Redbook in 1976.
Image: AP

As part of a big restructuring today at Hearst, the company quietly announced that after January 2019, Redbook will become an “online-only destination.” This brings the number of original “seven sisters” women’s service magazines still appearing in print down to four.

That’s via Ad Week, folding the news into a longer piece about changes at the company. The magazine was originally founded in 1903.

In their day, the seven publications—Ladies Home Journal; Redbook; McCall’s; Better Homes and Gardens; Good Housekeeping; Woman’s Day; and Family Circle—were massively popular and influential, an important part of the postwar consumer society. When Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, she was pointing in no small part to the content of these publications and their advertising.

But they’ve been struggling for a long, long time. As early as 1990, the New York Times proclaimed an identity crisis for the cohort:

But times and tastes changed. Women went off to work in increasing numbers and lost their leisure time. New magazines, springing up to meet changing needs, attracted away readers. In addition, the Seven Sisters have felt the pinch of the industrywide decline in advertising over the last year.

In 1979, the Seven Sisters had a combined circulation of 45 million. By last year it was 37 million and falling.

Determined to halt their circulation slippage, the Seven Sisters are going through a period of self-examination. Not least among nagging questions is whether their group identity has become a liability and, in these days of intense newsstand competition, if it is not time for each magazine to create a more individual look.

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“We have tried to achieve an upscale contemporary look to reflect young working mothers with kids,” said Daniel E. Zucchi, Redbook’s president and publisher, at that point. At one point, in the early 2000s, Slate reported that their comparatively sexy covers, which were in the interest of attracting younger readers, had gotten them slapped with cover-up blinders at Walmart.

Ladies Home Journal, founded in 1883, shuffled off its mortal coil of regular magazine existence in 2014, with Meredith turning it into “special interest publication.” Its circulation had peaked in 1968 at 6.8 million, according to Ad Age. The end for McCall’s was weirder: launched in the 1870s as a pamphlet advertising patterns called “The Queen,” it too peaked in the 1960s and was eventually turned into Rosie in 2001, an attempt to rebrand around the persona of Rosie O’Donnell. It ended in acrimony shortly thereafter, in 2002. And now Redbook, for whom online-only is a big change from the glory days of the 1960s.

The newsstand survivors are Better Homes and Gardens; Good Housekeeping; Woman’s Day; and Family Circle.