Date of Birth: 1997
In 1997, a new soap opera magazine called Soaps in Depth hit the shelves. At the time there were 11 soap operas on television, scattered among the three major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. Today there are seven, and by the end of 2010 there will be six, since As the World Turns, a show that debuted in 1956, will go off the air. Which poses the question: Is a magazine dedicated to soap operas like Soaps in Depth still vital, especially with the Internet breaking all the news — or spoilers, as they’re called in the industry?
Richard Simms, Soaps in Depth’s executive editor, says yes: “While networks tend to ignore them, there is a huge audience out there of soap watchers who are older and not necessarily out there on the web. There are people who still pick up the magazine and are surprised by the things that they read.”
The initial idea behind Soaps in Depth was to give soap opera viewers more individualized and comprehensive coverage of their favorite programs. Instead of buying a magazine like Soap Opera Digest, the original soap magazine, in which all the soaps are covered, Soaps in Depth offered readers three different magazines: ABC Soaps in Depth, CBS Soaps in Depth and NBC Soaps in Depth. From a business standpoint, it was clever. If you watched multiple soaps and they were on different networks, you would have to purchase the different editions.
But less than two years after its launch, Soaps in Depth was forced to scale back when NBC pulled the plug on three of its four soaps, Another World, Sunset Beach and Passions, leaving only Days of Our Lives.
The motto for Soaps in Depth is “Cry with the soaps; laugh with us.” Unlike the other two soap opera publications — Soap Opera Digest and Soap Opera Weekly — Soaps in Depth goes for humor. “We love soaps, but at the same time we try to take a little bit lighter approach to them,” Simms says. “We want to bring the fun back to soaps.”
And they succeed. For example, when Soaps in Depth did an article on soap characters who have been in comas, they wrote biting captions for the images they ran. “This is actually Evangeline’s sixth coma,” read a One Life to Live caption. “After all, a girl’s gotta keep her figure somehow, and the eating-through-a-tube thing makes for a fantastic diet plan!”
Simms hopes that this approach will keep bringing readers back for more at a time when spending money on any magazine isn’t a need; it’s a want. You would be hard-pressed to find any publication where you can get the scoop only by purchasing a print product, and Soaps in Depth has a rather expansive website. “We learned that we needed to have the website in order to keep our name out there as someone who can break news,” he says. “Then we focus the magazine on things our website won’t give you. We actually work real hard so that the website won’t become so good that there won’t be any reason for the magazine to exist.”
Furthermore, a print magazine is the only place soap opera fans can go to get behind-the-scenes coverage. Other publications tend to write about soap operas only when they want to say that they are dying.
Although Soaps in Depth offers subscriptions, single-copy sales are what the magazine relies on, says Simms. As a result, they always make the covers pop to capture attention. They are also using Twitter and podcasts to help maintain their brand.
Soap operas may not attract as many viewers as they once did, but they are still part of America’s culture, attracting 15 to 20 million viewers each week. That doesn’t include SOAPnet, a cable channel that is dedicated just to soap opera or soap opera-themed programs. How long soap operas will remain on network TV is questionable, but they will persevere. Soaps are therapeutic. They are a chance to escape into another world. For many people, a magazine like Soaps in Depth is The New York Times for that place.