MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: It's a scientific fact - celeb worship is good for business

It's all over. Jade Goody and Jeff are toast. So says Now, coverdated 20 August. Heat, coverdated 23 August, has Jade and Jeff back together ("they tell us the full story first") as does New ("exclusive pictures").

There will, of course, be readers of this column who have no idea who Jade Goody is (clue: she didn't win last year's Big Brother), and plenty of us who do know and wish we didn't. Thankfully, this probably means that we don't suffer from the latest kooky "illness": Celebrity Worship Syndrome.

This sanity-threatening disorder has been officially unearthed by scientists and one in three of us is afflicted. Using a Celebrity Attitude Scale, scientists - who you might think had better things to do - have mapped the slide from an interest in celebrity gossip into depression, anxiety and borderline pathological obsession. According to New Scientist magazine's in-depth prognosis: "If you can't keep your nose out of Vanity Fair or Hello!, you could already be headed for big trouble."

So perhaps we should take an even keener interest in the latest circulation figures for celebrity magazines as unveiled by the ABC last week. Certainly, the newly unearthed syndrome could go some way to accounting for the continued success of the sector. Despite what seems like an increasingly crowded and amorphous marketplace, sales are soaring.

The two major new entrants, Emap's Closer and Richard Desmond's New, have both claimed sales of more than 330,000 and although the old hands OK! and Hello! both suffered sharp falls, much of this was a result of a streamlining of bulk sales and free distribution copies. The established titles such as Now and Heat saw modest gains and overall the market continues to thrive.

So the two launches have so far proved a shrewd move by Emap and Desmond, with no obvious cannibalising of their existing titles in the celebrity sector. OK!, like Hello!, remains in a glossier corner of the market where the PR rules and pre-vetting of articles by their subjects is rife; New!, like Closer, has fun turning that celebrity worship thing on its head, the "how wobbly is Ulrika's bum?" stuff.

And while Heat manages to stay hip and less female-biased, its new sister title Closer has gone for a mix of high-profile scoops (often with the Daily Mail): those real-life "My partner has no face" horror stories, high-street shopping guides, quizzes and competitions.

The success of Closer and New! throws a spotlight on IPC, once the king of the weeklies. IPC's Now is still the market leader in the celeb sector, but its territory is overrun and sales have slipped by more than 6 per cent in the past six months. With many of IPC's other women's weeklies looking tired and old-fashioned, it will be interesting to see whether IPC has the initiative to take the game in a new direction. After all, if the scientists are right, fans of all things celeb are unlikely to be long-term customers.

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