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:
A little while later, and with this tweet in mind, my friend Chris emailed me with this:
Huh, TIL (Today I Learned):
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.