ABC report: launches - how to get it right

Launching a new magazine title is a risky business. Claire Murphy looks at some of the titles that have made it in the past couple of years, writes Claire Murphy.

Later, Nova, Frank. The magazine publishing world is littered with the names of attractive-sounding magazines that promised so much, but closed just months (or even weeks) after launch.

It is thought that at least 50 per cent of new magazines will shut within their first year, a huge total, especially considering the hefty up-front investment that launches require.

In the past few years, as the downturn in the economy brought caution among those making the investment decisions, new launches were relatively thin on the ground. All of the five launches documented here began life before 2001, and three of them had already proved their worth overseas.

This year we are seeing what could be the green shoots of magazine launch activity with the two new weekly men's magazines, Nuts and Zoo Weekly.

So why are magazine launches so difficult to get right? Partly it is a case of finding space in a relatively mature market, Simon Kippin, a publishing director of Conde Nast, says. "The market is definitely less forgiving than it was a few years ago," he adds. "You really do need to see some signs of success early on to have the confidence to continue investing in a new title."

Research can only go so far. It vindicated Heat's initial positioning as an all-round entertainment title for men, only for the Emap team to find a few months after launch that the idea couldn't attract the kind of circulation necessary to break even.

Katy Egan, IPC's publishing director on InStyle, emphasises the importance of evolving to reflect readers' tastes (especially for an imported title), something that isn't always apparent until you actually get the title on the newsstands.

Kippin's advice for prospective magazine launchers is simple: "Join a gym. Launching a magazine is physically tiring and you will need so much energy."

REAL

Launch date: April 2001

Publisher: H Bauer

Frequency: Fortnightly

Cost of full-page ad: £8,750

Circulation: 205,702

The launch of Real in the UK in April 2001 represented true innovation in the women's magazine market. It is a fortnightly title that seeks to bridge the gap between the regular fare of glossy monthlies and the true-life tales of the weeklies market, produced with the editorial values of daily newspapers. The concept had already worked in Germany and France, and H Bauer hoped that British women would be attracted by a harder, news-driven approach to features. They were - the title had collected a circulation of 180,680 by the middle of last year, aided by a price fall from £1.50 to £1 in early 2002.

The publishing director of Real, Louise Newton, feels that the title competes against the monthlies, but maintains that it is the quality of the writing (produced by a team dominated by ex-newspaper journalists) and the mix of subjects that sets it apart.

The current issue perfectly reflects the proposition - a story headlined "I hijacked a helicopter to free my Death Row husband" is followed a few pages later by a piece on redecorating a bathroom.

Being fortnightly enables the magazine to keep a topical edge to its editorial, while still maintaining the fashion, beauty, home and travel staples.

HEAT

Launch date: February 1999

Publisher: Emap Consumer Media

Frequency: Weekly

Cost of full-page ad: £18,000

Circulation 566,731

The phrase "If at first you don't succeed, try try again" could have been written for the Heat team at Emap. Originally launched in 1999 as a serious, wordy, entertainment title for men, Heat was given a total overhaul the following summer to pitch it as a celebrity gossip-driven magazine for women.

Although Emap has now returned to the weekly men's magazine idea with Zoo Weekly, pitching a pure entertainment magazine to men didn't work for Heat. Circulation in the first year only hit the 70,000 mark - not enough to make any money, the editor, Mark Frith, says.

Once the switch to embrace celebrity gossip was made (and Frith brought on board), the magazine turned the corner. An exclusive with Victoria Beckham in May 2000 took it over the 100,000 reader mark, swiftly stretched to 200,000 four months later when Heat featured Big Brother's first winner, Craig.

Frith believes the tone of cheeky humour sets the title apart. "Most celebrities now know that embarrassing pictures are part of the deal of being famous."

GLAMOUR

Launch date: March 2001

Publisher: Conde Nast

Frequency: Monthly

Cost of full-page ad: £16,630

Circulation: 582,690

Conde Nast's Glamour has become a poster child for the world of women's magazines. With its "handbag-sized" format and low price of £1.50, it caused a massive splash in the market right from the start. Just over a year after its March 2001 launch, it beat the queen of monthly women's mags, Cosmopolitan, into second place with a circulation of 520,193 (its target had been 200,000).

So has its success, as the critics carp, just been down to its size and price? Its publishing director, Simon Kippin, admits that these two factors have been highly influential, but insists that the quality of editorial is paramount. "If the content is wrong, a magazine won't sell at any size or price."

Glamour, Kippin says, set out to combine coverage of fashion, beauty and celebrity in a way that hadn't been attempted before. "The existing women's monthlies specialised in one subject - for Elle, fashion, for Cosmopolitan, sex, and for Marie Claire, reportage. We wanted to give women one title they could get everything in."

Fashion coverage is an accessible mix of high street and designer - Glamour has managed to pull in some big fashion names as advertisers that wouldn't generally be seen outside Vogue.

After some huge circulation successes (up by 23 per cent in 2002), the pressure is on Kippin and the editor, Jo Elvin, to keep growing. Their next target is to beat FHM, Emap's top-selling monthly.

INSTYLE

Launch date: March 2001

Publisher: IPC Media

Frequency: Monthly

Cost of full-page ad: £14,400

Circulation: 187,172

The US import InStyle works, its publishing director, Katy Egan, says, because it goes a step further with fashion than other women's titles, acting as a reader's "personal stylist".

The March issue, for example, features a piece on skirts that "flatter your bottom". Celebrities feature only in relation to their fashion, home or beauty choices.

Egan thinks InStyle has taken readers from all the main women's magazines, but particularly Elle, which has "shown a steady decline since we launched".

It still uses some US-sourced editorial in the British edition ("They have fantastic Hollywood contacts that we'd be mad not to take advantage of," Egan says). But its editor, Louise Chunn, has started to create a more local tone for the title, typified by the different ways British and US women dress at work.

COSMOGIRL

Launch date: September 2001

Publisher: The National Magazine Company

Frequency: Monthly

Cost of full-page ad: £12,995

Circulation: 198,324

NatMags' CosmoGirl had been launched successfully the year before in the US, but the British market had a glut of magazines for teenage girls such as J-17, Sugar, More and Bliss.

But CosmoGirl, its publisher, Judith Secombe, says, was planned to be a more grown-up, aspirational read, feeding off the "be the best you can be" philosophy of its sister title.

"We want to show our readers how they can get the best out of life," she says. The end of its first year saw its circulation hit 170,629 at a time when all its competitors lost sales.

This more upmarket pitch has drawn new advertisers in the teen magazine sector. Clinique, Tommy and Carolina Herrera were all exclusive to CosmoGirl (although they have now started to appear in competitor titles).

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