The Magazines People Have Actually Been Reading During the Pandemic

Throughout the pandemic there’s been much gloomy news about the magazines hit hard, with some forced to cease print operations altogether or further reduce frequency.

But what about those that have actually performed well as millions of Americans spend more time at home than ever?

Here, WWD rounds up some of the categories that have resonated with consumers — in print, digitally or the publisher’s dream of both mediums.

Home Decor

With most people having spent more time at home than ever during the pandemic, it should come as no surprise that interest in home decor has surged. According to data from the Alliance for Audited Media, Architectural Digest, a bright spot for Condé Nast, saw its total audience increase by 18 percent to a monthly average of 14.2 million in 2020 compared with 2019. While print and digital editions of the magazine remained flat, web, mobile and video traffic all soared.

Veranda, House Beautiful and Elle Decor, all published by Hearst, were up 33 percent to 1.4 million, 18 percent to 14.1 million and 6 percent to 4.8 million, respectively. The latter, in particular, enjoyed a 15 percent increase in readers of its print and digital issues. Elsewhere, Dwell, owned by Dwell Media, was up 35 percent to 2.41 million, while Hearst’s Good Housekeeping, which is more general interest, witnessed 30 percent growth to 59.7 million.

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Amid the pandemic, there has also been a growing demand for single-topic deep dive magazines often referred to as bookazines. Meredith Corp., for example, recently launched People Royals, adding to its existing lineup of Sweet July with Ayesha Curry and Reveal with Drew and Jonathan Scott, among others. A tribute bookazine to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who died last week at age 99, will also be released shortly.

Doug Olson, president of Meredith Magazines, which has roughly 325 bookazine releases every year, said: “If you look at our calendar 2019 versus calendar 2020, our bookazine business is actually up 3 percent, which — when you think about all the airport traffic that was virtually nonexistent, Barnes & Noble was closed for a good five or six months during the pandemic and all the different retailers that were focused on selling food and essential items and de-emphasizing things like magazines — that’s a spectacular performance. We sold 19.5 million copies of our bookazines at a price point of $9.99 or higher in the calendar 2020.”

Iconic Covers

The popularity of glossy fashion magazines may have waned in recent years, but a powerful cover can still sell. While Vogue’s overall audience dropped almost 6 percent last year, the December issue featuring Harry Styles in a sky blue lace Gucci dress flew off shelves, making it Vogue’s bestselling issue of 2020. Some stores even had waitlists for the magazine after it had been sold out. The same is expected for its May cover starring National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman and photographed by Annie Leibovitz, which was well received on social media.

In contrast, the brand faced much criticism on social media for its choice of print cover starring Vice President Kamala Harris in a Donald Deal jacket and Converse sneakers with a backdrop of colors that are emblematic of her sorority at Howard University, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which some social media users labeled “disrespectful,” “poor quality” and “a washed-out mess.” After the fallout, the digital cover, which many commentators said was more worthy of print cover status, finally had its moment in print with Vogue publishing a limited number of special-edition inaugural issues.

News and Analysis

A global pandemic, a close presidential election and an economic fallout has meant there has been an insatiable appetite for news and analysis, benefiting a number of magazines. The Atlantic, majority owned by Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, saw its total audience jump by a third to 32.6 million, according to the AAM data. A representative for The Atlantic told WWD that it gained nearly 400,000 subscribers in 2020 alone, pushing the total number up to more than 750,000. She added that in 2021, readers have continued to turn to The Atlantic for coverage on COVID-19, with stories such as Ellen Cushing’s “Late-Stage Pandemic Is Messing With Your Brain” and Katherine Wu’s “The Second COVID-19 Shot Is a Rude Reawakening for Immune Cells” drawing significant audiences.

Condé Nast’s The New Yorker, meanwhile, was up 15 percent to 23 million and also saw a record number of new subscribers in 2020. Its popularity certainly doesn’t appear to waning in 2021, with 24 million unique visitors to its website in January 2021. The top two New Yorker articles for subscription contributions were “The Plague Year” and “Among The Insurrectionists.“ 

Elsewhere, The Economist was up 21 percent to almost 6 million, Fast Company, owned by Mansueto Ventures, 21.5 percent to 11.8 million, and Condé Nast’s Wired 7.5 percent to close to 28 million.  

But like a number of other brands, these successes have not prevented layoffs amid the coronavirus-induced drop in advertising. Last year, The Atlantic cut staff by almost 20 percent, while Condé Nast laid off 100 staffers, furloughed another 100 and cut pay, which it has since resorted.


Like home decor, food has been another hugely popular category as more and more people cooked at home, especially during the first few months of the pandemic. Trusted Media Brands’ Taste of Home saw its total audience jump 21 percent in 2020 to 42.7 million, while Meredith’s Food & Wine and Allrecipes were up by 15 percent to 17 million and 18.5 percent to 68.7 million respectively.

Bon Appétit, Condé Nast’s food magazine that this year was hit by allegations of a discriminatory workplace and saw its editor in chief Adam Rapoport ousted, grew by 3.7 percent to 30.6 million. While readership of the latter’s print and digital issues slid 3.5 percent and video was down 4.3 percent, web traffic was up 25 percent and mobile visits almost 20 percent higher.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, several health and fitness titles have also performed well, with readers wanting to take better care of themselves. Among them, Women’s Health’s total audience grew by 17.4 percent to 26.3 million; Bicycling by 13.7 to almost 3.5 million; Prevention by 15.9 to 11 million; and Men’s Health by 8 percent to 24.7 million. All are owned by Hearst.


For more from WWD, see:

Media People: Robin Givhan of The Washington Post

2021 Media Moves: Teen Vogue’s New Executive Editor and More

EXCLUSIVE: Drew Barrymore to Launch Lifestyle Magazine

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