E-publishing pioneer Bonnier Corp. announced in an email to employees that the March/April 2017 paper issue of Popular Photography magazine will be the last, and that the websites for Pop Photo—and for American Photo, which went digital-only in 2015—will no longer be updated.
American Photo is the descendant of American Photographer, and Popular Photography is the descendant of both the original Popular Photography and Modern Photography magazines, once the twin juggernauts of the mainstream photo titles in English. I wish someone who knows the whole Modern-Pop drama would set it down for the historical record, but what I heard back in the day was that Modern acquired Pop, and that most of the Pop staff was let go and replaced by Modern staffers, but that the name Popular Photography was retained because it was better known. I can't put a date on that merger now. Many of the people who could tell the story in detail are gone now.
I also heard that for a while after the subscriber bases were merged, the combined circulation of the two magazines, and hence of the single combined survivor, exceeded one million—the only case of a photography magazine in North America ever hitting that magic number.
I always identify Popular Photography with Herbert (Burt) Keppler and Jason Schneider, longtime editorial director (and lead columnist) and editor-in-chief, respectively, of the post-merger magazine. Burt died in 2008; maybe Jason will put on his reporter's hat and set down the history for posterity. Or maybe Jim Hughes knows.
The magazine's bread-and-butter were the dozens of pages of ads from discounters and mail-order retailers in the back of the magazine. Modern Photography and Popular Photography—again, I can't untangle the threads—gradually made such enterprises respectable, by setting out strict ethical guidelines for any company that wanted to advertise, ending many of the sleazier practices of early mail-order joints and eventually helping to inspire the growth of the twin behemoths of today, B&H Photo and Adorama. Many photographers back in the last century subscribed to Shutterbug for the classified ads and used equipment sales listings, and Pop for the ad pages of new discount equipment.
Of course the Internet has displaced much of the demand for both the editorial and the advertising content of the old magazines. Sic transit, etc.
By the bye, when I was editor of Photo Techniques I had lunch with the daughter of the photographer who took the picture of the bathing beauty on Pop's very first cover. She brought along a copy of the issue and her father's notes about his lighting setup for the picture. Shame on me, I don't recall either of their names now.
All told, Popular Photography, which first published in May 1937, had a continuous run of just short of 80 years. That's quite a remarkable accomplishment in the magazine business, any way you look at it.
No word that I've heard on the circulation number of the magazine at the end.
P.S. There's an excellent compilation volume of the best 80 or so articles from the magazine's first 42 years that you can still find used. It contains, among many other tasty morsels, the best account I've read of the invention and history of Kodachrome.
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Michael Perini: "Inevitable, but still sad. I got quite an education reading Keppler, Schneider, and Arthur Kramer. Alas, I'm part of the problem as I haven't subscribed in many years."
Mike replies: I suspect many of us are in that same boat.
Geoff Wittig: "Popular Photography unfortunately seems to have responded to the challenges and possibilities of the Internet age exactly like most big city newspapers. They progressively slashed content, reduced staff, shrank the scope of their reporting, and ended up with a pale shadow of what the magazine once was. I do understand the reality of the collapse of print advertising and the irresistible mandate to cut costs. But working ever harder to create compelling content that keeps readers coming back obviously offers more of a path forward than amputating limbs until none are left."
Dave Jenkins: "Mike, I am saddened to hear of Popular Photography's passing. It was born the same year as I, and I think maybe even the same month. Modern Photography was also born in 1937, by the way.
"I doubt that I would be a photographer today, and a professional at that, if not for the influence of photo magazines over the years.
"In 1968 I was a teacher in a private high school in Miami, Florida. We had a new baby, and of course I wanted to take pictures. So I got a camera, just a basic 126 Instamatic. Then a few days later, I bought a photo magazine, the August, 1968 issue of Popular Photography. Soon there were more photo magazines and a better camera. And then a still better camera. And more photo magazines. A year later I had a Nikon F and a couple of lenses and was taking pictures of school activities and selling prints to the students. That was the beginning. Over a career of nearly 50 years, photography magazines have instructed, inspired, and encouraged me. I even wrote an article about photo magazines some years ago, which I think I may have shared with you at the time. Here's an excerpt:
Any discussion of this kind has to begin with Popular Photography, because it's the basic photo magazine. And the most important thing to understand about Popular Photography is that it doesn't exist anymore. The most important thing to understand about Modern Photography, the officially dead rival of Popular Photography, is that it is alive and well and living in Pop Photo's editorial offices. I once read a story by H.P. Lovecraft about a malevolent being which, in the guise of a woman, married a man. This being then swapped bodies with the man (without said man's permission), killed off its old body with the man's soul inside, and went its way. That's pretty much what happened when Popular Photography was taken over by almost the entire editorial staff of Modern. Then, as a new staff was about to make Modern a pretty good magazine, it was ruthlessly killed off.
The old Pop Photo was a broad-based, general interest photography magazine with good columnists, good discussion of issues, technical articles which delved into the why of photography as well as the how, and frequently a really good, in-depth profile of some outstanding photographer. The old Modern Photography had great, easy-to-understand lens tests, but it was always primarily a nuts-and-bolts magazine, and still is in its guise as Popular Photography. If you doubt what I'm saying, get some copies of both magazines from the late '70s or early '80s and make your own comparison. Which magazine is the present Pop Photo more like? This is not to say there isn't good stuff in it from time to time. But to me, the old Popular Photography was a far better, more well-rounded magazine and we are poorer for its loss.
"I still have two or three copies of the July, 1989 final issue of Modern Photography. I should get and keep a copy of the final issue of Pop Photo as well. Although in a real sense, the final issue of Popular Photography was the last one before the crew from Modern took over."
ashok: "Hi, I remember both Modern Photography and Popular Photography. they had a big following in India. I recall the only place I could see the latest and back issues was the U.S. Embassy library in Chennai, India. those issues were thick and loaded with mouth-watering adverts for cameras and lenses. I am talking mid-1980s back when I was in college and could not afford any of the goodies in the magazines. As you mentioned, I still remember the articles by Keppler after so many years."
christer almqvist: "One of the first photos I ever got published was in Pop Photo June 1957. I was 18 at the time and had just finished college in Sweden. The picture was lousy but the cheque for US$5.00 was much admired by my friends."
Tom R. Halfhill: "Sad news. My photography education came mainly from reading Popular Photography as a teenager. In our barn, I found a huge pile of old issues going back to the 1940s. (My father was a longtime subscriber.) After reading them from the 1940s to the 1970s, I became a subscriber myself—and still am.
"Reading those old magazines not only taught me about photography but also much about the history of photography. Although I think Pop Photo peaked in the 1960s to 1980s, I still found it worthwhile for the low subscription price.
"In the 1980s and 1990s, I was fortunate to make friends with Larry White, a technical editor who moved from Modern Photography to Popular Photography. On one of my business trips to NYC, he gave me a tour of the offices and introduced me to some of the staff, which was exciting for me. He showed me the computer-controlled lens- and camera-testing equipment he designed, which was impressive. (I think he had a technical degree from RIT.) Larry was very knowledgeable and a good friend, and I was heartbroken when he died before his time several years ago.
"Coming soon after the closing of our two biggest camera shops in the San Francisco Bay Area, the demise of Pop Photo is yet another sign that times have changed. Not always for the better, in my opinion."
Lorenzo: "I was a contributing editor to Pop Photo for seven years. There was every attempt to do the right/best/profitable thing for both the magazine and the readers of the magazine. We knew our subscriber base, we knew our business model, and we knew the peril long, long, long before this day arrived. I now spend all day in front of monitors (and I love my job, ironically enough). So when I go home I prefer...dead trees. (Gee, these photo books are something, aren't they?) Too bad the monthlies are no longer. Popular Photography and American Photo served their audiences well. Many of us will miss them. Thanks to both for their contribution (and thanks to both for allowing me to be a part of their story/pictures/history)."