A hot Internet topic today is the decision at the Dallas Morning News to have editors report directly to sales managers. This is roughly analagous to the long-standing situation in Civil War magazine publishing, with a circulation twist.
The ACW glossies see circulation boosts when certain marquee value pop history writers pen pieces for them. Those "names" set the editorial policies by their treatments of certain topics and issues. Keith Poulter, for instance, editor of North & South, once returned a friend's manuscript with a letter that began, "I will never..." (contradict a certain best-selling author).
This sets up a captive relationship, even if publishers never advertise in the glossies. Publishers in fact advertise sparingly in the glossies - much publicity can be had for free - though the "blockbusters" will get full page ads.
Those mags that do stir up a little controversy are playing short-term circulation games. Pay attention to these ripples - they tend to flow away from major reputations and large investments to eddy around rocks of specificity: facts, dates, minutia.
Can we imagine ACW magazine publishing as intrepid, investigative, fresh? No, it will remain conformist, networked, and pandering following in the wake of book sales for a few crumbs of commerce.
The twin paradoxes of ACW magazine publishing are advertiser control, sans advertising, and a circulation sustained by deep readers imbibing what is intended for more general audiences.