WORLD: STUART ELLIOTT IN AMERICA

For those who want to get farther from Closer, who turn a cold shoulder to Heat, who prefer then to Now and old to New!, who think it's not OK to read OK! (and want to say goodbye to Hello!) you will find no more respite in the US.

That's because a staid, even moribund category of the American magazine industry - titles devoted to personalities, stars and gossip - suddenly has become busier than the return desk at Vera Wang's bridal shop the day Jennifer Lopez stopped in.

For years, that category had only two US entries: the leader, People, which also has an everyday-folks focus, and Us Weekly, so far behind People, the joke ran, that it was number four in the two-book field. Hovering on the sidelines were the newspaper-like tabloids sold in supermarkets, National Enquirer and Star.

But when the British editor Bonnie Fuller joined Us, introducing a breezy, pop-publishing style (favouring photos of stars with snappy captions over lengthy text), she transformed the category faster than the Fab Five of Queer Eye can make over a straight guy. After Us started to generate buzz, gain advertisers and sell more copies on newsstands, the German publisher H Bauer jumped into the fray with an all-new entry, In Touch Weekly.

Soon, American Media, the parent of the tabloids, lured Fuller from Us with a salary huge even by American media standards. Now she's overhauling Star into a glossy magazine to take on Us, In Touch and People directly.

Already the front cover of Star proclaims it to be "your No 1 celebrity news magazine" (though just weeks before, the cover bore another boast: "All the juice, all the time").

That suggests the ramping up of the category isn't without its growing pains. For instance, an issue of In Touch this month crammed so many photos of buff, shirtless stars on to a page that one went not only shirtless but captionless, leaving readers clueless. (Though with In Touch, Us and Star covering the same few famous faces over and over, those not recognising the hottie as the pop singer Nick Lachey must think Timberlake is a brand of hiking boots.)

And People is eager to keep its newly fired-up competitors from catching fire. The People parent, Time Inc, recently introduced People's first ad campaign in four years, starring personalities who've appeared on its pages such as the designer Isaac Mizrahi and the young golfer Michelle Wie.

Advertisers are loving the revved-up rivalry, as it's providing additional ways to reach younger consumers. Besides the mainstay of mass-market magazines such as cigarettes and nutritional supplements, ad pages are being filled by blue-chip packaged-goods marketers including Campbell's Soup, SC Johnson, Mars and Procter & Gamble.

And talk about Us versus them, the competition is only going to get fiercer.

The Gruner & Jahr USA division of Bertelsmann is planning to crash the category with a magazine called Gala. Time Inc is developing a title, named perhaps For You or Your Best, that could include personality content as well as women's service fare.

And to bring it all full circle, rumour has it that American Media is going to licence the rights to publish a US edition of OK!.

All together, repeat after me: People, people who read People ...

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