LONDON — “My BBQ Left Me With Organ Failure.” “I Dumped My Cheating Boyfriend for His Sister!” “My New Boob Exploded!”
These are just some of the headlines from the U.K.’s latest generation of women’s real-life magazines, a genre that includes titles such as Love It, Real People and Pick Me Up.
With their graphic — and sometimes grisly — first-person tales of crime, illness and partner swapping, spliced together with beauty advice and budget recipes, real-life titles have tapped seemingly insatiable consumer demand for gory gossip. Pick Me Up, launched by IPC in June, achieved a debut circulation of 503,950, while Love It, launched in February by Rupert Murdoch’s News Magazines, has a rate base of 400,000. An April survey from TGI, which monitors consumer habits and lifestyles, found that approximately 5.5 million women in the U.K. now read a real-life magazine every week.
“With reality TV, more and more people are becoming famous for 15 minutes,” said Louise Matthews, managing director of Emap Entertainment, which is set to launch First, its take on the women’s weekly genre. “That’s driven the interest for real-life stories.”
And these titles aren’t eating into the circulation of celebrity weeklies such as Heat and OK. Publishers and commentators believe consumers want to read about their neighbors’ woes just as much as they do celebrity gossip, and are buying titles across the genres. Heat just posted its highest circulation figure of 575,267 for the year to December, a rise of 4.2 percent year-on-year, while OK’s circulation was up 22.7 percent in December, compared with the same period last year, to 649,777, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Titles that combine real-life and celebrity coverage, such as Emap’s Closer and ACP-Natmag’s Reveal, are also in growth mode.
“People are buying both [real-life and celebrity] magazines,” said Sarah Meyer, press manager at MediaCom, a planning and buying agency. “They’re a quick read and readers are drawn by what’s on the cover, rather than loyalty to one magazine.”
The low cost of the real-life magazines may be an incentive, too — the titles’ cover prices are typically between $1.11 and $1.38, compared with a range of $1.86 to $2.24 for celebrity weeklies.
Although real-life titles such as Bella and Best have been around since the mid-Eighties, the new real-life titles are seeking to bring a more sensational take on the genre to a new audience. With younger subjects, glossier paper and brighter color palettes, the new launches are seeking to attract younger readers used to the format of celebrity magazines, as well as draw older readers from the more traditional titles.
“The existing real-life brand wasn’t appealing to young women,” said Augusta Barnes, publisher of Love It. “We have taken the real-life format but mixed it up with men, fashion, extreme plastic surgery and sex, which gives it a more glossy, aspirational feel.”
Meyer agreed, saying, “[The new launches] are evolving the genre. Whereas the stories were quite depressing in the traditional titles, now they’re about entertainment and humor — and they’re a lot more outrageous.”
Take Pick Me Up’s two-page story, “I Was Shot in the Head by My Lover,” which features a woman who was shot four times by her boyfriend, with a picture of the woman covered in blood in a hospital at the center of the spread. A recent issue of Love It includes the story, “I’ve Got a Tyre Tread for a Leg,” a brief story that includes pictures of a woman’s leg scarred by a car accident.
With their sensational editorial and mass target audience, real-life magazines aren’t traditionally attractive to advertisers. Love It’s current issue has six advertising pages and Real People has just four. Bauer’s Take a Break has the most, at 18, with the majority of ads plugging food products and supermarkets. Publishers say profits depend more on revenues from newsstand sales than from ad sales.
“The real-life demographic is more mass market,” said Nick Walker of Walker Media, a media planning agency. “The new launches are going to struggle to attract luxury lifestyle products. I don’t want to put a Marks & Spencer advert alongside a woman who’s having an operation on her stomach, no matter how much they talk about their circulation.”
Emap’s Matthews insists her company’s launch, First, is set to break this trend. First will combine real-life features with news and celebrity coverage, and will take its true stories from topical events — the launch issue features the first magazine interview with Tracy Temple, who recently sold the story of her affair with the former British deputy prime minister, John Prescott to the Mail on Sunday.
“It has a more curious approach that will flatter the reader’s intelligence,” said Matthews.
First also has a significantly lower rate base than its competitors, with a target of between 150,000 and 200,000 after one year on the newsstand, with nine pages of advertising in the first issue. Matthews said this was because First has positioned itself as a “picture-driven news magazine,” rather than squarely in the real-life or celebrity camp.
“[First] will sit in a new space in the women’s weekly market as it’s so different,” said Matthews. “We believe that the circulation will take longer to build, as we want women to feel they have discovered it for themselves.”
Walker is skeptical of First’s ambitions. “You need to go one way [with editorial] to get higher-end advertising, but take a more mainstream approach to sell copies. It seems to be going in two directions.”
If any segment is suffering from the thirst for true tales, it’s the traditional women’s weeklies such as IPC’s Woman and Woman’s Own. These titles tend to take a more sympathetic approach, with stories such as “The Secrets of My Amazing Bikini Diet” in Woman’s Own and “I Lost 20 [Stone] to Live for My Daughter” in Woman. Compare those stories with Pick Me Up’s “From Loving Step Dad to Battered Corpse. What Had Our Son Done?” Circulation at Woman fell by 13.5 percent to 456,524 in the year to December, while at Woman’s Own it fell by 8.9 percent, according to ABC.
Some publishers also believe women readers are abandoning newspapers for real-life titles. Colin Morrison, chief executive of ACP-Natmag, recently told Mediaweek, “Women are dropping out of the newspaper market, which has led to growth of the general women’s weekly market.” However, Barnes of Love It, which is published by News International and promotes The News of the World in the magazine, thought differently.
“Newspapers serve a very different purpose,” said Barnes. “They’re really reporting the news, whereas a magazine represents something more indulgent — Love It gives readers a different, more feel-good experience compared to reading a newspaper.”
Publishers are confident of the genre’s continuing appeal, though. Emap has invested $22.3 million in the launch of First, while News Magazines is launching another women’s weekly in September.
“We know that the growth in the magazine market is driven by launches,” said Barnes. “Existing brands not refreshing quickly enough will struggle, but as long as we see a gap in the market, we will do the research and launch there.”