The World: US papers stake hopes on glossy lifestyle titles

USA Today and the WSJ are aiming to tempt luxury lifestyle advertisers into their new glossy titles, Mark Johnson writes.

Just occasionally, the answers to complex questions can be found in the most obvious of places. That's the hope pinned on plans by The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, as the two papers bid to attract lifestyle advertisers in the US with their soon-to-be-launched glossy magazines.

Faced with a fundamental shift in adspend away from print in favour of digital in recent years, both publishers are staking their hopes on the willingness of fashion, beauty and active lifestyle advertisers to invest in a lavishly produced print editorial environment. Both are expected to launch their titles, which will be distributed in their newsprint flagships, later this year.

On the face of it, the strategy may appear counter-intuitive, given the global newspaper industry's recent shift to building online resources and advertising revenue. But both US publishers believe these categories will more readily part with advertising dollars for the high-quality printed page than they will for digital formats.

The issue that will decide success or failure, Dominic Carter, the trading director at Times Media, says, will be the credibility of both titles.

"It's not enough to talk about the halo effect of the brand. It's about appealing to a very discerning reader who is not just taken in by great design, the content has to be special, too," Carter says.

USA Today is understood to be on the way to launching a monthly title by October that will focus on active lifestyles. The content will include everything from mountain climbing and windsurfing to white-water rafting and mountain biking, with the aim of catering to the interests of an affluent readership.

The WSJ's plans are rumoured to be at a much earlier stage, and with Rupert Murdoch's progress on a bid to acquire the Dow Jones index, the future looks even less certain. But should the magazine go ahead, this could be one of the key tests of advertising sentiment in the US, and the ability of a lush editorial environment to pull at the heartstrings of readers and the purse strings of advertisers in the areas of fashion and beauty.

So, is this a trend which will cross the Atlantic? Mark Gallagher, the press director at Manning Gottlieb OMD, believes the UK market would find little to get excited about should a similar product launch in the UK. "If an advertiser wants to target upmarket, affluent consumers in the UK, there is The Economist, Director, Management Today, The Week, and so they would be pretty well-served," he says. "I'm not sure advertisers are crying out for other avenues. The other issue is that the WSJ doesn't look very contemporary and its readership is quite heavily weighted towards US expatriates. If I was representing a lifestyle advertiser, such as, say, an upmarket car marque, I wouldn't know what value it would have, even if it is a large expat audience."

Other media experts believe that there is a gap in print across Europe and the US, and that a niche exists which is crying out for a glossy magazine with high production values and strong content.

Emma Asquith, the Aegis Media Global Management head of global media, believes that the two new projects at USA Today and WSJ may well fill that gap, particularly in men's lifestyle magazine publishing, which, she says, is woefully under-served. "Men's magazines are either aimed at a young audience locally, or they are too business- and news-focused internationally," she says.

"High-end advertisers have been searching for ages for a glossy print environment," she adds, pointing to titles such as Elle and Vogue.

"The key to success for a title that attempts to create that is the ability to deliver cut-through in a cluttered environment. That will be the challenge for WSJ and USA Today, because they are not launching a new category," Asquith adds.

Commentators in the US have given a similarly warm reception to the plans. They point out that even in the face of strong challenges by digital media, certain categories of advertiser still relish the opportunity to advertise on traditional heavy stock, glossy print. In fact, Asquith points out, the two new US glossies are unlikely to be stealing revenue from digital media, but from other magazines.

"There is a role for digital that is separate from print," Asquith says. "Digital has a role in a campaign that is not offered by other channels. But if you look at publications such as Conde Nast's Portfolio in the US or Monocle, and now the USA Today and WSJ additions, there is a growing market for this type of editorial environment."

From Carter's perspective, the UK already has a similar range of vehicles for luxury advertisers, particularly with magazines such as The Times Magazine and The Sunday Times Magazine. He also points out that Europe has the FT's How To Spend It, which is "the only example I can think of that is a successful pan-European magazine for high-end luxury advertisers".

Carter adds that the UK's competitive newspaper market makes it one of the most innovative in the world by necessity. On that basis, the USA Today and WSJ launches are more likely to be influenced by observations of the UK newspaper market than to carry influence in the other direction.

But he concludes: "I don't think you can portray a luxury brand in a discerning way to the same extent in digital as you can in an appointment-to-read magazine."

If either publication does manage to break new ground, it would be unusual for such success to go unnoticed across the pond.