The Classic Mandate

How Cultural Magazines Describe Themselves

In his study of the magazine industry in Alberta, Rowland Lorimer documents the difference in self-perception between magazines devoted to “literature and culture” and magazines devoted to lifestyle, business, travel, trade and other special interests. (The study extends to 193 magazines, 21 of which are “arts and literary.”)

Lorimer’s study put four linked questions to each publisher:
1. What does your magazine do?
2. With what materials?
3. For whom?
4. To what effect?

Magazines in the non-arts-and-literary category replied as follows:
1. What does your magazine do: publish, provide, present,
2. With what materials: information, opinion, insight, entertainment, knowledge
3. For whom: professionals, consumers, citizens, members, tradespeople, readers, the public,
4. To what effect: to contribute to communities (described as: existing, forming, unique, niche, trade, business, exploited, desperate, etc)

Magazines in the arts and literary category restructured the questions in order to provide meaningful answers:
1. What does your magazine do: celebrate, promote, explore, advocate, expose.
2. With what materials: this question was replaced with the following:
2a. With whom: writers and artists
3. For whom: writers, artists, critics, society, the public
4. To what effect: none of the arts and literary magazines provided an answer to this question.

Lorimer concludes that the arts-and-literaries see themselves as working with their contributors (rather than with a particular content), and their publishing aim is to provide contributors with an audience of peers (writers, critics, book publishers, juries, etc) in an otherwise undifferentiated readership of “the public” or “society.”

This might be described as the classic mandate of the “little magazines” of the 20th century.

Source: Magazines Alberta: Vibrancy, Growth, Interactive Community Leadership. Prepared by Roland Lorimer, Director, Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, for the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (2006).