When magazine executives want advice on how to survive trying times, they turn to ... Oprah. The founder of "O: The Oprah Magazine" was a speaker at last week's American Magazine Conference, where industry leaders grappled with the post-Sept. 11 mood ("Can I still put a celebrity on the cover?") and ongoing advertising woes.
Whether editors and publishers heed Oprah's call to connect better with readers remains to be seen. But magazines with feel-good fare are already pulling ahead - growing both readership and ad pages. Publications like Real Simple and Family Circle are capitalizing on a move toward comfort and simplicity that began before Sept. 11, and is now more in focus.
Some observers say it is too soon to tell if there will be noticeable changes in content. A few publications are using recent events as a reason to stick with their usual escapist offerings. Historically, magazines haven't altered content for long after major events - as was the case in 1942, when World War II took over articles for a year before typical fare returned.
But some change is inevitable for an industry that is saturated with titles and burdened with financial challenges. Reportedly, $1 billion in advertising was lost in the wake of the terrorist attacks, making an already bad year worse. And the recent closing of publications - including media watchdog Brill's Content and veteran women's magazine Mademoiselle - has caused more soul-searching.
Magazine analyst Samir Husni calls the closings a result of losing a link with audiences, rather than the effects of Sept. 11 or the economy. "There was not enough readership to sustain those magazines," says the University of Mississippi professor. Like Oprah, he stresses magazines need for a "friendship" with readers - which lately has helped sell Time and Newsweek as much as Family Circle.