TEENS: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST THESE DAYS, EVERYONE'S MAKING A RUN AT SEVENTEEN.
Byline: Janet Ozzard, with contributions from Lisa Lockwood
NEW YORK--When advertisers talk about teen magazines, they inevitably mention the same quartet: Seventeen, YM, Sassy and 'Teen. Seventeen is the powerhouse of the market, a 50-year-old publication with a 1.85 million rate base. YM has come from behind in the last three years, nipping at Seventeen's market share and increasing its rate base to 1.8 million this year, with a projected 1.9 million to come early next year. Sassy, infamous for its flip tone and hip look, alienated parents and advertisers, and has reached an agreement to be sold by its parent company, Sassy Publishers Inc. to Petersen Publishing, which publishes 'Teen. 'Teen, which is based in California, is quick to say it makes no claim on the older teen market that the other three say is their core reader group. Its strongest selling point, according to publisher Jay Coles, is that it's the first magazine most teenage girls read--and the first to deliver brand names to impressionable teens. According to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation comparing 1990 with this year, Seventeen has 34 percent of the teen category's market share--down from 40 percent four years ago. YM is up 9 percent to 32 percent, Sassy is about the same--from 12 percent in 1990 to 14 percent today--and 'Teen, at 21 percent, has dropped 4 percent. Seventeen, the ad page leader in the teen category, expects a 37 percent increase in the fourth quarter, according to publisher Janice Grossman. The 50th anniversary issue in October carried 80 percent more ad pages than last year's October issue. "We'll close the year up 12 percent over last year," said Grossman. But YM has moved up fast. Although Grossman claims she's "not losing sleep" over YM, the Gruner + Jahr publication has had a spurt of growth in the past three years. It raised its rate base four times in the past two years, and according to publisher Victoria Lasdon Rose, will add another 100,000 next year to hit 1.9 million. It's also 6 percent ahead in ad pages over last year, Rose said, with the greatest strides in the fashion category. "We added 24 new fashion accounts, representing 90 to 100 pages of new advertising," Rose said. "We position ourselves as a young women's fashion and beauty magazine. We don't position ourselves as purely a teen book. Fashion and beauty is what we're really about; it's not about being a teenager. There's very little that screams 'teen.' They don't envision themselves as segmented." Seventeen's Grossman countered that YM's growth is tied into "sensationalist" cover lines that her magazine would never publish. "'I Slept With My Best Friend's Boyfriend. Hollywood Bitches,"' she said, quoting recent cover lines. "Lust sells. We are the Vogue of the youth market. We would never do that kind of thing. I mean, 12-year-olds as well as 24-year-olds read this magazine." But advertisers say the shocker subjects are appropriate for today's young woman, who grows up and takes on responsibility earlier than ever before. "That's reality for a young woman today," said Michon Conklin, a media planner at Fallon, McElligott, the Minneapolis ad agency that numbers Lee Apparel among its clients. "YM is not afraid to talk about pregnancy, birth control. It might be more sensitive, but it touches their lives in a real way. "Seventeen has the broadest appeal. While it's supposed to be the authority for teens, it recognizes that they have broader interests than just their family and their boyfriends--the environment, society, politics." "YM underwent a refocusing to appeal to an audience that was a little older, a little more sophisticated," said Sally Lee, its new editor-in-chief. "We realized that young women don't like to be thought of as teens. That's the kiss of death to anything you are trying to market to them. "They're very aware of brand names, but they are also very aware of marketing. Teens can make a brand newsworthy. Look at Timberland. They took that and transformed it. In apparel, designers look to young people because that's where the fashion comes from." In fact, when placing advertising, it's becoming increasingly difficult for some clients to distinguish between the two top contenders. Mindy Gale, vice president at Graphtech, a New York ad agency that works with the junior and contemporary apparel manufacturer Necessary Objects and junior accessories retail chain Claire's Boutiques, said, "Both publications are delivering over a million girls a month. "Both are fashion and beauty books, both cover boys, beauty and fashion," said Gale. "It's a tough call. There's a lot of overlap. A lot of fashion clients can't afford to be in both, so it really depends on the category. To be honest, sometimes it comes down to positioning: Can Seventeen give us a better position that month? Can we run opposite editorial? Can we be in the first 10 percent of the book? "I wouldn't use 'Teen for a soft goods fashion account," said Gale. "'Teen gets a Pilot pen, a fragrance, brands that are sold in the mass market. They do all kinds of merchandising. They will hook you up with 10 other merchandisers. Their number-one concern is not esthetics--it's reaching that girl, helping the client reach her. "Young women who are 12 or 13 or 14 really respond to it. It's like a women's service book. That's what 'Teen does for mid-America teens. Seventeen and YM are a little fast for that Middle America girl. "Both Seventeen and YM are delivering over one million girls a month. YM has a slight entertainment edge." Gale cited examples of cross-promotions that she has done with magazines, and added that a willingness to work with advertisers is a great incentive for her. "Both Seventeen and YM have a lot of power in merchandising," she said. "They may not volunteer to do that extra work, but if you ask for it, they'll work with you. "Sassy was a gutsy publication with lots of questions. It really fueled a fight in the teen market. Sassy made a lot of noise and made other books look fluffy and cute. "I've always found Sassy a comfortable fit for various clients, but it never delivered the numbers, and it hasn't had merchandising. But you are sending a message about your product, and you are hitting the peer group leaders--that group of kids that isn't afraid to be different, that does everything first." Some newer projects aimed at the younger market came into the field this year, notably the Hachette-NBC joint project Tell, and the cross-gender magazine Mouth 2 Mouth, which is financed by Time Inc. and edited by Hollywood scion Angela Janklow Harrington. But it's a tough market to crack. Tell put out two test issues, then announced it would become an annual. David Pecker, president, chief operating officer and chief executive officer of Hachette Filipacci, said that while he's still receiving positive feedback from market research on Tell, the numbers were too disquieting to risk the millions of dollars it costs to launch a magazine. "The risk-reward relationship doesn't make any sense," he said. "Originally, I had planned for it to be a quarterly and then increase it to six times a year, then to 10, then 12. It's a very competitive market, and YM is burning up the newsstands. But since I had NBC as a partner, and they would be promoting the magazine on their teen show on CNBC, I thought it would give the beauty advertisers another market, even in a crowded, risky field. "We sold over $300,000 in advertising for the first issue, and we were putting 500,000 copies on the newsstand, but to launch a magazine, even with a partner, costs between $15 million and $25 million. I'm facing a 10 percent increase in postage, a 20 percent increase in paper costs, and I can't increase my rates and I can't increase my newsstand price, and so it was a business decision." Mouth 2 Mouth has stalled out after two test issues. While some advertisers said the magazine's noisy format makes it impossible to read, others said teens responded to it immediately. But the magazine's New York offices were closed, and one advertiser said phone calls to the California office were not being returned. Part of the problem for new magazines is that the window of readership is fairly narrow. While the top two magazines claim a readership that continues into the early 20s, as one media watcher put it, "If I'm in college and I'm reading YM, there's something wrong with me socially." The core readership is from about 15 to about 19. Advertisers disagree about whether the field can support new titles. "I think the teen market is saturated; we're not even using all the existing titles," said Lisa Denzer, group media strategist at Fallon. "And because that group is very aspirational, you can go into a magazine like Mademoiselle, which skews slightly older, and still be reaching the teens." Gale said she would like to see at least one new title make it. "It would be great if one of the three new entries succeeds," she said. "We are missing an edgy, forward book. Sassy was giving us that option." But some advertisers are finding new territory. X-Am, a jeans brand targeted to teens in the mass market, introduced by Sun Apparel at the beginning of this year, has several of the typical teen magazines on its schedule, as well as Marvel Comics. "We were a new-brand marketing to teens," said Michelyn Camen, director of marketing and communications. "While young girls are notoriously loyal in terms of what they read, there are limited vehicles in terms of print. But in comic books, there's never been any fashion advertising and we're able to cross 30 or 40 titles. It makes for more impressions, and although it skews more to men, teen girls read it, too. The teen market is becoming more and more really cross-gender."
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