So NatMags has finally relented, and is to trial a mini version of Cosmopolitan in October (MW last week). These handbag-sized Cosmos will be distributed through outlets targeting commuters, giving potential buyers the choice of the normal version or the diminutive one.
While NatMags has positioned this as a test, it is without doubt a reaction to the runaway success of its upstart competitor, Condé Nast’s Glamour. Glamour’s latest set of circulation figures, released last week, showed an 11 per cent year-on-year improvement, to 576,832, while Cosmopolitan’s circulation fell to 462,157, a drop of two per cent on the last comparable figures (Audit Bureau of Circulations). Glamour certainly caught the market by surprise at its launch, and its first ABC figures, released in 2001, were just 690 copies short of Cosmopolitan’s. Glamour now has a lead of almost 115,000. The suits at NatMags are clearly concerned. They have already reduced the cover price in some regions to match Glamour’s attractive &£1.80, and it is unlikely that the barrage of competitive strategies will stop there.
Despite NatMags’ mockery at the launch of its “pygmy”-sized competitor, Glamour has clearly taken the market by storm. Readers obviously like the size and weight of the title and hence its portability. And combined with the blend of longer features and dip-in, dip-out articles, it makes it the ideal commuter read for women. But the idea of a magazine smaller than the typical A4 format can hardly be described as original – with Readers Digest, and National Geographic being just two examples that have run for years in more manipulable formats. What is more important is the content, editorial style and design of the magazine, which works in this format. Glamour is not a shrunken version of a bigger magazine: it is a title that has been put together as a package to address a specific market. That’s not to say the mini-Cosmo won’t sell – it should perform well at the carefully chosen distribution points. But to have the impact of Glamour, more work will be needed on all the elements that create a magazine’s identity, leaving us with something else entirely.
The other issue a client or agency has to contemplate is the effect on the impact of advertising in this smaller format. Can an advertiser really expect to achieve the same bangs for his buck in the small format as it could in a magazine twice the size? And there are creative concerns as well – not all creative work can scale straight down – some will require additional tampering with to ensure, for instance, that the text doesn’t become illegible.
GQ trialled a scaled-down version in October 2001, and that failed to achieve the increases in circulation that had been hoped for. Perhaps this was because men, generally, don’t carry handbags; more likely, though, scaling down a magazine without enhancing the style of that title doesn’t work. NatMags might just have more success if it could persuade readers to carry bigger handbags!
Steve Goodman is group press director at MediaCom