Utahns' taste in magazines is surprising. I've been doing some research into the problems of publishing magazines in Utah, and in that connection I began inquiring about those magazines that are most popular in the state.
Getting information about subscriptions is difficult, and the following list does not reflect any subscription sales, but according to Bonneville News Co., the top-selling magazines in Utah at newstands are the following:l. TV Guide
3. National Enquirer
5. Woman's Day
6. The Star
7. Family Circle
9. Reader's Digest
That list intrigued me. I talked with owners of other magazine shops in the Salt Lake area, and it held true to form in their experience. In fact, this is a list that would be regarded as typical around the country.
Several of the owners said that TV Guide and the National Enquirer were very high, and that "men's magazines" easily outsell the news magazines, such as Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. One shop owner even said that the six most popular magazines in his outlet were all men's magazines, including Playboy and Penthouse.
Now I hesitate to be too critical of my own culture, but that information raises several concerns in my mind. See if you agree with any of them.
First, the most popular magazines are essentially "non-reading" magazines. TV Guide and People, for instance, are very low on actual articles and information dispensed. It would seem safe to say that people who buy those magazines are not interested in reading very much. Even Reader's Digest, which is quite far down the list and has more reading material, is dedicated to the notion that people want a story that is quick and easy.
Second, what little interest the buyers of these magazines do have in reading is confined to celebrities, and they can always find an abundance of pictures of those people to look at without challenging their brains too deeply.
Third, the sensational approach to magazine writing is in vogue in Utah. The articles that appear in the National Enquirer and the Star are usually based on slim or misleading information, the information is often incorrect, and the pictures and headlines that accompany them exploit the subject. There is a heavy emphasis on violence and sex. Without question, there is less validity to these magazines than most others.
Fourth, an interest in Vogue and Cosmopolitan suggests a strong preoccupation with fashion and style in our culture. That's not serious, I guess, but what about all the other important things we can be reading about?
Fifth, the high place on the list for Penthouse, as well as other so-called men's magazines, suggests that Utah culture does not suppress the prurient interests of many men. Despite strong religious influence, these magazines obviously thrive in the marketplace. And the men who buy them find it less obtrusive to pick them up at a newstand than to subscribe.
The fact that Twyla Martak, a native Salt Laker, is the September "Pet of the Month" for Penthouse, and that her nude photo is on the magazine's centerfold, along with 14 other pictures in which she is partially clothed, will undoubtedly boost those sales even more. Maybe a Salt Laker posing for Penthouse should not be considered unusual.
Now, I don't want to seem unreasonable, but no wonder magazines of substance have difficulty maintaining a sound financial base. Where are the intellectuals in our midst? Where are the thinkers, those who thrive on ideas? Some magazine-shop owners noted that the traditionally respected and stimulating Utah Holiday magazine has dipped in sales since a change in owners seemed to put its future in doubt earlier this year.
I have personally discovered that Utah Holiday is alive and well. So more Utahns should grab it off the stands, as well as the many other more challenging magazines that will provoke serious thought. Otherwise, there may be a market soon for a new local publication called Utah Fluff.