What Is a Consumer Publication?

Everything you wanted to know

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A consumer publication is a magazine or publication intended for the general reading public — typically for readers interested in spending leisure time exploring myriad topics. Conversely, a reader looking for information related to a particular line of work would search for a trade publication to get more information about an industry or trade.

Examples of Consumer Publications

Women's interest magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, and home and garden magazines such as HGTV, are examples of publications that appeal to a general audience, although they may be described as "women's interest" or a "publication with the gardener in mind." These aren't magazines that gear towards a specific industry or trade, hence the reason they're called consumer publications. In fact, there are many consumer publications written for niches or interests beyond what is referred to as "general interest." Reader's Digest may have a very broad readership — people interested in everything from household tips to short stories. Field & Stream, on the other hand, may appeal only to people whose love for the outdoors is only surpassed by their particular interests in fishing, hunting, and canoeing.

Consumer Publications vs. Trade Publications

Distinguishing between a consumer publication and a trade publication is simple. For example, Variety is a trade publication about the entertainment industry. People who work in this entertainment, music, and film industries are typically interested in articles covered by Variety writers. On the other hand, Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide are consumer publications about entertainment, written for the reader who enjoys television shows, celebrity gossip, and pop culture. The Journal of the American Medical Association, though written for medical practitioners, researchers and healthcare professionals, differs health-industry trade publication, such as Modern Healthcare. There may be some crossover between the two, but the latter fits the definition of a trade publication than the former, which publishes scientific research and medical journal articles.

Where to Find Consumer Publications

Consumer publications are available for purchase in various retail locations. Airport vendors, for instance, know passengers are looking for ways to pass the time, something to read while waiting for a flight, or a magazine to thumb through while in-flight. You'll see newsstands in practically every airport concourse. Big city newsstands in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. are commonplace for consumer publication magazines as well. But you'll also find consumer publications at big box stores, grocery stores, and even bookstores.

Home delivery subscriptions for consumer publications once dominated distribution but have declined over the years. Many of the consumer publications that arrived via the postal service are now available online through smartphones, tablets, and PCs. In addition, consumer magazine apps, such as Texture and online shopping providers, such as Amazon offer digital copies and subscription packages.

History of Consumer Publications 

Consumer publications have a history that spans far beyond the large-profile Look and Life magazines, the latter of which began publication in the late 1880s. These competitor publications were in the prime of their popularity from the early to middle 1900s. One of the earliest general interest publications was written for men: The Gentleman's Magazine. In publication for nearly two centuries, only a handful of libraries in the U.S. maintain archives of this London-original magazine.

As print publications — newspapers, magazines, journals, and books alike — struggle to survive, the Internet may be held partially responsible for the decline in hard copy magazine purchases and circulation. Nevertheless, there are still readers who enjoy the tactile experience of actually turning magazine pages and gazing at the glossy photographs.