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Since its first issue appeared in 1974, "People" has become part of the American cultural scene. Each week, the magazine features dozens of stories and pictures of both celebrities and everyday people. The publication begins a year-long celebration of its 35th anniversary with a special issue.
Special birthday issue
On Oct.9, People magazine's 35th anniversary issue hit newsstands across America and the world.
"It takes a look back at the biggest milestones we have covered during our existence, but also takes a look forward at the people and the fads you can expect to see in the years to come," People's Senior Editor Galina Espinoza says.
The issue provides snapshots of America's history over the last three decades.
"Everything, from the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the OJ Simpson trial, to 9/11, to the election of our first black president here in the U.S," she says. "We've also got hot celebrity romances like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Farah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal, incredible music acts throughout the three decades. So it's really a very eclectic mix that you find in this issue," Espinoza adds.
People's content presents a broad mix
"We mix real people and celebrities, people who have amazing stories to tell," she explains. "We want a lot of drama, a lot of emotion. We also want people who are likable and who readers can relate to. We're reminded of that every single week, that our original mission statement was ordinary people doing extraordinary things," Espinoza says.
Princess Diana made the cover some 50 times
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The cover photo on every issue, she says, is of someone the magazine's readers are interested in knowing more about. That explains why the late princess Diana graced People's cover more than 50 times. Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Michael Jackson were also among the best selling covers. Ordinary people have also appeared on the magazine cover.
Elizabeth Smart, for example, appears on the 35th anniversary issue cover.
"She is in the news right now because of the trial of her kidnapper is underway," she says. "She's also just a remarkable young woman who our readers are emotionally invested in. [You]know, her disappearance, her abduction back when she was 14 years old, about seven years ago, and the fact that she was able to escape from captivity and go on to live a relatively normal healthy life, I think is an inspiration for us all," Espinoza says.
The survival of print magazines is uncertain
For more than three decades, Espinoza says, People magazine has wrestled with a variety of challenges in order to survive and thrive in a changing media environment.
"Of course, the biggest challenge is that most people are looking to do their reading on the Internet," she says. "The sale of the traditional magazines is down because people are not looking for print like they used to do. They have so many alternatives. That's why we launched our website, people.com, a number of years ago," Espinoza adds.
But will the web version of the magazine ever replace the print?
"That's the question that the smartest minds in media are being asked right now, and no one seems to have the answer," she says. "I think it's just going to have to develop organically, and whether print will exist in a limited form,[it's] possible, possible. We have no way of knowing. [I] personally think there is nothing like having a magazine in your hand when you're lying on the beach. I don't think sitting there then with your laptop is quite the same feeling," she says.
Media proliferation spurs competition for stories
Espinoza says the publishing industry has also become more competitive and open than ever. For publications to stay ahead in this market, they need journalists who are skillful not only in dealing with the digital technology, but also in ferreting out the most interesting stories.
"I think connections count a lot more than they used to," she suggests. "It used to be that movie stars had a project coming out, they needed to promote it and their publicists would call People magazine. Now, there is so much more competition for those stories. There are so many places to go to tell those stories. Things happen much more quickly because they are always breaking over the Internet. So I think you need to be much better connected, better sourced, you have to be fast on your feet, you have to be smart. But that has always been the case to a certain extent," she says.
People magazine goes global
Espinoza says, People has recently gone global.
"In the past couple of years we actually launched an edition of People magazine in India," she says. "They use our same template, it's the same kind of editorial concept. It has been a big hit over there. If you picked a copy of People India while you are over there, you would see Bollywood stars on the cover. We absolutely tailor the issue to reflect what's going on in that country's culture."
Changing People but not its philosophy
Espinoza says her publication views current market challenges as opportunities to evolve and become more creative. But she says, People magazine's basic philosophy will remain the same; telling the extraordinary stories of a mix of high profile celebrities and low profile ordinary people.