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
Indeed, there are those who believe that the whole traditional women’s
weekly genre can’t survive. This belief is not shared by IPC,
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
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,’
’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
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