Magazines didn't look like that until after World War II. The first magazines, in the 1700s, looked like....books. Magazines began as genteel soapboxes from which literate men expounded their points of view, in essay or satire. Daniel Defoe started the first English magazine, The Review, during or just after his imprisonment for criticizing the Church of England. His purpose: a statesman or man of letters offers his comment, criticism and satire to influence public taste. The audience is composed of members of the same social scene that is the subject of most of the magazine's writing. Over the course of time, readers come to depend on the regularity of its point of view.
The form of the Review set the form for British journals: four small pages, dense print, few illustrations (except some engraved borders and lettering) and most of the compelling force contained in the acerbic, airborne sarcasm of the text.
Joseph Addison, a high bred moralist and social critic, followed the form in his essays for his friend Richard Steele's Tatler. When the Tatler folded Addison created The Spectator, the most famous of the early British journals. It looked just like newspapers of the time: a daily 8 x 12-1/2" one-page paper, printed on both sides. Again tiny print, again no illustrations, and maybe half a column of classified ads. Historians consider it a magazine because instead of news, it printed comment. Each issue was written by entirely by Addison or Steele; occasionally by a friend.
Addison introduced the short informal essay and the short fiction story to English literature in his magazine. The Spectator lasted three years, but hundreds of others appeared to replace it. Colonial Americans established their magazines in the same style. Since Addison, prominent literary/art personalities use magazines as one of the most accessible vehicles of their point of view. The magazines they create are usually not popular, but can be influential.
The best and probably the most influential of American magazines was Fortune in the 1930s. Fortune was created by Henry Luce, who with partner Britton Hadden had created Time in the 20s, and who started the corporation that would later produce Life, Sports Illustrated, Money and People. Time was the original glib news magazine, and Life was designed by a series of consultants seeking the proper formula, but Fortune in the 30s was a work of art with content that happened to be the affairs of the business.
Luce was determined to create a magazine of quality for the people he called the 'aristocracy of our business civilization', and to do so he gathered the most capable and highly respected artists, writers, and photographers - among them Dwight MacDonald, Rockwell Kent, Archibald MacLeish, Margaret Bourke-White, and Thomas Cleland, who designed the original Fortune format. Several of the renowned Life photographers got their start here.
Luce developed his magazine out of the business pages of Time. Although later he would become known for his conservative politics, in the 30s his magazine had an investigative flair and liberal, if not Communist, reputation. Corporations were profiled as human, not monolithic, organizations.
In covering the industrial world, Fortune's photographers and designers created an almost hand-crafted looking magazine. It was one of the first to print high quality color illustrations; and the first to try and sell a story primarily through photographs, as Life would do later. It was printed on thick matte paper with expensive inks. It enclosed its photographs in various ruled frames, and printed them in very fine screen so that they were almost as detailed and sharp as the original prints. The confidence of Mr. Luce and his editors that they were creating something of quality is infused in every page of Fortune.
By the late 1940s quality was too expensive (ironically, it had survived through World War II). More importantly, perhaps, the idea of businessmen as an elite social force had changed somehow. They were no longer seen as the kind of people who would pay extra for a premium-quality publication. Fortune's publisher and editors remodeled the magazine in 1948. They made its format more conventional (its paper had already become glossy) and limited its content to what is normally considered business reporting. Fortune began to look like every other magazine.