When Hello! was launched at the end of the 80s it took a while for
press buyers to grasp the concept of the new title: a weekly gossip
magazine with a readership profile closer to the monthly glossies than
traditional women's weeklies. The public, too, proved initially slow to
embrace this new publishing genre in any big numbers: although the
interest was undeniable, there remained a certain amount of stigma about
clutching a copy of Hello!.
But by the start of the new millennium the British public's obsession
with celebrities, and the demand for the latest star news, changed the
face of the entire weeklies market: celebrity weeklies are now one of
publishing's fastest growing sectors, and celebrity gossip is commonly
used to leverage sales among both TV listings and women's weekly
A quick look at the latest set of ABC figures illustrates perfectly the
importance of celebrity gossip to today's women's weekly magazine
For the period of July to December 2000, only Northern & Shell's OK!,
Hello Ltd's Hello!, Bauer's That's Life, IPC Connect's Now and Emap
Elan's Heat managed to record both period-on-period and year-on-year
Between them, these five titles managed to bolster women's weeklies
circulations by more than 260,000 copies over the period of a year.
Their success has encouraged other publishers to follow suit: BBC
Worldwide has entered the market with Star, a celebrity title aimed at
teenagers, which has so far received a warm reception from press
Mark Bedwell, the press director at MediaVest, says the evidence speaks
for itself: 'The whole celebrity phenomenon is massive right now.
Everyone used to consider it downmarket - purely the domain of the
newspaper supplements - but Hello! and OK! have shown it's more upmarket
and is so successful at attracting ABC1s that the monthlies are now
In stark contrast, the traditional women's weekly market is an
environment of falling circulations and ageing readerships. The July to
December ABC figures reveal a gloomy picture: IPC Connect's Woman fell 5
per cent year on year, Woman's Own 3 per cent and Woman's Weekly 10 per
cent. Chat fell by 6 per cent, and Woman's Realm dropped a shocking 15
per cent. Bauer's Take a Break fell 8 per cent year on year while Bella
dropped 7 per cent.
The National Magazine Company's new acquisition Best also lost 9 per
cent year on year; while DC Thomson's People's Friend and My Weekly lost
3 and 5 per cent respectively year on year.
While the celebrity weeklies are attracting new readers all the time,
the weekly sector's traditional titles remain in the doldrums. So how
much is the success of the celebrity magazine to blame?
As the managing director of IPC Connect, which publishes Now (20 per
cent up year on year, July to December 2000) and many of the traditional
weekly titles, Linda Lancaster-Gaye is well placed to comment on where
the celebrity titles' new readers are coming from. But she denies that
women are choosing a celebrity title over a women's weekly.
'There's no doubt that this phenomenal interest in celebrities is
growing the market, but this is a repertoire market where women buy
different magazines to reflect different sides of their personalities.
They are increasing that repertoire, buying a bigger number of
magazines, but the frequency of purchase is variable,' she says.
IPC Connect's publishing strategy is to cover every stage of a woman's
life: Now concentrates on single, ABC1 working women; Woman, Woman's Own
and Chat on what IPC describes as 'our heartland of family women' and
Women's Weekly and Woman's Realm cover home life.
Although the likes of Take a Break, Woman and Woman's Own boast large
circulations, many agencies are concerned by the traditional women's
weeklies' ageing readership. Aside from OK!, Hello!, Now and Chat, the
women's weeklies have seen their readership significantly age over the
past three years.
According to the National Readership Survey, the percentage of Take a
Break's female readers aged between 15 and 34 has fallen from 44.4 per
cent in 1997 to 39.1 per cent in 2000, from 37.5 per cent to 35.5 per
cent on Woman, from 40.7 per cent to 37.6 per cent on Woman's Own, from
36.5 per cent to 31.8 per cent on Bella, from 21 per cent to 17.6 per
cent on Woman's Weekly, from 40.5 per cent to 33.6 per cent on Best, and
from 16.6 per cent to 10.5 per cent on Woman's Realm.
Compared with the figures for OK! (up from 51.3 per cent to 55.9 per
cent), Hello! (from 38.8 per cent to 41.5 per cent), Now (from 64 per
cent to 72.1 per cent), and Chat (from 37.9 per cent to 38.2 per cent),
the power of celebrity content is obvious.
'The titles which already had a celebrity angle - Chat, Hello!, TV
Times, OK! and Now - have developed it further, which has changed their
profile by making them younger. The problem for the others is that they
can't just introduce celebrities overnight as it would alienate their
existing readers. Woman's Weekly tried it a couple of years ago and it
didn't work,' Bedwell says.
Where it has worked is in the TV listings market, which has taken
advantage of its association with TV and film stars. With the arrival of
Bauer's cut-price TV Choice, 2000 was a rocky year for the TV listings
But a 10 per cent year-on-year hike in copy sales for July to December
2000 (albeit including a first ABC figure for TV Choice) shows celebrity
coverage is proving a formidable weapon in the sector's battle against
Who'd have thought when Hello! launched in 1988 that it would spark such
an all-pervading obsession with the lives of the rich and famous: an
obsession acute enough to change the entire complexion of the weekly
Title Publisher Total average Total
net circulation adspend
per issue (pounds)
1 Take a Break H Bauer Publishing 1,137,952 8,126,805
2 Woman IPC Connect 636,528 9,047,266
3 OK! Northern & Shell 586,176 13,526,450
4 That's Life H Bauer Publishing 569,804 1,810,800
5 Woman's Own IPC Connect 553,701 10,566,191
6 Bella H Bauer Publishing 532,668 6,645,071
7 Hello! Hello! 502,679 10,077,720
8 Woman's Weekly IPC Connect 496,162 3,537,334
9 Now IPC Connect 475,571 3,275,700
10 Chat IPC Connect 469,769 3,491,552
11 Best The National Magazine Co 431,352 7,053,862
12 People's Friend DC Thomson 399,339 2,839,916
13 My Weekly DC Thomson 318,294 1,841,284
14 Heat Emap Elan 172,311 2,705,568
15 Woman's Realm * IPC Connect 152,053 1,832,560
16 The Lady The Lady 40,815 450,598
Sources: The Audit Bureau of Circulations (July - December 2000)/AC
Nielsen MMS (July - December 2000)
* Recently folded into Woman's Weekly.