazines along with their websites, mobile sites, and any iPad apps to address the following research questions:

  • RQ1: Are the Seven Sisters keeping up with technological advances to serve readers and remain competitive with other women’s magazines?
  • RQ2: Are the magazines using technology effectively?

The steps included determining the sample size, identifying a coding instrument, adapting it for this study, selecting an observation period, conducting the content analysis, and finally answering the research questions. The research was primarily quantitative, with some qualitative analysis in examining best practices, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations.

The sample included six of the surviving Seven Sisters: Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Woman’s Day, and Family Circle. The newer magazines were selected, because of their association with the Seven Sisters, audited circulations, comparable content, and ability to develop digital versions based on their resources and success. Essence has been called the “eighth sister” in terms of diversity, and Glamour has been described as a younger sister with Marie Claire as its sibling. O the Oprah Magazine is considered one of the most successful women’s magazines of modern times. Along with the six survivors, all are on the Association of Magazine Media’s list of the top 100 magazines in paid circulation as verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), whose name has recently changed with the times to the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM). The younger siblings are also properties of major media corporations: Time Inc., Conde-Nast, and Hearst.

After examining several coding instruments, the researchers selected one used by Xiaopeng Wang (2006) to analyze The New York Times website,, in “Exploring Sample Sizes for Content Analysis of Online News Sites” for AEJMC’s Communication Theory & Methodology Division. Wang’s methodology was best suited for this research, because it was among the most current, relevant, and comprehensive models available. (See Appendix A for Wang’s model.)

The researchers then adapted and expanded Wang’s coding instrument to incorporate Nielsen’s theories on mobile, app, and website usability as well as the research of Mark Tremayne (2004), who used network theory to analyze the use of hyperlinks. They expanded the multimedia categories to reflect new developments on the Internet and attributes measured in other digital research. They added variables for social media, reader engagement, and digital representation of cover stories, particularly for iPad apps. The cover of the printed version became the primary unit of analysis, because magazines consider cover stories as the best of the best in each issue. Magazines often devote more resources to make cover stories engaging and reader friendly. Cover stories would also be featured most prominently on other platforms—websites, iPads, and cell phones—and therefore the easiest content to find, code, and analyze along with other multimedia features.

When coding the cover stories, researchers evaluated technological variables based on the presence or lack of interactive tools on the sites, similar to the methodology in widely cited Internet studies by the Bivings Group, an Internet communications firm that also conducts content and technology audits.

A pre-test was useful in selecting an observation period. This preliminary analysis of digital and print content helped the researchers determine that the March 2011 issue would be sufficient, based on efficiency, redundancies in the pre-test, and the iPad’s limited time on the market. The iPad, introduced in April 2010, had been available less than a year during the research period in early 2011, but had quickly captured the attention of magazine companies and consumers.

For the actual study, three coders analyzed the March 2011 issue of the 10 magazines across four platforms, a total of 40 versions. (They also coded March 2012 issues for comparison and updates.) Coding 40 versions multiple times would have proven to be more unwieldy than beneficial, given the “digital snapshot” nature of the content analysis in capturing a moment in time. Coding only March 2011 issues allowed the researchers to meet their goals of determining whether the magazines were effective users of technology and early adopters of mobile devices such as the iPad. (See Appendix B for the coding instrument used for this research.)

Finally, the researchers used the results to compare the surviving Seven Sisters to each other and to their younger siblings. They also used secondary data analysis to examine how the magazines adhered to best practices employed by other media companies, including early adopters of the iPad such as Wired magazine. Nielsen’s usability theory proved useful in interpreting the findings.


RQ1: Are the Seven Sisters keeping up with technological advances to serve readers and remain competitive with other women’s magazines?

All six survivors had websites that upheld their service-oriented missions and that reflected the focus of their print versions. Their websites were rich with text and photos, but used multimedia features and social media to varying degrees of effectiveness and creativity as described below. All but one optimized their sites for mobile phones such as the iPhone or BlackBerry. Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Woman’s Day had rudimentary iPad apps. The other three—Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, and Better Homes and Gardens—displayed their pages using the Portable Document Format (PDF) through Texterity.

The survivors were competitive with the younger magazines in terms of websites, since all 10 had shortcomings that leveled the playing field. However, the younger magazines did a better job in adapting their content for mobile platforms such as smartphones and especially tablets. In the rush to keep up with mobile technology and other magazines during the current media revolution, the six survivors were only marginally “in the game.” They weren’t totally on the sidelines with magazines that lacked resources or those that were taking a watchful waiting approach, but they weren’t playing with the best equipment. Once a reader has experienced an interactive iPad app, the static nature of a PDF just doesn’t cut it. The iPad apps for Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Woman’s Day weren’t much better.

RQ2: Are the magazines using technology effectively?

The six survivors used technology more effectively on their websites than on mobile sites for smartphones and tablets. However, there was still room for improvement as noted below. On mobile sites for cell phones, Woman’s Day held its own with Glamour and Essence. The rest had mixed results, especially Ladies Home Journal, which lacked mobile optimization, forcing readers to maneuver the standard-sized website around on the tiny screens of their phones. Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Woman’s Day used the technological features of the iPad much less effectively thanGlamour and Marie Claire, both of which took advantage of the unique capabilities and tactile nature of the device to provide a more engaging experience for users.

Additional findings below answer the research questions in greater detail and explain how the 10 magazines used various multimedia features across platforms.

iPad Applications

Many magazines seemed to have iPad apps for the sake of having iPad apps. Many failed to take better advantage of the features and appeal of the iPad as had been the case with the aforementioned Wired and Martha Stewart Living, which used stop-action photography, for example, to show flowers bloom.

In fact, some of the magazines in this study were not much more interactive than magazines using basic flip technology, which simulates the effect of a reader turning or flipping pages. This included Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Woman’s Day. All of their content was shovelware—albeit far more beautiful than on a website because of the iPad’s crisp resolution. Readers couldn’t tap on the cover lines to go to the stories, except for one of eight cover lines on Redbook: “Better Sleep for Life.”The table of contents, which is essential in an app, had limited interactivity. Readers could tap on hyperlinked page numbers or headlines to reach stories, but not the pictures. However, they could see the entire issue by tapping the upper right corner of the device for a page viewer of numbered thumbnail layouts or scroll through them in a along the bottom of the screen. These navigation elements became standard in some form on most apps. In the study “Usability of iPad Apps and Websites,” Raluca Badiu and Jakob Nielsen (2011) recommended consistent “padding” to add invisible space around items in a table of contents so that readers could tap anywhere near the words to navigate to an article.

Other features in the survivors’ iPad apps were minimal. Woman’s Day readers could click continued lines to go to the next page of an article, reach a blog on the website through a link at the end of a column, or download certain content. In Redbook, the link at the end of a fashion spread went to a shopping page on the app. On the editor’s page, readers could click the editor’s email to send her a message or another link that took them from the iPad to the website to see a scarf video. Marie Claire and Glamour would embed the video link in their iPad apps. Redbook missed an opportunity to add interactivity to the arrows and directions shown in the “Vacation or Staycation?” game that appeared on the last page of the magazine.

Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, and Better Homes and Gardens used Texterity to display simple PDFs of the pages, which paled in comparison to more engaging iPad apps. Readers could view links; share a story with others as an email; or send a copy. Unlike some iPad magazines that had thumbnails of the pages along the bottom, Texterity showed them on a separate page.

Marie Claire and Glamour had the strongest iPad apps of the 10 magazines analyzed; Essence lacked an iPad app for its March issue. Glamour also redesigned its app for the April 2011 issue. Better Homes and Gardens introduced an iPad app with its April 2011 issue that rivaled those of its younger siblings. Other women’s magazines, outside this analysis, introducing apps in spring 2011 included Shape and Self.

Apple designed the iPad without flash capabilities, so magazines either skipped or compensated for any flash in their website versions by using other visual and audio features along with HTML5. This markup language makes it easier to run multimedia content, especially on low-powered computers and handheld devices. It makes multimedia more secure, allows web pages to perform better, and is less likely to crash or eat up bandwidth, the amount of data transferred during a given time.

Using HTML5, magazines employed some, but not all, of the features below to play up the tactile action of swiping, tapping, scrolling, pinching, and zooming on iPads:

  • Videos                                                                         Slide shows
  • 360-degree views                                                      Static and video thumbnail demos
  • Pop-ups                                                                      Audio clips
  • Panoramic images                                                      Scrolling type/recipes
  • Pinch and zoom images                                             Tap-to-buy links
  • Excerpts                                                                      Stop-action photography
  • Interactive table of contents                                       Text features
  • Emailable text

Marie Claire made the best use of the attributes of the iPad. Readers couldn’t tap a cover line and go immediately to a story, but the cover rotated to feature four versions of singer-actress Miley Cyrus. This was a good way to display mockups and give readers an inside look at cover selection. Other elements included a behind-the-scenes video of the cover shoot, and a video interview of hair stylist Chris McMillan.

“Joanna’s Journal” featured a light-hearted video of the editor saying the fashion issue is biggest of the year and wearing a different outfit in each scene. The fashion videos were engaging, such as the moody and scenic “One for the Road” or the one with “Cuba Libre.” The printed magazine showed a shot of Alber Elbaz at a spring 2011 Lanvin rehearsal. On the iPad, a video automatically started of models in flowing garments on a runway.

On the interactive table of contents, readers could swipe a vertical slider to review videos and other content or tap to reach a specific page. In “Spring Fashion A to Z,” readers could tap certain items for 360-degree views, highlighted by opaque spinning circles with red edges. Tapping “A-Z Mashup” revealed a combination of lettered accessories, i.e., T is for tribal or K is for khaki.

“Braving New World” had a bonus interactive map. Readers could tap on countries to see a photo of Americans abroad with statistics in the caption.

In “What’s Best Babies at 20? 30? 40?” readers could click a red dot on the main photo for bonus content: “Tap here to take our interactive baby quiz.” Clicking takes readers to “How Much Do You Know About Being a Mom?” The blurb says: “Whether you’re preparing for motherhood or have a bun in the oven, test your mom wisdom with this quiz.” The components included:

  • A video showing a baby sitting on white against blue drapes
  • Another red dot: “Pregnant? Tap Here” (a multiple-choice quiz on foods to avoid, and whether sex, running, coloring hair are safe while pregnant).

o   Tap black to switch to conceiving quiz.

  • A black dot: “Want to be a Mom Soon? Tap Here”

o   “Take This Conceiving Quiz (six multiple-choice questions about fertility and conception)

o   Tap red dot to go to other quiz on pregnancy

Typography was animated on several pages. Letters shifted when a reader landed on the “Nude Swings” page. Pink dots flew into place to dot the i’s in the title “Wild Things.” The second word of “Minor Threat” split diagonally. Polish, eye shadow, and other makeup cascaded onto the page for “It’s Electric: Get the Look.”

Glamour quickly replaced its March 2011 app with the updated version at the beginning of the month to the joy—and chagrin—of some readers. One commented that she preferred the old version for viewing blog posts and planned to keep it, but liked the features on the new one, especially the speed. Glamour also had a preview app and an app called Glamour Girls that was billed as “an original iPad series” presented by Gap. The new app also made use of the iPad’s capabilities more than most magazines in this study. The app is user-friendly with a “How to Use This Thing” introduction and an interactive cover and table of contents.

A reader could toggle between before and after photos to see clothing on different body types or blush for various face shapes; slide text and photos; tap on an astrological sign for her horoscope or icons to read more about items in sidebars; follow the editor on Twitter; get details on a model’s clothing; or hear fashion director Anne Christensen’s take on outfits.

One headline had a fill-in-the-blank feature that used script to complete the statement “I Wish My Sex Life Were More ______!” with subheads from sections of the story. Some stories contained sliders with sidebars or pictures, including wide-angle shots. The letters page had a slideshow with readers who had traveled around the world with issues of Glamour. Behind-the-scenes videos and YouTube videos could be shared or saved.

The downside was that readers couldn’t enlarge pages, and it would have been ideal to turn quizzes set up as board games in the magazine into interactive content. This was similar to the shortcoming of “Vacation or Staycation?” on Redbook’s iPad app.

The iPad app for O is not as interactive as those for Glamour and Marie Claire, but some O readers still praised it in reviews. The app included book excerpts and tap-to-buy links. An ad for the iPad mentioned exclusive videos of Oprah, but there were none to be found. Editors missed numerous opportunities to add interactivity to the special March issue on clutter, a topic that resonates with readers. In the O List, readers could click on shopping information to go to a purchase site, but nowhere else in the issue. There was a feature to provide plain text of an article, which could also be emailed.

Better Homes and Gardens had an iPad app on Zinio for its India edition in March 2011. It launched an iPad app for the U.S. edition in late March for the April issue. In an article for, Laura Indvik said that Better Homes and Gardens’app “reflected much of the best of iPad magazine design, with crisp, colorful layouts packed with scrolling galleries and text, and discreet buttons that can be tapped to furnish additional information, such as recipes, about photographed subjects” (2011, p. 1).” On the iPad, recipes could be saved to a box, which would be useful for other women’s magazine. Better Homes and Gardens used transcripts for recipes that had flash on its website.

However, Indvik criticized the inability of readers to share content and the promotional tone of one of the videos of chef Jaime Oliver:

I was disappointed by the complete lack of sharing options, especially given how comparatively late the magazine has arrived on the device compared to others in the category, such as Martha Stewart Living, which remains one of the most beautiful and user-friendly magazines on the iPad to date. A video of Jaime Oliver, which appears to be more of an ad for Better Homes and Gardens‘ website than an interview, could have been left out as well (2011, p. 1).

While the video cited by Indvik was too promotional, the other one demonstrating a recipe for fresh peas was more service-oriented and reader friendly.

Other Mobile Applications

Glamour, Essence, and Woman’s Day had the most impressive smartphone apps. Essence’s app resembled the website. It did not sacrifice graphics and fonts, but lacked in content, social media, multimedia, and search. Where Essence lacked, Glamour and Woman’s Day picked up and vice versa. Woman’s Day’s application lacked an interactive menu and strong branding but did a good job of including diverse content. Glamour included all the social media buttons and lots of content, but could use a better menu and aesthetics as well as a search option. Of all the magazines, Glamour was the only one to include the option of viewing recent content or most popular content, and the navigation between the two tabs was seamless. Slideshows allowed a user to use the swipe motion to navigate.

It was difficult to find cover stories on most of the mobile apps. Videos are popular and work well on smartphones. On Family Circle’s mobile app, it was difficult to locate content with video on both mobile and web; this is likely due to the lack of multimedia integration in the content. One post that included a YouTube video played fine on the mobile device. Once the page orientation was changed to horizontal for the video, however, the app would not revert to vertical.

Better Homes and Gardens invited users to join its mobile club to receive alerts about new content and special offers. Good Housekeeping listed a dedicated mobile email address, and the footer had a link to a reader contribution page to submit tips. In a similar footer on Redbook’s mobile app, readers could answer the question of the week, but the question was unclear. Some of Redbook’s feature stories were truncated. “I Went Undercover on America’s Cheating Website” displayed an excerpt. To read more, the user was redirected to the full website.

Oprah had a general mobile site for all media properties. The stories in mobile were not shareable. Once the user left the main page, a drop-down menu was available, but it navigated only between major departments of Oprah media and not magazine-specific sections. There was no search bar to find cover stories or multimedia.

Ladies Home Journal was the only magazine among the 10 that did not optimize its site for cell phones.


  1. Few of the 10 websites were aesthetically pleasing, and navigation was for the most part confusing. All of the websites made it difficult to distinguish between magazine content, original articles, slideshows, and blogs. Good Magazine and Google’s new magazine, Think Quarterly, are examples of well-designed sites, but they both have some room for improvement.

Enhancing print content.The magazines needed to do a better job at balancing print content and timely content. Some magazines seemed reluctant to put content from current issues on the web or to make it easy to find. It was difficult to locate stories from print on the web and mobile. This was true for Family Circle. It was also difficult to find some of Better Homes and Gardens’ cover stories, such as those on spring containers, laundry tips, and “30 Try-It-Now Decorating Ideas.”

The search engines were not always effective. The print and online headlines did not always match when an article from the magazine was shoveled onto the web. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) should be used to include the appropriate tags on content and the headline listed on the magazine cover, as reader might use the print headline as a search term. For example, the main cover story for Better Homes and Gardens, “Make It Easy,” would show up with a search on the headline from the inside pages of the magazine, “Smart Eating Made Simple,” which mirrored the online headline. However, photos of the five experts featured in this package did not appear on the website, which would have provided a more engaging presentation.

All of the magazines shoveled content onto mobile and web. The use of interactive elements and/or bonus content to augment a print story was inconsistent. At most, some included a video to enhance a story. The stories could be more dynamic if they also featured tweets, Facebook comments, real-time streams, videos, and interactive informational graphics. Storify is a tool that allows for the creation of multimedia stories though it may be too chunky for feature stories.

A Ladies Home Journalreader interested in the cover line “Prettiest New Clothes for Spring” would find that as “Weekend Update” inside the magazine and as “Weekend Style Update” online with the three spreads as a seven-frame slideshow. The cover line “Smarter Ways to Organize Your Kitchen” appeared inside and online as “Conquer Kitchen Clutter.” The quick hits worked well as an 11-frame slideshow with such subheadsas Counter Intelligence, Mixed Doubles, and Hang Time.

Although Rachael Ray was on the cover, she received equal play with other TV chefs inside. The presentation and typography could have been enhanced online. More importantly, a previous Q&A with Ray could have been “repurposed” to complement and highlight the March package. This was a missed opportunity.

“The Heart-Health Danger That Threatens Women” had a better presentation in the magazine than online. Some sections were text heavy and could have been enhanced with photos, hyperlinks, and pull quotes. There was no jpeg of the current cover on the website for Ladies Home Journal or Better Homes and Gardens.

With the exception of actress Diane Kruger, most stories on Glamour’s cover were not prominently featured on the homepage. Kruger’s fashion sense, love life, and magazine Q&A were featured, but there was no video of her. Some of Kruger’s content appeared in blogs, which received top billing and were changed regularly.

For “29 Things He’s Thinking When You’re Naked” on the March cover, the closest match on the homepage was “36 Things He’s Thinking in Bed.” On the department page, “10 Things He’s Thinking When You’re Naked” was listed, but it was a slideshow with one sentence per image. Two women were bylined for the slideshow, but in print the story was lengthy and featured many contributors including 300-word sections from men, a small anecdotal male poll, and a checklist. The online version paled in comparison. The slideshow seemed more humorous than helpful and an attempt to garner page views.

One example of how an Oprah story appeared across platforms started with the cover line “Paul Walsh on What to Keep, What to Toss.” The magazine headline inside read “Make Over My Garage.” For the web, it was “Paul Walsh’s Life-Changing Garage Makeover.” Step 1 included “Purge the Junk” subheads online; blue boxes with subheads in print. Before and after photos appeared in both versions. “Peter’s pointers for cleaning out your garage” appeared as a seven-screen slide show online; it was bulleted in print. “The Science of Stuff” appeared as pink sidebars along the edge of two pages in the magazine, but couldn’t be found online.

Marie Claire’s cover story on Miley Cyrus was online, but was not linked on the home page. A behind-the-scenes video on the photo shoot was included but without added features.

The magazines, except for Essence and Marie Claire, avoided news content; little content on the sites had any urgency. Magazines unable to keep up with breaking news could opt for news analysis and commentary like Essence. Unfortunately in Essence’s case, the news commentary lacked in reporting and links. It read more like the piece of an untrained blogger as opposed to a journalist. It also focused disproportionately on the Obamas and entertainment. Magazines can get an edge on their blog competitors by having better quality blogs with more credibility.

Dating and linking content.Some magazines did not include dates on content. Because many magazines report on the same topic but with a new angle in each issue, it is important to include dates so that readers don’t stumble onto something they have already read. The magazines failed to include adequate hyperlinks in slideshows and stories. They often made references to brands and events but did not link to additional or background information nor did they adequately link to similar stories already published in the magazine.

  1. The magazines attempted to lure and keep readers with polls, quizzes, games, freebies, and assorted tools. Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and Glamour had BMI and other health and fitness calculators. Good Housekeeping also had makeovers and recipe finders. LHJ had a lunch planner and bra sizer; Glamour and Essence had virtual makeovers. The magazines also generally had e-newsletters, forums, and other opportunities for community. Family Circle linked readers to the “Momster” site of its parent company, Meredith; BHG had a Motherboard. O had forums, chats, and Skype.

The contact information and Twitter account should be included for each contributor so the conversation can continue in other social media sites. Some sites received a great deal of spam and others, like Essence, that receive many comments from readers aren’t moderated.

More community management would prevent some readers from bullying others and encourage lurkers to join the conversation. Threaded comments and the ability to vote up and moderate comments have been successful on websites like The Huffington Post. Magazines should consider incorporating this option. If a magazine fears it receives much too many comments to be able to moderate offensive and inappropriate comments, then a system should be put in place by which readers who consistently comment can become moderators and police the others within reason. Contributors, if possible, should also join in on the comments. In addition, posts could end with a question such as “Do you think … ?”

User-generated content. Websites like have thrived off user-generated content and user moderators. A system that allows readers to have a profile (via Twitter or Facebook Connect) and contribute photos, tips, etc. for other readers to vote on and comment can help with overall content generation for a magazine. Some magazines allowed for forums or Q&As, but they need to be developed further into a community. BHG allowed readers to submit photos of children and answers to questions from fellow readers.

Social Media.Most of the magazines appeared unfamiliar with networks outside of Twitter and Facebook at the time. Integration of social bookmarking websites like Reddit could result in the spread of viral content from the magazine. Additionally, websites like Formspring allow for a great deal of reader engagement, and more magazines should embrace Tumblr, a microblog that encourages the sharing of content from other blogs. Newsweek has seen success there. Also, the culture of Tumblr encourages more behind-the-scenes content and smaller (read: more manageable) posts from magazines and brands.

  • YouTube. All of the magazines could do a better job to promote their YouTube channels on their main websites as well as include it in the mobile application. YouTube works well on mobile devices and is a great way to include multimedia.
  • Location-based apps/features. If a magazine is not already on Foursquare, then it should join and prominently display a badge on the magazine homepage and in the mobile application. GetGlue is an entertainment check-in tool that is growing in popularity. It would behoove magazines to create a profile and “check in” when certain shows or movies air.
  • Twitter and Facebook.It is important that magazines do not simply shovel content onto Facebook and Twitter. Magazines should go the distance and not only produce updates asking questions of their readers, but also respond to readers and affiliated blogs. They will gain a stronger following of readers who are willing to spread content on the magazine’s behalf. It was not clear whether any of the magazines hosted Twitter chats, but this would help further the conversation on different magazine content. Ustream/webcasting would also help facilitate this. The goal of the magazines should be to engage with the readers in order to strengthen their readership.

On Facebook, brands can manage Fan Pages populated with content from both the brand and Facebook users. Facebook users who “like” a page are then subscribed to the page’s posts (i.e. content updates), which users receive in their home content feed. Users on Facebook are able to “like” and share particular posts as well as comment.

On Twitter, brands can create profiles, which they can populate with tweets (i.e. content) from both the brand and Twitter users. Twitter users who “follow” a profile are then subscribed to the profile’s content updates, which they receive in their home content feed. Users on Twitter can “retweet” (i.e. share) particular posts as well as reply in reference to a particular tweet (i.e. content post) or @mention (i.e. reference) the profile generally in a post of their own.

Here is a look at social media engagement, including Facebook and Twitter traffic as of March 16, 2011, along with the number of tweets that the magazines send to their followers:


Facebook Engagement


1. Glamour                              202,393

2. Better Homes and Gardens            117,371

3. Essence                               67,560

4. O the Oprah Magazine      57,708

5. Woman’s Day                     55,822

6. Marie Claire                       41,940

7. Family Circle                      24,126

8. Good Housekeeping          13,233

9. Ladies Home Journal          11,936

10. Redbook                           11,767



Twitter Engagement


Followers                                                            Tweets                                 

1, Marie Claire                                361,517              Glamour                                  9,895

2. Oprah                                         140,530               Ladies Home Journal              6,099

3. Family Circle                              92,136                Marie Claire                            5,730

4. Glamour                                               57,729                 Essence                                      2,907

5. Essence                                       30,576                Redbook                                 2,554

6. Ladies Home Journal                           10,852                 Woman’s Day                            2,471

7. Woman’s Day                             9,580                            Oprah                                        2,344

8. Better Homes and Gardens        9,004                            Good Housekeeping                 2,242

9. Redbook                                              8,231                            Better Homes and Gardens          1,607

10. Good Housekeeping                6,775                            Family Circle                             1,554



This study provides a digital snapshot of a segment of the magazine industry. It offers insight on how some of the leading women’s magazines—and leading magazines, period—are trying to remain solvent and relevant to their readers. While it offers examples of how magazines are trying to maintain a competitive edge, it is still too early to determine the success of these efforts. What constitutes best practices today could very well change tomorrow. No one really knows what works on the iPad, which was barely a year old during the initial phase of this study; cell phones; or even the Internet with social media thrown into the mix. More research is needed to track the delivery of content on these platforms over time.

The same is true for consumer behavior across various demographics and psychographics. Even then, these findings could vary from one magazine audience to another—and even within an audience. A magazine could have statistically twin readers with one who is content to savor each word of narrative journalism without bells and whistles versus her counterpart who craves behind-the-scenes videos of a cover shoot, spots a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes that she wants to rotate on her iPad for a 360 view, and then tap the screen to purchase them.

It is clear, however, that usage of mobile and tablet technology is growing and fast. In 2013 for the first time, a third of Americans over 18 (34%) own a tablet or e-reader device, up from 18% in 2012. The most prevalent demographics are adults aged 35-44 (49%), college graduates (49%), and those living in households earning at least $75,000 per year (56%) (Zickuhr, 2013). Similarly, 91% of Americans own a cell phone; 56% of them are believed to be smartphone adopters (Smith, 2013). Smartphone adoption among Americans in 2013 is up 10% from 2012. The highest smartphone adoption is found among adults aged 25-34 (81%), with adults aged 18-24 (79%) and 35-44 (69%) also reporting considerable adoption. At least 78% of smartphone adopters have household incomes starting at $75,000 per year, and 70% are college educated.

As consumers with considerable buying power continue to demonstrate their willingness to consume content on tablet and other mobile devices, the magazine publishers who innovate on these platforms are poised to win the digital revolution race. To put it another way, he or she who has the consumers has the power.

So far, the surviving Seven Sisters still have both. They are clearly doing something right, based on the consistent ranking of five of them among the top 10 in the magazine industry. Despite their head start, size, and resources, they can’t afford to rest on their laurels. It’s too easy to become the giant that falls victim to disruptive innovation, which forces slow-moving companies to keep up with their competitors or die.

Therefore, the conventional wisdom is to attempt to reach readers wherever they are and to hold onto them at whatever cost one can afford. This strategy fueled the rush to adopt the iPad, especially given the media corpses that withered from watchful web waiting. With the surges in social media and mobile from smartphones to iPads, few can afford to remain idle. Nielsen and others recommend focusing more on apps than on mobile sites. Indeed, many magazines are doing that, or both, with customized apps for beauty, gardening, or specific events. “I do believe mobile sites will win over mobile apps in the long term,” Nielsen said. “But when that will happen is less certain” (2012, p. 1).

While half of the surviving sisters lacked apps during the iPad’s debut year, they came on board during its second year, beginning with Better Homes and Gardens in time for the iPad’s first anniversary in April 2011. Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal had February and March 2012 issues on Zinio. The Meredith Corp., which owns BHG and Family Circle, had been focusing on mobile sites until it saw iPad usage expand beyond early adopters and techies to an increase among its mass audience of women. It initially avoided Apple, which had been criticized for taking 30% of subscription revenue and holding onto demographic information and other metrics. BHG joined Apple’s popular digital newsstand. With a circulation of 7.6 million, BHG became the print sales leader of magazines selling on iPads (Ives, 2010).

“Our consumer is coming in as more of a mass market play,” said Liz Schimel, executive vice president for consumer relationship management and digital media at Meredith’s National Media Group. “But I think that’s the tipping point I think we’re at here (Ives, 2010, p. 1).”

Lauren Wiener, senior vice president at the Meredith Women’s Network, added, “We felt the foundation was mobilizing our websites because we were increasingly seeing data that showed people accessing our sites from their mobile phones, and they weren’t having an optimal experience” (Ives, 2010, p. 1).

Consumers won’t have an optimal experience when they can’t find a truly digital magazine on a website or mobile site. “The fact that a print magazine has an online presence does not mean that its ‘online version’ is a digital ‘magazine,” said Dora Santos Silva (2011, p. 301) in a journal article on “The Future of Digital Magazine Publishing.” Silva explained that a true digital magazine must be “created from scratch” (p. 302), which is why PDFs are unsatisfying on iPads.

In order to provide an optimal experience for readers, according to Nielsen, media companies must design for the small screen whether it’s on a cell phone or tablet and focus on only the most essential features. He recommends “clear, explicit links from the full site to the mobile site and from the mobile site to the full site” (2011, p. 1). Here continues with recommendations for the iPad:

  • Design for repeat users.
  • Deliver extra value. Add a “secret weapon” not found on the website, such as “superb usability, or just enough usability as to make a repeated task bearable.” Nielsen cites as an example being able to read a recipe without having to touch the screen a great deal during food preparation.
  • Add “affordances” so that users can clearly see that buttons, icons, labels, and other items are touchable and relevant in accomplishing tasks.
  • Maximize read-tap asymmetry by making touchable areas larger with enough space around them to prevent readers from touching the wrong one. Targets (such as home buttons and arrows) should be at least 1cm by 1 cm, Nielsen advises.
  • Add a back button to minimize accidental navigation.
  • Provide visible cues (i.e., tips, arrows) if it isn’t obvious that readers must swipe or use other gestures.
  • Don’t overload design features that interfere with swiping, such as a carousel containing photos and captions.
  • Use the same navigation scheme whether a layout has is shown with a landscape or portrait orientation. Explain that content will change if the viewer turns the iPad.
  • Make sure that small modal views (a screen within a screen) are large enough to allow readers to interact with sidebars or graphics. Consider a separate page if necessary.
  • Keep downloads to 20 seconds or less, and use a progress bar.
  • Design launch screens to mirror the first functional screen as much as possible without noise, animation, or video when the app starts.
  • Clue the reader on a story’s focus in the opening layout if the app contains dual navigation, allowing users to swipe vertically to read the article and horizontally to move through the magazine.
  • Minimize the need for typing (Badiu and Nielsen, 2011).

For the cell phone, “one of the basic rules in web interface is to maximize the use of the limited space by putting important content in the most prominent area, where users can see it without scrolling down” (Jeong and Han, 2012, p. 182). An optimal experience might include the following, based on the findings of this and other studies:

  • Interactive menu with a drop-down feature to prevent scrolling
  • Twitter and Facebook feeds with tweet and “like” buttons
  • Comments (mobile contributions)
  • Blogs
  • Location-based and other tools to help readers find stores or other venues mentioned by the magazine
  • User-generated content, such as photo submissions
  • A share button that stands out; not a white one that blends in
  • Photos included in all or most stories
  • HTML 5 video/multimedia
  • More content that reflects the web and print versions
  • Search bar
  • Slideshows

In addition to keeping up with technology, other indicators of viability and excellence among magazines are awards and industry acclaim. In 2007, Advertising Age named Better Homes and Gardens as Magazine of the Year. In addition to circulation and advertising success, Ad Age chooses magazines for The A List that are “truly operating as brands” and “building smart cross-media content.” It said that “Better Homes and Gardens rode a February redesign to a huge spike in newsstand sales.… The brand team also fixed Better Homes’ website” and added a video channel, (Advertising Age, 2007, p. 1). In 2009, BHG was No. 2 on The A List, followed by Family Circle (No. 3) and Essence (No. 6).

The American Society of Magazine Editors (2011) named Glamour as Magazine of the Year at the National Magazine Awards, the leading honor for the industry. The award “honors publications that successfully use both print and digital media in fulfilling the editorial mission of the magazine.” Glamour also won for personal service in 2007 and general excellence for magazines with more than 2 million in circulation in 2005. It was a finalist for essays in 2009.

Marie Claire was a finalist for the National Magazine Awards for Digital Media 2011 in the Interactive Tool category for its “Fall Fashion A to Z” iPad App. O the Oprah Magazine won for Leisure Interests in 2007 and was a finalist for Magazine Section in 2009 and Personal Service in 2011. Family Circle was a finalist for Personal Service in 2009 while Good Housekeeping was a Personal Service finalist in 2008 and 2011.

The media landscape has already experienced seismic shifts. No one knows what the future holds, especially with the speed of some of these shifts. What’s clear, however, is that media organizations need to invest more in research and development. Change is the cost of doing business. Those who move too slowly might pay more than the perceived savings from doing nothing or moving cautiously, as evidenced by the legions of fallen or ailing media giants.

Taking the iPad as an example, it will probably be worth the investment in the long run for magazines and advertisers that took an early chance on the new technology. And early is even earlier these days. Industry analysts and consumers considered the second year of the iPad’s existence as late entry into the market. Nevertheless, Meredith probably had the right strategy of introducing an iPad for Better Homes and Gardens just before the one-year mark. It was early enough to not be too late, but late enough to come out with an engaging app, unlike the apps of three of the earlier Seven Sisters: Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Woman’s Day. Should the trio have waited? Not necessarily. The three magazines serve a more mainstream audience that might not care as much for bells and whistles as readers of Marie Claire or Glamour. It’s good that they entered the game early, but they have to play harder as more readers see and experience the possibilities of the iPad along with other tablets and mobile devices that have since gained more market share.

Consumers can be unpredictable, but they value innovation and what’s new. With more speed than ever before, they change cars, sneakers, phones, and other mobile devices. Some of them are addicted to new media, social media, and the tools that present them. Their habits rub off on others. Traditional media organizations are fretting as numbers continue to dip for their core businesses. Their best bet for survival, it seems, is to foster a climate of innovation internally from top to bottom and remain open to extending their brands by any means necessary while delivering excellence to their readers. 


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Appendix A

This is the coding instrument used by Xiaopeng Wang (2006) to analyze The New York Times website,, in “Exploring Sample Sizes for Content Analysis of Online News Sites” for AEJMC’s Communication Theory & Methodology Division.

Online Sampling Coding Sheet

1. Web site:

2. DATE_MM/DD/2005


4. Story topic

____1) Politics and government acts

____2) War and defense

____3) Diplomacy & foreign relations

____4) Economic activity

____5) Agriculture

____6) Transportation and travel

____7) Crime

____8) Public moral problems

____9) Accidents and disasters

____10) Science and invention

____11) Public health and welfare

____12) Education and classic arts

____13) Popular amusements

____14) General human interest

____15) Others_______(SPECIFY)

5. Geographic bias

____1) U. S.

____2) U.S. neighbors

____3) Central/South America

____4) Western Europe

____5) Eastern Europe

____6) Middle East and North Africa

____7) Africa (Sub-Sahara)

____8) South Asia

____9) Japan

____10) Other East Asia

____11) Oceania

____12) Others_______(SPECIFY)

6. Number of links ____________

7. Uses of Multimedia

____1) Images (including slideshows)

____2) Video clips

____3) Audio clips

____4) Interactive media (e.g. Flash)

____5) Others_______(SPECIFY)

Appendix B

This is the coding instrument that was adapted for analyzing content in this study:

Coding Sheet for Mobile Magazine (Cell Phones, Tablets, etc.)

1. Date:

2. Magazine:

Issue Date:

3. Specify Platform (Use separate sheet for each):

____a) Tablet



____b) Cell Phone





4. Is the website optimized specifically for cell phones?

____a) Yes

____b) No

If you answered yes, which phones?





5. How are the cover stories represented on this cell phone/tablet? Please specify whether stories with cover lines are “shoveled” onto the mobile platform without changes (shovelware) or whether they were varied to feature additional content and interactivity. Please explain, add specific details and discuss whether the features work. Are user-friendly? Engaging? Why or why not?

____Presentation of main cover story

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

____Story No. 2

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

____Story No. 3

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

____Story No. 4

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

____Story No. 5

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

____Story No. 6

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

____Story No. 7

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

____Story No. 8

Shovelware? ____Added/varied features? ____ (Specify)

6. Describe interactivity elsewhere on this device. Please add comments below or on another sheet.

____a) Interactive table of contents

____b) Slideshows

____c) Audio slideshows (i.e., Sound Slides)

____d) Videos

____e) Audio clips/podcasts

____f) Animated type

____g) Rotating photos

____h) Polls and quizzes

____i) Tools (i.e., virtual makeovers)

____j) Interactive graphics

____k) Mashups

____l) Other (SPECIFY)_______