ALL TIME HIGH: Just when you think they can’t break any more records, they reach new heights. The celebrity weeklies are looking as though they’ll hit a new peak, according to scan data received over the weekend by industry sources.

According to an executive at Wenner Media, scan data shows that for this week, Us Weekly will sell more than 800,000 copies, the highest ever for the magazine, while numbers for all three of its main competitors — People magazine, In Touch and Star Magazine — did similarly well.

This story first appeared in the September 23, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It was the biggest aggregate sale we’ve seen on record,” said one Wenner executive, who placed numbers for the sector at about 4.3 million copies, nearly one million copies above the industry average, as of the first half of the 2003 reporting period with the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

At People Magazine, there is less reliance on scan data but a high level source there said sales were through the roof, while a spokesman for Star Magazine said its sales were above 1.1 million copies this week.

What caused it?

Two big celebrity news events occurring simultaneously (the breakup of Bennifer and the death of television star John Ritter), plus the fact that the four magazines essentially split the coverage: People and In Touch decided to go the Ritter route, while Us Weekly and Star Magazine went for J.Lo and Ben. As a result, none of the magazines was duking it out with all three of its competitors.

The sales are also a further indication that People does not seem to be losing market share to the upstart weeklies, in part because Us, rather than denting People, has picked up a sizeable percentage of younger readers, many of whom graduated from the teen magazines. Us, according to executives there as well as those at competing publications, has been averaging more than 600,000 copies a week since Bonnie Fuller left in June, an increase of at least 100,000 from its first-half newsstand average of 505,000.

But the trajectory of the teen magazine sector, which saw sales balloon in the late Nineties with the onset of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, also provides an example that is worrisome for the celebrity weeklies — in categories that expand at the speed of light, what goes up often comes down. And other players are still eager to come to the tabloid table. Gruner + Jahr, despite having three titles — YM, Fast Company and Inc. — that are suffering because their sectors imploded, reportedly has 30 people working full-time on a prototype for an American version of the French tabloid, Gala. — Jacob Bernstein

LOVE COMES QUICKLY: It’s time for AOL to give something back to Time Inc., which, by now, has dutifully stuck most of its magazines’ Web sites behind the subscription wall of the corporate sibling that dare not speak its name. That gift may be Love, the dating magazine prototype that has flown under the radar, while high profilers like Haven and Living Etc. were shot down. Considering how many singles have bypassed their friends making matches for Match.com, any dating magazine is automatically an online dating magazine, a business in which AOL just happens to be among the largest players — which translates into a steady stream of subscribers to send Love’s way.

There’s buzz inside Time Inc. about a spring launch (when, of course, love is in the air), but one source cautioned, “That sounds too early,” and another described it as “still being worked on” with no timetable.

Still, Time Inc. development editor Susan Casey continues to give the project the bulk of her attention, according to sources close to the company, while Time Inc. Interactive executive Jodi Kahn works on business details. Ken Godshall, the company’s point man on nontraditional circulation, is also lending a hand.

While Time Inc.’s other prototypes have been variations on common themes — shelter books, lad mags, a mass market women’s magazine — Love is a legitimately brand-new idea. In its cover story this week, U.S. News & World Report notes that online personal services quadrupled in revenue from 2001 to 2002 to $302 million and are now the most lucrative businesses online. But none of the major players —AOL, Match.com, Yahoo or Spring Street Networks — has leveraged their online success offline, and only AOL has a magazine arm attached. So that’s what synergy is for. — Greg Lindsay

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