Newspapers were developed to appeal to the general public; magazines, on the other hand, were intended from the start to deliver more narrowly focused material to special-interest groups, and they experienced a difficult birth. In England, early magazines failed so quickly and frequently that the species was continually endangered, several times extinct.
The origin of the magazine, following the development of the printing press in fifteenth-century Germany, was straightforward: printed single-page leaflets expanded into multipage pamphlets that filled the middle ground between newspapers and books.
History’s first magazine was the 1633 German periodical Erbauliche Monaths-Unterredungen, or the wonderfully named Edifying Monthly Discussions, started by Johann Rist, a poet and theologian from Hamburg. Strongly reflecting its publisher’s dual vocations, the “monthly” appeared whenever Rist could spare the time to write and print it, and its edifying contents strictly embodied the author’s own views. It lasted, on and off, for five years—an eternity for early magazines.
Magazines for light reading, for diversion, and for exclusively female readership began appearing by the mid-seventeenth century. Two are notable for having established a format that survives to this day. A 1672 French publication, Mercure Galant, combined poems, colourful anecdotes, feature articles, and gossip on the nobles at court. A few years later in 1693, a British publisher took the bold step of introducing a magazine devoted to “the fairer sex.” Ladies’ Mercury offered advice on etiquette, courtship, and child rearing, plus embroidery patterns and home cosmetic preparations, along with dollops of light verse and heavy doses of gossip—a veritable potpourri of how-tos, delights, and inessentials that could not be found in newspapers or books. The magazine found itself a niche and set forth a formula for its many imitators over the following centuries.