MAINSTREAM MAGAZINES: The Celebrity Phenomenon - By feeding an obsession with the rich and famous, celebrity titles are dominating the weeklies sector, Lucy Hone writes

When Hello! was launched at the end of the 80s it took a while for

press buyers to grasp the concept of the new title: a weekly gossip

magazine with a readership profile closer to the monthly glossies than

traditional women's weeklies. The public, too, proved initially slow to

embrace this new publishing genre in any big numbers: although the

interest was undeniable, there remained a certain amount of stigma about

clutching a copy of Hello!.



But by the start of the new millennium the British public's obsession

with celebrities, and the demand for the latest star news, changed the

face of the entire weeklies market: celebrity weeklies are now one of

publishing's fastest growing sectors, and celebrity gossip is commonly

used to leverage sales among both TV listings and women's weekly

magazines.



A quick look at the latest set of ABC figures illustrates perfectly the

importance of celebrity gossip to today's women's weekly magazine

market.



For the period of July to December 2000, only Northern & Shell's OK!,

Hello Ltd's Hello!, Bauer's That's Life, IPC Connect's Now and Emap

Elan's Heat managed to record both period-on-period and year-on-year

circulation increases.



Between them, these five titles managed to bolster women's weeklies

circulations by more than 260,000 copies over the period of a year.

Their success has encouraged other publishers to follow suit: BBC

Worldwide has entered the market with Star, a celebrity title aimed at

teenagers, which has so far received a warm reception from press

buyers.



Mark Bedwell, the press director at MediaVest, says the evidence speaks

for itself: 'The whole celebrity phenomenon is massive right now.

Everyone used to consider it downmarket - purely the domain of the

newspaper supplements - but Hello! and OK! have shown it's more upmarket

and is so successful at attracting ABC1s that the monthlies are now

following suit.'



In stark contrast, the traditional women's weekly market is an

environment of falling circulations and ageing readerships. The July to

December ABC figures reveal a gloomy picture: IPC Connect's Woman fell 5

per cent year on year, Woman's Own 3 per cent and Woman's Weekly 10 per

cent. Chat fell by 6 per cent, and Woman's Realm dropped a shocking 15

per cent. Bauer's Take a Break fell 8 per cent year on year while Bella

dropped 7 per cent.



The National Magazine Company's new acquisition Best also lost 9 per

cent year on year; while DC Thomson's People's Friend and My Weekly lost

3 and 5 per cent respectively year on year.



While the celebrity weeklies are attracting new readers all the time,

the weekly sector's traditional titles remain in the doldrums. So how

much is the success of the celebrity magazine to blame?



As the managing director of IPC Connect, which publishes Now (20 per

cent up year on year, July to December 2000) and many of the traditional

weekly titles, Linda Lancaster-Gaye is well placed to comment on where

the celebrity titles' new readers are coming from. But she denies that

women are choosing a celebrity title over a women's weekly.



'There's no doubt that this phenomenal interest in celebrities is

growing the market, but this is a repertoire market where women buy

different magazines to reflect different sides of their personalities.

They are increasing that repertoire, buying a bigger number of

magazines, but the frequency of purchase is variable,' she says.



IPC Connect's publishing strategy is to cover every stage of a woman's

life: Now concentrates on single, ABC1 working women; Woman, Woman's Own

and Chat on what IPC describes as 'our heartland of family women' and

Women's Weekly and Woman's Realm cover home life.



Although the likes of Take a Break, Woman and Woman's Own boast large

circulations, many agencies are concerned by the traditional women's

weeklies' ageing readership. Aside from OK!, Hello!, Now and Chat, the

women's weeklies have seen their readership significantly age over the

past three years.



According to the National Readership Survey, the percentage of Take a

Break's female readers aged between 15 and 34 has fallen from 44.4 per

cent in 1997 to 39.1 per cent in 2000, from 37.5 per cent to 35.5 per

cent on Woman, from 40.7 per cent to 37.6 per cent on Woman's Own, from

36.5 per cent to 31.8 per cent on Bella, from 21 per cent to 17.6 per

cent on Woman's Weekly, from 40.5 per cent to 33.6 per cent on Best, and

from 16.6 per cent to 10.5 per cent on Woman's Realm.



Compared with the figures for OK! (up from 51.3 per cent to 55.9 per

cent), Hello! (from 38.8 per cent to 41.5 per cent), Now (from 64 per

cent to 72.1 per cent), and Chat (from 37.9 per cent to 38.2 per cent),

the power of celebrity content is obvious.



'The titles which already had a celebrity angle - Chat, Hello!, TV

Times, OK! and Now - have developed it further, which has changed their

profile by making them younger. The problem for the others is that they

can't just introduce celebrities overnight as it would alienate their

existing readers. Woman's Weekly tried it a couple of years ago and it

didn't work,' Bedwell says.



Where it has worked is in the TV listings market, which has taken

advantage of its association with TV and film stars. With the arrival of

Bauer's cut-price TV Choice, 2000 was a rocky year for the TV listings

market.



But a 10 per cent year-on-year hike in copy sales for July to December

2000 (albeit including a first ABC figure for TV Choice) shows celebrity

coverage is proving a formidable weapon in the sector's battle against

electronic rivals.



Who'd have thought when Hello! launched in 1988 that it would spark such

an all-pervading obsession with the lives of the rich and famous: an

obsession acute enough to change the entire complexion of the weekly

magazines market.



WOMEN'S WEEKLIES

Title Publisher Total average Total

net circulation adspend

per issue (pounds)

1 Take a Break H Bauer Publishing 1,137,952 8,126,805

2 Woman IPC Connect 636,528 9,047,266

3 OK! Northern & Shell 586,176 13,526,450

4 That's Life H Bauer Publishing 569,804 1,810,800

5 Woman's Own IPC Connect 553,701 10,566,191

6 Bella H Bauer Publishing 532,668 6,645,071

7 Hello! Hello! 502,679 10,077,720

8 Woman's Weekly IPC Connect 496,162 3,537,334

9 Now IPC Connect 475,571 3,275,700

10 Chat IPC Connect 469,769 3,491,552

11 Best The National Magazine Co 431,352 7,053,862

12 People's Friend DC Thomson 399,339 2,839,916

13 My Weekly DC Thomson 318,294 1,841,284

14 Heat Emap Elan 172,311 2,705,568

15 Woman's Realm * IPC Connect 152,053 1,832,560

16 The Lady The Lady 40,815 450,598

Sources: The Audit Bureau of Circulations (July - December 2000)/AC

Nielsen MMS (July - December 2000)

* Recently folded into Woman's Weekly.



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