Liberal Magazines Suffering Under Obama

If you’re trying to sell political magazines, you’re better off when your team is out of power and angry. Vanity Fair‘s Matt Pressman investigates this blinding flash of the obvious:

Nation-National-Review-coversThe George W. Bush years were good for more than just oilfield-services companies and waterboard manufacturers. They were also a boon for liberal political magazines, whose circulation soared on the wings of the Bush hatred that swept much of the country. The paid circulation (subscriptions plus newsstand sales) of The Nation nearly doubled from 2001 to 2005, that of Mother Jones rose by 37 percent, and that of Harper’s by 7 percent.

So how have those magazines fared now that they don’t have W to kick around anymore? And have their ideological opposites on the newsstand enjoyed a boost from the anti-government, tea party-led fervor that has taken off since President Obama’s inauguration? I crunched the numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) and BPA Worldwide in order to find out.

The year 2009 was a tough one for magazines in general, with circulation down 2.23 percent overall, according to ABC (the decline in advertising revenue was far greater and more detrimental, but that’s another story). The three leading liberal political magazines, however, fared particularly badly. The Nation‘s circulation in 2009 was down 7.4 percent from 2008, Mother Jones was down 6.7 percent, and Harper’s was down 5 percent.

And despite the increased enthusiasm for politics that a presidential election brings, 2008 wasn’t a standout year for those three magazines. If you compare their 2009 circulations to their average circulations from 2003 (when the Bush-hatred phenomenon truly took off) to 2008, it looks the same or worse: off 6.6 percent for The Nation, 14.3 percent for Mother Jones, and 11.3 percent for Harper’s.

What about the conservative magazines? The most prominent and biggest-selling, The National Review, definitely seemed to experience an Obama-hatred bump in 2009. Paid circulation was up a solid 4.8 percent from 2008, and was 16 percent greater than the magazine’s 2003-2008 average. The Weekly Standard rose by 8.4 percent, with an especially big spike in the second half of the year. As for five-year-old Newsmax, which has less name recognition than the Standard but a higher circulation (an average of 101,370 copies in 2009 versus 77,470), its circulation held steady.

With some notable exceptions, we’ve seen the same trend in the blogosphere and, to a lesser extent, cable news.   The right-leaning blogs dominated in the early part of the last decade, spurred on by outrage over Islamist terrorism.  By the early stages of the Iraq War, though, the left-leaning blogs had a readership explosion.   The top blogs of both sides have continued to do well since then but we’ve certainly seen an upswing in the traffic at InstaPundit, Michelle Malkin, RedState, Hot Air, and other blogs that have capitalized on the Tea Party movement and anti-Obama sentiments.

It’s worth noting, though, that political blogs, magazines, and TV shows attract a niche audience.  If you really want to attract an audience, come up with the next Perez Hilton or ICanHasCheezburger.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Media, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    Yeah, IHasAHotdog doesn’t pull nearly as many hits as ICanHasCheezburger. Dogs just don’t have the pull that cats have.

    At least for now. Who knows what the next change in administration will bring in the dog vs. cat battles?

  2. Triumph says:

    Liberal Magazines Suffering Under Obama

    Dudes, it is not only libbie rags that are suffering. AMERICA is the main sufferer during the reign of B. Hussein.

  3. Ah, if we could only limit the suffering to the liberal progressive magazines…

    The last liberal magazine I can think of off the top of my head is Reason. But then I like to use the 19th century meaning of the word liberal.

  4. Brian Knapp says:

    But then I like to use the 19th century meaning of the word liberal.

    I like to use 19th century meanings for ALL my words, dagnabbit!