The dictionaries have always said that a magazine is a military storage place, in a fort or ship, to keep bullets, gunpowder, shells, and other important (or dangerous) military supplies. If an enemy shell hit your magazine, you would be a goner. Moviemakers capitalise on that.
Nowadays, everybody reads magazines—collections of stories on various topics and themes. There are thousands of magazines you can read. I get several technical magazines in addition to Electronic Design. I get IEEE Spectrum, Discover, EP, and RF Design. I get a dozen general-interest magazines—Trains, Smithsonian, and Natural History—that I always read; and others that I try to read. And Hemispheres.
How did the name magazine get started? In the 1700s and early 1800s, when printers developed new capabilities for popular publications (including drawings and other art), they started selling journals or reviews—and they called them "magazines" because they held so many good stories of miscellaneous (dangerous?) information. And here we are today.
According to my 1894 Encyclopedia Britannica*—a good witness of this period—"As from the 'pamphlet of news' arose the weekly paper, wholly devoted to the circulation of news—so from the general newspaper was specialised the weekly or monthly review of literature, antiquities, and science, which, when it included essay-papers, made up the magazine, or miscellaneous repository of matter for information or intelligence." And: "Perhaps the first germ of the magazine is to be found in the Gentleman's Quarterly (1691-1694) of Peter Motteux, which, besides the news of the month, contained miscellaneous prose and poetry." (I'd love to add poetry—but we ain't got the space..../rap)
On the numbers: "ignoring weeklies, and those published more often than once a week (on account of distinguishing them from newspapers) there are biweeklies 47, semi-monthlies 175, monthlies 1034, bi-monthlies 12, quarterlies 59." And that was data from the American Newspaper Board in 1883. Ya got the picture? The publishers were going wild! And they still are. I just heard that 1000 new magazines were started last year. (They didn't say how many old ones went belly-up.)
So what does a good "magazine" do? It presents the reader with a broad array of ideas that are timely. News stories, new products, new IDEAS. It's like a shotgun, trying to hit a little of what many readers will be interested in. A good magazine tries to tweak the readers' interest to get them back every issue. The editorial pages try to make thoughtful comments about various timely topics—again to tweak the interest of the readers. This can lead to a good "Letters to the Editor" column.
A magazine also tries to maintain continuity with features and columns. Here at Electronic Design, we have a Design Brief section that is very popular with me and a lot of other readers. I almost always learn something in there. And, of course, many people like my column. And my "Mailbox," sometimes called the "Dear Abby" of electronics. (Some people say they are annoyed when I talk about anything other than just electronic circuits, as I am doing here. Sorry guys.)
Magazines also carry advertisements. These are important because they pay for the whole thing (or, with paid subscriptions, a lot). They are also very important because they inform us of new products that we will like or that can help us get our work done. Let's give a big cheer for magazines. The world would be boring without them!
or: Mail Stop D2597A, National Semiconductor
PO Box 58090, Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090.