Before being able to identify whom the magazine’s intended audience was, it’s important to investigate what the magazine wanted to achieve. The Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine debut in 1941, and has since remained one of the most read mystery magazines on the market today. The magazines first editor-in-chief, Frederic Dannay explained his manifesto for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine as being to “raise the sights of mystery writers generally to a genuine literary form,” to “encourage good writing among our colleagues by offering a practical market not otherwise available,” and to “develop new writers seeking expression in the genre.
” It’s interesting to note that the magazines manifesto did not include any reference or obligation to the reader, but instead concentrated on the writers of the magazine. Was it Dannay’s intention to have successful sales of the magazine, or was it to have successful stories in the magazine? And is there a difference between the two? So who made Ellery Queen’s the most sought after mystery magazine? Many people have tried to identify a target audience of detective fiction, but have been unsuccessful in pointing to exclusively one group of individuals.
Obviously what gets people to purchase a magazine is the front cover. Something about it has to attract or at least elicit attention towards the magazine. It’s easy to say that many people were inclined to buy the 1991 December issue of the magazine because of the picture of Janwillem van de Wetering on the cover, but that obviously was not the reason for the magazines fifty years of success. Researching several back issue covers of the magazine, it became apparent that they all had something in common, they all depicted murder, an attractive woman, or an element of mystery such as a shaded character or dimmed room.
Suffice it to say that yes, obviously mystery readers will buy a magazine that has some element of mystery on the cover, but what of the attractive women? This could obviously be interpreted as an attraction for most male readers, but why then has the magazine sold at many local grocer’s stores or drug stores (most often frequented by females). Perhaps women have come to associate themselves with the attractive (most often intelligent) women depicted in detective fiction.
After all, on the December 1991 cover, it’s obvious that the woman is in the position of power, stepping on the body of a dead Mr Van de Wetering. This idea isn’t too far of a stretch for the story depicted by the cover as well. In the story, an attractive, intelligent woman (Marion) has murdered her husband and has gotten away with it for fifteen years until the guilt consumes her and she’s forced to tell a local commissaris. But what of the content itself? All of the stories were less than fifteen pages in length and fairly easy to read (having only to have looked up one or two words).
Could this facilitated reading be a beacon to a type of reader? Of course it could. Easy reading material accomplishes many things, some of which are the inclusion of every type of reader (not just educated people), and the practicality that the magazine is to be read as a leisure pursuit and not as an applied obligation. On the opposite side of the coin however, one could say that easy reading does not really appeal to well-educated people perhaps due to under-stimulation of their higher functions.
But the genre is perfect for those types of people, that’s what detective fiction attempts to achieve; the reader is forced to try and decipher via clues who the possible perpetrator or what the possible reason might be for the crime. Unbeknownst to whoever the reader might be, they’re trying to solve the mystery before the conclusion of the story. Other clues for the magazine’s intended audience is obviously the price as well. A one year subscription to the magazine costs $27. 98 for 11 issues. This works out to about two and a half dollars per issue.
This isn’t much considering the ticketed price for other popular magazines sell for more than five dollars. The low price could attract any working class person, and not discriminate anyone. Erin A. Smith in her book titled Hard-Boiled, Working-Class Readers And Pulp Magazines, says of The Black Mask magazines that “targeted readers were working-class males, possibly immigrants, who wanted to defend their masculinity in the face of increasing workplace mechanization. The ads also appealed to desire advancement in economic and social status”.
Could this past-targeted audience of the Black Mask also hold true for recent readers of Ellery Queen’s? Although there is not as much increase in workplace mechanization as in the 1930’s and 40’s, there may still be a need to defend masculinity due to the increasing amount of technology and disregard for any ‘traditional’ male qualities (strength, power, brute force etc… ). The classified section at the end of the magazine also has numerous ways of advancing economic and social status as well (Help Wanted, Business Opportunities, Additional Income).
As for immigrants, the facilitated reading and variable locations of the stories may appeal to them as well. Authors such as van de Wetering and locations such as Norway and Denmark, may offer them an affiliation with other successful immigrants, or a return to familiar locations. Erin Smith’s account of the targeted readers of the Black Mask stretches much further towards other magazines’ readers also. So perhaps Frederic Dannay had it right – forget about who we’re trying to get to read the magazine, let’s concentrate on who we’re going to get to write the magazine.
Maybe Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine continues to enjoy increasing success because it does not target a specific audience; it appeals to everyone in some way or another. Male or female, educated or the working class, immigrant or native citizen, if they’re interested in detective fiction, they’re bound to be attracted into purchasing one of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (or at least sending away for their free trial issue).