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Reference Question of the Week – 11/14/10

   November 20th, 2010

Old House Journal cover 01-2011This wasn't actually a reference question, but can be filed under "things you didn't really question until someone provided an answer that showed you weren't asking the right question."

Occasionally at my library, if falls to me to add new magazine issues that arrive. We have a variety of subscriptions, like any library (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc), and when I'm adding new issues, it always amazes me how early they arrive. Early, that is, based on the cover date of the magazine. I always just chalked this phenomenon up to a ridiculous marketing attempt to appear hyper-current.

Anyway, I was adding magazines in October, when the January 2011 issue of Old House Journal arrived. A month or so in advanced seemed the norm, so a magazine arriving three months early prompted me to tweet:

Tweet about Jan. 2011 Old House Journal arriving in Oct. 2010

A little while later, and with this tweet in mind, my friend Chris emailed me with this:

Huh, TIL (Today I Learned):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsweek#Cover_Date

The date on a magazine is the date it's supposed to be pulled out the shelf, not the publication date or something else.

Wow - that actually makes a certain kind of sense. I tried to verify this with another source, but couldn't find one. However, Wikipedia did provide a little more information in the Cover Date article:

In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the standard practice is to display on magazine covers a date which is some weeks or months in the future from the actual publishing/release date. There are two reasons for this discrepancy: first, to allow magazines to continue appearing "current" to consumers even after they have been on sale for some time (since not all magazines will be sold immediately), and second, to inform newsstands when an unsold magazine can be removed from the stands and returned to the publisher or be destroyed.

Weeklies (such as Time and Newsweek) are generally dated a week ahead. Monthlies (such as National Geographic Magazine) are generally dated a month ahead, and quarterlies are generally dated three months ahead.

In other countries, the cover date usually matches more closely the date of publication, and may indeed be identical where weekly magazines are concerned.

So there you go - I love learning things by accident.




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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 11/14/10”

  1. Winnie Says:

    I look after the ordering, cataloguing and processing of magazines at our library and I don’t belive there is a single reason for this. It isn’t universally true, either. Our American publications usually have the greatest discrepency while Canadian publications usually appear about two weeks prior to the cover month and MacLean’s tends to arrive Thurs/Fri with the following week’s Monday date. Of course, some of this appears to depend on the post office. With quaterlies and even some bi-monthlies, the is often a display until date next to the UPC code. In our subscriptions, it appears to be the bi-monthlies that are most out of whack, especially those which have gone to a single month dating ie Jan instead of Dec/Jan. The Dec/Jan issue often appears sometime before Hallowe’en and if it is dated just Jan it seems really early.

  2. walt crawford Says:

    I’m sure there’s no uniform rule. It’s certainly the case that some magazines come out with considerably extended issue dates. I’ve already received the January/February 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction and the January issue of Asimov’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised to receive the February issue of Asimov’s before November 30. I suspect mags with heavy newsstand sales do date further ahead.

  3. Cari Says:

    That makes a lot of sense. I use the magazine’s pub date as my pull date for the Magazine Express collection (current issues that are able to be checked out). While our regular magazines get replaced as soon as the new one comes out, sometimes Magazine Express will have two copies of a title, one pubbed this month and one dated this month. Then we get some more circ time on them too.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    Yeah, there’s probably not a strict rule every publisher follows. It just seemed like seeing this as a “display until” date made the dates make more sense to me. Of course, we leave the most recent copy as our “current copy” on display until the next one arrives, regardless of cover dates.