What Is a Consumer Publication?

Definition & Examples of a Consumer Publication

Woman relaxes with a magazine at a cafe
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A consumer publication is a magazine or publication intended for the general reading public, not a particular trade or industry.

Learn more about consumer publications and how they differ from trade publications or scholarly journals.

What Is a Consumer Publication?

Consumer publications are intended for the general public. Their mission is usually to inform or entertain (or sometimes both), and they contain content for a broad consumer audience. The subject matter of a consumer publication might be general interest, or the publication could have a more specific theme, topic, or focus.

Consumer publications are usually easy to find at grocery stores, bookstores, newsstands, and other retail locations in printed form. You can also subscribe to have them delivered. In digital form, you can buy them at online retailers such as Amazon or through magazine apps, to be read on digital devices such as smartphones and tablets, by subscription or individually.

  • Alternate name: Popular publication, popular magazine.

How a Consumer Publication Works

Consumer publications are generally geared toward readers interested in spending their leisure time exploring a variety of topics. These publications contain articles and stories that aren't technical or overly long, and they're usually accompanied by photos, too.

The content may or may not be bylined. Articles are usually staff-written or written by freelance journalists or writers. Often the publication is ad-supported, so there will be a number of advertisements appearing regularly throughout the copy.

Consumer publications are usually published on a regular schedule, such as weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Online articles may have a paywall, requiring a subscription in order to access the content.

The publication might have a focus such as:

  • Current events
  • Celebrity news
  • Hobbies
  • Home and family
  • Outdoors
  • Special interest (for example, pets)

Even publications or magazines geared toward a special interest have a general audience in mind. For example, Field & Stream is a magazine that may appeal only to people interested in fishing, hunting, and canoeing, but the articles are still accessible to a wider audience should they wish to read them.

Examples of consumer publications include newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, or magazines such as Newsweek, Good Housekeeping, Vogue, or People.

Consumer Publications vs. Trade Publications

Consumer publication Trade publication
General audience Industry-specific
Informs and entertains the public Shares news and info about a particular industry
Usually published for profit  Usually published by a trade group or association

Distinguishing between a consumer publication and a trade publication is simple. A reader interested in general information would consult a consumer publication; a reader looking for information related to a particular line of work would search for a trade publication.

Trade publications contain information, news, and advice for specific trades, industries, or professionals. These publications are intended to advance the profession and contain articles by experts instead of (or in addition to) work by specialized journalists. The audience for these publications is usually people employed in a particular industry or profession, who wish to keep up with the advances, news, and technology of a particular field.

Reading trade magazines and journals may require you to know some of the jargon and language of the industry it covers in order to understand the content.

For example, Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide are consumer publications about entertainment, written for a reader who enjoys television shows, celebrity gossip, and pop culture.

Variety, on the other hand, is a trade publication about the entertainment industry. Its audience is people who work in music, film, and television. Instead of general information about upcoming movies, for example, Variety will publish box office results, transactions, script deals, ad data, and other news relevant to entertainment professionals.

Scholarly Publications

Consumer and trade publications are different from scholarly journals, which publish academic articles. For instance, Health magazine is a consumer publication for people with a general interest in health topics. Modern Healthcare, on the other hand, is a trade publication for healthcare professionals, whereas the Journal of the American Medical Association is a scholarly journal about medicine.

While there may be overlap in their audiences, the content published will be very different between consumer publications, industry publications, and scholarly publications.

For example, Health magazine will publish consumer content that is accessible to anyone with a passing interest in the topic of health and wellness. Modern Healthcare, a trade publication, will publish articles specific to nurses, doctors, administrators, and other healthcare professionals. And the Journal of the American Medical Association will publish scientific research and peer-reviewed scholarship.

Key Takeaways

  • A consumer publication is intended to inform or educate a general audience.
  • Consumer publications don't require specialized knowledge to understand, and they're written using simple language.
  • Consumer publications are usually published for profit and sold at retail locations or by subscription.

Article Sources

  1. Loyola Marymount University. "Scholarly, Popular, and Trade Information." Accessed Aug. 25, 2020.

  2. University of Washington. "Research Foundations: Popular, Scholarly, & Trade Publications." Accessed Aug. 25, 2020.