Collier's: Bringing a Classic Magazine Back From the Dead

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Collier's magazine - Public Domain image from Toronto Public Library, circa 1904Can famous brand names come back long after they've been abandoned? In December, Brands USA Holdings, a New York-based company, offered an interesting answer to the question when it auctioned off 170 retired trademarks, including long-dead companies like Victrola and MeisterBrau beer. As dozens of these old favorites struggle for a second shot at the American dream, one magazine publisher is exploring ways to breathe new life into a trusted name from the past.

When Collier's magazine went bankrupt in 1957, U.S. newsstands lost one of their shining stars. In business for almost 70 years, the weekly was known for its combination of strong investigative journalism and top-notch short fiction. In fact, the list of its contributors reads like a who's who of the 20th century's greatest writers: Ernest Hemingway wrote for it, as did Rudyard Kipling, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut. It published Winston Churchill's reminiscences of the First World War and Upton Sinclair's railings against the Chicago meat companies.

It was also a treasure trove of some of America's most popular illustrators. Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girls" graced its pages, as did the creepy cartoons of Charles "Addams Family" Addams. Respected artists like Frederick Remington and James Montgomery Flagg drew for it. On the other end of the spectrum, so did "Hanna Barbera" artist Joseph Barbera and Berenstain Bears creators Stan and Jan Berenstain.

High Hopes

Collier's magazine circa 1940 by Getty ImagesJohn T. Elduff, managing director of JTE Multimedia, a Philadelphia-based magazine company, remembers Collier's fondly, noting that it was "a great title with a strong audience." Elduff is so convinced about the strength of the name that he paid $2,000 for the rights to the Collier's trademark at the Brands USA auction -- and he plans to resurrect the brand.

The key to Elduff's strategy lies in the name recognition that Collier's still enjoys among older readers. His reboot, which will contain a familiar (to those readers) mix of investigative journalism and short fiction, is aimed at the 55- to 90-year-old demographic, a group with some fond memories of the original magazine and a strong investment in print culture.

While the magazine has been dead for over half a century, its once-prominent spot in American culture continues to cast a long shadow. Elduff asserts that he has already gotten a lot of attention from prominent writers who want to be part of the new magazine: "I get between five and 10 unsolicited offers per day from authors who want to write for the new Collier's." And with Collier's redux aiming for the caliber of its namesake, he emphasizes that "It will not be a novelty to be published in Collier's. It will be an honor."

A Tough Market

It's a hard time to keep a magazine open, much less raise one from the dead, but Elduff knows quite a bit about the business. His company publishes a trio of successful medical journals: Postgraduate Medicine, The Physician and Sportsmedicine and Hospital Practice. He notes that his target demographic includes the nation's largest cadre of prescription drug users, which would put Collier's in a prime position to draw from a steady stream of prescription drug ad revenues.

For that matter, he's also working with well-known venture capitalist Warren "Pete" Musser, founder and former CEO of Safeguard Scientifics. Musser, who helped launch QVC, Comcast, Novell, and other Fortune 500 companies, is "enthusiastic" about Elduff's offer of a seat on the Collier's board of directors.

Samir Husni is a little less optimistic about the magazine's future. Founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, he notes that Collier's hit the height of its popularity in the early 1940s, which means the readers who remember it most fondly would now be at least in their 80s. While he agrees that this audience would be very open to prescription advertising, he also notes that Elduff's target readers would now be "years older than the average American lifespan."

Another problem, Husni points out, is that magazine rehabilitations rarely succeed. In fact, despite attempts to bring Look, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post back from the dead, the only resurrected magazine to really regain its former strength was Vanity Fair, which, he notes, was "launched as a brand new magazine."

Magazine Publisher or Miracle Worker?


On the bright side, Husni notes, Vanity Fair could offer a successful model for Elduff. If the publisher "creates a magazine that follows in the footsteps of Collier's and tries to recapture its crusading spirit," he might be able to develop an audience for the new version. However, he wonders if Elduff's current 55- to 90-year-old target is the best bet for the new magazine: "Are those people really interested in investigative journalism?"

Regardless of how it turns out, Husni offers his best wishes for Elduff's venture: "I definitely applaud his efforts. Anyone who is willing to venture into bringing a magazine back to life is amazing. I call those people miracle workers."

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Little Round Top

C. Montgomery Burns will be thrilled to hear his favorite magazine is making a comeback!

January 19 2011 at 9:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vrosen

2 grand for a brand name? seems like a smart investment for a publisher. hope they can turn it into a good modern magazine!

January 19 2011 at 2:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
skrr123

I think resurrecting a classic magazine CAN be successful. I have worked in publishing and know a fair amount about the business. In addition to top-notch content and "name-brand" writers, such a magazine will need a strong, interactive on-line presence and offer downloadable formats for tech-savvy readers (I.e., Kindle, etc.) If it can do this, it can trim its costs while using the power of its greatest competition (i.e., the Internet) as its marketing tool. In addition to a deliberately 'retro' look and feel, the magazine can capitalize on its former glory by featuring "then and now" comparisons of articles reflecting attitudes on issues then compared to modern attitudes about the same issues.

January 19 2011 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mikemoo

I don't agree with your writer....I'm a lot younger than 80 and I remember well Collier's and its stories. Hopefully the publisher will succeed in getting an edition out to us so we can buy it. I don't care for most of the current magazines as they are too focused on one topic.

January 19 2011 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mimsysc

As far as I can see, the mag would be great in the old format, however, there are no more journalist, just people who have their point of view.

January 19 2011 at 12:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ustye

Newspapers and Magazines are a dying breed. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased print publication and is only online. The cose of the high quality sheen paper has many magazines tottering on the edge. TIME is surviving but what of Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. Magazines are old by the time they go to press with the Internet. Playboy survives with Hefner. TV Guide went to a new format nearly ten years ago. I remember Collier's in its dying days in the mid-50's, in that format it will not survive today. A magazine like Collier's, how many remember Liberty. As stated in the article, LIFE, LOOK and the Saturday Evening Post are gone.

January 19 2011 at 11:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sherry

As a senior citizen, I personally feel our market is underserved. The only magzine that really targets our age group is AARP, and I, like many, don't particularly care for that group. Yes, we care about investigative journalism - we grew up in a time when journalists were much more likely to thouroghly verify their sources and not publish any story unless they had multiipe sources for their information. As a voracious reader, I find it much more pleasant to read an article that gives me an in-depth look at a topic than seeing "sound bites" and innuendo because the writer doesn't care to invest the time to give an objective view of the topic.

Speaking only for myself, I am tired of being discounted by the media as irrevelant. We still vote, shop, and participate in the world; we have lived full lives and still have much to offer society, and any publication that offers us a chance to be heard is one I would definitely subscribe to and enjoy.

January 19 2011 at 11:05 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Tim Miller

National Premium Beer, a Baltimore based Pilsener was sold at this auction and is making a comeback too.

www.nationalpremiumbeer.com

January 19 2011 at 11:03 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
randmhunley

DONT MATTER,, ROSIE ODONALD WILL JUST BUY IT AND SCREW IT UP LIKE THE OTHER MAGS SHE BOUGHT,

January 19 2011 at 11:03 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
ellistom

classic? to who?? I'm 44 and have never heard of it....

January 19 2011 at 10:58 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply