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Tweens, Teens, and Magazines

— The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

Ever since Seventeen magazine made its debut in the 1940s, teen magazines have been one of the most successful genres of magazines. But in the late 1990s, the teen magazine market exploded, with scores of new titles entering the playing field in response to the largest youth market since the Baby Boomers—an estimated 33 million 12- to 19-year-olds who spend upwards of $175 billion annually. The sheer size of this group of "Echo Boomers" and the competing media choices available to them have splintered the youth audience in more ways than ever before. Niche journals for boys interested in extreme sports, "little sister" magazines spun off from popular women's titles, online companions to print editions, and alternative 'zines—all these trends and more are reshaping the world of teens and magazines in new ways.

Teen Magazines, Past and Present

  • During the 1990s, teens constituted the fastest-growing segment of the population, which signaled to publishers that the market could support more teen titles: the number of new teen magazines more than tripled from 5 in 1990 to 19 in 2000.2
  • Up until the late 1990s, Seventeen, Teen, and YM were the top three teen magazines, with a total of 6.3 million readers. Then the teen magazine market became more crowded and competitive with adult-to-teen crossovers that shifted the balance, starting with Teen People in 1998, followed by CosmoGirl!, Elle Girl, and Teen Vogue. These changes ultimately forced Teen to fold, Seventeen's ad revenues to drop, and YM's circulation to decline. The fallout eventually led Seventeen and YM to reposition themselves to target older teens 17 and up.
  • Each of these so-called "little sister" startups has its own distinct take: CosmoGirl! is targeted to the Cosmo reader's younger sister but without the explicit sex talk, Elle Girl is for the off-beat, street-chic girl with a multicultural fl air, and Teen Vogue is aimed at the fashion-conscious adolescent female.
  • By 2004, analysts warned that the teen market had peaked. According to the group that tracks magazine circulations, the Audit Bureau of Circulation, in 2003 the teen market reported circulation losses from the previous year with one notable exception—CosmoGirl! whose circulation was up 18.5 percent.
  • Launched in 1944, Seventeen is the oldest and remains the most popular teen magazine in circulation today. Striving to maintain its dominance in the field, in 2003 Seventeen launched a return to Middle America values with a wholesome (as opposed to sophisticated) fashion statement.
  • Some teen magazines focus primarily on celebrities and the entertainment industry. Twist, J-14, and M all attract young tween and teen girls interested in music, entertainment, celebrity gossip, and pull-out posters. The oldest teen fan magazine is Tiger Beat, launched in 1965. In 1972, Right On! started up to spotlight the latest news and information about Blacks in the entertainment business and was later joined by Word Up! and Black Beat, which focus on the urban music scene.
  • Alternatives to the traditional celebrity or beauty and fashion- driven magazines have also emerged for teens. Girls' Life, or GL, winner of the Parents Choice Award, provides girls ages 10 to 15 a balance of information about beauty, fashion, and celebrities with advice about friends, family, boys, school, self-esteem, and profiles of real girls facing challenges. Smaller alternative magazines that focus more on self-development and social issues have found a niche as well among teen girls. Teen Voices, a quarterly nonprofit magazine launched in 1990, has a national readership of 75,000 and a companion Web site, Teen Voices Online. Created to reach "high-risk" inner-city girls on issues such as nontraditional career choices, teen pregnancy, and sexual assault, almost all the magazine's editors are minority girls and young women who live below the poverty line. New Moon, started in 1992 with a current circulation of 30,000, has a focus on self-development for girls 8 to 14 years old.
  • While there are more ethnic-oriented magazines than ever before, the majority are aimed at young adults rather than teens. Some teen launches have been short lived, such as Latin Girl, which at its startup in early 1999 was touted as the first and only national magazine created to address the needs of Hispanic female teens who want to maintain their bicultural identity. Others are smaller publications with a mission such as Blackgirl Magazine, which started as a bimonthly publication in 2002 by a 13- year-old girl with the goal to empower African American teens by "promoting positive messages and imagery." SuperOnda, a magazine that partners with several universities, is targeted to the 18-year-old Hispanic high-achiever, with a focus on education and career, as well as entertainment, news, and politics.
  • The Scholastic Teen Magazine Network reaches the highest number of 12- to 17-year-olds, through its outlets New York Times Upfront, Scholastic Action, Scholastic Scope, Scholastic Choices, Junior Scholastic, Science World, and Literary Cavalcade. Taken together, the magazines have an estimated circulation of 11.2 million.
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