MAINSTREAM MAGAZINES: The guts behind glamour - With several new titles achieving notable success, women's magazines are regaining their glamour

The women's lifestyle sector, traditionally the glamour girl of

magazine publishing, has experienced a whirlwind start to the new

millennium.



Women's monthlies were handed a tough set of ABCs in February, that

signalled depressing slides for several key titles. But if that took

some of the lustre off the marketplace, the shine was restored by a

first quarter of launches that matched anything previously seen for the

amount of attention it pulled towards the sector. With Conde Nast

believed to have shifted more than 500,000 copies of Glamour's launch

issue, and Time Inc said to have posted more than 300,000 in sales of

InStyle, it's not just trade journalists who have been getting

excited.



'I personally think it's a really exciting time,' Suzanne Grover, the

director of women's magazines at Emap Advertising, says. 'High-profile

launches mean people talk about magazines again. It drives readers to

the news-stand so if a title is at the top of its game editorially, it

can really benefit. If you have strong covers, people will buy you.'



However, it's unlikely that a dramatic shake-up of the market will mean

such good news for everyone. At the end of the day, the 800,000 readers

picking up copies of new magazines this spring have to come from

somewhere. 'You're always hurting someone, somewhere along the line,'

the publisher of Vogue, Steven Quinn, says. 'We were nervous about the

turbulence but we've been measuring it and we're about on par with last

year, so very happy.'



The fact remains, though, that the number of women's monthlies has

increased substantially over the past few years and this has inevitably

begun to bite. 'There have been loads of launches over the past few

years,' MediaCom's press director, Steve Goodman, says. 'But very few

women's magazines have folded so far. There's Aura, Options and Frank,

but the list is fairly limited.'



If pressure within the market is reaching a critical point, then women's

glossies need only take a sideways glance at the home interest market to

see what the future holds. The past few years of sustained growth will

inevitably mean lower circulations for titles across the board. Glamour

and InStyle, despite their great start, are themselves likely to settle

down a few hundred thousand below their current estimated

circulation.



A positive spin will inevitably be placed on many of these circulation

slides. Publishers can claim that women's glossies today are far more

precisely targeted than they have been in the past. 'What constitutes a

women's glossy to one reader doesn't to another,' MindShare's press

director, Paul Thomas, says. 'What's beneficial is that all magazines

are now touching separate parts of the women's market,' Goodman

adds.



However, the more worrying view is that magazines are being reduced to

short-term tactical solutions in a bid to prop up dwindling

circulations.



Over the past few years, sampling techniques have been so extended that

covermounts are now a regular monthly occurrence for many titles. In

such circumstances, it becomes increasingly difficult to build a loyal

readership, attracted to a magazine's brand rather than a free gift.



IPC Media's decision to cut back on covermounting for Woman's Journal

over the past six-month period led to a crushing 14.8 per cent

year-on-year decline in February's ABCs. Despite this reverse, IPC's

chief executive, Sly Bailey, promised a reduction in covermounting and

an increase in brand-building advertising for the publisher's women's

titles. She wasn't the only one sounding such a message. The deputy

managing editor of The National Magazine Company, Duncan Edwards, was

quick to point out that Company's substantial circulation increase came

because it was a genuine 'brand, rather than a product'.



Such rhetoric is intended to counter the impression that circulation

figures are losing meaning as covermounting increases. It's hard to

convince advertisers to buy space inside a title if the main reason for

a reader's purchase is the pair of sandals that comes in a plastic bag

on the cover.



And since approximately 75 per cent of the income of a women's monthly's

income comes from advertising, this is a crucial point to make. Unlike

women's weeklies, the glossies can live with circulation declines

provided they do not result in a drastic loss of advertising revenue. To

prevent this they must convince advertisers and their buying agencies

that their ABC figure represents 'good value' circulation - readers who

wait impatiently for their magazine each month and pore through the

pages in detail when it arrives. Conde Nast has traditionally set out

its stall in this area and its titles arguably enjoy a more credible

brand than those of its rivals. However, other publishers are

increasingly looking to take a leaf from the book of Nicholas Coleridge

and company. Foremost among these is NatMags, with its Conde Nast-facing

Affluent division, headed by the former Hanover Square stalwart Tess

McLeod Smith.



There is no doubt that the magazine industry as a whole has been

enjoying an advertising boom of late. But there are serious concerns

over whether the increases in ad revenue can be sustained. 'The number

of magazines is increasing but the budgets of clients are static,'

Carat's director of press, Tim Kirkman, says. 'The market will get more

competitive and all titles are going to come in for a squeeze.

Publishers will try to negotiate their way into positions of greater

share and volume and only the very strongest will be able to achieve

that.'



IPC Southbank's managing director, Tim Brooks, agrees: 'We've been

through a boom and a lot of titles have launched into growth markets but

we're not going to get more ad revenue and so the rate of launches will

slow and publishers will look closely at underperformers. In a growth

market they can live off crumbs from the big boys but not now.'



A cull of the sector's underperformers is just one consequence of a

probable ad revenue squeeze. The sector is also likely to see titles

being drawn into a round of acquisitions as we enter a period of

publisher consolidation.



With ad revenue under greater pressure, publishers will attempt to

leverage wider portfolios to appeal to media agencies' margins.



'These days media agencies have to be efficient and buy efficiently so

consolidation conforms to their needs because they can achieve coverage

with fewer points of contact,' Brooks says. 'IPC is unique in having

weeklies and monthlies, mass market and glossy, so we're able to offer a

whole menu. But if you look at the recent behaviour of our competitors,

they're mindful of that. Conde Nast launched into the mass market with

Glamour.



Emap couldn't sell frequency so they launched Heat and put out Red to

give them a stronger position in women's monthlies. NatMags' acquisition

of Gruner & Jahr was about adding more mass market to a relatively

upmarket stable and taking them into the weekly market for the first

time.'



Publishers could choose to stretch their portfolios still further as

they look at new ways of drawing in advertisers. H Bauer's introduction

of the fortnightly Real could herald a new fortnightly territory for the

glossy market - as well as dragging that publisher's own portfolio

upmarket.



Meanwhile, Glamour's A5 size and initial pounds 1.50 cover price could

well inspire imitators aimed at convincing readers and advertisers that

their magazine offers something different.



However, the expansion of publishing giants' portfolios does not

necessarily mean the disappearance of their smaller rivals. Goodman, for

one, believes that the increasingly niche-oriented make-up of the

women's market could result in more ad revenue being made available for

closely targeted products.



'I can't see why it isn't feasible for small publishing companies to

launch specific magazines,' he says. 'I can actually see potential to

launch magazines at even more tightly targeted groups than they

currently are, with even smaller circulations. In the long-term future,

you could have a circulation under 50,000 and still be commercially

viable.'



In the end, the future shape of the women's monthly market will be

decided by what advertisers decide the minimum circulation of the titles

should be. 'Upscale advertisers look at whether a title is classy,

glamorous and smart and being read by affluent people, and so they can

be forgiving on the circulation figures,' Quinn says of the formula for

his own sector.



'However, their buying partners are ready to tell them what the norm is

and that's where you start hitting problems with rates. It will be a

problem for a magazine such as Nova if it shakes down at under 60,000.

That's not an acceptable figure for an upmarket fashion glossy when

you're familiar with others over 80,000.'



The search for demographically attractive and yet sustainable

circulations has had something of a twin focus of late. Publishers'

attentions have been drawn simultaneously towards both teenagers and

more mature women readers. BBC Worldwide's Eve has drawn a bead on the

'middle youth' demographic that Red has mapped out, while plans have

been drawn up for a Cosmo Girl as well as a teen version of Elle.



The initial signs are somewhat less than positive for both potential

markets. The teen sector already seems to be wobbling in the face of

market conditions, with the launch of both Cosmo Girl and the Elle youth

brand pushed back several months from their initial dates. 'The idea of

having brand extensions touching into a younger market and introducing

them to a parent publication seems quite a good idea,' Goodman says.

'But obviously the market isn't as buoyant as it was when they were

conceived, so it seems they're waiting for it to turn around again.'



If the teen glossy market is biding its time, then it's tempting to

imagine that mature readers' time has already come and gone. Red

suffered a 14 per cent year-on-year drop in February's ABCs while

Parkhill's similarly targeted Aura has disappeared and Eve's

circulation, independently audited at 129,711, is the subject of sniping

from its competitors.



Still, the feeling among publishers is that the grey sector's best years

are yet to come. 'The reality is that there is far more spending power,

particularly on personal items, in the over-40s,' Brooks says. 'That

group has changed profoundly. They are completely unlike their mothers

were at that age and are much closer to their daughters. We sell a lot

to them with a lot of material about how they look and what they should

wear, yet time and again fashionable advertisers target the 24- to

34-year-old range and cut off at that point. It's odd that women buy

editorial of that nature but advertisers think they're not interested.

Over time that gap will close.'



When you consider that Red itself is estimated to have an average reader

age of around 30, it's clear that there is still much empty territory to

be explored in the mature women's sector. 'No-one's really done much in

the grey area,' Thomas says. 'We are a country with a rapidly ageing

population and these people have got an inordinate amount of cash.'

Thomas concedes that one barrier to exploiting this potential is the

apathy of advertisers. 'The advertising industry is a very young

industry and therefore it tends to target younger relevance all the

time,' he says. 'Everyone seems to think around young ABC1s.'



In this sense, the publishers of women's monthlies may have to change

advertisers' perceptions of glamour in order to move the sector

forward.



WOMEN'S LIFESTYLE/FASHION MAGAZINES

Magazine Publisher Total average Total

net circulation adspend(pounds)

1 Cosmopolitan NatMags 460,086 18,112,852

2 Good Housekeeping NatMags 404,476 12,528,889

3 Marie Claire IPC Media 400,543 15,472,059

4 Prima NatMags 395,164 7,830,340

5 New Woman Emap Elan 281,828 4,565,881

6 Woman & Home IPC Media 269,401 3,733,364

7 Company NatMags 260,646 4,459,756

8 Essentials IPC Media 234,727 3,591,873

9 Elle (UK) Emap Elan 224,355 8,927,822

10 B Attic Futura 216,620 2,723,125

11 She NatMags 213,216 5,637,482

12 Family Circle IPC Media 203,159 3,436,465

13 Vogue Conde Nast 202,694 15,584,680

14 Red Emap Elan 155,083 7,023,459

15 Woman's Journal IPC Media 113,719 2,689,396

16 PS Magazine Dennis Publishing 100,446 561,594

17 Harpers & Queen Nat Mags 87,495 6,313,441

18 Vanity Fair Conde Nast 82,185 2,637,673

19 Tatler Conde Nast 82,071 5,194,284

20 Nova IPC Media 75,142 3,105,000

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

Nielsen MMS (July-December 2000).



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