The History of The Saturday Evening Post, Part 7: Trying to Keep Up with the 1960s

The 1960s were a time of great change, not only for America, but also for The Saturday Evening Post.

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Featured image: Cover by Norman Rockwell from September 16, 1961 (©SEPS)

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  1. The Post was already in an economically unsustainable place by 1961 no matter what they did. The avant-garde new layout look of the features (1:18-25) resulting in 10,000 letters per week demanding a return to the previous format had to have been awful and very disheartening for the publishers at the time.

    They were in a real, terrifying dilemma. The well intentioned attempts to reflect the changing times and tastes weren’t working with harder news content and different types of authors. The ‘football fix’ investigative reporting story was one of the biggest disasters ever in publishing. A $700,000 lawsuit fee in 1963 would be equivalent to more than 6 million dollars today.

    The Post was trapped within its own system of high circulation but no longer having the ads to support it. The new president in 1968 (Martin Ackerman) prevented the magazine from being shut down in April 1968, giving it an extra 9 months, and us about 20 more issues. I know it seemed mean and snobbish to cut the circulation in half by zip code (computer determined) but the subscription liability in the millions was too outrageous.

    He essentially shifted the over 3 million subscribers to be a burden to LIFE magazine instead, which was already losing money itself in ’68. The rest followed suit in early ’69 when the Post was shut down. I’m sure most opted for LIFE (or its extension) rather than a refund. Still, the ravages of ad losses to TV with increased postal rates and costs across the board would have Look shut down in late 1971, then LIFE at the end of ’72.

    I really wish the final cover of the old Post had been the ‘Happy’ collage cover by Sister Corita, and not the bizarre cover that was. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. Who knew the beautiful photo of Beurt and Cory SerVaas on their wedding day at the end, would later lead to a sustainable fresh start for the Post, lasting for decades?


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