Magazines are ususally divided into two categories, trade or business magazines, and consumer magazines.

Consumer magazines generally cater to a non-professional audience whereas trade magazines target a specific profession, trade, or field of science. Some magazines, like computer trade magazines and job listing weeklies, fall into the gray area in between the two categories.

Consumer magazines, also called slicks because of the glossy paper they're most often printed on, are by far the larger of the two categories. In the United States, more than 6,800 consumer magazines were produced in 2008.1 

Consumer magazines can further be divided into two more categories: specialized and general.  General interest magazines, like Reader's Digest or Atlantic Monthly, appeal to a wide audience. Specialized magazines are aimed at a much smaller niche audience. Titles like Field & Stream, Rodmaker Magazine, and Concrete Wave Magazine appeal to people who are passionate about their particular hobbies or pastimes. There are far more specialized magazines than general interest. In fact, special interest magazines account for over 90 percent of the magazines published today.2 However, with the exception of newsweeklies (see below) their circulation numbers tend to be smaller than for general interest magazines.

Newsweeklies like Time, Maclean's, and US News & World Report are classified as specialized magazines according to SRDS  (Standard Rate and Data Service), but they are large and influential enough to warrant their own separate group.

James B. Kobak, in his book How to Start a Magazine, adds a fourth category for regional magazines like Toronto Life and Berkshire Living and includes both city magazines and magazines devoted to activities in a specific geographic area.3

The ways to categorize consumer magazines seem endless. SRDS separates their list into 75 categories. Bacon publishes an annual directory of magazines which they organize into 225 market classifications.4

Most consumer magazines contain both editorial and advertising content, although there are some few exceptions that don't accept advertising at all. The Magazine Publishers of America's Magazine Handbook says that the advertising to editorial content of magazines has remained relatively stable over the last decade with roughly a 50/50 split.5

If you are considering starting up a general interest magazine that will rely on advertising for revenue, you might benefit from a listing with SRDS. You can get a basic listing free if your publication meets their criteria.

To get a larger piece of the advertising pie, your advertisers might require your circulation to be audited. The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), the leading third party auditing organization in the U.S., audits more than 700 of consumer magazines. ABC-audited magazines generated more than $16 billion in advertising sales and more than $10 billion in circulation revenue in 2002, according to Magazine Publishers of America. Being audited by ABC is gives advertisers a reliable and consistent measure of circulation, and therefore goes a long way to determining how much a magazine can charge for advertising space.6

  1. Magazine Publishers of America, Magazine Handbook 2008/9, March 06, 2009), 5
  2. Erwin K. Thomas and Brown H. Carpenter, eds.,Handbook on Mass Media in the United States: The Industry and Its Audiences(Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), 78.
  3. James B. Kobak, How to Start a Magazine (New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1934), 18.
  4. Charles P. Daly, Patrick Henry, Ellen Ryder, The Magazine Publishing Industry (Boston: Allyn and Bacon),8.
  5. MPA,11.
  6. Marcia A. Wade, "Publishing for Profit: Launching a Magazine Is a Risky Venture. Navigating the Pitfalls Requires Sufficient Advertising, Circulation, Content-And a Bit of Luck," Black Enterprise, May 2004.