This post is inspired by two discrete occurrences.
First, I found a great new blog (or, more likely, new to me), called Panopticist, which has a stated goal of taking a critical look at magazines, but which, fortunately, deviates from that goal often enough to examine the pronunciation of a word I'm not sure I'm ready to use on this blog. I'm also a big fan of anyone who's interested in Bentham.
Second, I went to the MoMA this evening, and my two favorite exhibits were the temporary exhibition called the "Modern Dwelling" and--I'm not sure what this says about me--the collection of Esquire covers designed by George Lois. Here's what the MoMA site has to say about him:
From 1962 to 1972, George Lois changed the face of magazine design with his ninety-two covers for Esquire magazine. He stripped the cover down to a graphically concise yet conceptually potent image that ventured beyond the mere illustration of a feature article. Lois exploited the communicative power of the mass-circulated front page to stimulate and provoke the public into debate, pressing Americans to confront controversial issues like racism, feminism, and the Vietnam War. Viewed as a collection, the covers serve as a visual timeline and a window onto the turbulent events of the 1960s. Initially received as jarring and prescient statements of their time, the covers have since become essential to the iconography of American culture.All that was in the way of introduction, and all this is in the way of the body of my composition (there probably won't be much of a conclusion). The New Yorker this week is one of their special, thick issues, which has writing on the spine; it's the "Style Issue." These special issues are big for advertising purposes, I suppose, so there are four full-page spreads (F-PS's) of advertisements before the reader reaches the table of contents. This is very much out of the ordinary for the NYer, as a normal, non-special, issue has at maximum two F-PS's but more usually just one. This is phenomenal for a magazine, at least compared to the other ones which are scattered throughout my apartment.
Esquire is horrifically bad in this regard, with 21 (!) F-PS's in its September '08 edition, including one foldout, before the reader knows what's in the magazine. Though, to be fair, Esquire has this weird habit of scribbling its content on the cover, complete with page numbers.
Rolling Stone has, in the two issues I could find, on average, 3.5 F-PS's before the T.o.C.
And, lastly, Guitar Player, in the three issues I could find, has, on average, 2.83 F-SP's before the Contents which are listed in table form.
This alone probably shouldn't be the only way for you to measure the quality of a magazine, but it might be important to think about.