The magazines of Wal-Mart

July 12, 2006 | By | 18 Replies More

Wal-mart is where America shops, right?  Therefore, the magazines offered by Wal-Mart must be what America reads.  On this assumption I traveled to a sprawling St. Louis Wal-Mart supercenter yesterday to photograph the magazine rack.  There were many titles, indeed.  You’ll see them in the photos embedded in this post.  Because there are so many titles, there must also be quite a breadth of information, right?  You’ll be the judge.  I’m putting up this post with the hope that we can all put our heads together and do a bit of anthropology.

Now for the tour. Here are the magazines of Wal-Mart from left to right):

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The first thing you might notice is that the literature is categorized a bit differently than it is in a public library.  For instance, the Dewey Decimal System uses the following major categories:

000 Generalities
100 Philosophy & psychology
200 Religion
300 Social sciences
400 Language
500 Natural sciences & mathematics
600 Technology (Applied sciences)
700 The arts
800 Literature & rhetoric
900 Geography & history

It’s a bit different at Wal-Mart, where you’ll find these categories:

  • Automotive
  • Fashion
  • Teen
  • Entertainment
  • Woman
  • Information
  • Sports
  • Men’s
  • Home/Garden
  • Puzzles & Games
  • Computers

There doesn’t seem to be any overlap at all.  Perhaps the Dewey system can be revamped to take advantage of this cutting edge Wal-Mart catergorization.  I realize, now, that these Wal-Mart topic labels are not literal and exact.  For instance, the fact that one section is called “Information” doesn’t mean that there is no information in any of the magazines in the other sections.   As you can see, I’m on the verge of being sarcastic–I’ll do my best to resist and move on.  I will really try.

Say, I thought we were all past this “Women” versus “Men” thing a long time ago, but the division is plain as day where America shops.  I will have to assume that Wal-Mart makes this stark division because it has determined that it’s simply for the best that men and woman not share certain sorts of information.  For example, computers, getting rich and getting abs mags are up there together in the Men category for the convenience of dudes like me.  

One shelf down, you’ll notice that there is actually a magazine called “Shop.”  I didn’t see any counterpart that might have been called “Don’t Shop.”  And look at all of the puzzle books! Do so many peole really have nothing better to do?  I know that this will sound narrow-minded, but I’ve always thought of crossword puzzles as the kind of thing you would do if you had to be on a lifeboat for a long time, waiting to get saved–only because there’s so nothing else to do.  I know that this is really not fair to say to you guys who waste all that time doing crossword puzzles.  But let’s not tarry.  Let’s move on.  Here’s the next section over (to the right):

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 left lower-small.JPG

You can see, above, that dudes like me can slide seemlessly from our computers and get rich mags into our fitness and sports magazines.  When we read lots of sports magazines, we start strutting around assuming that the women think we look a lot like the guys who take those steroids.  That’s not always how the chicks see us, though.  

The middle row is dominated by domestic advice.  How to decorate and remodel one’s home.   We’re still far from the endcap, that high traffic area where the magazines are likely to be noticed.  

Now check out the bottom row.  Quilting and beading, along with other hobbies, before morphing to that most-general sounding of categories:  information.  If you look closely, you’ll see two bona fide science magazines:  Discover and Scientific American.  I’m assuming that these were placed in this store as the result of a court-enforced set-aside lawsuit brought by the scientists.  I’m not certain about this, though.

middle upper-small.JPG

 middle lower-small.JPG

You can see from the upper shelf that we are seriously into man-territory (guns and sports), balanced out by all of that chick stuff on the middle shelf.  There is a lot of counter-balancing like this going on.  For instance, there are many articles focusing on eating, about as many as focus on dieting.  Also, check out the Me Me ME magazine, not counter-balanced by any magazine called “NOT Me.”

I love books of maps, but I didn’t know that other people actually considered them to be “Entertainment.”  Hey!  Not much here on current events . . . Ooop, actually, we passed it already.  It consists of Time Magazine.  If you want to spend a day boning up on international events and culture, then, you’d better read your Wal-Mart Time real-l-l-ly slowly.

Time to keep moving.

right upper-small.JPG

 right lower-small.JPG

It is at this far right side of the magazine shelf that we are into the manliest of man things and the womanliest of woman things, it seems.  LOTS of wedding magazines tucked into the chick lit–much more popular than in older times, when people got married only once. 

The man shelf offers a really epiphany for people like me who keep thinking of vehicles as simply a gadget for moving me from Place A to Place B. It’s apparently FAR more than that.

Now I’m not trying to be cruel here, but I did find myself looking at those numerous athletes and models on the magazines.  I then carefully glanced around the store, unsuccessfully, to see if anyone at Wal-Mart resembled the beefcake and cheesecake people populating the front covers. 

It is in the bottom-right section when we finally hit those realest of realities: Television Reality and National Examiner Reality.

We’re almost done.  Assume that you almost made it out of the store without buying a magazine.  You panic, though, because you do want to keep yourself informed.  After all, there are elections coming up at least every two years.  Have no fear!  You get one last chance to inject lots of knowledge (though not “Information”) right at the register:

 register mags-small.JPG

Pies, sex, fancy clothes, dieting, being glamorous, knowing the latest on the private lives of actors.  And don’t overlook Real Simple, a very slick magazine that teaches us how to live the simple life by buying lots and lots of things.

What do I make of all of this?  I’m not sure.  Here’s one thing:  we really seem obsessed with our own bodies, clothes, food, hobbies, cars and fantasies.  We also appear to be rampant materialists, based on the cover “bait,” all of those clothes, gadgets, hairstyles, fancy houses and cars printed on all of those front covers.  Finally, even though Americans constitute less than 5% of the Earth’s population, we just don’t seem interested in foreigners.  Not interested at all.  Not one bit.

I’m going to keep giving this project some thought.  I do suspect, though, that these magazines tell us much less about the things depicted in them than they tell us about the people who buy them.

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Category: Consumerism, Economy, Reading - Books and Magazines

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (18)

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  1. highandmighty says:

    Another thing to make of your survey of wal marts reading material is that wal mart is a slick, chrome and glass, souless, commercial pandering to the lowest common denominator. The belly of the bell curve is the entrenched office staffers that bottleneck progress, demand idiot proof products, and wile the days and nights away slobbering in front of the television, spilling food down their expanding middles as they swill the stagnant liquid fare. Wal mart was made for them.

    Stores like wal mart are carictures of American culture, if there be such a thing as American culture. They mirror society and reinforce how we view ourselves. that last is a tragedy. As a commercial enterprize, they can't be expected to keep merchandise on hand that will not have a fast turn around. Too risky to have capital tied up in dead stock. Angers the shareholders. Yet another drawback of Capitalism and consumerism.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    What? No section for religious magazines? Gosh, for a nation that overwhelmingly describes itself as "Christian," it sure has a lot of magazines about me, me, ME; buy, buy, BUY; and sex, sex, SEX. Hmmm…could there be a disconnect between what people say they do and what they actually do…a gaping inaccuracy in peoples' self-reports (see http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=206)?

  3. Erika Price says:

    They let you in with a camera? Most retail stores disallow film and photographs outright. And with its harsh anti-union paranoia, Wal-mart likes to keep close tabs on everything that takes place inside and outside of its store, so it really surprises me that you got away with snapping pics so close to the register.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    What I MEANT to say was that some guy (I don't know his name) handed me these photos and . . . disappeared forever. I didn't get a good look at him.

  5. Heather says:

    I can count on one hand the truly informative magazines out there. I have never seen any of them at a Wal Mart or supermarket. This is a very impressive Wal Mart to actually have Scientific American! Really, how can you write a montly publication about decorating your home. How much is there to say?

    This IS the culture we inhabit, and it really makes me want to shoot myself in the head.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Heather:

    A friend of mine who teaches yoga and fitness commented (upon seeing these photos) that there are only so many things you can say about body building. She was quite surprised that there could be so many magazines on that subject too.

    As for decorating one's home, I wonder how things have gotten so far out of control that we obsess about such tiny details. One possibility is that it's an arms race of sorts, potentially Darwinian sexual selection.

    I find it truly embarrassing that we fuss so much about trivial seeming things. People who live in poorer societies don't feel embarrassed about imperfections in their homes, such as cracks in the wall. Nor would they feel the compulsion to throw out perfectly good furniture and decorations because they are "old." Such corrupting powere wealth has . . .

    The tour of the Wal-Mart magazines helped me realize how rampantly consumerist we are, in addition to how parochial we are in our thinking.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    I already got scolded by a friend who finds crossword puzzles to be therapeutic. Hey, I really wasn't trying to insinuate anything about you guys who waste time doing crossword puzzles.

  8. grumpypilgrim says:

    As regards Erika's comment: with terrorists being suspected of photographing their future targets, it's a good thing the person who took those Walmart photos wasn't jumped by some terrorist-fearing, paranoid Republican eager to defend the freedom of his local Walmart store. Indeed, judging by the magazine selection, I wouldn't be surprised if Walmart isn't full of such folks.

    As regards crossword puzzles, elderly people often work crossword puzzles as one way of keeping their minds active, so I wouldn't be too critical of those who "waste" their time doing them. Better than having roving gangs of elderly people out on the streets causing havoc and vandalizing the neighborhood…or photographing Walmart magazine racks…. 😉

  9. nicole says:

    don't you have anything better to do than bitch about the magazines in walmart. i mean seriously if your going to donate your time to try to be controversial about something then make it important. write an anti-abortion blog or something like that.

  10. Deb says:

    Nicole has not put much thought into the situation. This matters to a lot of people who are pretty much limited to what Walmart has to sell. Read the companion piece. http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=603

    Trying to figure out why so many people are so unenlightened is important, and controversial among people that actually think. Many of us wonder how people can know so little about the world around them, such as the geography of their own country. Walmart and companies like them are either a reason or the symptom. Hard to know which.

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    The mega-retailer did not add magazines to its mix until the mid-1990s, but it now makes 15% of all single-copy sales in the U.S. In books, too, Wal-Mart has quickly become a force. "They pile up best-sellers like toothpaste," says Stephen Riggio, chief executive of Barnes & Noble (BKS ) Inc., the world's largest bookseller.

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/03_4

  12. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a 2003 article about Wal-Mart censoring Redbook and some other women's magazines. http://www.slate.com/?id=2085183

  13. MelissaT says:

    I'm fascinated by the arrangement of the categories. Obviously "Manly interests" are dominant and take precident over interests deemed more "Womanly" They don't even rank 2nd shelf material. We appear to have been relegated to third class according to Wal-Mart. I'm curious as to the organization and order of categories is at other stores. I'm half tempted to just take a notepad with me next time I'm at the grocery or some other store and see if there's a recurring pattern. I'm willing to bet there is.

  14. Erich Vieth says:

    MelissaT: Let us know what you find out. Perhaps you are on to something.

  15. Erika Price says:

    Melissa: Interesting thought, that "manly" mags might win out over feminine ones. I normally think of magazines as "girly" reading material- women's mags certainly get the forefront at grocery store counters. Perhaps that is just because women do more grocery shopping. Do more men shop at wal-mart than at a grocery stores?

  16. First of all, How boring is ones life that they are standing at Walmart snapping photos and critizing what the Magazines look like?? This seems a bit odd to me. If you are that interested in what the magazines at Walmart look like, apply for a job as a merchandiser and work on them. According to the pics you've posted it seems this particular store could REALLY use a good merchandiser!! My guess is they are merchandised by Source interlink, that would explain the horriblie organization and the mess left on the shelves. Some people actually make their living by designing these planograms and others by keeping them in the store. If you are not paid to do so. It's probably best if you just go back to the library and the Dewey decimal system!!!

  17. CL says:

    JUST FOR CLARIFICATION:

    Consumers do not buy these magazines.
    It is a sham, they make you believe that society is corrupt and these mags are in demand.
    This is very far from the truth. The mag companies are paying for billbord space and the stores are the pimps that allow it….
    Consumers are normally schocked by content(They do have obscenity laws that are never upheld??)
    Like the magazine distributor told the Kroger representative ” We pray on your primal nature”!

    The magazines make all their money from the advertisers not
    magazine sales. 99% of all retail magazines go back in the recycler after they tear off the barcode…not to consumers.

    Also The unattainable image that is portrayed of men & boys is
    why men & boys dress to hide their physical body as they feel
    inadequate and ashamed for the false lack of. The same goes for women; however womens responses are quite the opposite, they tend to then let it all hang out……

    What a mess………………Maybe its time to get real!

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