The Magazine Reader column in Style on July 3 incorrectly reported the fate of Cook's magazine. Pennington Publishing Inc. decided to terminate publication of Cook's, and then Conde Nast Publications acquired the magazine's subscription list. (Published 7/13/ 90)

Magazines are dropping like flies. The fatalities of the season include Psychology Today, 7 Days and, most recently, and shockingly, Manhattan, inc., which only a few years ago was being celebrated and imitated for its path-making feature journalism.

Like the miner's canary, this funeral procession from the newsstand portends more general economic trouble, or at least reflects a pervasive fear of it. In uncertain times, who will make uncertain financial commitments, whether it be a $20 check for a year's subscription or a $2 million contract for a year's worth of advertising space? The magazine publisher can be forgiven for spending only half his time trying to rescue his magazine from perdition in the marketplace; he must spend the other half putting the property in the right order to unload.

With these folded magazines are extinguished whole editorial sensibilities and publishing stratagems, even journalistic histories that included the headiest of days. And of course readers too are abandoned when a magazine ceases publication. They found something to like no matter their numbers.

Gone but Not Forgotten

Psychology Today gasped its last in February. Once the darling of the magazine industry and the most-mentioned reading of the bourgeoisie, PT had changed a few too many hands, undergone too many remakes, appeared on too many sticky stamps in too many clearinghouse mailings. The magazine is in what Hollywood calls "turnaround" -- a revival is promised in a few months.

A similar reinvention is in the works for Ms., which effectively folded its glossy, mass-market self a few months ago, having lost its original soul years ago. Ms. ultimately became the victim of its success. Service articles and feminist journalism that used to be unique to Ms. are now staples of all the Seven Sisters magazines, not to mention a host of working-woman-type second-generation magazines.

Perhaps the most anguished closing thus far was that of 7 Days, a sophisticated Manhattan weekly beloved by its flock. Its end had a summary quality: Even as its owner found the bottom of his deep pockets, 7 Days was on its way to winning the National Magazine Award.

In an industry that could sustain smallness, or even encourage it as a noble undertaking, things might have been different. But even modesty is no guarantee of success. Just last week, the president of Yale University pulled the plug on the Yale Review, a journal with a distinguished tradition and a history of university subsidies Yale was forced to abandon.

Critical Condition

There have been other wakes this spring: For Long Island Monthly, which certainly seemed like a good idea when it started. For Southpoint, formerly the promising start-up Southern, which Time Warner's eager-to-please new subsidiary, Southern Progress Inc., had bought and tried to spit-shine. And then, two weeks ago, for Manhattan, inc., ne plus ultra of '80s magazines, responsible for a marvelous brand of faux-critical (and ultimately glorifying) profiles, and launcher of many writing and editing careers.

Manhattan, inc. technically will not die. It will be swallowed whole by a men's magazine called M, and the package re-christened with a name about as awkward as it is possible to imagine -- M, inc. The editor of M, inc. will be M's editor, Jane F. Lane, not Manhattan, inc.'s well-known Clay Felker, who'll be the new magazine's editor at large -- suggesting which magazine's editorial styles will wear the pants in the marriage. M is designed for today's on-the-go, briefcase-carrying young male airport-newsstand visitor. Contents: Cars. Clothes. Sports. Gadgets. Stars. Babes.

Another lip-smacking swallow: Conde Nast last week bought Cook's, the sophisticate's cooking magazine, and fed it (or at least its subscriber list) to Conde Nast's own cooking magazine, Gourmet. Mother Earth News and Smart, the old natural-living gazette and the mannered young monthly owned by entrepreneur Owen J. Lipstein, are both teetering.

Mere survival does not ensure good news. The New Yorker's editorial revival under Robert Gottlieb has not been echoed by the confidence advertisers show with their buys. The three weekly news magazines, No. 1 Time, No. 2 Newsweek and No. 3 U.S. News & World Report, must pay dearly for the continued allegiance of their increasingly distracted readers. Spy, another '80s success, has been looking for investors for an embarrassing number of months. The Forbes family's stab at downtown hip, Egg, limps. Entertainment Weekly, the expensive spring launch by Time Warner, staggers, while sibling Life, now publishing monthly, ponders a rosier future as the weekly it once was. Even TV Guide is struggling.

The Masculine Mystique

Withal, would-be editors don't stop huddling with confederates and patrons to create new magazines. New ones appear all the time, gushing promise and ignoring the ubiquity of doom.

Los Angeles, for instance, has been pronounced underserved by magazines, and within the next year or so will be treated to an urbane new monthly called Buzz and an as-yet-unnamed weekly from Knapp Communications, publisher of L.A.-based Architectural Digest. Meanwhile, another entrepreneur is taking steps toward launching California Republic, a fortnightly journal covering California politics.

The greatest industry enthusiasm in this skittish season seems to be magazines for guys. In addition to the forthcoming M, inc., men (and women) soon may be able to choose among Men, a new launch from the former publisher of Cook's; Men's Life, forthcoming from Murdoch Magazines; another men's title from Straight Arrow (the Rolling Stone people); and Details, done over with the man in mind. Men's Health has been around a while to improve the male body, and GQ even longer to improve its appearance and behavior. Forbes and Business Week are also concocting new magazines clearly aimed at men and their fancies.

All this attention could made a fella blush. But will he then subscribe?