I have no doubt that the good folk at BRM know exactly what they are up to and know more about publishing magazines then I ever will. I know which cover I would be more likely to look at and pick up on a magazine stand in a shop but I must be in a minority.
In the last 25 years, the Internet has happened. People no longer read great blocks of text, they scan for bits of interest, hence the need to break stuff up into smaller chunks. If you can wind the clock back then maybe we'll have long lumps of text again. However, the information density is often higher now. No need to read meandering prose, the facts are distilled down now.
Likewise, the cover styles from years ago don't perform well on the newsstand of today. You might be surprised to know that we do have a pretty good idea which subject needs to appear on the most important page of a magazine (Hint: A steam engine) for it to sell, and how much selling needs to be carried out by the other headlines on there. If you really want to get into the subject, there's mountains of user testing information for websites, which work in a very similar way. The right combination of keywords can make a huge difference.
I also wonder how different magazines of 25 years ago would be if today's technology was available. I remember writing step-by-step articles that would have been very difficult to illustrate in the same way as we do today. The cameras weren't as easy to use, post-processing was harder and you had to gamble that the shots would come back from the processor at all. Given the same camera Andy has, what would Brian Monaghan have done?
Ultimately, you can't please all the people all the time. Judging by the number of people who comment favourably on the DVD, often claiming it to be their favourite part, you wonder if anyone reads at all now?
I don't know how or where market research is done but I have been modelling and buying magazines for 40 years or so and nobody asked me. My attention span and ability to read is the same now as it was then. I liked a good read then and I like one now. Hopefully you can find new readers, or should that be new non readers, to replace old duffers like me, who like articles which match my attention span.
Thank goodness for MRJ!