YOUTH MEDIA: TEEN MAGS TAKE A HIT - Teen title sales are down and Ashley Davies finds out this fickle readership knows what it really, really wants ... until the next issue

The teenage magazine market right now looks more crowded than Leonardo DiCaprio’s fan club. And the latest round of the Audit Bureau of Circulations figures revealed that most of the titles have lost sales. On the surface it looks as though something is going wrong, but as with all matters relating to adolescence, the situation is not that straightforward and part of the solution can be found in parents’ wallets.

The teenage magazine market right now looks more crowded than

Leonardo DiCaprio’s fan club. And the latest round of the Audit Bureau

of Circulations figures revealed that most of the titles have lost

sales. On the surface it looks as though something is going wrong, but

as with all matters relating to adolescence, the situation is not that

straightforward and part of the solution can be found in parents’

wallets.



Overall, sales fell 4.6 per cent period on period, and the traditional

’girlie’ titles all took a hit: top seller Attic Futura’s Sugar - until

now a sure bet for continued increases - fell 3 per cent year on year;

Emap Elan’s recently revamped Bliss took a 6.1 per cent smack; BBC

Magazines’ Live and Kicking and DC Thompson’s Shout dropped by 7.2 per

cent and 17.7 per cent respectively; and Emap Metro’s Big! gave the

market an even bigger shock by losing 23.9 per cent of its sales.



The only titles to have gained were the music and TV-based ones such as

the BBC’s Top of the Pops - which has just switched from classification

in the music sector - and Attic’s TV Hits. But compared with the

soaraway success of these two magazines in recent ABC rounds, the rises

were modest.



Although aimed at far younger audience than the other magazines, BBC’s

Girl’s Talk is classified in the teen group. It continued to increase

sales, this time by 18.7 per cent year on year. Luckily for the BBC, the

hormones of Girl’s Talk’s readers have yet to turn them into the

inconsistent, fickle newsagent stalkers which publishers are spending so

much money trying to understand.



Because this market has been such a reliable area of growth in the past

five years, an overall drop of nearly 5 per cent looks scary. But

reflecting the age group they target so closely, it is no surprise that

the magazines themselves are so subject to change with little warning.

Teenagers do not all want to read something obviously aimed at their age

group; they don’t want to read something for younger kids and they

aren’t even that keen on a title aimed at their older sisters.



They are difficult to please: they change their minds more regularly

than adults and, according to publishers, are more conscious about

design, packaging and value for money than ever before.



Sarah Fisher, publisher of IPC’s Mizz and 19, both of which underwent

dramatic and costly redesigns last year, says: ’Readers are demanding

high quality products and value for money. The norm is a highly

varnished cover. A big factor for influencing their purchasing decisions

is innovative production formats and quality paper: something that

stands out on the newsstand.’



Fisher and her team managed to stem the declines of Mizz and 19 with a

pounds 1 million relaunch package: she took Mizz’s core readership down

from 14- to 17-year-olds, to ten- to 14-year-olds and reckons she can

get sales up to around 150,000 by the next ABC round. 19 got spruced up

to reinforce its position as a read for a core group of 17-year-olds.

The magazine has yet to record a post-ABC figure, but Fisher says nine

out of the 11 issues since then have been up year on year. The same

applies for Emap’s J17, which last year glossied-up and lost its old

Just Seventeen masthead.



Again, it does not have an official figure but sources say it is selling

around 250,000.



All three titles spent a lot of money sharpening up their design and run

regular cover promotions. Fisher says these can increase sales by up to

10 per cent per issue. What may be surprising for some observers is the

fact that 19 is 30 years old. This is testimony to the belief that it is

possible to revitalise an old brand and catch the eye of a new breed of

readers.



Jackie Almeida, a director of CIA Medianetwork, says constant

refreshment of titles is vital. ’It’s hard for magazines to have staying

power because today’s teenagers are more sophisticated,’ she says.

’Readers can quickly reject things and move on and, in that sense, it’s

one of the most demanding areas. One would imagine that if there’s no

cash injection, there will be further declines. But the titles that have

invested will stabilise and reap growth through it.’



Perhaps the most effective way of breathing life back into an ailing

title is to make dramatic changes, maybe going as far as altering

everything bar the name. The next redesign is expected to come from

Emap’s More, which has just hired a new editor, Terry Tavner, the editor

of the recently repositioned Eva. Emap Elan’s managing director, Paul

Keenan, has promised action later this year, but is keeping tight-lipped

until then.



Many believe that, while the market is heaving with titles, launches can

serve to revitalise its fortunes. At least three launches are expected

over the next 12 months and this will certainly affect the buying

patterns of readers. In this market, they buy two or three titles at any

one time and regularly buy three magazines a month. That’s double the

average adult purchase.



Attic Futura, which has become known as something of a maverick in this

sector, is working on a launch but is being very discreet about it. IPC

is looking at further launches and maybe even acquisitions. Sally

O’Sullivan’s Cabal Communications is working on the idea of a title for

16- and 17-year-old girls to sit alongside Front, its forthcoming young

men’s title. It is definitely on her A list, O’Sullivan says. ’Wherever

you look there is always room for a new magazine as long as it’s well

targeted. It would definitely be glossy and perfect bound.’ O’Sullivan

is another great believer in the power of branding and packaging in this

market. ’The readers are very much into feel: the glossiness and

presentation,’ she says.



It is therefore inevitable that over the next 12 months the teenage

shelf space in the newsagents is going to look more glamorous. Existing

titles already shout out with glitzy covermounts and pages of handsome,

young, non-threatening boys with which to entice teenage girls.



Publishers’ increased investment, not only in presentation but also in

research, is already pulling in new types of advertisers, and sales

teams are offering them more creative solutions. CIA’s Almeida points

out that advertisers are increasingly using a mixture of sampling,

promotions and straight page ads, thanks to the availability of good

research.



Smart publishers will be using every available penny to keep their

magazines and the market spiced up. Those that don’t will probably sell

out to the cash-rich publishers who will then turn those titles around

to fill the gaps in their portfolios. The next task will be to fight off

competition from other media which, according to Almeida, will be one of

the big threats to the market in coming years.



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