US giant jumps into teen mag war

The jury is out on whether the move by one of America’s biggest magazine publishers into the UK teen magazine market (MW April 8) with Jump is reckless or well planned.

Jump, which will be published by Weider Publications’ licensee Mollin, is launching into a fickle but lucrative market competing against established heavyweights. Potentially the rewards are rich as pages in the teen market are increasingly being targeted by premium advertisers in search of younger audiences.

However, there are concerns that on the back of slowing Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, the teen bubble could have burst, and existing players may have to resort to an expensive covermount war to hold on to their share of the sector.

Jump will be joining the ranks of Attic Futura’s Sugar, which leads the teen market with a six-month circulation to the end of December of 451,696. Sugar outperforms glossies such as IPC’s Marie Claire, whose circulation stands at 445,289.

EMAP Elan dominates the sector with titles such as Bliss which has a circulation of 337,188, J17 (242,516), Looks (135,797) and More (293,369). EMAP bought US publishing group Petersen in December last year which has a youth stable which includes Teen magazine with a US circulation of 1.9 million.

Upmarket advertisers are targeting the UK youth sector. J17’s advertisers recently included fashion brands Diesel and Tommy Hilfiger. Mollin must be keen to capitalise on this growing trend.

Marie O’Riordan, group publishing director of EMAP Elan’s youth titles, says: “Premium advertisers are keen to capitalise on the teen pound. They realise that readers of these magazines are brand aware. They want the right trainers, and will buy Coke rather than the supermarket equivalent.”

The trend for premium advertisers coming to this sector is more advanced in the US. Time Warner’s Teen People launched at the start of 1998 and has a circulation approaching 1 million. It has regular advertisers such as cosmetics and perfume manufacturers Clinique, Chanel and department store Neiman Marcus.

Dean Weller, managing director of specialist youth media agency Media Shop-owned The First Age, identifies a number of reasons why the teen market has become an increasingly important target for advertisers.

“It’s this whole idea of getting older faster,” says Weller. “Products that were geared towards 20-year-olds ten years ago are now aimed at 13- to 15-year-olds. And while there were fewer teenagers, now they have a more disposable income.”

He adds that many 13- to 17- year-olds are more media literate and have TVs and access to the Internet in their bedrooms. The rise of part-time work among this group and higher levels of pocket money give them greater spending power.

This emerging trend must be one Mollin has pinpointed and will be looking to capitalise on with Jump. The company was set up in the UK in October last year to launch a range of titles from the Weider Publications stable into the UK lifestyle and fitness sectors.

Mollin has already launched female fitness title Shape and will introduce male health and lifestyle title Men’s Fitness in June. In the US, Shape has a circulation of over 1.4 million, while Men’s Fitness and Jump are approaching 750,000.

The company is in a strong position to offer attractive cross-country deals to global clients which advertise in the States.

Few details have emerged about Jump, but it is understood the title will be aimed at the teen market and may have a health and fitness slant.

But Tony Evans, senior buyer with BMP OMD, is sceptical about this formula: “It is arguable whether the youth market is concerned with health and fitness. These titles tend to appeal to people who have love handles and are worried about being overweight.”

There are other concerns about this market. A significant proportion of US sales are through subscription, whereas in the UK, sales are driven predominantly through newsstands.

Free gift covermounts are crucial to the teen market to get the magazine noticed on the newsstands. There is a risk that increasing pressure could result in a covermount war, where costs escalate and magazines are bought increasingly on the strength of the free gift. Mollin simply does not have the experience of IPC and EMAP in this area.

Stellar circulations for these titles appear to be on the wane. Bliss magazine was down year on year by 15.9 per cent, from 400,799 to 337,188, while Sugar was down year on year by seven per cent from 485,944 to 451,696.

“These figures indicate that the bubble has burst,” says Evans. “Readers may be buying fewer titles and might not have as much interest in the teen mags as they once had.”

Yet EMAP’s O’Riordan disagrees, saying the sales have dipped slightly because two years ago the hype surrounding the Spice Girls pushed up circulation. She adds: “The ABCs are more indicative of a normal year and normal sales revenue. Sales were already growing strongly before we had things such as the Spice Girls.”

Whether Mollin can pull off a success with Jump is anyone’s guess. In its favour are attractive cross-country and cross-title deals that international advertisers find attractive. But if a damaging cover mount war is the publisher’s response to waning sales in the UK, Mollin has a fight on its hands.

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