MAD Magazine, synonymous with juvenile humor and smart-ass satire, will not be on your local newsstands in 2020. That the magazine managed to last nearly 70 years is as much a testament to its staying power as it is tenacity, especially considering how many magazines have folded in the era of Amazon, online advertising and comedic websites that can react to culture in real time.
There's more to the perfect storm that caused this to happen. At the magazine's height of popularity, it had two million subscribers. As of 2017, that number was 140,000. I'm actually surprised it was still that high. Not because of the magazine itself, but because traditional and digital publishing is in such turmoil it's a bigger surprise when things don't fold..
In a New York Times article from February 2019, it was reported that "more than 1,000 employees were laid off at BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo and HuffPost. Vice Media started the process of laying off some 250 workers and Mic, a site aimed at younger readers, axed much of its staff two months ago before a competitor bought it in a fire sale." Just last month, you could buy Salon for only 5 million.
Even successful magazines are finding it difficult to get people to actually read them. Back in February, bon appétit expanded its annoyingly stupid millennial brand voice into a streaming service, called bon appétit TV, hoping to lure away its 3.1 million subscribers from YouTube. They assume that because people subscribed to YouTube to watch a few videos that they'll stick around for a streaming version of the Food Network or the Cooking Channel. I am also presuming this is because they woke up and realized they don't actually have to host their content on YouTube.
Condé Nast announced its intention to enter the streaming space in 2018 with Wired, GQ and bon appétit. Beyond the breathy articles, I have yet to hear how the OTT Networks are doing. If their announcement on Twitter from the same time is any indication, a lot of fans were disappointed with compatibility issues. Some were angry they won't be able to watch unless they buy a Roku, Apple TV, amazonfire or android device. This shouldn't come as a surprise; when a show on NBC gets picked up on a different channel it doesn’t magically gain a whole bunch more viewers.
While MAD magazine was never a content provider in that sense, it still faced the same hurdles. How do you compete with The Onion, Comedy Central, College Humor (yes, they are still around) Funny or Die, and your average late night hosts? MAD's greatest misfortune was being first. Even its closest competitor Cracked saw the writing on the walls, shuttered its print production and decided for some reason to turn its website into a midwit version of Buzzfeed. Chasing ever-diminishing ad revenue with listicles and clickbait is never a good thing to emulate, even if your name has equity. When E.W Scripps Co. bought Cracked for 39 million in 2016, they probably thought they got it at a bargain. Less than two years later, the company wrote off 36 million in losses.
According to NPR, "After issue No. 10 this fall, there will no longer be new content, except for end-of-year specials which will be all new. Starting with issue No. 11, the magazine will feature classic, best-of and nostalgic content, repackaged with new covers."
This is probably the smartest thing its parent company DC comics could do. With almost 70 years of history to mine, (to say nothing of MAD TV the sketch comedy show as well as the animated version) they can easily create a rollout based on any topic including their iconic, interactive fold-ins.
Along with their contributions to American culture, comedy and satire, MAD were also master marketers. An expert from the book Totally MAD, explained such a stroke of genius during what was essentially a company trip to Haiti. "Discovering that the magazine had one subscriber in Port-au-Prince, Gaines piled his charges into five Jeeps, drove to the lad’s home, and presented him with a renewal card."
This sounds like something a creative team would pitch. Only now the people involved wouldn't be illustrators and humorists but an Instafamous influencer doing the surprise while taking a selfie.
MAD's demise may have been inevitable, but in their own way, they understood new media better than their counterparts, by focusing on what they did best: irreverent comedy. While the jokes in the monthly magazine might have felt a little stale in today's hype-news cycles, a recent jab on Twitter showed they still had the chops.
During an interview with Politico in May, President Trump compared Democrat Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to MAD Magazine's idiotically gap-toothed mascot proclaiming. “Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States."
In response, a million articles were written, proving once again that Trump can literally say anything and get reams of press written about him. Meanwhile, Buttigieg decided the best way to respond was an "okay Grandpa," ageist one. When asked about it, "I’ll be honest. I had to Google that, I guess it’s just a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference.”
Not to be outdone, MAD gave a classic response on Twitter.
And then in classic MAD style, followed it up immediately with a link to subscribe.