Magazine Publishing Reacts to Michael Jackson Death

While TV and the Internet offered blanket coverage of pop king Michael Jackson’s untimely death on June 25, news and entertainment magazines scrambled to squeeze out tribute issues for next week’s newsstand.

News breaking on a Thursday normally would be untimely for weekly magazines, many of which don’t go on sale until a week later. But some, including Time Inc.’s People and Northern & Shell’s OK! Weekly, had already decided to move up their close dates by a day to get on stands a day early next week, knowing consumers would be taking off early for the July 4 holiday weekend.

OK! goes to press with its next issue this Sunday night instead of Monday, which gives the weekly enough time to slap together a tribute issue but still get it on stands before too much time elapses, editorial director Sarah Ivens said.

“It’s a time we can cope with, because we have three days to put together a fitting tribute,” a relieved Ivens said. “Things in the celebrity world have a tendency to happen Monday night.”

Time magazine plans a special commemorative issue that will hit stands Monday, while sibling pub Entertainment Weekly will publish a major tribute in its next regular issue, on sale Friday in New York.

Others, caught between double summer issues, are rushing to squeeze out newsstand-only specials.

TV Guide, which is in just that situation, decided the night of Jackson’s death to put out a newsstand-only special issue Wednesday to commemorate the King of Pop as well as TV icon Farrah Fawcett, who died the same day after a long battle with cancer. TV Guide’s next regular issue doesn’t get to newsstands until July 8.

TV Guide is planning for a 550,000 press run for the 64-page special issue, editor Debra Birnbaum said. “This is obviously important enough to go back to press for,” she said.

Rolling Stone doesn’t publish its next issue until July 24, having just published a summer double issue. So the Wenner Media magazine decided to put out a special Jackson tribute issue on July 10, hoping to mimic the success of a bookazine it published in December to commemorate Barack Obama’s presidential election. That sold 300,000 copies at $9.99 apiece. The Jackson bookazine also will carry a $9.99 cover price and will run at least 100 pages, according to a Wenner rep.

Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Jackson on TV and the Web, editors said they felt print still had a major role to play.

“As a fan, I want to have a look-back and photos,” OK!’s Ivens said. After Princess Diana’s death, she recalled, “the outpouring was so huge, people were consuming anything they could get, and material they can hold on to and savor seems to do really well. In such a huge situation, you want to know what’s going on, but you want something you can cherish and keep.”

Birnbaum echoed that sentiment: “I actually think this is a time when print really shines. When it comes to big moments in life, I think the public wants a story they can hold on to.”