Apparently, there was a time when the ideal woman was a mother in
the nursery, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. Sounds
far too stretching to me (know your niche, I say), but it seems that
salvation is at hand for those of us who haven’t quite mastered
multi-tasking. According to The Guardian this week, housework is the new
Which (apart from conjuring up straplines such as ’Getting Frisky with a
Feather Duster’ and ’Crochet Your Own Orgasm’) is great news for all
those women’s magazines that have been struggling for the past few years
to persuade us that knitting your own swimsuit is a viable alternative
to the latest Gucci two-piece or that making pasta dough is a
It makes the Gruner & Jahr portfolio of magazines bought by the National
Magazine Company last week look even more attractive: imagine, it might
become cool to be seen reading Prima, Best, Your Home and Prima
Fashionable or not, G&J has a strong and well-established portfolio.
Not on a whim does NatMags turn aggressive entrepreneurial deal-maker,
with its managing director, Terry Mansfield, and his deputy, Duncan
Edwards, apparently leaping on to planes in order to steal the G&J
jewels from under the nose of arch-rival IPC, which thought its G&J
purchase was a done deal.
All adrenaline-pumping stuff, and great fun. But now it’s over, NatMags
has to work out what to do with its booty. For a publishing company
that’s just acquired some new titles, that doesn’t sound like an onerous
But the G&J portfolio takes NatMags outside its glossy comfort zone and
into the grubby, cut-throat world of women’s weeklies - not simply a new
publishing market (and one where cross-selling of advertising will be
tricky when you’ve only got the one weekly title) but a new publishing
culture. Best may be a reasonable platform from which to launch NatMags
into the weekly publishing bearpit, but that’s territory that the
defeated IPC is master of (and as far as IPC’s concerned, there can
surely be no better motivator than pounds 550 million of debt to sharpen
the appetite for competition).
NatMags has shown it can be fleet of foot, and that the value placed by
its parent company, Hearst, on Mansfield and his UK team is such that
hundreds of millions of pounds can be made available to them at
relatively short notice. But there’s still much to prove.
Aside from the issue of adapting a glossy monthly magazine culture to
accommodate the sweaty pace of weekly publishing, the G&J titles need
some real sprucing up. The portfolio has lost some sparkle over recent
years and suffered circulation slides in the latest round of sales
Housework may be the new sex, but NatMags has much spring-cleaning to do
before its new prize can sit comfortably within the NatMags home.