Teenage magazines take their readers seriously and are, in turn, trusted by them, making such titles a credible medium for advertisers. Lexie Williamson investigates.

Eighty-seven per cent of 11- to 14-year- olds read a magazine.

Seventeen per cent buy one a week and 68 per cent once a month or more. They spend an average of £1.28 - 19 per cent of their precious weekly income - on teenage titles each week.

It's all there in the autumn 2002 TGI Youth report; numbers that demonstrate the bond between a teenager and her J17, Mizz, Sneak or Shout.

"These self-obsessed, hormone-crazed girls treat us like a mate," Mizz's editor, Sharon Christal, says, in a bid to explain the relationship.

"We're not just glitter and Gareth, we talk about sex when it's just too cringe-worthy to talk to your mum, in a non-patronising way. We listen to our readers and earn their respect," she adds. She cites the 300 letters, e-mails and text messages she receives daily as proof.

But as teen magazine publishers are well aware, you can't retain the respect of this age group for long. Eleven- to 14-year-olds, along with the "pre-teen" seven- to ten-year-olds and the older 15-to-19 age bracket are notoriously flighty when it comes to buying magazines.

They might purchase frequently, but it could be any of ten or so titles, largely depending on the coolness of the free gift, or presence of - you guessed it - coverboy Gareth.

Despite this, the market - frequently described as saturated - is still expanding. Back in 1995, the number of teen titles on newsagent racks stood at 27 compared with 33 today.

Christal is realistic as to why publishers are prepared to fight to catch the eye of this age group. "The market is worth billions," she says. "My readers get £7 pocket money a week but far more from their parents if they want something. I see their rooms every week; they've got videos, DVD players, every gizmo under the sun."

Nilufa Fowler, the head of magazines at ZenithOptimedia, reckons the average income is around £30 a week. Add to this the extra earned from Saturday jobs, without a penny of rent to pay, and it's a tidy sum.

"Teenagers are more affluent and brand aware than ever," Fowler says.

ZenithOptimedia spends £500,000 a year buying teen magazine space for brands such as the fragrance Cacharel and the Lancome lipgloss Juicy Tubes.

Then there is the issue of consumption. Publishers talk about readers "hoarding" magazines, reading and re-reading them and showing them to friends - an obvious attraction for advertisers.

"Teenage magazines have very high readership figures," Nick Mazur, the deputy chief executive of the Periodicals Publishers' Association, confirms.

"Magazines get carried to school and passed around or hang about in bedrooms for ages."

But while the teenage love affair with magazines continues to thrive, it's not the faithful relationship it once was. The traditional lifestyle sector, including the likes of Mizz, J17 and Shout, suffered an overall 3.7 per cent decrease, according to February's Audit Bureau of Circulations figures. The market leader Sugar witnessed a 7.3 per cent drop in readership while sales of Cosmo Girl fell by a fifth to 142,073, proving that having a well-known big sister doesn't guarantee popularity in this market.

Texting is a major culprit, with reports of some teenagers spending £25 a week maintaining their mobile phones. But there are other factors that contribute to the decline in readers. "Teenagers are watching more TV stations and playing computer games," Christal states. "There's also been an onslaught of competitive activity; I've had half-a-dozen launches against me in the past year."

Mizz's answer to the circulation fall is licensing. "From duvet covers to phones and even books; I want to get into every part of our reader's lives," Christal says. Cosmo Girl has instead gone the way of Glamour, with its first handbag-sized issue hitting newsstands this week.

Two new entrants - Emap's Sneak and BBC Worldwide's It's Hot! - have created their own sub-market of mini-Heats for teens bitten by the celebrity bug. "The key innovation is seeing celebrities as real people," Stephen Palmer, Emap's managing director of pop, explains.

"Celebrity is broader than pop; teenagers are just as likely to talk about who won Big Brother as who is in the charts."

The latest ABCs for both titles are positive, with Sneak pulling in a weekly audience of 86,535 and It's Hot! enjoying a maiden circulation of 104,015. Palmer dismisses the suggestion that celebrity mania won't last. "Celebrities have been around since Rudolf Valentino," he says.

However, Alfie Lewis, the publisher of It's Hot! and Top of the Pops, insists that there is still a place for the Sugars of the market. "Lifestyle magazines are your trusted older sister, offering advice on sex or spots, whereas the entertainment sector is all about humour; they are full of embarrassing stories, funny photos and gossip to trade on," he says.

But beyond their entertainment value, Fowler suggests that teen magazines provide something that other media do not - a sense of belonging to a club.

"This age group is very tribal, they hang around together, dress the same and which magazine you read is all part of that culture," she explains.

"Your magazine tells you what to wear, how to do your hair and when to have sex with your boyfriend. Teenagers just don't identify as strongly with TV channels and advertisers know that."

Fowler has her reservations about the celebrity newcomers, believing they lack this "tribal" element that tempts beauty and fragrance brands.

However, although she is a fan of the lifestyle teen title, Fowler cannot ignore the falling circulation figures and uses supplementary media to court the tribes.

"Ten years ago, we might have done it but now it would be unheard of to launch a teen brand solely using magazines," she says. "We'll use a channel such as MTV, a bit of radio and maybe advertise on big screens at a concert."

As for arresting the declines, Fowler has a few pointers for publishers.

"I don't think teen magazines promote themselves very well," she says.

"They should do more above-the-line advertising and invest in a better editorial product rather than relying on expensive covermounts. Having said that, there is always room for strong new launches. Glamour proved that in the glossy women's market, which is far more crowded."



Emap Performance: 10- to 16-year-olds

Advertisers: Virgin, Woolworths, Sketchers "We provide juicy gossip

every week you can share with your mates."

ABC: 86,535


Hachette Filipacchi: 12- to 17-year-old girls

Advertisers: COI, L'Oreal, P&G

"The original baby glossy and the best-selling teenage girls' title."

ABC: 321,258


BBC Worldwide: 9- to 12-year-olds

Advertisers: Sketchers, TXT UK, Polydor

"Accessible, original gossip for the youngest teenagers."

ABC: 104,010


DC Thomson: 10- to 14-year-olds

Advertisers: DfES, Clearasil, Telemob

"Shout is for girls whose lives are changing, we guide them when they

need our help most."

ABC: 101,010


IPC: 10- to 14-year-olds

Advertisers: Bonne Belle, Always, Smarties

"Gossip, fashion and beauty, quizzes, real life and pop in a language

they understand."

ABC: 129,654


NatMags: 14- to 16-year-olds

Advertisers: Clinique, L'Oreal, COI

"Britain's first proper baby glossy hopes to inspire girls to be the

best and get what they want."

ABC: 142,073