Cosmo fights off young pretenders

Cosmopolitan, the pioneer of liberal women’s magazines, has tried to adapt to the Nineties, but if it changes too much, it risks losing readers.

Cosmopolitan is 25 this month, younger than its average reader – who is 27 – but still old in terms of the fickle world of magazines.

So, is the first magazine to bring us the G-spot still coming up with the goods, or is it starting to pale when compared with new titles like Marie Claire or Minx, which speak to women in a completely different way?

Although the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures will not be out until next week, it seems that Cosmo has managed to retain its position as number one glossy monthly, just ahead of Marie Claire. Circulation is predicted to grow from 450,000 to about 480,000.

When Cosmo first launched in this country in 1972 it contained the revolutionary mix of sex, sex and yet more sex.

It was the first magazine to say not only that women could enjoy sex, but that there was something wrong with them if they did not. Notoriously, it was the first magazine to feature a male centrefold.

While Cosmo was the only magazine on the shelves preaching this heady message to women, it had a unique selling point. But this started to be eroded in the late Seventies and early Eighties with the introduction of magazines like She and, later, Company.

In the Nineties, it has even stronger competition. There are a host of magazines which could not have existed without Cosmo, but which take the concept of female liberation even further to create the “New Laddette”. How can Cosmo compete with the likes of More! or Minx?

The Media Centre head of media planning Nigel Conway says: “Cosmo went through a period when its circulation was going down largely because the editorial was less in keeping with the target. It was looking very tired.”

The Network’s press and radio buying director Paul Mukherjee says: “When you don’t adapt, when your core concept does not let you adapt, that’s when you die – you are no longer of interest to your readership.”

So Cosmo adapted and kept its edge. The Nineties Cosmo carries some heavier-weight features.

But as an international brand, the UK magazine has only so much flexibility. It cannot move too far from the core values established by the grand dame of women’s magazines, Cosmo US’s founder Helen Gurley-Brown, who this week finally stepped down as editor in chief after 31 years.

The current editorial is largely a result of Mandi Norwood’s appointment as editor in 1995. Norwood has worked at More! and Company.

She has held on to the didactic element of Cosmo. CIA Medianetwork press director Richard Britton comments: “It is not as liberal as some titles. It is very definite about what it stands for.”

Conway says Cosmo now appeals to the slightly older woman who is still single but about to get married, working and “middle of the road”.

The magazine’s publishing director Simon Kippin has hard advertising rates. One media buyer says: “Its position is so strong that it can afford to do it. But Marie Claire offers much better value for money.”

Cosmo’s only real contender in terms of circulation is, indeed, Marie Claire, which has come from nowhere to number two in nine years.

Marie Claire was the first women’s magazine to introduce the reportage- style feature. Conway says: “Marie Claire has positioned itself as the thinking woman’s type of title. It also has a more upmarket feel.”

Marie Claire publishing director Heather Love says while Cosmo has features about sex, Marie Claire runs sexy features. She adds: “The difference between us is that Cosmo is very much the older sister. It tells the reader what to do and how to do it. Marie Claire readers do not need to be told.”

One source says: “Cosmo is very clear and definite about what women should do. I am appalled that women can be dictated to like that.”

But industry insiders say that if Cosmo were to encroach on Marie Claire territory and become more serious than it is now, then it would lose more readers than it would gain.

Love concedes the success of her rival, but says there is room in the market for both publications. One source says Marie Claire has still not had long enough to prove itself in the market and may yet prove to be a fad like Elle, which has a tumbling circulation.

Cosmo’s only problem now is how to expand its brand in a market moving forward at lightning speed.

Most commentators agree that the 500,000-circulation level is about saturation point.

In 1995, the first Cosmo licensed products went on sale – Cosmo clothes sold through Kay catalogues. Britton says Cosmo could extend the brand by launching Cosmo TV.

In the opinion of New PHD partner Jonathan Durden, even if Cosmo keeps saying the same thing, but to new generations of people, it can keep the number one slot.

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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