Fuller’s Philosophy On the Fame Game

NEW YORK -- So much for the battle of the celebrity weeklies -- at least that's what Bonnie Fuller claims.<P>Fuller, editor in chief of Us Weekly, the celebrity-driven style magazine, believes that there's a world of difference between her...

NEW YORK — So much for the battle of the celebrity weeklies — at least that’s what Bonnie Fuller claims.

This story first appeared in the June 7, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Fuller, editor in chief of Us Weekly, the celebrity-driven style magazine, believes that there’s a world of difference between her magazine and competitors such as People and the Star. “We’re not the same magazine as People, and we’re not going head to head,” claimed Fuller, keynote luncheon speaker Wednesday at “M2 Master the Future,” the International Magazine Executive Forum, sponsored by Folio magazine, at Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, N.Y.

For starters, Fuller claims that Us’ median age is 33, and People’s is 44 (According to MRI, however, People’s median age is 40); Us’ readership is better educated, and has a higher income.

[Not so, says a People spokeswoman, who wanted to provide some perspective. According to the spring 2002 MRI statement, People reaches more affluent readers than any other magazine. It is read by 13 million people with a household income of $75,000 or more, and 2.9 million people earning $150,000 or more. More than 10 million readers have more than a college education. People also delivers 13 million readers in the coveted 18-34 age range. “It’s like comparing network to cable,” said the spokeswoman.]

As for coverage, Fuller said People focuses on “real people,” with a few celebrity stories, whereas Us is only about celebrities and style. However, a People spokeswoman noted that coverage is evenly split between celebrities and real people.

Of course, People dwarfs Us Weekly in the readership department, with People’s rate base at 3.3 million, and Us Weekly’s at 850,000.

So far, Fuller is having some success on the newsstand, where she claims single copy sales are up 40 percent from a year ago. However, sources said that number could be inflated, and the newsstand increase is closer to single digits.

Fuller said Us Weekly is currently selling 367,000 copies on the newsstand a week, and between 1.1 million to 1.2 million, with subscriptions, weekly.

But even Fuller admits to People envy. “Ad pages [at Us] are up 9 percent in a year that most magazines are down. People thought we couldn’t make gains in a market dominated by People,” she said. Yet asked about her circulation goals, Fuller responded without missing a beat, “We’d be very happy to be the same size as People.”

Some observers claim Fuller’s strategy to get there is to turn Us — whose readership is 65 percent female — into an upmarket tabloid. She, of course, demurs.

“We don’t take a tabloid approach,” said Fuller. “They hide in tall grass and catch celebrities. We want to show them at their best.”

Asked how Us Weekly differs from Star, the tabloid published by American Media, Fuller explained, “I think they’re quite different. They’re newsprint and we’re glossy paper. We cover style-related stories and hair and makeup. We’re very careful that everything we print is true, and we have a lot of reporters, and we fact check and confirm [rumors] with publicists.” In addition, Fuller explained that Us carries movie and TV reviews.

She said that after Sept. 11, people would say, “How dare you even care about celebrities?” But people gravitate to what gives them comfort, said Fuller. “They [celebrities] have more money, they have sex with more beautiful people [“if we can find out”] and they have great houses and cars, and fantastic facelifts.”

Fuller explained that when she edited magazines such as Glamour, YM and Cosmo, she had to concern herself with women’s problems. “At Us, we don’t care about your problems. It’s for people in their 20s and 30s who like celebrities and like style.” She said her strategy is to cover celebrity news — both the good and the bad.

Fuller, who was once described by a reporter as a Canadian who understands “the most base and feral desires of American women,” said that selling to readers is “an inexact science.” Nonetheless, she has had immense newsstand success at magazines such as YM, Marie Claire, and Cosmo. But that doesn’t mean she’s ready to patent a “Fuller Formula.”

“Otherwise I’d be in the South of France and editing from there,” Fuller joked.”