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Old is new again with revamped Saturday Evening Post

The Saturday Evening Post is returning to its roots with a redesign combining art and fiction with other articles. The Saturday Evening Post is returning to its roots with a redesign combining art and fiction with other articles. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)
By Charles Wilson
Associated Press / July 4, 2009
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INDIANAPOLIS - The Saturday Evening Post, a centuries-old publication that helped make illustrator Norman Rockwell a household name and showcased some of America’s greatest writers, is returning to its roots to show readers the value of a quiet read in an increasingly frenetic digital age.

A redesign launching with its July/August issue combines the Post’s hallmarks - art and fiction - with folksy commentary and health articles. The revamped Post promises a more relaxing option for people who are used to doing much of their reading online, or are simply tired of special-interest magazines crammed into tight niches.

“There is a void of magazines now that do emphasize art and creative writing and fiction,’’ publisher Joan SerVaas said.

But industry experts say the Post - which traces its origins to Benjamin Franklin, though it had a hiatus from 1969 to 1971 - risks alienating its core readers while trying to buck a decades-long shift away from general-interest magazines.

“The Saturday Evening Post is no longer my father’s magazine; it’s my grandfather’s magazine,’’ said Samir A. Husni, who publishes an annual guide to consumer magazines as director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi.

Although the Post is making concessions to the digital age, through weekly updates to its website and a profile on the social-networking site Facebook, Husni said those efforts could shatter the habits of longtime readers without necessarily drawing new ones.

And Husni warned that the changes to the print edition might come across to longtime readers as a lesser version of what the Post once was.

The magazine, whose circulation peaked at 6 million in 1960, now has 350,000 readers, most of whom are women over 45. That’s low compared with the general interest, health, and lifestyle magazines with which it competes, such as Prevention, with circulation of 3.3 million, and Guideposts, at 2 million.

Many publications have tried new approaches amid advertising and circulation challenges in a digital age. The large-format Rolling Stone shrank to standard magazine size last year, in part to help boost single-copy sales because it now fits better on magazine racks. TV Guide, meanwhile, grew into a full-size magazine in 2005.

“We’ve yet to see what will work,’’ Husni said.