Boots sets foot into glossies

Boots is following in the footsteps of the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Barclaycard with the launch of another customer title into the market. By Virginia Matthews

SBHD: Boots is following in the footsteps of the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Barclaycard with the launch of another customer title into the market. By Virginia Matthews

Next week, a company which knows more about scraped knees than double-page spreads will join the ranks of Britain’s self-styled magazine publishers.

While Tesco, itself a new entrant in the publications game, and Sainsbury’s, an already well-established publisher, continue to slug it out over the benefits of an entirely different kind of loyalty builder, Boots the Chemist is among the many companies that at this stage prefer a loyalty title to a card.

Several years after Sainsbury’s took on mainstream women’s magazine publishers with an upmarket “star-names-and-recipes” formula which has helped break the traditionally dreary mould of customer titles, Barclaycard, Tesco, and now Boots, have all been bitten by the publishing bug.

Safeway is so far resisting the lure of becoming a publisher/grocer, but it has its own way of building loyalty – with the distribution of 1.8 million copies of The Taste of Safeway through the Sunday Express.

Meanwhile, Family Circle – until recently one of the few magazines with grocery store facings – has apparently been badly hit by both Sainsbury’s magazine and by Tesco’s policy of clearer checkouts. Ironically, it has achieved a new-found success via distribution in traditional CTNs.

Boots’ new quarterly, produced by Redwood, aims to cover mainstream issues of health and beauty for a core readership of women aged between 25 and 40. The initial print run will be 250,000 but there are no plans for wider distribution in the news trade.

While there will inevitably be in-house advertising for new products and services, the title will also be open to rival advertisers who want to establish a presence for their pharmaceutical and beauty products with the many millions who regularly use Britain’s leading chemist chain.

Ironically, one of the few things that can be said with any certainty about Boots’ core consumers is that many of them already buy a battery of women’s magazines which follow exactly the same health and beauty issues that Boots’ own editorial team will no doubt cover.

Despite the apparent editorial overkill, the company’s research strongly suggests that the attraction of a checkout magazine which not only covers the obligatory mix of belly exercises and breast cancer, but also reflects Boots’ core values as a company, is considerable.

Although rewards for loyalty don’t come free in this life – like Sainsbury’s award-winning magazine, the new Boots title is opting for a cover price of 95p – the chemist believes that the 27 million people who use its store every month are prepared to pay for a quality product.

Until fairly recently, customer magazines were dismissed as an affectation – a form of vanity publishing by firms with more money than sense.

Yet today the sector is maturing. Last month, Barclaycard launched no less than two new publications for a customer base that exceeds 3 million. While both Premier World and Out of the Blue are free to customers, the editorial feel is certainly more You magazine than cheapo puff sheet.

In terms of advertising, the titles include a number of familiar third-party names such as Linguaphone and furniture maker Neville Johnson, as well as the usual mix of articles on smarter suits, better travel and more astute financial planning.

The magazines don’t altogether live up to publishing director Neil O’Brien’s claim last year that they would recapture the spirit of “Sunday supplements before they became nothing more than cover-to-cover advertisements.”

But the Premier World interview with Anthony Hopkins, in which he states that, if he hadn’t been an actor, he’d have earned fame as a “psychopath or killer” deservedly puts the title in the category of proper read rather than flimsy give-away.

While Barclaycard opts for a complimentary title, most customer magazine publishers believe that a cover price, like third-party advertising, confers gravitas on what was until recently a fairly frivolous sector.

For Tesco, whose new Tesco Recipe Collection falls more into the category of partwork cookbook than genuine magazine, a 30 pence cover price is low enough to attract passing shoppers, yet not so high as to rival the traditional glossy publishers who offer readers much more than just recipes.

The price, added to the fact that Tesco’s Recipe Collection shares its limelight at Tesco checkouts with precisely no one else, gives the part-work a unique advantage.

Editorially though, the Recipe Collection is arguably one lemon meringue too much in an Aga already packed with recipes. “Salad with a difference,” “thirty-minute wonders for busy cooks” and “perfect pasta” might be new to Tesco, but they aren’t to anyone else.

While the new trend towards at least a nominal cover price does help to offset costs, Neil O’Brien, publishing director of Premier World magazine, doubts whether customer magazines are profitable: “The magazine won’t make a fat profit for Barclaycard, and in fact all the costs will come out of the marketing budget,” he said in an interview last year, “but if it generates loyalty to Barclaycard, then it will have been a wise investment.”

Yet in the case of Sainsbury’s, whose editorial and commercial success has yet to be matched by any other customer title, profit is very much an issue.

While the company won’t comment on such commercially sensitive matters, it is rumoured that the Sainsbury’s magazine makes as much as £200,000 profit per issue.

Despite the obvious attractions of a place on genuine news-stands, Sainsbury’s is for the moment happy to restrict distribution of its magazine to stores.

It may not boast top-name photography and bylined articles by Beryl Bainbridge and Michael Palin, but Asda’s Hi-time magazine, a free title, continues to shift products, according to the company.

At the end of March, Hi-time will be relaunched as a bi-monthly, instead of the present five times a year frequency, with an increased print run of 1.2 million. But don’t expect any radical changes to the editorial flavour.

The Christmas edition, with features like “Hair We Go” – new looks with hair accessories – and “Winning Ways With Christmas Leftovers” are not, I assume, about to give way to probing articles on the Northern Irish peace process or the problems facing Nelson Mandela. Not unless there’s a grocery angle.

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