Once the 'alternative to Scientific American,' Psychology Today now
offers science-rich content with a celebrity angle to draw general and
professional readers alike.
Back in the 1970s, Psychology Today's circulation was around 1.2
million. It was a scientific monthly that served as "kind of an
alternative to Scientific American," says current editor-in-chief Robert
Then the magazine changed ownership, and in attempt to gain more
readers, it moved toward covering pop psychology. "That didn't work,"
says Epstein, 48, who has a Harvard Ph.D. with three degrees in
psychology, but no prior publishing experience. Epstein has been putting
his mark on the now bimonthly publication for the past two years and,
according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the magazine's total paid
figures are up slightly from 325,000 (first half of 2000) to 328,000
(first half of 2001).
Epstein insists on science-based stories with a mental-health or
behavioral-sciences angle, and welcomes PR input. But while trying to
rebuild the magazine's credibility as a source of science-based
information, Epstein is trying "very hard" to make it "fun and upbeat"
at the same time.
Star power is part of his mix for kicking new life into Psychology
Today, which under Epstein has flashed celebrities on the cover to draw
readers to inside stories written by science and medical experts.
Supermodel Christy Turlington was on a recent cover as a tie-in to a
story entitled "Why I Hate Beauty." The article was "very heavy science,
but was about how beauty kind of screws up our attitudes toward the
regular people in our lives," he says.
Other marquee names dressing up covers include actors Ashley Judd and
Robin Williams, as well as the Dalai Lama. Featured on the forthcoming
issue's cover will be actress Carrie Fisher, daughter of Hollywood's
Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, highlighting a story on bipolar
disorder (more commonly known as manic depression).
Epstein most recently interviewed Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York,
for a story on weight loss and nutrition. The October edition features
Jane Seymour on the cover, and discusses family relationships. Though
the theme for the issue is "desire," cover lines pose the question, "Can
men and women ever be friends?"
"Again, it's the companion pieces that are critical," emphasizes
Epstein, also a professor at United States International University in
San Diego, and author of 10 books. Having a celebrity to tie into a
pitch can help.
"As long as there's a legitimate mental health angle, we don't care who
it is," says Epstein.
"More and more, we're designing an issue around a cover," he adds. "But
nothing gets into the magazine unless it has scientific support.
Nothing." Epstein is hands-on, managing Psychology Today's print and
online content from San Diego, where he has a laboratory and teaches on
learning and cognition. "Every single piece in the magazine, large or
small, goes through me," he says, but most of the writing is done by the
full-time editorial staff based in New York and other contributors.
Psychology Today has been bimonthly since 1991, but Epstein says it
"definitely" will return to a monthly frequency, and the issues will
Gone is the magazine's two-hour daily internet radio show Epstein hosted
Monday through Friday at eYada.com, an outlet that recently lost its
The problem with most PR approaches to the magazine is that queries
aren't science-based, says Epstein. "The only time those make it into
the magazine is for one particular page, 'My Story,' where someone can
tell a first-person story (usually about recovery). Other than that, as
long as it's science-based, has a mental-health or behavioral-sciences
angle, we'd be happy to look at it," he notes.
The up-front "News" section depends on press releases and other input
from outside sources. Departments within the section are labeled
"Brain," "Education," "Work," and "Relationships." But remember that
stories must be aimed at the lay reader.
Address: 49 East 21st Street,
11th Floor, New York, NY 10010
Tel: (212) 260-7210
Fax: (212) 260-7445
Editor-in-chief: Robert Epstein, (760) 613-9948 or (858) 539-2091
Executive editor: Lybie Ma
Deputy editor: Michael Seeber
Senior editor: Carin Gorrell
News editor: Kaja Perina