In Style launch sounds cautionary tale to other titles

I was shocked on Monday morning to encounter an interesting feature on BBC One's 'Breakfast' programme. Not usually an early riser, but excited about returning to work after a week's holiday, I stumbled across a piece on plans to launch FHM and Maxim in China, writes Ian Darby.

It was a great example of a reporter failing miserably in what he set out to do -- prove that the Chinese market is too prudish and respectable to handle images of semi-naked 'Baywatch' stars. Strolling around London's Chinatown wearing a lascivious grin, the luckless chap interviewed several young men only to establish the conclusion that boys will be boys no matter what their cultural background.

But while it seems that Emap and Dennis will encounter a mass market hungry for their titles, they must be wary that their message isn't lost in translation.

The example of In Style's launch in the UK is a cautionary tale. A massive hit for Time Inc in the US, it launched over here in 2001 only to be obliterated by Conde Nast's Glamour in the circulation war. Proving how difficult it is to guarantee an instant hit. However, since IPC Media has been running the title (following Time Inc's takeover in 2002),there are signs that its future looks more buoyant.

At last week's PPA Awards, In Style won best consumer magazine, a singular achievement for the editor, Louise Chunn, and her team. On the basis of editorial it's hard to argue with the judges' decision. In Style is a stronger magazine since Chunn, proclaimed as the "queen of style and fashion journalism" on her arrival two years ago, put a more domestic spin on the US formula of celebrities and their wardrobes.

In Style's sale rose by a healthy 6.8% during 2003 to 187,172, undoubtedly contributing to the feeling of success surrounding the magazine. However, 25,200 of this sale was given away free to bolster circulation (not a common tactic in the women's glossy sector with only H Bauer's Real also having a significant free distribution). This leaves it not much better off in actively purchased sales than when it first launched.

And it is going to face more competition -- Hachette Filipacchi's Red is seen by many as the market's strong challenger to the likes of Glamour and Cosmopolitan and Conde Nast is working hard on launching another women's monthly as growth in thirtysomething readers increases.

The next few months will be interesting for IPC in the women's market as it faces the task of building In Style's position still further while addressing circulation declines at Marie Claire.

In Style deserves its relative success because IPC has created a good product but, in advertising terms at least, being the sixth or seven player in a market is hard. So it still has work to do.

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