Can Cosmo see off the young pretenders?

Cosmopolitan, the magazine that has brought sexual enlightenment to thousands of women over the years with in-your-face articles on subjects such as the G-spot and the perfect orgasm, is to embark on its first major marketing push since its launch in 1972.

The past few years have not been Cosmopolitan’s best, having lost the top spot as the UK’s best-selling women’s monthly glossy magazine to handbag-sized Glamour, which launched in 2001. And circulation at Cosmopolitan is 456,447, down 0.9 per cent period on period and 1.2 per cent year on year, according to the latest set of the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures for the six months ending June 2004.

But the National Magazine Company (NatMags) denies that Cosmopolitan is suffering and claims that its circulation has been relatively steady throughout its 32-year history, which after a peak of 490,000 in 1979 has been hovering between 450,000 and 470,000.

However, a year ago it felt the need to hire Rise Communications, founded by Simon Mathews, who helped launch Glamour while at Optimedia, to work on a branding strategy for Cosmopolitan. And it has started working with Clemmow Hornby Inge (MW last week), although NatMags denies it has “officially appointed” the advertising agency.

As many in the industry are aware, publishers rarely plan costly marketing campaigns for magazines other than if they are in trouble, feel threatened by rivals or have set new goals.

Cosmo’s traditional rival in the glossy market, IPC’s Marie Claire, underwent a revamp earlier this year – reducing its size and its cover price to &£2.50 – in a bid to reverse declining sales, which it seems to have achieved. And with new entrants to the market, in the monthly sector with Condé Nast’s Easy Living, women’s weeklies with EMAP’s Grazia, and two film titles from EMAP and IPC scheduled to be launched next year, there is reason enough for existing magazines to shore up their position with a campaign as the market becomes even more competitive.

But, according to publishing director Jan Adcock, none of these situations apply to Cosmopolitan, which has been “solid and consistent since launch”.

However, she says: “It is not a new brand, having existed in the UK for more than 32 years. We are now investing in its future status. You can’t just assume that readers will be inherited because the magazine was popular with a previous generation.”

MediaCom group director Steve Goodman acknowledges the need to tell potential new readers about the magazine: “You have a new market which doesn’t know where Cosmopolitan has come from.”

Adcock says the magazine’s “fundamental DNA” is staying the same, but the product is, as always, being updated and made “relevant for today’s readers”.

Recently appointed editor Sam Baker has decided to inject an element of campaigning and women’s rights issues back into the magazine by covering topics such as moves to reduce the legal time limit for abortion.

Baker has axed the passion package, which lumped all the sex features together, opting instead to spread them throughout the magazine. She is also introducing a monthly male pin-up. Although Adcock maintains that this approach is already helping the magazine gain readers and expects its next ABCs to be positive, she says the marketing push “is not about sales”.

And neither is it about clawing back the number one position from Glamour, which has a circulation of 605,747 and was up four per cent period on period and five per cent year on year.

“To chase a number of that scale would dilute our business,” says Adcock, who makes the point that Cosmopolitan is number one in the premium glossy market with a cover price &£2.85.

Glamour may not have taken huge chunks out of Cosmopolitan’s circulation, but its broad content and cover price of &£1.90 means that it is attractive to readers of all ages. And its arrival, along with a raft of celebrity titles, is forcing some of the women’s glossies to reassess their positioning as the market gets even more competitive and price-conscious.

At the top end, fashion magazines Vogue and Elle can afford to sit on their high cover prices due to their aspirational positioning, but competition in the women’s lifestyle sector is tough, with Eve, Marie Claire, Red, She and others all battling for readers.

Starcom Motive press manager Leah Annett says: “Marie Claire used to be the older women’s title, but with so many titles chasing this age group, it has moved to a slightly younger positioning with a cheaper cover price of &£2.50.”

While Marie Claire has been “bold” and moved to where it thinks the market is going, Annett says Cosmopolitan is straddling two markets – younger and older – by trying to appeal to all women. If it wants to target the younger end, as its content would appear to suggest, she says it must lower its cover price in order to compete. But Cosmopolitan is unlikely to do this having just increased the price of its travel-sized edition to come in line with its standard size.

Marie Claire publishing director Jackie Newcombe also believes that Cosmopolitan has its work cut out trying to appeal to theyounger end of the market, which it has traditionally served with its sexual content, as well as meeting the expectations of its loyal followers who are now older and who no longer need to know about the mechanics of sex. She says: “If I were publisher of Cosmopolitan, I would ask how sex is relevant in 2005 and how you show that for today’s audience.”

Glamour publisher Simon Kippin says that his magazine was designed with modern women in mind, not just in terms of its portable size, but also its approach to content with short, snappy articles delivering nuggets of information. But he adds: “I believe you should stick with what you do best and not copy somebody else.”

But with competition about to increase, magazines in the sector are bound to take a look at the new entrants, not just in the monthly sector but also in weeklies.

Goodman says: “I think that this new activity could help the weeklies nip away at the monthly sector. We have seen evidence of that in the men’s market with the arrival of Nuts and Zoo.”

But Kippin shrugs off this threat, saying that the rise in celebrity titles has so far failed to make massive inroads into the monthly sector.

Whether Cosmopolitan will withstand the increased competition and win over new readers to retain its current circulation level and not dip below 450,000 in the next 30 years remains to be seen.

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