Hot gossips

Once again the gossip titles are the jewel in the magazine industry’s crown, while in the men’s and women’s lifestyle sector, size is a major preoccupation. Sonoo Singh reports

In the same week that research suggesting an avid interest in celebrities and their lives could be bad for our mental wellbeing hit the headlines, the magazine industry publishes its circulations report. The Anglo-American report says about a third of people are suffering from “celebrity worship syndrome”, and the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABCs) results show that the British love affair with soap stars and pop idols is far from abating. In fact, the January to June 2003 ABC figures indicate that our desire for celebrity gossip and star snaps is increasing, judging by the fact that celebrity magazines are not only thriving but are also increasing in number.

IPC Media’s Now and EMAP’s Heat maintain their lead in the sector. Heat’s success continued with an increase of two per cent over the January to June 2003 period and an 18.1 per cent year-on-year increase to a weekly circulation of 565,484. Now’s circulation increased 3.6 per cent year on year, though it experienced a drop of 6.3 per cent for the six-month period to 590,544.

Just can’t enough

The fact that the sector has sustained two launches – EMAP’s Closer and Richard Desmond’s New!, both of which recorded debut ABCs of over 330,000 copies a week – is testimony to readers’ insatiable demand for gossip. Closer was launched last September and New!, which was slammed as a rip-off of Closer, hit the shelves this February.

Industry experts say that, backed by aggressive marketing and pricing tactics, the boom in sales of celebrity titles will continue. But their success has been at the expense of the traditional women’s weeklies. This sector is faring less well and is predicted to remain flat. Titles such as IPC’s Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly; the National Magazine Company’s Best and H Bauer’s Bella all show a decline for the period and year on year.

Once regarded as the quintessential celebrity magazines, Hello! and OK! have once again felt the pinch from rivals. The Desmond-owned OK!, launched in 1996, posted a circulation of 489,882, 14.8 per cent down year on year and 22.6 per cent down for the period.

Hello!, eight years older than OK!, also seems to have fallen out of favour. Once renowned for its staged and airbrushed pictures of the pseudo-aristocracy, Hello! has suffered a disastrous decline of 32.9 per cent year on year and 36.5 per cent period on period to 347,461 copies – 27,982 copies less than DC Thomson’s People’s Friend.

Hello! publisher Sally Cartwright says the comparison with People’s Friend is unfair because each caters for a different audience. “We are trying to take the magazine upmarket, away from the mass market. The emphasis will be to make the product more exclusive, and maybe niche,” she adds, in defence of the declining numbers. Last week the magazine launched a TV campaign, which will be followed by another marketing drive in September.

Millionaires’ moan

Experts believe the hefty fees that stars demand for exclusives, as well as some much-publicised privacy court cases, such as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones versus Hello!, have tarnished the top end of the celebrity magazine market.

In the women’s monthly lifestyle sector, Condé Nast’s Glamour and NatMags’ Cosmopolitan once again dominated. Glamour, the handbag-sized magazine launched two years ago, reported a 10.9 per cent increase year on year and a 7.3 per cent period increase to 576,832 copies. Cosmo dropped 1.7 per cent year on year and was down slightly for the period – 0.2 per cent – to a circulation of 462,157.

NatMags has announced that it is testing a “travel-sized” version of Cosmo (MW last week). The move is being seen as an attempt to stem its falling circulation.

Glamour publishing director Simon Kippin says: “Even if the new Cosmo format copies Glamour, it will still be the same product editorially. Glamour is successful not only because of its small format but because it is a good editorial product.”

One press buyer agrees: “Cosmo would be better investing in its editorial. I do not see how changing size will help it take on Glamour.”

But NatMags managing director Duncan Edwards says that nobody owns the small-size magazine format. “Glamour certainly did not invent the size,” he adds.

The men’s sector has experienced yet another round of dwindling sales, which have dipped two per cent period on period and 1.5 per cent year on year. The leader of the pack, EMAP’s FHM, is up 3.4 per cent year on year but down 3.2 per cent for the period to 600,568. IPC’s Loaded was down for both the period and year figures: 9.7 per cent and 15.2 per cent respectively, to 261,937 copies.

MediaCom press buyer Clare Seager says: “The lads’ thing is passé now, but the time is not right for a launch to rejuvenate the sector.”

MindShare press buyer Louise Tang adds that the disappointing debut ABCs for Jack – 33,347 copies a month – proves that the sector is unable to sustain another launch. Travel-sized Jack, launched last year by Loaded founder James Brown and acquired by Dennis Publishing earlier this year, will be available in a larger size from October (MW August 7).

But IPC Ignite group publishing director Eric Fuller says the sector is far from dead: “Initially the men’s market went through an explosive period of growth and then it settled down. In my view it is now a more mature and stable market, in which magazines are battling for increasing share.” But, he refuses to comment on speculation that IPC is planning another men’s launch.

Meanwhile, the industry’s eyes are on EMAP, which is believed to have a line-up of launches up its sleeve. EMAP Elan managing director Dawn Bebe says: “In the next 18 months we do have new products on the agenda.”

Last year EMAP lost Elle and Red to Hachette Filipacchi UK, when H-F ended a joint venture with EMAP (MW October 10, 2002). According to the latest ABCs, Elle sales fell 3.3 per cent year on year and inched up 0.3 per cent for the period to 200,912. Red was down for the period by 1.1 per cent but up by 3.6 per cent year on year to 189,857. The only remaining EMAP women’s title, New Woman, suffered a decline of 6.4 per cent period on period and 9.1 per cent year on year to 275,648. The magazine was relaunched two months ago.

Bebe says: “New Woman suffered a bit of a blip this time, but we are excited about the future.”

BBC Magazines’ Eve has yet to break the 200,000 barrier. It reported a circulation of 131,157. MindShare’s Tang says: “Titles such as Eve will always be a niche.”

Teenage kick-start

Elsewhere, the teenage lifestyle sector also recorded flat circulation figures. H-F’s Sugar was down 5.8 per cent year on year and up 1.5 per cent period on period to 326,185. EMAP’s Bliss dropped 3.7 per cent for the period and slightly increased by 0.1 per cent year on year to 250,543. The surprise winner of the sector was Cosmo Girl – up 32.5 per cent for the period and 7.4 per cent year on year to 188,249.

In the teenage entertainment sector, BBC Magazines’ Top Of The Pops is up both year on year and period on period to 252,410 copies. The publisher is launching another teen title in autumn, to ride on the success of TOTP, called Project April (MW last week).

In the music sector, IPC’s New Musical Express has reclaimed its crown as the rock bible and posted a circulation of 72,443 – up 0.5 per cent year on year. EMAP’s Kerrang! was down 16.2 per cent to 70,361 year on year. The leading title Q, also from EMAP, was up 7.2 per cent year on year but down 4.2 per cent for the period to 172,557.

The latest ABCs have failed to provide any surprises. Perhaps the launches planned for the next six months will reinvigorate the sector.

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