Media: Behind the hype - Will Cut's circulation promise restore agency faith?

Can H Bauer's money-back offer assuage the doubts of advertisers, Ian Darby asks.

It seemed an obvious move. H Bauer's decision to launch the men's weekly title Cut last month followed the runaway success of IPC's Nuts and Emap's Zoo.

With these titles selling, on average, close to 500,000 copies a week, it was not going to be long before other publishers tried to muscle in on the action.

But many believe that Cut has not had the greatest of starts. Unofficial retail figures, which Bauer hotly disputes, suggest its first full-priced issue sold just 30,000 copies.

Bauer's sales operation, The Publishing Consultancy, refutes these figures, arguing that accurate data is not available and, even if it were, it is too early to judge.

Simon Young, the managing director at TPC, says Bauer is fully committed to the title: "The aim is to produce a magazine that is profitable and it will take time."

And, despite this seemingly slow start, agencies say Bauer is keen to get them onside, by guaranteeing a 100,000 settle-down circulation. If it falls short, agencies get a refund.

Rival publishers argue Cut will not recover from its perceived poor start.

"There is no way back from this," one uncharitable competitor says.

Cut's positioning (it shuns semi-naked glamour models as cover stars in a bid to attract a slightly older readership) is certainly a large gamble, given that part of the success of Nuts and Zoo lies in the high levels of sex they contain.

However, there are those who think Cut can stage a comeback and point out there are precedents for a turnaround. Claudine Collins, the press director at MediaCom, says: "When Heat launched it was unsuccessful - Emap relaunched it and look what happened."

Critics argue Bauer left it late in promoting the product to the retail and ad industries. But this is Bauer's style - it tends to focus on building newsstand success and then relies on this bringing in the advertising.

This is a problem if the sales are not as expected.

Some warn Bauer, now run by the recently appointed managing director, David Goodchild, should not be written off, pointing to its success in turning around the women's lifestyle title Real. However, it recently decided to sell off Real (to Essential Publishing) in order to focus resources on Cut - hardly a sign that Real was a runaway success.

And it might be hard for Cut to catch up with Nuts and Zoo. As one agency source puts it: "When Zoo and Nuts launched, you could not believe the PR behind them; it was on News on Ten. Unfortunately, Cut launched months later and people have already decided where their loyalties lie."

For the time being, Bauer will continue with its strategy of heavy promotion for Cut - Young says that sampling will form part of a move to take the title to a wider audience. An ad campaign, through Mustoes, will also continue to air.

But this effort could be improved, Collins says: "Bauer has to promote it better and has to change the parts of the magazine people are not happy about."

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