So it's true. ShortList Media really is going ahead and launching a new women's magazine slap bang in the very depths of this economic recalibration opportunity we've all been experiencing.
At least it won't have to worry about whether people will be able to afford the cover price. Because there isn't one. Like ShortList's eponymous flagship publication, which is aimed at men, the new magazine will be a freesheet.
Its title, revealed last week, is to be Stylist - a masthead guaranteed (perhaps rather cruelly) to send a ripple of excitement through the hairdressing community.
But this is no mere trade title. Stylist aims to be a seriously sophisticated upmarket weekly, covering, as revealed by the ticker strapline across the top of the dummy issue, "fashion, travel, people, ideas, beauty". It aims to compete in the smart yet sexy editorial space defined by the likes of Grazia and Marie Claire.
Slated to launch in late September or early October, it will be aimed at 20- to 40-year-old female commuters, distributed by street vendors in six cities including London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. Its distribution target will be around 400,000 copies.
1. ShortList Media was created by Mike Soutar, a former editor-in-chief of FHM and editorial director of IPC, as a vehicle for the launch of ShortList, a free weekly men's title that hit the streets in September 2007. Distributed in ten cities across the UK, its debut ABC figure (revealed in the July to December 2007 figures published in February 2008) was 462,731 - considerably short of its 500,000 target.
2. But it soon made good on that commitment, thanks in no small part to an outdoor advertising campaign from TBWA\London, beginning in November 2007, designed to raise awareness. Its most recent ABC (July to December 2008) was 505,970.
3. Right from its debut, advertisers and agencies have given it the thumbs up - but revenue growth (understandably, given the current climate) remains on the slow side of steady. The company recorded a pre-tax loss of £2.7 million in its first year of trading to the end of August 2008. Soutar has always maintained that the business plan was to break even within three years and he is now hopeful that the launch of Stylist may help the company move into the black ahead of schedule. The company's backers include the French Connection founder Stephen Marks and the film producer Matthew Vaughn.
4. Stylist will launch as a rival to the likes of Grazia and Marie Claire by offering a broad range of content from fashion and beauty through to newsy features, travel, careers and relationships. It will also attempt to occupy a small piece of journalistic high ground by refusing to publish unflattering paparazzi shots of celebrities looking at their worst. Nor will it ever invent spurious stories about the love lives of the stars. And it will never ever exploit women's body anxieties.
5. It will be edited by the former More! editor Lisa Smosarski and its publisher will be the former InStyle ad director, Glenda Marchant.
6. This is by no means the first free magazine aimed at female commuters - though some of its predecessors were hardly class acts. In the late 70s and early 80s, a stream of free recruitment weeklies began seeping on to the market. Launched by small-scale entrepreneurs, they were made available at London stations, usually from dump bins and majored on secretarial recruitment ads. These weren't really women's magazines as such - editorial was typically less (often a lot less) than 5 per cent of pagination. The longest running of these titles were the ones acquired over the years by Independent News and Media - Ms London, Nine to Five, Girl About Town and Midweek. IN&M closed them in the summer of 2008. Recruitment advertising had long disappeared on to the internet; and the London freesheet newspaper war had severely eroded their readership potential.
7. But free is by no means a synonym for easy in the magazine market. Sport, the free sports weekly, went under in April, with ShortList declining to advance a rescue offer. The title was subsequently acquired by UTV Media and relaunched in June. ShortList now includes an eight-page sports section called ShortList Sport.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
THE PUBLISHING COMMUNITY
- Much of the gloss has come off the concept of "free" in recent months. Life has been something of a struggle for the London evening freesheets, especially the two titles competing head to head in the London market. Then there's been a growing realisation among newspaper publishers the world over that, in the online world, they can't just keep giving away all their best stuff for free, forever.
- To cap it all, Sport, a free weekly launched to considerable acclaim in 2006, needed rescuing back in April.
- Any business that is reliant solely on advertising for its income must feel just a little bit exposed during the most severe advertising revenue drought in living memory.
- So the industry as a whole will look on with interest.
- A number of agencies have been voicing concerns (privately at this stage) that Stylist will inflict more damage on ShortList than its publishers realise. As one source puts it: "Our research would tend to indicate that ShortList is heavily consumed by women as well as men. It's not 50:50 by any manner of means, but, for the purposes of some campaigns, we assume it's not a million miles away from that. So we might find that Stylist cannibalises readers and, equally importantly, advertising revenues."
- Equally, though, planners and buyers applaud the spirit of enterprise behind this move. Vanessa Doyle, the press director at Initiative, says: "Anything that increases readership in any sector is a good thing, especially if it's (achieved via) editorial content that people value."