MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: WOMEN’S WEEKLY MAGAZINES - Is there still life in traditional women’s weekly magazines? IPC has boosted spending on a genre many say is in decline. By Alasdair Reid

Woman’s Weekly was launched in 1911, Woman’s Own in 1932 and Woman in 1937. Woman’s Realm, the baby of IPC’s venerable quartet of traditional women’s weeklies, arrived in 1958 - a rock and roll year, but only just.

Woman’s Weekly was launched in 1911, Woman’s Own in 1932 and Woman

in 1937. Woman’s Realm, the baby of IPC’s venerable quartet of

traditional women’s weeklies, arrived in 1958 - a rock and roll year,

but only just.



The ’realm’ in the title refers to the brave new world for women that

would surely emerge under the reign of a young Queen Elizabeth.



If most media properties have natural life cycles, with magazines

inhabiting the most volatile of media markets, then IPC’s big four must

surely be living on borrowed time.



On one side is the threat from TV: not just the grotesque chat circus on

daytime terrestrial but entire cable channels dedicated to ’living’.



On the other side are print rivals: newspaper sections and supplements

are crammed with tales of triumph over tragedy, heart-warming pet

stories and ideology-lite domestic politics.



Meanwhile, the action in the weekly magazine market is in the celebrity

and gossip sector pioneered by Hello! but now also inhabited by rivals

such as IPC’s Now. Tellingly, the most recent figures from the Audit

Bureau of Circulations show that Northern and Shell’s OK!, as well as

IPC’s Now and Chat, were the only weeklies to register circulation

increases.



Indeed, there are those who believe that the whole traditional women’s

weekly genre can’t survive. This belief is not shared by IPC,

however.



Last week, its weeklies division, IPC Connect, announced that it is more

than doubling its annual marketing budget for its six titles - the big

four plus Chat and Now - to pounds 8 million. It has also put the

creative work, previously done in-house, up for pitch. St Luke’s is

thought to be the leading candidate, ahead of Delaney Fletcher

Bozell.



Linda Lancaster-Gaye, the managing director of IPC Connect, points out

that this is still a big sector - women’s weekly magazines sell more

than seven million copies a week. She argues that the sector flourishes

because there is a spectrum of titles.



’The market’s vibrancy is down to the fact that consumers buy a lot of

magazines from a broad repertoire of weekly titles that includes the

newer gossip titles as well as things like Woman and Woman’s Own,’

Lancaster-Gaye says.



’They are regular weekly buyers and they may buy four or five magazines

a week. All the various angles work well together. Yes, there is lots of

competition from other media but we package what we do in a

user-friendly way. I know it’s a cliche but it’s true - you can read a

magazine in the bath.’



Can IPC really expect to increase circulations on the traditional big

four weeklies? Yes, Lancaster-Gaye says. ’High-quality editorial

marketed in the right way will start moving the circulation figures in

the right direction, but it won’t happen overnight.’



But the problem for traditional weeklies is not just in the raw

numbers.



Quality is an issue too. The readership of traditional women’s weeklies

is ageing rapidly and remains resolutely downmarket.



Laura James, the press director of New PHD, says: ’They’ve shown no sign

of being able to stop the rot. The format found in the traditional

weeklies is very tired. It hasn’t changed while everything else has

moved on. At the very least they have to revamp.’



So is IPC throwing good money after bad? Tim Kirkman, the press director

of Carat, is pessimistic: ’I think it’s a sector in terminal decline.

Most publications in this sector recorded circulation declines in the

last figures. Which is pretty woeful, especially when you consider that

IPC had incentives offering three titles for the price of two. That

didn’t help to arrest circulation decline on traditional weeklies while

the celebrity titles continue to grow. They’ve been supposedly

rejuvenating the traditional titles for the last four years. Where are

the results? I think they should treat them as cash cows. They should

take what they can from these magazines and use the cash to invest in

new titles.’



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