What is a magazine? Definition and examples

AARP The Magazine
America’s most popular magazine. (Image: AARP)

A magazine is a general interest periodical. A periodical is a publication that comes out periodically, i.e., at regular intervals. Most of them are published once a month, but some might be weekly, fortnightly, bi-monthly, or quarterly. Originally, publishers only printed them, but today they also exist electronically, i.e., online.

Magazines, which have a paper cover, contain stories, photographs, articles, and advertisements.

Collins Dictionary has the following definitions of the term:

“1. A magazine is a publication with a paper cover which is issued regularly, usually every week or every month, and which contains articles, stories, photographs, and advertisements.”

“2. On radio or television, a magazine or a magazine program is a program consisting of several items about different topics, people, and events. 3. In an automatic gun, the magazine is the part that contains the bullets.”

Other meanings

On TV or radio, the term may refer to a program comprising several items about different events, people, or topics. We also call them magazine programs.

Bullets in a gunThe word may also refer to the part of a gun that contains the bullets. When all the bullets are used up, the shooter must reload the magazine or attach a loaded one.

We sometimes refer to buildings that store explosives, bullets, and guns as magazines.

This article focuses on the word when it refers to a printed or online publication.

Etymology of magazine

Etymology is the study of where words came from and how their meanings and structures evolved.

In the 1580s, the term first appeared in the English language. At the time, it meant “warehouse, place for storing goods, especially military ammunition.” It came from the Middle French word magasin, which meant “warhouse, depot, store.” The Italian word magazzino and Arabic makhazin (plural of makhzan) mean “storehouse.”

We rarely use the term today with those meanings. In 1868, the word acquired the meaning “cartridge chamber in a repeating rifle.”

It wasn’t until 1731 that we referred to magazines as “periodical journals containing miscellaneous writings.”


Publishers distribute magazines through the mail, bookstores, newstands, and other vendors. Today, they are also available online.

Since the turn of the century, online readership has increased. However, print circulation has declined dramatically.

Hundreds of publishers worldwide that did not adapt to the advent of the Internet have vanished.

Gentlemans magazine
The Gentleman’s Magazine ran uninterrrupted from 1731 until 1922. (Image: Wikipedia)

First magazines

Erbauliche Monaths Unterredungen (Edifying Monthly Discussions), a German literary and philosophy publication, is the earliest example of a magazine. It was launched in Germany in 1663.

According to Wikipedia:

The Gentleman’s Magazine, first published in 1731, in London was the first general-interest magazine. Edward Cave, who edited The Gentleman’s Magazine under the pen name ‘Sylvanus Urban,’ was the first to use the term ‘magazine,’ on the analogy of a military storehouse.”

“Founded by Herbert Ingram in 1842, The Illustrated London News was the first illustrated magazine.”

World’s most popular magazines


  • AARP The Magazine. Circulation: 23,144,225.
  • AARP Bulletin. Circulation: 22,700,945.
  • Costco Connection. Circulation: 12,851,336.
  • Better Homes and Gardens. Circulation: 7,645,075.
  • Game Informer. Circulation: 6,353,075.


  • The National Trust Magazine. Circulation: 2,043,876.
  • Asda Magazine. Circulation: 1,983,433.
  • Tesco Magazine. Circulation: 1,935,680.
  • TV Choice. Circulation: 1,374,813.
  • Morrisons Magazine. Circulation: 1,333,787.


  • What’s Cooking. Circulation: 1,523,454.
  • Reader’s Digest. Circulation: 597,229.
  • Chatelaine. Circulation: 550,613.
  • Canadian Living. Circulation: 511,817.
  • Maclean’s. Circulation: 321,095.


  • The Australian Women’s Weekly. Circulation: 470,331.
  • Better Homes And Gardens. Circulation: 388,110.
  • Woman’s Day. Circulation: 350,495.
  • New Idea. Circulation: 293,031.
  • That’s Life! Circulation: 218,161.