News Group is beefing up its magazine team ahead of launching a News of the World glossy supplement that will take on paid-for titles, appointing ACP-NatMags head of advertising Sian Roberts.
She is quitting The National Magazine Company to become head of magazines at News International division News Group, which also houses The Sun, as revealed on marketingweek.co.uk last week.
The move surprised many, but Roberts is just the latest high-profile magazine executive to join the division. Jane Johnson, who launched EMAP’s Closer was lured across to be editorial director of News of the World’s Sunday Magazine, while Mandy Appleyard, contributing editor of EMAP’s First and Grazia, was named editor.
Media observers believed Roberts would be loath to leave, particularly given her ten-year association with Best, one of the publisher’s flagship women’s weekly titles. One media buyer described Roberts’s imminent departure as “a complete shock”. Yet others believed the opportunity to join big-spending News International would prove too hard to resist.
Specific details of Roberts’ new role have not been made available, but she is likely to play a key role in next year’s relaunch of the Sunday colour magazine, understood to be called Fabulous. Marketing Week revealed in August that Sunday would be scrapped in favour of a more upmarket title that would aim to compete with the celebrity weeklies (MW August 23).
Media buyers believe the revamped magazine, with its circulation of 3.4 million, will have a significant impact on the crowded women’s weekly market, which some argue has lost its lustre of late. MediaCom press associate director Adrian Pike says: “News International is coming into the market with a Sunday magazine that could regenerate the women’s weekly market.”
Yet others urge caution, pointing out that while many newspaper titles have claimed they will change the paid-for women’s weekly market, few have delivered.
Latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABCs) figures indicate the women’s weekly market has reached its peak, with an overall sales downturn of 4.4%. A slowdown in growth across the celebrity market, little growth in the real-life sector and a continuing sales decline in the women’s classic weekly market are all apparent in the latest sales figures.
But the sector is crammed with 30 titles and was responsible for sales of 9.6 million in the first six months of 2007. While these sales figures may be bolstered by discounted copies and major television campaigns, observers say the market is essentially vibrant, and they point to the launch of IPC celebrity and high street fashion hybrid Look, which has a circulation of about 300,000, as proof of this.
Vizeum press director Alex Randall says: “Look is a great success and is a weekly fashion magazine that sits comfortably in an age demographic below Grazia.”
The top two titles in the celebrity sector, EMAP-owned Heat and Closer, have been hit by increased competition and registered sales falls. MediaCom’s Pike says: “There is so much out there you could argue there is too much. Sales seem to rely hugely on who is on the cover and not on loyalty.”
The real-life sector, which has a number of “me too” titles, is also suffering and although “classic” women’s weeklies, such as Woman and Bella, still represent a viable platform for advertisers, few believe there will be new magazines coming into the sector next year.
However, predictions that a launch of a standalone free title is just around the corner are rife following the arrival of ShortList, the free men’s weekly launched by former IPC editorial director Mike Soutar earlier this year.
Observers will also be watching the sell-off of EMAP’s consumer division, which includes weekly titles Grazia, Heat and Closer. If US publishing giant Hearst, owner of National Magazines Company, acquires the division then it could lead to consolidation and the axing of titles.
Meanwhile, News International’s focus is on making its Sunday supplement replacement palatable for customers and advertisers alike.