Lifestyle not age is key to women’s magazines

Older women, fashionable as they are, don’t read magazines as avidly as the young. Publishers must work harder at targeting them.

More than 85 per cent of women claim to read a women’s magazine on a regular basis. But this figure varies with age – readership is higher in percentage terms among the younger groups and declines as women get older.

Yet it is the older group that has become the new rock ‘n’ roll of publishing – the thirtysomething women who are high earning, high spending, cash rich, time poor – and of course, independent. And it’s a growing market. In five years’ time there will be more than 17 million women aged over 35, with 80 per cent of them working. Huge potential if you get it right.

We have already seen the launch of Aura from Parkhill, with a rather predictable editorial mix, albeit with the emphasis on the joys of hitting 40. And then there are the autumn launches of Project Florence (Gruner & Jahr) and Project Urma (BBC), both promising an intelligent unique approach to fashion, food and men.

The established players in this market, She and the relaunched Woman’s Journal, continue to hold their own. Frank tried to be different, but unfortunately was a little too different (although rumours have it that the title is being given another chance in the near future). Then Red had a go, but has ended up with a median age on a par with Marie Claire. Nova was launched last week, written and art directed by the cutting edge of the cutting edge, but has this ground been claimed by Frank? Are there enough of the fashion cognoscenti to sustain such a title, even at the 70,000 target?

The problem with targeting thirtysomething women is that it is not age that defines them. Unlike those in their 20s united by first jobs, first homes and so on, there are women in their late 30s who are divorced, with no children, and an income which allows them to shop anywhere from Gucci to Gap. Likewise there are those who have just had their first child and those who have three teenagers and are just rediscovering themselves.

Older women have a strong idea of themselves and are more likely to get kicks from the weekend newspaper magazines and specialist titles rather than a woman’s glossy. Given the diversity of lifestyle enjoyed by this group, it is misleading for magazines to generalise. It’s a common pitfall, even industry commentators have found themselves waxing lyrical on how thirtysomething women “know their own minds”, “are media literate” and so on – well yes, some undoubtedly are, but then some are not.

Maybe age is not the benchmark for the targeting strategy but the focus should be on defining the lifestyles, attitudes and experiences of a particular target market. The new magazines are being realistic in their circulation objectives, (all near the 120,000 mark) and are not looking for the levels of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, very wise given the fragmented market.

However, is there actually a role for the traditional lifestyle glossy in their lives or have they grown out of the format? Do publishers need a much more radical approach?

Laura James is press director at New PHD

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