Mass Media History Essay Introduction

"Mass Media" redirects here. For the video game company, see Mass Media Inc.

The mass media is a diversified collection of mediatechnologies that reach a large audience via mass communication. The technologies through which this communication takes place include a variety of outlets.

Broadcast media transmit information electronically, via such media as film, radio, recorded music, or television. Digital media comprises both Internet and mobile mass communication. Internet media comprise such services as email, social media sites, websites, and Internet-based radio and television. Many other mass media outlets have an additional presence on the web, by such means as linking to or running TV ads online, or distributing QR Codes in outdoor or print media to direct mobile users to a website. In this way, they can utilise the easy accessibility and outreach capabilities the Internet affords, as thereby easily broadcast information throughout many different regions of the world simultaneously and cost-efficiently. Outdoor media transmit information via such media as AR advertising; billboards; blimps; flying billboards (signs in tow of airplanes); placards or kiosks placed inside and outside buses, commercial buildings, shops, sports stadiums, subway cars, or trains; signs; or skywriting.[1]Print media transmit information via physical objects, such as books, comics, magazines, newspapers, or pamphlets.[2] Event organizing and public speaking can also be considered forms of mass media.[3]

The organizations that control these technologies, such as movie studios, publishing companies, and radio and television stations, are also known as the mass media.[4][5][need quotation to verify]

Issues with definition

In the late 20th century, mass media could be classified into eight mass media industries: books, the Internet, magazines, movies, newspapers, radio, recordings, and television. The explosion of digital communication technology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries made prominent the question: what forms of media should be classified as "mass media"? For example, it is controversial whether to include cell phones, computer games (such as MMORPGs), and video games in the definition. In the 2000s, a classification called the "seven mass media" became popular.[citation needed] In order of introduction, they are:

  1. Print (books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, etc.) from the late 15th century
  2. Recordings (gramophone records, magnetic tapes, cassettes, cartridges, CDs, and DVDs) from the late 19th century
  3. Cinema from about 1900
  4. Radio from about 1910
  5. Television from about 1950
  6. Internet from about 1990
  7. Mobile phones from about 2000

Each mass medium has its own content types, creative artists, technicians, and business models. For example, the Internet includes blogs, podcasts, web sites, and various other technologies built atop the general distribution network. The sixth and seventh media, Internet and mobile phones, are often referred to collectively as digital media; and the fourth and fifth, radio and TV, as broadcast media. Some argue that video games have developed into a distinct mass form of media.[6]

While a telephone is a two-way communication device, mass media communicates to a large group. In addition, the telephone has transformed into a cell phone which is equipped with Internet access. A question arises whether this makes cell phones a mass medium or simply a device used to access a mass medium (the Internet). There is currently a system by which marketers and advertisers are able to tap into satellites, and broadcast commercials and advertisements directly to cell phones, unsolicited by the phone's user.[citation needed] This transmission of mass advertising to millions of people is another form of mass communication.

Video games may also be evolving into a mass medium. Video games (for example massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), such as RuneScape) provide a common gaming experience to millions of users across the globe and convey the same messages and ideologies to all their users. Users sometimes share the experience with one another by playing online. Excluding the Internet however, it is questionable whether players of video games are sharing a common experience when they play the game individually. It is possible to discuss in great detail the events of a video game with a friend one has never played with, because the experience is identical to each. The question, then, is whether this is a form of mass communication.[citation needed]


Five characteristics of mass communication have been identified by sociologist John Thompson of Cambridge University:[7]

  • "[C]omprises both technical and institutional methods of production and distribution" - This is evident throughout the history of mass media, from print to the Internet, each suitable for commercial utility
  • Involves the "commodification of symbolic forms" - as the production of materials relies on its ability to manufacture and sell large quantities of the work; as radio stations rely on their time sold to advertisements, so too newspapers rely on their space for the same reasons
  • "[S]eparate contexts between the production and reception of information"
  • Its "reach to those 'far removed' in time and space, in comparison to the producers"
  • "[I]nformation distribution" - a "one to many" form of communication, whereby products are mass-produced and disseminated to a great quantity of audiences

Mass vs. mainstream and alternative

The term "mass media" is sometimes erroneously used as a synonym for "mainstream media". Mainstream media are distinguished from alternative media by their content and point of view. Alternative media are also "mass media" outlets in the sense that they use technology capable of reaching many people, even if the audience is often smaller than the mainstream.

In common usage, the term "mass" denotes not that a given number of individuals receives the products, but rather that the products are available in principle to a plurality of recipients.[7]

Mass vs. local and speciality

Mass media are distinguished from local media by the notion that whilst mass media aims to reach a very large market, such as the entire population of a country, local media broadcasts to a much smaller population and area, and generally focuses on regional news rather than global events. A third type of media, speciality media, provide for specific demographics, such as specialty channels on TV (sports channels, porn channels, etc.). These definitions are not set in stone, and it is possible for a media outlet to be promoted in status from a local media outlet to a global media outlet. Some local media, which take an interest in state or provincial news, can rise to prominence because of their investigative journalism, and to the local region's preference of updates in national politics rather than regional news. The Guardian, formerly known as the Manchester Guardian, is an example of one such media outlet; once a regional daily newspaper, The Guardian is currently a nationally respected paper.[8]

Forms of mass media


Main articles: Radio and Television

The sequencing of content in a broadcast is called a schedule. With all technological endeavours a number of technical terms and slang have developed. Please see the list of broadcasting terms for a glossary of terms used.

Radio and television programs are distributed over frequency bands that in the United States are highly regulated. Such regulation includes determination of the width of the bands, range, licensing, types of receivers and transmitters used, and acceptable content.

Cable television programs are often broadcast simultaneously with radio and television programs, but have a more limited audience. By coding signals and requiring a cable converter box at individual recipients' locations, cable also enables subscription-based channels and pay-per-view services.

A broadcasting organisation may broadcast several programs simultaneously, through several channels (frequencies), for example BBC One and Two. On the other hand, two or more organisations may share a channel and each use it during a fixed part of the day, such as the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim. Digital radio and digital television may also transmit multiplexed programming, with several channels compressed into one ensemble.

When broadcasting is done via the Internet the term webcasting is often used. In 2004, a new phenomenon occurred when a number of technologies combined to produce podcasting. Podcasting is an asynchronous broadcast/narrowcast medium. Adam Curry and his associates, the Podshow, are principal proponents of podcasting.


Main article: Film

The term 'film' encompasses motion pictures as individual projects, as well as the field in general. The name comes from the photographic film (also called filmstock), historically the primary medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. Many other terms for film exist, such as motion pictures (or just pictures and "picture"), the silver screen, photoplays, the cinema, picture shows, flicks, and most common, movies.

Films are produced by recording people and objects with cameras, or by creating them using animation techniques or special effects. Films comprise a series of individual frames, but when these images are shown in rapid succession, an illusion of motion is created. Flickering between frames is not seen because of an effect known as persistence of vision, whereby the eye retains a visual image for a fraction of a second after the source has been removed. Also of relevance is what causes the perception of motion: a psychological effect identified as beta movement.

Film is considered by many[who?] to be an important art form; films entertain, educate, enlighten, and inspire audiences. Any film can become a worldwide attraction, especially with the addition of dubbing or subtitles that translate the film message. Films are also artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them.[who?]

Video games

A video game is a computer-controlled game in which a video display, such as a monitor or television, is the primary feedback device. The term "computer game" also includes games which display only text (and which can, therefore, theoretically be played on a teletypewriter) or which use other methods, such as sound or vibration, as their primary feedback device, but there are very few new games in these categories.[who?] There always must also be some sort of input device, usually in the form of button/joystick combinations (on arcade games), a keyboard and mouse/trackball combination (computer games), a controller (console games), or a combination of any of the above. Also, more esoteric devices have been used for input, e.g., the player's motion. Usually there are rules and goals, but in more open-ended games the player may be free to do whatever they like within the confines of the virtual universe.

In common usage, an "arcade game" refers to a game designed to be played in an establishment in which patrons pay to play on a per-use basis. A "computer game" or "PC game" refers to a game that is played on a personal computer. A "Console game" refers to one that is played on a device specifically designed for the use of such, while interfacing with a standard television set. A "video game" (or "videogame") has evolved into a catchall phrase that encompasses the aforementioned along with any game made for any other device, including, but not limited to, advanced calculators, mobile phones, PDAs, etc.

Audio recording and reproduction

Sound recording and reproduction is the electrical or mechanical re-creation or amplification of sound, often as music. This involves the use of audio equipment such as microphones, recording devices, and loudspeakers. From early beginnings with the invention of the phonograph using purely mechanical techniques, the field has advanced with the invention of electrical recording, the mass production of the 78 record, the magnetic wire recorder followed by the tape recorder, the vinyl LP record. The invention of the compact cassette in the 1960s, followed by Sony's Walkman, gave a major boost to the mass distribution of music recordings, and the invention of digital recording and the compact disc in 1983 brought massive improvements in ruggedness and quality. The most recent developments have been in digital audio players.

An album is a collection of related audio recordings, released together to the public, usually commercially.

The term record album originated from the fact that 78 RPMPhonographdisc records were kept together in a book resembling a photo album. The first collection of records to be called an "album" was Tchaikovsky'sNutcracker Suite, release in April 1909 as a four-disc set by Odeon records.[9][10] It retailed for 16 shillings—about £15 in modern currency.

A music video (also promo) is a short film or video that accompanies a complete piece of music, most commonly a song. Modern music videos were primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings. Although the origins of music videos go back much further, they came into their own in the 1980s, when Music Television's format was based on them. In the 1980s, the term "rock video" was often used to describe this form of entertainment, although the term has fallen into disuse.

Music videos can accommodate all styles of filmmaking, including animation, live action films, documentaries, and non-narrative, abstract film.


See also: Digital media

The Internet (also known simply as "the Net" or less precisely as "the Web") is a more interactive medium of mass media, and can be briefly described as "a network of networks". Specifically, it is the worldwide, publicly accessible network of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet Protocol (IP). It consists of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and governmental networks, which together carry various information and services, such as email, online chat, file transfer, and the interlinked web pages and other documents of the World Wide Web.

Contrary to some common usage, the Internet and the World Wide Web are not synonymous: the Internet is the system of interconnected computer networks, linked by copper wires, fiber-optic cables, wireless connections etc.; the Web is the contents, or the interconnected documents, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. The World Wide Web is accessible through the Internet, along with many other services including e-mail, file sharing and others described below.

Toward the end of the 20th century, the advent of the World Wide Web marked the first era in which most individuals could have a means of exposure on a scale comparable to that of mass media. Anyone with a web site has the potential to address a global audience, although serving to high levels of web traffic is still relatively expensive. It is possible that the rise of peer-to-peer technologies may have begun the process of making the cost of bandwidth manageable. Although a vast amount of information, imagery, and commentary (i.e. "content") has been made available, it is often difficult to determine the authenticity and reliability of information contained in web pages (in many cases, self-published). The invention of the Internet has also allowed breaking news stories to reach around the globe within minutes. This rapid growth of instantaneous, decentralized communication is often deemed likely to change mass media and its relationship to society.

"Cross-media" means the idea of distributing the same message through different media channels. A similar idea is expressed in the news industry as "convergence". Many authors understand cross-media publishing to be the ability to publish in both print and on the web without manual conversion effort. An increasing number of wireless devices with mutually incompatible data and screen formats make it even more difficult to achieve the objective "create once, publish many".

The Internet is quickly becoming the center of mass media. Everything is becoming accessible via the internet. Rather than picking up a newspaper, or watching the 10 o'clock news, people can log onto the internet to get the news they want, when they want it. For example, many workers listen to the radio through the Internet while sitting at their desk.

Even the education system relies on the Internet. Teachers can contact the entire class by sending one e-mail. They may have web pages on which students can get another copy of the class outline or assignments. Some classes have class blogs in which students are required to post weekly, with students graded on their contributions.

Blogs (web logs)

Blogging, too, has become a pervasive form of media. A blog is a website, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or interactive media such as images or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order, with most recent posts shown on top. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images and other graphics, and links to other blogs, web pages, and related media. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (artlog), photographs (photoblog), sketchblog, videos (vlog), music (MP3 blog), audio (podcasting) are part of a wider network of social media. Microblogging is another type of blogging which consists of blogs with very short posts.

RSS is a format for syndicating news and the content of news-like sites, including major news sites like Wired, news-oriented community sites like Slashdot, and personal blogs. It is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts. An RSS document (which is called a "feed" or "web feed" or "channel") contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text. RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with web sites in an automated manner that can be piped into special programs or filtered displays.


Main article: Podcast

A podcast is a series of digital-media files which are distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and computers. The term podcast, like broadcast, can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also called podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster.


Main article: Mobile media

Mobile phones were introduced in Japan in 1979 but became a mass media only in 1998 when the first downloadable ringing tones were introduced in Finland. Soon most forms of media content were introduced on mobile phones, tablets and other portable devices, and today the total value of media consumed on mobile vastly exceeds that of internet content, and was worth over 31 billion dollars in 2007 (source Informa). The mobile media content includes over 8 billion dollars worth of mobile music (ringing tones, ringback tones, truetones, MP3 files, karaoke, music videos, music streaming services etc.); over 5 billion dollars worth of mobile gaming; and various news, entertainment and advertising services. In Japan mobile phone books are so popular that five of the ten best-selling printed books were originally released as mobile phone books.

Similar to the internet, mobile is also an interactive media, but has far wider reach, with 3.3 billion mobile phone users at the end of 2007 to 1.3 billion internet users (source ITU). Like email on the internet, the top application on mobile is also a personal messaging service, but SMS text messaging is used by over 2.4 billion people. Practically all internet services and applications exist or have similar cousins on mobile, from search to multiplayer games to virtual worlds to blogs. Mobile has several unique benefits which many mobile media pundits claim make mobile a more powerful media than either TV or the internet, starting with mobile being permanently carried and always connected. Mobile has the best audience accuracy and is the only mass media with a built-in payment channel available to every user without any credit cards or PayPal accounts or even an age limit. Mobile is often called the 7th Mass Medium and either the fourth screen (if counting cinema, TV and PC screens) or the third screen (counting only TV and PC).

Print media

Main articles: Newspaper and Magazine

See also: Publishing § Industry sub-divisions, and Printing


A magazine is a periodical publication containing a variety of articles, generally financed by advertising or purchase by readers.

Magazines are typically published weekly, biweekly, monthly, bimonthly or quarterly, with a date on the cover that is in advance of the date it is actually published. They are often printed in color on coated paper, and are bound with a soft cover.

Magazines fall into two broad categories: consumer magazines and business magazines. In practice, magazines are a subset of periodicals, distinct from those periodicals produced by scientific, artistic, academic or special interest publishers which are subscription-only, more expensive, narrowly limited in circulation, and often have little or no advertising.

Magazines can be classified as:


A newspaper is a publication containing news and information and advertising, usually printed on low-cost paper called newsprint. It may be general or special interest, most often published daily or weekly. The most important function of newspapers is to inform the public of significant events.[11]  Local newspapers inform local communities and include advertisements from local businesses and services, while national newspapers tend to focus on a theme, which can be exampled with "The Wall Street Journal" as they offer news on finance and business related-topics.[11] The first printed newspaper was published in 1605, and the form has thrived even in the face of competition from technologies such as radio and television. Recent developments on the Internet are posing major threats to its business model, however. Paid circulation is declining in most countries, and advertising revenue, which makes up the bulk of a newspaper's income, is shifting from print to online; some commentators, nevertheless, point out that historically new media such as radio and television did not entirely supplant existing.

Outdoor media

Outdoor media is a form of mass media which comprises billboards, signs, placards placed inside and outside commercial buildings/objects like shops/buses, flying billboards (signs in tow of airplanes), blimps, skywriting, AR Advertising. Many commercial advertisers use this form of mass media when advertising in sports stadiums. Tobacco and alcohol manufacturers used billboards and other outdoor media extensively. However, in 1998, the Master Settlement Agreement between the US and the tobacco industries prohibited the billboard advertising of cigarettes. In a 1994 Chicago-based study, Diana Hackbarth and her colleagues revealed how tobacco- and alcohol-based billboards were concentrated in poor neighbourhoods. In other urban centers, alcohol and tobacco billboards were much more concentrated in African-American neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods.[1]


Mass media encompasses much more than just news, although it is sometimes misunderstood in this way. It can be used for various purposes:

Professions involving mass media


Journalism is the discipline of collecting, analyzing, verifying and presenting information regarding current events, trends, issues and people. Those who practice journalism are known as journalists.

News-oriented journalism is sometimes described as the "first rough draft of history" (attributed to Phil Graham), because journalists often record important events, producing news articles on short deadlines. While under pressure to be first with their stories, news media organizations usually edit and proofread their reports prior to publication, adhering to each organization's standards of accuracy, quality and style. Many news organizations claim proud traditions of holding government officials and institutions accountable to the public, while media critics have raised questions about holding the press itself accountable to the standards of professional journalism.

Public relations

Public relations is the art and science of managing communication between an organization and its key publics to build, manage and sustain its positive image. Examples include:

  • Corporations use marketing public relations to convey information about the products they manufacture or services they provide to potential customers to support their direct sales efforts. Typically, they support sales in the short and long term, establishing and burnishing the corporation's branding for a strong, ongoing market.
  • Corporations also use public relations as a vehicle to reach legislators and other politicians, seeking favorable tax, regulatory, and other treatment, and they may use public relations to portray themselves as enlightened employers, in support of human-resources recruiting programs.
  • Nonprofit organizations, including schools and universities, hospitals, and human and social service agencies, use public relations in support of awareness programs, fund-raising programs, staff recruiting, and to increase patronage of their services.
  • Politicians use public relations to attract votes and raise money, and when successful at the ballot box, to promote and defend their service in office, with an eye to the next election or, at career’s end, to their legacy.


Publishing is the industry concerned with the production of literature or information – the activity of making information available for public view. In some cases, authors may be their own publishers.

Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works such as books and newspapers. With the advent of digital information systems and the Internet, the scope of publishing has expanded to include websites, blogs, and the like.

As a business, publishing includes the development, marketing, production, and distribution of newspapers, magazines, books, literary works, musical works, software, other works dealing with information.

Publication is also important as a legal concept; (1) as the process of giving formal notice to the world of a significant intention, for example, to marry or enter bankruptcy, and; (2) as the essential precondition of being able to claim defamation; that is, the alleged libel must have been published.

Software publishing

A software publisher is a publishingcompany in the software industry between the developer and the distributor. In some companies, two or all three of these roles may be combined (and indeed, may reside in a single person, especially in the case of shareware).

Software publishers often license software from developers with specific limitations, such as a time limit or geographical region. The terms of licensing vary enormously, and are typically secret.

Developers may use publishers to reach larger or foreign markets, or to avoid focussing on marketing. Or publishers may use developers to create software to meet a market need that the publisher has identified.

Internet Based Professions

A YouTuber is anyone who has made their fame from creating and promoting videos on the public video-sharing site, YouTube. Many YouTube celebrities have made a profession from their site through sponsorships, advertisements, product placement, and network support.


The history of mass media can be traced back to the days when dramas were performed in various ancient cultures. This was the first time when a form of media was "broadcast" to a wider audience. The first dated printed book known is the "Diamond Sutra", printed in China in 868 AD, although it is clear that books were printed earlier. Movable clay type was invented in 1041 in China. However, due to the slow spread of literacy to the masses in China, and the relatively high cost of paper there, the earliest printed mass-medium was probably European popular prints from about 1400. Although these were produced in huge numbers, very few early examples survive, and even most known to be printed before about 1600 have not survived. The term "mass media" was coined with the creation of print media, which is notable for being the first example of mass media, as we use the term today. This form of media started in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press allowed the mass production of books to sweep the nation. He printed the first book, a Latin Bible, on a printing press with movable type in 1453. The invention of the printing press gave rise to some of the first forms of mass communication, by enabling the publication of books and newspapers on a scale much larger than was previously possible.[12][13][14] The invention also transformed the way the world received printed materials, although books remained too expensive really to be called a mass-medium for at least a century after that. Newspapers developed from about 1612, with the first example in English in 1620;[15] but they took until the 19th century to reach a mass-audience directly. The first high-circulation newspapers arose in London in the early 1800s, such as The Times, and were made possible by the invention of high-speed rotary steam printing presses, and railroads which allowed large-scale distribution over wide geographical areas. The increase in circulation, however, led to a decline in feedback and interactivity from the readership, making newspapers a more one-way medium.[16][17][18][19]

The phrase "the media" began to be used in the 1920s.[20] The notion of "mass media" was generally restricted to print media up until the post-Second World War, when radio, television and video were introduced. The audio-visual facilities became very popular, because they provided both information and entertainment, because the colour and sound engaged the viewers/listeners and because it was easier for the general public to passively watch TV or listen to the radio than to actively read. In recent times, the Internet become the latest and most popular mass medium. Information has become readily available through websites, and easily accessible through search engines. One can do many activities at the same time, such as playing games, listening to music, and social networking, irrespective of location. Whilst other forms of mass media are restricted in the type of information they can offer, the internet comprises a large percentage of the sum of human knowledge through such things as Google Books. Modern day mass media includes the internet, mobile phones, blogs, podcasts and RSS feeds.[21]

During the 20th century, the growth of mass media was driven by technology, including that which allowed much duplication of material. Physical duplication technologies such as printing, record pressing and film duplication allowed the duplication of books, newspapers and movies at low prices to huge audiences. Radio and television allowed the electronic duplication of information for the first time. Mass media had the economics of linear replication: a single work could make money. An example of Riel and Neil's theory. proportional to the number of copies sold, and as volumes went up, unit costs went down, increasing profit margins further. Vast fortunes were to be made in mass media. In a democratic society, the media can serve the electorate about issues regarding government and corporate entities (see Media influence). Some consider the concentration of media ownership to be a threat to democracy.[22]

Mergers and Acquisitions

Between 1985 and 2018 about 76,720 deals have been announced in the Media industry. This sums up to an overall value of around 5,634 bil USD.[23] There have been three major waves of M&A in the Mass Media Sector (2000, 2007 and 2015), while the most active year in terms of numbers was 2007 with around 3,808 deals. The U.S. is the most prominent country in Media M&A with 41 of the top 50 deals having an acquiror from the United States.

The largest deal in history was the acquisition of Time Warner by America Online Inc for 164,746.86 mil USD.

Influence and sociology

Main article: influence of mass media

Limited-effects theory, originally tested in the 1940s and 1950s, considers that because people usually choose what media to interact with based on what they already believe, media exerts a negligible influence. Class-dominant theory argues that the media reflects and projects the view of a minority elite, which controls it. Culturalist theory, which was developed in the 1980s and 1990s, combines the other two theories and claims that people interact with media to create their own meanings out of the images and messages they receive. This theory states that audience members play an active, rather than passive role in relation to mass media.

In an article entitled Mass Media Influence on Society, rayuso[citation needed] argues that the media in the US is dominated by five major companies (Time Warner, VIACOM, Vivendi Universal, Walt Disney and News Corp) which own 95% of all mass media including theme parks, movie studios, television and radio broadcast networks and programing, video news, sports entertainment, telecommunications, wireless phones, video games software, electronic media and music companies. Whilst historically, there was more diversity in companies, they have recently merged to form an elite which have the power to shape the opinion and beliefs of people. People buy after seeing thousands of advertisements by various companies in TV, newspapers or magazines, which are able to affect their purchasing decisions. The definition of what is acceptable by society is dictated by the media. This power can be used for good, for example encouraging children to play sport. However, it can also be used for bad, for example children being influenced by cigars smoked by film stars, their exposure to sex images, their exposure to images of violence and their exposure to junk food ads. The documentary Super Size Me describes how companies like McDonald's have been sued in the past, the plaintiffs claiming that it was the fault of their liminal and subliminal advertising that "forced" them to purchase the product. The Barbie and Ken dolls of the 1950s are sometimes cited as the main cause for the obsession in modern-day society for women to be skinny and men to be buff. After the attacks of 9/11, the media gave extensive coverage of the event and exposed Osama Bin Laden's guilt for the attack, information they were told by the authorities. This shaped the public opinion to support the war on terrorism, and later, the war on Iraq. A main concern is that due to this immense power of the mass media (being able to drive the public opinion), media receiving inaccurate information could cause the public opinion to support the wrong cause.

In his book The Commercialization of American Culture, Matthew P. McAllister says that "a well-developed media system, informing and teaching its citizens, helps democracy move toward its ideal state."[24]

In 1997, J. R. Finnegan Jr. and K. Viswanath identified 3 main effects or functions of mass media:

  1. The Knowledge Gap: The mass media influences knowledge gaps due to factors including "the extent to which the content is appealing, the degree to which information channels are accessible and desirable, and the amount of social conflict and diversity there is in a community".
  2. Agenda Setting: People are influence in how they think about issues due to the selective nature of what media choose for public consumption. After publicly disclosing that he had prostate cancer prior to the 2000 New York senatorial election, Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York City (aided by the media) sparked a huge priority elevation of the cancer in people's consciousness. This was because news media began to report on the risks of prostate cancer, which in turn prompted a greater public awareness about the disease and the need for screening. This ability for the media to be able to change how the public thinks and behaves has occurred on other occasions. In mid-1970s when Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller, wives of the then-President and then-Vice President respectively, were both diagnosed with breast cancer. J. J. Davis states that "when risks are highlighted in the media, particularly in great detail, the extent of agenda setting is likely to be based on the degree to which a public sense of outrage and threat is provoked". When wanting to set an agenda, framing can be invaluably useful to a mass media organisation. Framing involves "taking a leadership role in the organisation of public discourse about an issue". The media is influenced by the desire for balance in coverage, and the resulting pressures can come from groups with particular political action and advocacy positions. Finnegan and Viswanath say, "groups, institutions, and advocates compete to identify problems, to move them onto the public agenda, and to define the issues symbolically" (1997, p. 324).
  3. Cultivation of Perceptions: The extent to which media exposure shapes audience perceptions over time is known as cultivation. Television is a common experience, especially in places like the United States, to the point where it can be described as a "homogenising agent" (S. W. Littlejohn). However, instead of being merely a result of the TV, the effect is often based on socioeconomic factors. Having a prolonged exposure to TV or movie violence might affect a viewer to the extent where they actively think community violence is a problem, or alternatively find it justifiable. The resulting belief is likely to be different depending of where people live however.[24]

Since the 1950s, when cinema, radio and TV began to be the primary or the only source of information for a larger and larger percentage of the population, these media began to be considered as central instruments of mass control.[25][26] Up to the point that it emerged the idea that when a country has reached a high level of industrialization, the country itself "belongs to the person who controls communications."[27]

Mass media play a significant role in shaping public perceptions on a variety of important issues, both through the information that is dispensed through them, and through the interpretations they place upon this information.[25] They also play a large role in shaping modern culture, by selecting and portraying a particular set of beliefs, values, and traditions (an entire way of life), as reality. That is, by portraying a certain interpretation of reality, they shape reality to be more in line with that interpretation.[26] Mass media also play a crucial role in the spread of civil unrest activities such as anti-government demonstrations, riots, and general strikes.[28] That is, the use of radio and television receivers has made the unrest influence among cities not only by the geographic location of cities, but also by proximity within the mass media distribution networks.[28]

Racism and stereotyping

Further information: Stereotype

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(December 2012)

Mass media sources, through theories like framing and agenda-setting, can affect the scope of a story as particular facts and information are highlighted (Media influence). This can directly correlate with how individuals may perceive certain groups of people, as the only media coverage a person receives can be very limited and may not reflect the whole story or situation; stories are often covered to reflect a particular perspective to target a specific demographic.[29]


According to Stephen Balkaran, an Instructor of Political Science and African American Studies at Central Connecticut State University, mass media has played a large role in the way white Americans perceive African-Americans. The media focus on African-American in the contexts of crime, drug use, gang violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior has resulted in a distorted and harmful public perception of African-Americans. African-Americans have been subjected to oppression and discrimination for the past few hundred years. According to Stephen Balkaran in his article "Mass Media and Racism": "The media has played a key role in perpetuating the effects of this historical oppression and in contributing to African-Americans' continuing status as second-class citizens". This has resulted in an uncertainty among white Americans as to what the genuine nature of African-Americans really is. Despite the resulting racial divide, the fact that these people are undeniably American has "raised doubts about the white man's value system". This means that there is a somewhat "troubling suspicion" among some Americans that their white America is tainted by the black influence.[30] Mass media as well as propaganda tend to reinforce or introduce stereotypes to the general public.

Ethical issues and criticism

Lack of local or specific topical focus is a common criticism of mass media. A mass news media outlet is often forced to cover national and international news due to it having to cater for and be relevant for a wide demographic. As such, it has to skip over many interesting or important local stories because they simply do not interest the large majority of their viewers. An example given by the website WiseGeek is that "the residents of a community might view their fight against development as critical, but the story would only attract the attention of the mass media if the fight became controversial or if precedents of some form were set".[8]

The term "mass" suggests that the recipients of media products constitute a vast sea of passive, undifferentiated individuals. This is an image associated with some earlier critiques of "mass culture" and mass society which generally assumed that the development of mass communication has had a largely negative impact on modern social life, creating a kind of bland and homogeneous culture which entertains individuals without challenging them.[7] However, interactive digital media have also been seen to challenge the read-only paradigm of earlier broadcast media.[7]

Whilst some[who?] refer to the mass media as "opiate of the masses", others[who?] argue that is a vital aspect of human societies. By understanding mass media, one is then able to analyse and find a deeper understanding of one's population and culture. This valuable and powerful ability is one reason why the field of media studies is popular. As WiseGeek says, "watching, reading, and interacting with a nation's mass media can provide clues into how people think, especially if a diverse assortment of mass media sources are perused".[8]

Since the 1950s, in the countries that have reached a high level of industrialization, the mass media of cinema, radio and TV have a key role in political power.[27]

Contemporary research demonstrates an increasing level of concentration of media ownership, with many media industries already highly concentrated and dominated by a very small number of firms.[31]


When the study of mass media began the media was compiled of only mass media which is a very different media system than the social media empire of the 21st-century experiences.[32] With this in mind, there are critiques that mass media no longer exists, or at least that it doesn't exist in the same form as it once did. This original form of mass media put filters on what the general public would be exposed to in regards to "news" something that is harder to do in a society of social media.[33]

Theorist Lance Bennett explains that excluding a few major events in recent history, it is uncommon for a group big enough to be labeled a mass, to be watching the same news via the same medium of mass production.[34] Bennett's critique of 21st Century mass media argues that today it is more common for a group of people to be receiving different news stories, from completely different sources, and thus, mass media has been re-invented. As discussed above, filters would have been applied to original mass medias when the journalists decided what would or wouldn't be printed.

Social Media is a large contributor to the change from mass media to a new paradigm because through social media what is mass communication and what is interpersonal communication is confused.[35] Interpersonal/niche communication is an exchange of information and information in a specific genre. In this form of communication, smaller groups of people are consuming news/information/opinions. In contrast, mass media in its original form is not restricted by genre and it is being consumed by the masses.

See also


Early wooden printing press, depicted in 1520.
Early minstrel shows lampooned the assumed stupidity of black people. Detail from cover of The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843.
A magazine feature from Beauty Parade from March 1952 stereotyping women drivers. It features Bettie Page as the model.
American political cartoon titled The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things, depicting a drunken Irishman lighting a powder keg and swinging a bottle. Published in Harper's Weekly, 1871.

This paper provides an overview of the positive and negative effects of new mass media introductions on the magazine publishing industry from an historical perspective. Since the early 1900s, the trends of new media both displacing magazines as well as spurring magazine sales and introductions are evident through the introduction of feature films, sound recordings, radio, television, computers, and the World Wide Web. New media have a tendency to both displace magazines, but also cause increasing specialization. The overriding goal of this paper is to provide a perspective for magazine publishers and scholars as they address the increasing penetration of the World Wide Web.


Magazines in America
Motion pictures
Sound recordings
Television and video
The Internet




With the popularity and interactivity offered by the Internet and World Wide Web, media organizations see the Web as a medium they must conquer if they are going to survive (Villano, 1999). They have good reason to be concerned. From an historical perspective, whenever a new medium reaches critical mass it threatens to, and does, displace existing media to some degree. For example, the upstart television industry took consumers and advertisers away from the radio industry back in the 1940s and 1950s. The revolution of special–interest niche magazines began back in the early 1970s; the magazine industry reacted to the loss of national advertising and eventual failure of mass circulation, general interest magazines due to the increasing use of television by both consumers and advertisers (Gage, 1982; van Zuilen, 1977).

Today, magazines face competition from Internet–only e–zines, which have virtually no traditional paper, printing, or distribution costs, and are better versed in new media interactivity. Because of this they are able to serve even more specialized vertical communities — a function similar to today’s special interest and trade magazines. Magazines also face the television and radio industries’ entry into the text–based medium now available through the Internet. In sum, the four–color, text–based medium that magazines used to “own” has in many ways become available to virtually anyone with Web technology.

Meanwhile, magazine publishers are trying to find ways to best capitalize on the Internet without cannibalizing their own readers and advertisers (Marlatt, 2001; Woodard, 2001). According to a survey in Folio, a leading trade publication, 54.5 percent of the sampled magazine professionals feel that the integration of print and digital media is a top issue facing the industry — second only to circulation economics (Folio, 2001).



The purpose of this is paper is to provide an historical overview of the positive and negative effects of new mass media introductions on magazine publishing in the United States over the last century. The goal is to provide context and perspective on the increasing penetration of the World Wide Web and its effect on magazine reading habits. Some of industry’s major developments and trends are examined in light of the introductions of new mass media. Within the framework of this paper, new media are considered as new forms of mass communication or entertainment media that threaten to take readers or advertisers away from traditional magazines.

The major media types or groups that have been introduced since the beginning of the twentieth century include film, sound recordings, radio, television, personal computers, video cassettes, video games, and the Internet. Some of these media introductions have had major negative impacts on magazines; for example, television “stole” readers and advertisers that resulted in the eventual extinction of general interest, mass circulation magazines in the late 1960s and early 1970s (van Zuilen, 1977). Conversely, the births of other new media have had positive effects on the magazine industry. For example, the growing penetration and popularity of the personal computer during the 1980s motivated millions of information–hungry readers and special–interest advertisers. Each introduction of a new brand of personal computer or even model number was followed immediately (or concurrently) by the launch of several competitive magazine titles in the 1980s (Maryles, 1983; New York Times, 1983).

Each time a new medium is introduced it threatens to displace existing media to some degree or another (Dimmick and Rothenbuhler, 1984b). An historical perspective on both the perceived threats at their introduction, and the general effects of new media on magazines throughout this century will provide a better understanding of the current media landscape.


Magazines in America

Magazines have been a part of American culture since American Magazine was first published in colonial America (Paneth, 1983). By 1825 there were an estimated 100 magazines being published. This figure grew to more than 600 in 1850, with another four or five thousand titles having come and gone during that 25–year span (Schmidt, 1980). But even with such popularity, magazines were a considered a medium of leisure. As Peterson outlines:

“So long as people were preoccupied with earning a living and pushing back the frontier, so long as leisure and literacy were not widespread, so long as transportation was rudimentary and uncertain, magazines lived precariously.” [1]

Until the end of the 1880s these magazines relied solely on subscription revenues or the wealth of their publishers to cover expenses. “A publisher started a magazine because he had something to say.” [2] Money was not the main motivation: “Magazines, except for a few local publications or trade papers, seldom contained advertisements.” [3] Even so, the post–Civil war economic boom saw the number of magazines being published jump from 700 in 1865 to 3,300 in 1885 (Peterson, 1980).

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, due to the mass production of consumer products and the evolution of brand names, “the modern magazine arose in the 1890s as a handmaiden of the marketing system … New products were appearing in profusion.” [4] Publishers began to realize that magazines could be a vehicle to showcase merchandise, not just ideas (Bart, 1962). By 1900 major advertisers were pouring money into all of the popular magazines (Douglas, 1991).

With the turn of the century came increases in technological advances providing in part more leisure time for Americans. Both technology and leisure time increased the popularity of magazines. For example:

“By the early 1900s the physical appearance of magazines was transformed by the new dry–plate processes by which pictures, line drawings and photographs could be printed as half–tones … . Widespread use of this process followed, with the increased opportunity for magazines to become designed objects, not merely collections of type with occasional woodcuts or steel engravings.” [5]

While black and white photography played a prominent role, four–color printing would be commercially viable soon. National Geographic was publishing four–color editorial as early as 1910 (Edkins, 1978). At this time, newspapers and books were the main competitors of magazines (Peterson, 1956). But a new mass medium was on the horizon — one that did not require reading.


Motion pictures

The three mass media competitors at this stage of development were all text–based: newspapers, books, and magazines. The first new mass media to affect magazines was film, which entered the realm of mass media in 1904 as The Great Train Robbery drew in moviegoers. The proliferation of movie magazines began around 1910 and continued into the 1940s (Peterson, 1956). “Magazines for movie fans began to appear when motion pictures moved from the shady atmosphere of the nickelodeon into grand houses of their own … . Throughout the twenties, thirties and forties, new titles were forever appearing on newsstands.” [6]

In 1922, average weekly movie attendance was 40 million with an average weekly household attendance of 1.56. This continued to grow until weekly attendance peaked out at 90 million in 1948 with an average weekly household attendance of 2.22 (Salvaggio and Bryant, 1989).

But because the film industry relied solely on consumer ticket purchases for revenues, and not on advertising income, the economic impact on magazines was not necessarily a negative one. While ticket costs and the recreational time required to attend motion pictures did eat away at leisure dollars and hours, the new medium spurred an interest in movie stars’ lives both on and off the screen. These publications “satisfied the public curiosity about what was happening during the golden age of Hollywood.” [7]

One early readership study showed some empirical evidence of a complementary relationship between movies and magazines. In this effort to examine environmental factors affecting readership, a study (Lazarsfeld and Wyant, 1937) compared the circulation of 25 leading magazines in 90 U.S. cities with seven geographic and socioeconomic variables, including occupational structure, educational expenditures, and the number of movie houses in a city.

They first established that large populations were associated with lower readership levels, perhaps because “larger cities offer a greater number of diversified amusements.” [8] But there was a moderate positive relationship (r = .38 being the only statistic reported) between the number of movie houses in a city and the readership variable. It was concluded that “Clearly, a rise in the number of movies results in an increase in reading interest.” [9]

In further analysis of the circulations of specific magazines, they reported a particularly strong positive relationship between the number of theaters in a city and the circulation of the magazine Red Book. “One possible reason for this correlation is that the type of story in Red Book is especially similar to the type of story portrayed on the screen.” [10] This study supports the idea that sometimes similar subject matter creates a complementary effect between media, rather than a displacement effect.

Between 1911 and 1938 alone, 60 consumer magazines and nearly 90 trade and in–house publications were founded that addressed the subject of films, cinema, movie stars, and production (Lomazow, 1996). Some of the more memorable startups of the first half of the twentieth century included Photoplay (1911), Picture Play (1915), Screen Play (1925), Screen Romances (1929), Movie Life (1937), and Movieland (1942) (Peterson, 1956). Thus, a whole new category was created and numerous magazines were launched to satisfy the appetite of the millions of fans of this new sensation called Hollywood and the business and industry that accompanied it.

Today there are not nearly as many specific movie star magazines being published; average weekly movie attendance is approximately a third of what it was at its peak in the 1940s (Salvaggio and Bryant, 1989). But the public’s seemingly unending interest in stars and the intimate details of their lives is reflected in the large circulations of many leading consumer magazines. People Weekly (4.1 million), Teen People (1.6 million), Rolling Stone (1.2 million), and Us (1 million); leading women’s magazines all rely heavily on reader interest in the stars produced by movies and the media–infatuated popular culture. Today, the leading general circulation magazine devoted solely to the movies is Premiere with a circulation just more than 600,000 (Audit Bureau of Circulations, 2001). However, there are still many other smaller circulation titles covering different facets of the movies and its trades.



After the entrance of the motion picture as a competitive threat to magazines, the next new medium to enter the marketplace was radio. Prior to the advent of film “talkies,” the first radio station with commercial sponsors and programming went on the air in Pittsburgh, towards the end of 1920 (van Zuilen, 1977).

Unlike motion pictures, this new mass medium relied on consumer time and advertising sponsor revenues. Radio grew rapidly in popularity, with NBC forming the first formal network in 1926 (Salvaggio and Bryant, 1989). The organization of network radio brought a greater competitive threat to magazines:

“By the late twenties, radio was rapidly becoming an important competitor for advertising appropriations; the gross advertising carried by the networks jumped from $4,000,000 in 1927 to $10,000,000 in 1928 to $19,000,000 in 1929. Magazines recognized the threat; the Saturday Evening Post ran many articles about stage and screen but paid the scantiest of editorial attention to radio.” (Peterson, 1956)

Leading magazine publishers went so far as to seek the advice of university faculty because they were concerned about the loss of advertising to radio as well as the effects of the Great Depression (Peterson, 1980). Not surprisingly, the answer they got then was to improve their editorial focus and quality.

Radio reached its “Golden Age” during the 1930s when by 1934 half of the homes in the U.S. had radios (Media History Project, 2001). By 1940 there were more than 28 million households with radios, a penetration of just more than 80 percent (Salvaggio and Bryant, 1989). But while radio was reaching high penetration levels, publishers began capitalizing on new print technologies that would enhance what they could offer both readers and advertisers. Magazines would grow to rely on and would differentiate themselves from competing media for the next several decades:

“… full–color photographic reproduction in the 30s started a new era of general magazine publishing … In the Nov. 15, 1931 issue of Vogue, they made color history with a sensational color photography [sic] of fruit and silver … . From this time on Vogue enhanced its page with color, including during the Depression.” [11]

The specific impact of the radio medium was apparently not substantial because by the mid 1930s, “… publishers saw that radio was not eating into their share of total advertising appropriations” [12]

However, radio was still a threat to magazines, capable of taking away national advertising accounts. There was also the Great Depression to deal with. Perhaps because of these threats, and the fact that radio was not a visual medium, it was not embraced with numerous magazine launches in the same way film and Hollywood was adapted. Even so there was a “ready market for magazines carrying radio program schedules as long as many newspapers refused to list such schedules because of their feud with the new medium.” [13] For example, with 17 regional editions, Annenberg’s Radio Guide sold 420,000 issues in 1936.

While the further development of printing technology certainly played its part (Edkins, 1978), it is interesting to note the relatively parallel timeline of the peaking popularity of radio and the emergence of the picture magazine. Picture magazines and general interest titles would drive the industry well into the 1960s. The picture magazine can also be seen as a competitive response to radio’s popularity among consumers. Radio was not a visual medium and could never become such. However, magazines were and could tell stories through pictures — large and small. Thus, as a medium, magazines altered their content, forming a new category — the picture magazine. As Peterson explains:

“ … the ’30s belonged to the picture magazine. Anticipating the visual world of television, it surpassed even the condensations of the news weeklies and digest by summarizing in photographs instead of in text. So many picture magazines sprouted up in the mid–thirties that Scribner’s entitled an article about them ‘One Every Minute.’ Their influences, especially the influences of Life and Look, permeated the whole of American journalism.” [14]

In 1977, Susan Sontag in On photography offered one reason why photographs had such an impact on the American public, and in turn, on the popularity of the picture magazine:

“A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always the presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture.” [15]

While there were forerunners, the culmination of technological and competitive forces saw the launches of the two major picture magazines: Life in 1936, which was selling more than one million copies in just a few weeks, and Look in 1937, which was selling 1.7 million copies before its first anniversary. There were a host of others, too. Click, which emphasized sex and shock reached a circulation of 1.6 million. Focus, Pic, Photo–history, Peek, Foto, and Picture were just some of the other short– and long–lived titles that began or re–conceptualized in the 1930s. Ideas for picture magazines were so prevalent that one trade paper remarked, “… every advertising man carried a dummy for a picture magazine in his pocket.” [16]

Today, all types of magazines use the airwaves to support subscription campaigns and single copy sales (Hovey, 1991). They have also found success in partnering with radio stations and networks to produce short audio segments highlighting the general or specific content of a magazine. Said one publisher: “It would be prohibitively expensive for us to buy this extensive kind of radio time … . It’s a great way to give people a sense of the information that we provide in our issues.” [17]


Sound recordings

Another aural medium, the phonograph record, began its commercial ascent in the 1910s. But “beginning in 1922, radio interrupted the progress of the phonograph industry, and sales of both players and records dropped 50 percent by 1924 over the previous year.” [18] The impact of the World Wars and a musicians’ strike also stunted its growth. The phonograph record — which would eventually lead to other forms of sound recordings such as magnetic tape, compact discs, and digital media — did not really take off until the late 1940s when the 33–1/3 long–playing record (LP) and 45–rpm were introduced (Salvaggio and Bryant, 1989). High Fidelity, which launched in 1951, was the first U.S. magazine to address readers who didn’t exist before 1940 — audiophiles (Nourie and Nourie, 1990).

“Recordings have, since their beginning, complemented and amplified many areas of publishing.” [19] The sound recording medium affected magazine publishing in much the same way film did. It was an entertainment medium that relied solely on consumer purchases, and did not rely on advertising. It was not as threatening as radio, but sound recordings were threatening to radio. As the number of phonographs being shipped each year reached the million mark in the early 1950s, the interest in music stars (and instruments) spawned new titles and eventually a new category of magazines.

In 1943, the American Newspaper Directory listed only eight magazines in the music category, including Song Hits with a circulation nearly 450,000 (American Newspaper Directory, 1943). By 1970, the number of music magazine titles had grown to 32, including Hit Parader with a circulation of 216,575 (Ayer Directory of Publications, 1970). Rolling Stone, which was launched in 1967, quickly became a social, political, and cultural voice of a generation. By 1976 the magazine had a bi–weekly circulation of 500,000 (Nourie and Nourie, 1990). Today, with a circulation of 1.2 million (Audit Bureau of Circulations, 2001), Rolling Stone appeals to both the young music fan as well as the aging baby boomer.

According to one source, there are nearly 60 magazines being published in the music category today, not including trade magazines (SRDS, 2001). But there are even more music titles according to the National Directory of Magazines. Over a ten–year span from 1989 to 1999, the music and music trades category was rated the third–fastest growing category in magazine publishing. There were 286 titles in 1989. By 1999 that number had risen to 519 (Magazine Publishers of America, 2001a). And another source shows new music magazine launches in the Top 20 in 1999 (Husni, 1999) [20].

In addition to a healthy number of music titles today, roles have even reversed with publishers and record companies partnering to produce CDs targeted at readers of their magazines. A growing number of magazines — including major titles such as Good Houskeeping and Esquire — have licensed their names to record labels, producing CDs filled with songs that relate to their magazines (Beam, 1995). Said one VP of magazine brand development, “It’s not going to make you a millionaire, but it’s good for your magazine and good for your readers.” [21]


Television and video

By the 1940s, the general interest, mass circulation magazines (with and without an emphasis on pictures) were well established. These include Life, Look, Collier’s, and the Saturday Evening Post and others. National magazines, with circulations in the millions, were an important part of national advertising strategies of virtually all major brand name products. In 1946 magazines held 12.6 percent of the total advertising market share (van Zuilen, 1977).

It was earlier that decade when television began its diffusion into U.S. households, but network television did not begin until 1949 (Media History Project, 2001). By 1956, television penetration reached 71.8 percent with 35 million sets (van Zuilen, 1977). As outlined by Dimmick and Rothenbuhler (1984a), the growth in television advertising market share caused a serious drop in national radio advertising sales. Radio adjusted to this threat by focusing on local and regional advertising sales. Meanwhile, magazine publishers perhaps did not feel immediately threatened because in its first incarnation television did not offer four–color advertising.

General interest consumer magazines continued to flourish throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s. But as the cost of four color television sets decreased, and television’s overall penetration went up — 97 percent by 1969 — the economic ride the general interest and picture magazines had enjoyed came to end. The immediacy and emotional depth of color television displaced the four–color general interest and picture magazines. By as early as 1956 television had 12.2 percent of total advertising market share, while magazine advertising market share had dropped to eight percent (van Zuilen, 1977).

“No competitor ever gave publishers as many fretful hours as television, which grew rapidly in the postwar boom. Expenditures on television advertising — network, spot, and local — climbed from virtually nothing in the late 1940s to more than $1.7 billion in 1963 … . When magazine profits declined in the late 1950s and early 1960s, many observers were quick to blame the trouble on television.” [22]

Through the marketing concept of “product life cycle” van Zuilen (1977) thoroughly examined the economics of the rise and fall of the general interest mass market magazine and stated the following about the threat of television:

“During the 1950s and 1960s television became the arch enemy of mass audience magazines by siphoning away badly needed advertising revenues. This lack of advertising revenue, television’s impact on tens of millions of fascinated viewers, followed by circulation battles among the magazines themselves, and coupled with all of this a lack of clear vision and often mismanagement, contributed to the decline and fall of the general interest mass audience magazines.” [23]

As mentioned in the above quote, television not only ate away magazines’ national advertising market share, but it also took readers away — general entertainment seekers. “If the habit of nighttime television viewing is heavy in the household, magazines pile up unread and there’s little incentive to buy new copies.” [24] This is another reason why large general circulation magazines struggled. The general mass market magazines like Life, Look, and others eventually failed due to a loss of two crucial resources: national advertising and consumer time, both of which were being successfully courted by the new four–color television medium.

Reacting to the loss of these resources, the magazine industry rebounded by developing an increasing number of special–interest magazines. This new resource was made up of readers who wanted specialized or more detailed information they couldn’t get in the general electronic media, and advertisers who wanted to spend money on a more specific, target audience. So, the magazine industry became more specialized leading to a proliferation of special interest magazines beginning in the 1970s on through to today (Abrahamson, 1996). This was the beginning of the trend known as niche publishing.

With increased specialization, when videocassettes and cable television began to reach critical mass in the 1970s and 1980s, one might have predicted the death of reading because there was now a channel or videocassettes for just about every interest imaginable. However, just the opposite occurred. The magazine industry used television advertising and videocassettes as promotional giveaways providing added value for subscribers and attracting new ones (Dougherty, 1982). The classic example is Sports Illustrated offering different videos “with your paid subscription”, depending on the time of year and specific sports season. Subscribing to the magazine was almost an afterthought to getting the free video. So in essence, videocassettes were used to expand the magazine market. Magazines also used the cable television medium as brand extensions, producing instructional tapes and television shows designed specifically for the magazine’s audience (Knoll, 1984; Learner, 1982; Pool, 1983).

But the positive effect of cable television was felt beyond the shows and advertisements produced by specific magazines. Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi and a magazine industry consultant, explained the continued growth of niche publications in this way: “If I watch mud wrestling on ESPN and want to see more, I get a magazine. TV’s fueling it all.” (Anthony, 1998) But this explanation is not necessarily a new one. The idea of specialized television promoting increased magazine readership was suggested as early as 1965 by Wolseley: “… documentary television as well as some regular programming can move viewers to read specialized magazines as they search for more information on the subject of deep interest.” [25]

So in effect, these new media have helped increase the number of magazines by increasing an important resource: the number of people interested in a specific hobby or subject, and the degree to which they want that information. For example, in recent years, we have seen the launches of a variety of new cable sports networks such as ESPN2, the Golf Channel, a sports history channel, Speed Vision, a network of regional sports channels under Fox, and more. Yet 1998 alone saw the launch of more than 122 new consumer sports magazines, with the cable network ESPN launching its own print publication to compete with Sports Illustrated (Shapiro, 1999). Then in 1999, the sports magazine category led again in the number of new launches (Magazine Publishers of America, 2001a).

This same idea of cross–pollination can also be applied to video games. Beginning with the introduction of Pong in 1972 (Media History Project, 2001) video games have not relied on advertising but only competed with magazines for consumer time. But the increased interest created by these new games motivated potential buyers for a whole new category of magazines.

“If you’re a 12–year–old boy, you’re totally psyched for the new 64–bit Nintendo gaming console to hit the market in September. If you’re a parent, you can’t wait until the price drops from $249.95 to under $200 hopefully by Christmas. If you’re the publisher of a gaming magazine, you’re counting on these events to boost your business.” [26]

In 1980, (S.R.D.S., 1980) this was essentially a category that didn’t exist. Today with the number of different video game consoles and the popularity of many of the same games on the PC, entertainment gaming magazines are integral to the portfolio of some of the major players in the magazine industry (Sucov, 1996). Some of these titles have circulations in the 400,000 range. A number of gaming magazines also include game demos on CDs with their magazines (Nelson, 1997).



Computers first appeared in their mainframe forms in the 1940s and 1950s in government agencies and universities; eventually they migrated to the publishing industry in the 1960s and 1970s, providing an effective means for magazines to reduce costs and improve production quality via electronic typesetting and pre–production. As the personal computer became popular in the 1980s, they were also an important part of magazines increasing production quality and reducing costs. No longer did magazines have to hire typesetters; writers and editors did the typesetting while they wrote and edited. Furthermore, the eventual cost efficiencies provided by the desktop publishing revolution enabled publishers to launch more magazines in a diverse variety of formats.

In much the same way film provided fodder for its fans, the subject of computers provided numerous opportunities for magazine launches. This analogy was not lost on business writers in the early 1980s:

“In the Great Depression, Americans forgot their troubles and found their comfort at the movies. A batch of movie magazines soon sprang up to chronicle movie idols. Now a new star is commanding publishers’ attention. It’s not a platinum–blonde sex symbol or a Gable clone. Hardly. It’s a machine, the IBM Personal Computer. At last count there were half a dozen magazines devoted solely to Big Blue’s offering.” [27]

Americans purchased 415,000 PCs for home and business use in 1980 (New York Times, 1983). Magazine consultants described the rush to publish new computer titles as “incredible gold strikes” with entrepreneurs hitting the big time with relatively little investment [28]. In early 1980 there were about 24 computer magazines. This increased to 33 by the end of the year. In 1981 there were 11 new launches, followed by 25 in 1982 and at least another 40 in 1983 (Klingel, 1983). That same year, a New York Times article put the total number of computer titles at more than 200, not counting the new media attempts of magazines being published on floppy disks (New York Times, 1983). Jay Walker, publisher of the Folio 400, the magazine industry’s answer to the Fortune 500, said, “This is unprecedented in the history of magazine publishing.” [29]

For every new computer or operating system, software category, and specific software applications introduced in the 1980s, there seemed to be several new magazines launched (Business Week, 1983). For example, when IBM debuted its PCjr home computer in 1983, there were at least three magazines aimed at end users (New York Times, 1983). Note the names of these magazines that were playing off of the Apple Computer brand name at the time: Apple Orchard, inCider, Nibble, and Peelings. Most appropriately, reporters used the term “niche” to describe the situation (Benoit, 1983; Klingel, 1983; New York Times, 1983). These magazines succeeded and failed on the success or failure of specific systems or software. In some instances the magazines outlasted the popularity and manufacturing of the particular PC brand or model (Wilson, 1994).

In one article, a successful publisher compared the explosion of the PC to the explosion in popularity of the television in the 1950s. But the reporter writing the story identified one insightful difference: “Television inspired a torrent of words but only one big magazine.” [30] Without the direct competition for advertising dollars, the result of the PC explosion was instead a plethora of magazines directed at specific segments of the PC market — again, a whole new magazine category was created.

In addition to the increasing popularity of computers by consumers — “magazines are livelier and easier to read than technical manuals” [31] — another reason was the necessity for new companies and products to build brand recognition in a market where none existed. “When new brands are competing to establish brand identities, … they spend an abnormally high level on advertising … the advertisers won’t, probably can’t maintain this level of advertising forever.” [32] The boom eventually ended and a shakeout took place for both PC manufacturers and publishers as advertising slowed and reader interest lagged behind the number of magazines (Klingel, 1983; Moran, 1984; Tchong, 1985).

Another benefit from computer magazines was their experimenting with new media in the early 1980s: delivering programs, text, and advertising on disk to their readers. “Because all of the readers have computers, the medium can be different. You can distribute information on diskette as well as paper. They’re going to advance publishing, getting it away from paper,” said David Bunnell, founder of Personal Computing and PC magazines [33]. “It will not be the trend, but it will be a trend,” said PC Disk Publisher Andre Van Hattum [34].

Computer, technology, and new media magazines are still a major category today. Many magazines include CD–ROM disks as promotional tools and to enhance single copy newsstand sales. According to the National Directory of Magazines, the computer/automation magazine category was the fourth leading category, growing from 338 to 605 titles between the years 1988–1998 (National Directory of Magazines, 1999). And Samir Husni’s Guide to New Consumer Magazines lists the computer category as the fifth fastest–growing category in 1999 with 16 new launches (Husni, 1999). These categories, of course, include new media and Internet–oriented magazines.


The Internet

In its initial form, the computer provided many benefits — both direct and indirect — to the magazine industry. One 1997 study reported that computer use was associated with an increase in the use of print, not a decrease. However most of these positive correlations were explained away by the fact that people of higher socioeconomic status are in general more likely users of print media (Robinson and Godbey, 1997). Furthermore, the study was conducted before the days of monthly unlimited access plans now offered by America Online and virtually all other Internet service providers.

In this new millennium, the centuries–old magazine industry is faced with the World Wide Web, a mass communications medium that some consider interpersonal in nature, offering many of the benefits provided by print, radio, and television. It is also competing in two areas essential to magazines: consumer time and advertising revenues. At least one Internet publisher predicts a “tectonic shift that happens once a generation, and the shift of old brand to new is painful and usually fateful to old brands.” [35] A 1998 report by Forrester Research noted in this same article reported that “advertisers will increasingly migrate to online business–to–business sites, and that trade publishers are lagging behind Web start–ups.” [36]

Advertisers, both local and national, have been spending significant dollars on the Internet. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), which started tracking U.S. Internet ad spending in 1996, reports nearly US$2 billion in advertising revenue during the third quarter of 2000 alone, an increase of 63 percent over the third quarter of 1999. This, in a category of advertising that didn’t exist six years ago.

But it’s not just advertising dollars that are shifting. Consumer time is shifting as well. With U.S. Internet penetration at 60 percent, 63 million Americans are averaging nearly three hours per week surfing the Web, staying an average of about one minute per page (Netratings, 2001).

But even with the exponential growth the Internet is experiencing, it is certainly not a bad time for the magazine publishing industry. There appears to be no slowing of the trend of increasing number and specialization of magazine titles. 5,200 consumer magazines were distributed nationally in 1998, more than double the 2,500 that were distributed in 1985 (Anthony, 1998). There were more new magazine launches than ever before — a total of 1,076 new consumer magazines in 1998 alone. Says Samir Husni, “I started tracking magazine launches 21 years ago, and I have never seen a year like 1998, complete with a record number of new titles. A non–stop force of new magazines were launched throughout the year, even in the doldrums of December when the number of new titles was more than double the number of launches the previous December.” [37]

The new and old media continue to play an important part of this growth: 58 new computer magazines, 23 new entertainment and performing arts magazines, 125 new media personality magazines, and the list goes on and on (Shapiro, 1999). Again, in 1999 there was an increase in the number of magazine launches, although not quite as robust as 1998: 354 in 46 categories (Husni, 1999). According to Husni, the Internet is driving increased consumer interest the same way cable television did:

“The Internet and cable television have driven a demand for more information on more obscure things. So, as niche marketing is carried further, magazines become ‘more human.’ While TV provides viewership to feed the readership, the Internet — where niche marketing is far easier because distribution is cheap — is feeding a Balkanization of interests. And amateur ’zines once almost guerrilla publications, are now entering the mainstream as desktop publishing becomes easier and the number of national distributors increases.” [38]

The question remains, however, can this growth and consumer interest be sustained with the increasing penetration of Internet households, growing carrier bandwidth (Strategis Group, 2001), and quality of Web sites? As outlined earlier, it was more than 20 years after television’s advent before the full impact of television hit the mass–market consumer magazines in the 1960s. One recent study conducted by Starcom, the media buying unit of Leo Burnett Co., blames the Internet for an apparent sharp fall–off in magazine readership.

“Top magazines lost 61 million readers, ages 18 to 49, between fall 1997 and fall 1998 … the study blames the decline on reader migration to the Internet and predicts the effects will be ‘real and lasting.’ … 56 titles gained 18 million impressions, but 144 magazines lost 79 million impressions.” (Mediacentral, 1999)

But publishers argue that the report mixed apples and oranges. “Readership may have declined for the top 50 magazines, but the audience has simply shifted to the incredible number of hot new magazines that started. The real trend … is that magazines are being created for much more targeted segments.” (Mediacentral, 1999). Further defending the position of print publishers, there has also been some question for a number of years as to the stability and consistency of year–to–year, industry–wide circulation figures (Media Industry Newsletter, 1996).

But the trend suggested by the Starcom study continued in 1999 with the Top 25 Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC)-audited magazines losing circulation while the remainder of the Top 100 showing a slight gain, resulting in a net increase of 1.3 percent (Magazine Publishers of America, 2000).

But this may be an indication of another level of increased specialization by the magazine industry: the relatively general magazines of today lose circulation while the even more specialized niche magazines gain. Just as the general interest mass market magazines lost consumers and advertisers to television in the 1950s and 1960s, today’s relatively generalized special–interest publications (large circulation) are losing readers while an increasing number of even more specialized magazines are being launched. Today there are more than 300 ABC–audited magazines with circulations of less than 250,000, while there are less than 100 with circulations greater than one million. And the number of specialized titles keeps growing. Standard Rate and Data figures show the number of consumer magazines increasing from 1,795 in 1998 to 2,520 in 1999 (Magazine Publishers of America, 2000). These figures certainly supports the idea of a complementary effect, where other media increase the overall market size for audience interest in particular magazines. History may be repeating itself in that today’s general interest magazines are losing circulation, while niche magazines are gaining within even more specialized markets.



The purpose of this historical overview was two–fold. First, it provides perspective. When a new medium arrives in the marketplace with its accompanying bells and whistles some observers (usually proponents of the new medium) tend to ring death knells for existing media. And while specific types and segments have and will continue to be negatively affected by new media, as a whole, and over a lengthy period, old media have found ways to survive in the presence of new media. So even with all the excitement generated by the explosive growth of the Internet and its exciting capabilities, history shows us that old media continue to survive and prosper — somehow. But there are serious lessons to be learned as well. If the general interest magazines in the 1960s had reacted earlier and differently to the threat from television, perhaps their downfall would not have been so great.

The second major idea suggested in this chapter is the concept that new media can certainly displace existing media (as with television and the general interest magazines), but it can also have a complementary effect as well (computers, for example). With this displacement vs. complementary idea in mind — based on an historical perspective — publishers can be better informed in making strategic decisions, while scholars can be more prepared to examine theoretical issues.


About the author

Quint Randle is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications at Brigham Young University. He is also founding editor of Gig, a monthly magazine targeted at working musicians.
E–mail: quint_randle [at] byu [dot] edu



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2. Bart, 1962, p. 32.

3. Douglas, 1991, p. 15.

4. Peterson, 1980, p. 166.

5. Schmidt, 1980, p. 11.

6. Peterson, 1956, pp. 281–282.

7. Tebbel, 1969, pp. 239–240.

8. Lazarsfeld and Wyant, 1937, p. 33.

9.Op.cit., p. 34.

10.Op.cit., p. 38.

11. Edkins, 1978, p. 104.

12. Peterson, 1956, p. 30.

13.Op.cit., p. 283.

14. Peterson, 1980, p. 168.

15. Sontag, 1977, p. 5.

16. Peterson, 1956, pp. 313–314.

17.Folio, 1997, p. 18.

18. Salvaggio and Bryant, 1989, p. 279.

19. Brook, 1977, p. 72.

20. The Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) notes that there are a number of directories and sources that provide the number magazines in the U.S. market, some more comprehensive than others. These include National Directory of Magazines, Standard Rate and Data Service, Audit Bureau of Circulations, BPA International, and the Publishers Information Bureau; see MPA, 2001b.

21. Beam, 1995, p. 32.

22. Peterson, 1964, p. 24.

23. van Zuilen, 1977, p. 31.

24. Wolseley, 1965, p. 53.

25.Op.cit., p. 52.

26. Sucov, 1996, p. 23.

27. Benoit, 1983, p. 93.

28. Klingel, 1983, p. 64.

29.New York Times, 1983, p. D1.

30. Benoit, 1983, p. 94.


32. Klingel, 1983, p. 68. This same scenario and advertising windfall would play out again with the Internet boom in the late 1990s.

33. Benoit, 1983, p. 94.

34.New York Times, 1983, p. D7.

35. Marlatt, 1999, p. 1.

36. Forrester Research, 1998, p. 1.

37. Shapiro, 1999, p. 1.

38. Anthony, 1998, p. 1.



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Editorial history

Paper received 3 August 2001; accepted 17 August 2001.

Copyright © 2001, First Monday.

Copyright © 2001, Quint Randle.

A historical overview of the effects of new mass media: Introductions in magazine publishing during the twentieth century
by Quint Randle
First Monday, Volume 6, Number 9 - 3 September 2001

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