When People, the world's most popular magazine and a mirror of US life for the past three decades, celebrated its 30th anniversary in April with a 282-page issue, the "it" girl Jessica Simpson graced the cover, reflecting the importance of TV and its ability to create stars. Inside, readers were treated to quotes from celebrities such as Pamela Anderson ("I've been fortunate - I haven't had too many auditions; I slept with the right people") and Dolly Parton ("I know I'm not a dumb blonde. I also know I'm not a blonde.")
Elsewhere in Bauer Publishing's anniversary issue were 30 years of fashion, bad hair days and unsolved crimes, which jostled for space with Madonna, Julia Roberts, Cher and other stars passing on "what I know now". People's bread and butter is coverage of the rich and famous, although it has also tackled topics such as Aids, Alzheimer's, eating disorders and atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing. As a case in point, the 1987 cover of the late Ryan White, a young boy with Aids, helped change public perceptions about the disease. What sets People apart from its growing number of competitors is that it takes the approach of a news magazine, with reports from national staff writers.
When People launched in 1974, many readers wanted a respite from politics and war. The Watergate hearings were under way, Richard Nixon was about to resign and Vietnam was winding down. With a mission to respond to the culture and events of the week, People offered a five-minute read and was the beginning of the wave of celebrity culture, which it rode to become one of the most successful titles in the business. Its approach to covering celebrity news has had a major influence on other media. Newspapers such as The New York Times now devote space to pop culture and TV shows such as Entertainment Tonight feed Americans' voracious appetite for celebrity gossip.
These days, People faces tough competition from a variety of celebrity-centric magazines including Us Weekly, The Star and the introduction of a US version of OK!. Meanwhile, Gruner & Jahr has plans for a celebrity gossip magazine called Gala, while Bauer Publishing's year-old In Touch has already doubled its rate base to 500,000 copies. But the consensus among analysts and media buyers is that its sheer size and unique positioning will allow People to continue to dominate. "You have the war of the celebrity magazines and then you have People," Robin Steinberg, the head of the print buying department at Publicis Groupe's Mediavest, says. "It not only has the celebrity focus, but it has human interest stories too. It's just an incredible magazine."
Peter Bauer, the People Group president, adds: "We have a brand people love. Readers are into what we're doing every week and we need to communicate that more effectively. Competition only makes you stronger."
Circulation: 3.6 million
Typical advertisers: General Motors, Kraft Foods, Clairol, McDonalds,
Ownership: Time Inc.
Launch date: 1974
Brand extensions: Teen People
Rival publications: Us Weekly, The Star, In Touch, Entertainment Weekly
Full-page ad rate (four colour): $180,000 ($202,000 for
the 30th anniversary issue)