Publishes Its Final Issue Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Saturday Evening Post ceased publishing after advertising trends began to favor television and specialty magazines over general mass-circulation magazines.

Summary of Event

As a cost-saving measure to preserve the Curtis Publishing Company Curtis Publishing Company , its board of directors ended publication of The Saturday Evening Post on February 8, 1969, even though the nostalgic and newsworthy magazine was beloved by millions of Americans. The magazine was recognized as a sentimental and articulate mirror of the American way of life. Saturday Evening Post, The (periodical) Magazines [kw]Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue, The (Feb. 8, 1969) [kw]Final Issue, The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its (Feb. 8, 1969) Saturday Evening Post, The (periodical) Magazines [g]North America;Feb. 8, 1969: The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue[10190] [g]United States;Feb. 8, 1969: The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue[10190] [c]Publishing and journalism;Feb. 8, 1969: The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue[10190] [c]Communications and media;Feb. 8, 1969: The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue[10190] [c]Business and labor;Feb. 8, 1969: The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue[10190] [c]Economics;Feb. 8, 1969: The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue[10190] [c]Popular culture;Feb. 8, 1969: The Saturday Evening Post Publishes Its Final Issue[10190] Ackerman, Martin S. Curtis, Cyrus H. K. Lorimer, George Horace Hibbs, Ben Clifford, John M. Emerson, William A., Jr.

The Curtis Publishing Company was founded by Cyrus H. K. Curtis on June 25, 1891. The company purchased The Saturday Evening Post (or, The Post) in 1897 for $1,000. By 1909, circulation had reached 905,400, with an advertising rate of $3,000 per page. Four years later, circulation topped two million a week. At the same time, Curtis’s Ladies’ Home Journal Ladies’ Home Journal (periodical)[Ladies Home Journal] was making great inroads into the women’s market. Accelerating quickly, The Post netted $16 million after taxes in 1925. In 1949, Curtis Publishing earned $3.5 million on $71.6 million in overall business. In the 1950’s, annual advertising revenues from The Post soared to almost $80 million.

Cumulative losses of $62 million during the 1960’s, with a decrease in Post advertising as a major factor in the decline, led Curtis to sell the Ladies’ Home Journal and American Home in 1968. Curtis had also owned Country Gentleman, which it sold in 1955. When The Post folded, Curtis still retained Holiday, Jack and Jill, and for a brief while, Status.

Martin S. Ackerman, who became president of Curtis in April, 1968, denied any intent during his apprenticeship to fold The Post, according to The Wall Street Journal. Ackerman, an aggressive, thirty-six-year-old entrepreneur, brought $5 million to the ailing Curtis at the onset of his brief tenure. In his book The Curtis Affair (1970), Ackerman cites numerous reasons for that magazine’s downfall, with the loss of advertising the most important factor. Advertising revenues declined to a mere $41 million in 1967 as television viewing increased. Well-publicized rumors that Curtis might default led advertisers to lose confidence in the magazine. Life and Look, both of which folded in the early 1970’s, seemed to be more dependable mass outlets than was The Post.

Ackerman took the bold step of slashing Post subscriptions from six million to three million in 1968. At that time, it cost $12 to fulfill each one-year subscription. Ackerman raised the cost of a Post subscription from $3.95 to $8.00 and instigated an experimental “A” edition. This edition aimed at a more affluent, urban, and sophisticated audience, which advertisers preferred to the small-town, middle-class readership that had been The Post’s milieu.

These efforts came too late, in Ackerman’s opinion, and he blamed the Curtis leadership for not seeking changes in management earlier. Ackerman claimed that Curtis had failed to keep up with the times and could have developed a broader base to include newspapers, book publishing, and broadcasting.

Business acumen had been a trait of the early years at The Post. Cyrus Curtis had his eye on advertising from the start, when he purchased the weekly in 1897 from publisher A. W. Smythe. Curtis blended editorship with commercial promotion by signing on George Horace Lorimer as the first editor in chief. Curtis required Lorimer to write advertising copy as well as to edit the magazine. The Post was one of the first magazines to capitalize on advertising revenues for profit while selling at less than production costs. It sold for a nickel a copy at newsstands until April, 1942.

Under Lorimer, who served successfully as editor in chief for thirty-eight years, the magazine brought notable young writers to its pages, publishing work by William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, and Ring Lardner. This carried on the magazine’s tradition from the nineteenth century, when the magazine/newssheet had printed stories by Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Barring William McKinley, every United States president during Lorimer’s tenure, from Grover Cleveland to Herbert Hoover, published in the magazine.

George Horace Lorimer, editor-in-chief of The Saturday Evening Post for almost forty years.

(Library of Congress)

Editorial quality of The Post remained excellent under the leadership of Ben Hibbs, editor in chief from 1942 to 1962. After completely revamping the magazine’s format, Hibbs proved once again that high-standard journalism still appealed to Post readers. During this time, Norman Rockwell illustrated Post covers. All-time circulation highs were achieved on February 14, 1953, with the first installation of Bing Crosby’s “Call Me Lucky,” and on November 5, 1955, with the first installment of Arthur Godfrey’s serial “This Is My Story.”

Trouble brewed in the early 1960’s. The magazine drew damaging libel suits for such muckraking articles as “The Story of a Football Fix” and “The Automakers and Their Mighty Works.” Libel suits cost Curtis a reported $40 million. Even with annual cost savings of $16 million under company president Matthew J. Culligan Culligan, Matthew J. , who served from 1962 to 1964, outstanding debts frequently could not be paid. A financial reprieve came when copper was discovered under Curtis-owned timberlands in Ontario. Sale of rights to the copper brought $24 million to Curtis from Texas Gulf Sulphur Company in 1965. With John M. Clifford at the presidential helm from 1965 to 1968, Curtis could achieve only small profits.

Despite the libel suits, The Post maintained high writing standards under the editorship of William A. Emerson, Jr., who assumed the position in 1963. Emerson, who had a good sense of humor, said he would edit the Post as long as it amused him to do so, which was until the final issue. Authors for the Emerson version of The Post included Arthur Miller, James Gavin, John Kenneth Galbraith, James Michener, Russell Baker, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Thousands of readers wrote to Curtis Publishing after The Post folded, asking that the magazine be given a second chance. As one editor said when the magazine was dying, “If goodwill were cash, the beloved Post would be rich.”

Significance

From a journalistic point of view, there were fewer outlets for superior writers of fiction and nonfiction after the demise of The Saturday Evening Post. From a business perspective, the event caught the attention of publishers as one more clear signal that general interest magazines with a mass, national circulation were no longer attracting sufficient advertising dollars. Other highly visible magazines that perished near this time were The American (1956), Collier’s (1957), Coronet (1961), Reporter (1968), Life (1972), Look (1972), and The Saturday Review, which merged with World Magazine in 1973.

Although these failures give the appearance that magazine publishing was on the decline, a substantial growth occurred between 1963 and 1974 in both the number of American magazines and in their total circulation. The most significant trend was the rise in the number and sales of specialty magazines designed to take up where television left off on such topics as sports, air travel, crafts, autos, business, parenting, and metropolitan hubs, as covered by such publications as New York and Philadelphia. Even though many magazines shut down, during this period the total number of American magazines rose 47.6 percent, with a parallel 43 percent increase in overall circulation. Numerous general interest magazines entered the marketplace but achieved low sales. Thus, the total circulation figures of general magazines remained steady.

Events such as the closing of The Post and Life showed that editorial excellence was no longer as important to sustaining a magazine as was effective business management. By the 1980’s, magazine management was relegated largely to relatives and heirs of founders, with strong editors unable to have much of an impact. At The Post, aging conservatives still influenced the board of directors as late as the 1960’s. Ackerman criticized the magazine’s inability to keep up with the times, which he saw as resulting from unsuitable high-level management.

Historically, magazines have died during periods of economic instability and in the face of competition for the reader’s time. For example, the bicycle fad, automobiles, radio, and motion pictures caused such magazines as Century, North American Review, and Living Age to fold. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, television acted as a much more direct and successful rival for leisure time. The Post was revised, but as a quarterly publication, in the summer of 1971. It began monthly publication in 1974, which continued until it was acquired by the Benjamin Franklin Literary and Medical Society and began being published six times a year with a focus on health issues. Saturday Evening Post, The (periodical) Magazines

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ackerman, Martin S. The Curtis Affair. Los Angeles: Nash, 1970. A clear, concise rundown of Ackerman’s actions and opinions during his ten months as president and chief executive officer of Curtis Publishing Company. Readable and relatively unbiased.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Culligan, Matthew J. The Curtis-Culligan Story: From Cyrus to Horace, to Joe. New York: Crown, 1970. Colorful but less than erudite perspective on the Culligan years. Interesting for his point of view. Brief index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Friedrich, Otto. Decline and Fall. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. A good account of the magazine’s demise, starting in September, 1962, when Friedrich went to work for The Saturday Evening Post, serving as number-two editor under William A. Emerson, Jr. Gives a full history of the magazine. Good index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “I Am Marty Ackerman. I Am Thirty-Six Years Old. And I Am Very Rich.” Harper’s Magazine 239 (December, 1969): 92-121. Condensation of chapters about Ackerman from Decline and Fall. Very readable.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kitch, Carolyn. Pages from the Past: History and Memory in American Magazines. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. Details the role magazines play in the development of an American identity shaped through magazine representations of shared memories, reminiscences, and nostalgia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kobak, James B. “Growing, Changing, and Stable.” Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management 3 (October, 1974): 87-95. A plethora of facts, figures, and charts showing the beginnings and discontinuances of magazines, listed by category rather than title. A useful resource.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rankin, William Parkman, and Eugene Sauvé Waggaman, Jr. Business Management of General Consumer Magazines. 2d ed. New York: Praeger, 1984. Particularly relevant are chapter 4, “The Economic Development of Early Magazines,” chapter 5, “The Saturday Evening Post,” and chapter 8, “Life.” Good bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wood, James Playsted. The Curtis Magazines. New York: Ronald Press, 1971. A clear if unevenly written history of the inexorable downfall of The Saturday Evening Post. Less personal than other accounts. Good index.

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