At year's end, the nation's magazines are taking their parting shots

December 30, 1991|By Deirdre Carmody | Deirdre Carmody,New York Times VHC qjB

There may be an awful lot of people who think that 1991 should be kissed off as quickly as possible. But don't think magazine publishers are going to let them off that easily.

What's the end of the year, after all, without special year-end issues?

Esquire leads the pack as usual this year, presenting not only this year's annual "Dubious Achievement Awards" for 1991, but, in case you missed them, many of its awards over the last 30 years.

In fact, Esquire might just qualify for its very own Dubious Modesty Award. In an article entitled "Backstage with Esquire," the magazine describes the editors who have compiled the awards over the years as a "group of individuals who pretty much defined the horizon of magazine humor for three decades." Wow.

This year, the horizon has been stretched to include these thigh-slappers: "Toe-licker runs wild in dormitory! Bush showers with Millie! Cabbie finds six human heads in box!"

Among the more careful readers of Esquire's Dubious Achievement Awards are the people at Texas Monthly. For the last 18 years, they have been proclaiming their own "Bum Steer Awards." These appear in the January issue, which comes out in December. (Aha! A Bum Steer candidate?)

"January is always one of the worst months in terms of advertising, but this issue is good with readers and it's good on the newsstand," said Gregory Curtis, Texas Monthly's editor. "People look forward to it. Items are picked up by local columnists and so on. It's our version of Esquire's Dubious Achievement Awards."

There is a box in the magazine's offices in Austin, in which reporters and editors drop clips from various publications that might qualify for the awards. Toward the end of the year, Paul Burka, the executive editor, and a few colleagues go through the clippings and begin to select the winners.

"Mainly, it's for laughs," Curtis said. "The most fun is the first looking through and trying to decide. But after a while, you have to have faith that you once laughed at this. I mean, we aren't laughing up to the final minute."

A sample:

An award entitled "Sayonara, Turkeys" tells about two men arrested for robbing an armored car after the police identified them with the help of pictures snapped by a bus load of Japanese tourists.

A variation on year-end awards is "The Best of 1991" issues. These, in turn, are a variation of New York magazine's "Best Hospitals in New York" and Time's "10 Ways to Cure the Health-Care Mess." Never mind. If they come out at year-end, they are called Year-End Specials.

Discover magazine lists the top 50 science articles of 1991. Entertainment Weekly names Jodie Foster entertainer of the year. US magazine does a month-by-month look at winners, losers, shockers and rockers.

While special year-end issues may draw some extra ads, their value comes mostly from increased newsstand sales and the fact that they become a magazine's trademark.

Time magazine's "Man of the Year" issue is usually the best-selling issue of the year, although this year it will probably be about sixth because of the strong sales for newsweeklies during the Persian Gulf war. (This year, Time named Ted Turner, founder of the Cable News Network, as its man of the year.)

Kent Brownridge, executive vice president for Straight Arrow Publications Inc., publisher of Rolling Stone and US, said Rolling Stone's year-end double issue sold more copies than the regular biweekly issues because, in part, it was on the newsstands for four weeks instead of two.

If you really have had it with 1991 and are not about to read any of these, how do you feel about 1992?

You could try Money magazine's "Where to Make Money in 1992," Working Woman's "1992 Salary Survey," Fortune's interviews with a gaggle of famous people, entitled "What I Want U.S. Business to Do in '92," or U.S. News & World Report's "24 Predictions for the New Year."

Ready for another prediction? Year-end issues are here to stay.

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