NEW YORK — Did anyone not see this coming?

After sticking to a strict all-model diet for the first year of its existence, Shop Etc. is making like just about every other lifestyle magazine on the planet and putting celebrities on its covers. Angie Harmon will be the first, appearing on the November issue, on newsstands Oct. 11.

On the face of it, the move reflects a resolution of two conflicting impulses every new magazine faces: differentiating itself from its competitors versus emulating their most successful tactics.

But editor in chief Mandi Norwood says there is an additional dimension to it: reflecting the thinking of a consumer base that increasingly looks to entertainers for style guidance. “Of course, part of it is strategic, but it’s also organic,” she said. “What we’ve found in the past 12 months is we’re almost unable to talk about shopping now without talking about celebrities. These people are not just the faces of new products coming out — they are the products.” And that’s not a metaphor, she added, citing the many stars who have come out with their own fragrances or accessories lines.

Shop Etc.’s first experiment with putting a more familiar face on the cover was actually the October issue, with model Niki Taylor. “That was sort of a toe in the water,” said Norwood. Harmon, though not a major “get” in the conventional sense, exemplifies the magazine’s new take on celebrity; according to Norwood, she is a famously savvy bargain hunter. “The way we are approaching this is celebrities as your personal shoppers,” she said. “This isn’t just about stuffing any old celebrity on the cover. There has to be a really good retail angle. I have always said the product is the celebrity, and that remains the case.”

But no matter how “organic” a change it may be, Norwood wouldn’t be making it if she didn’t also anticipate increased sales as a consequence. When Lucky, Shop Etc.’s nearest competitor, first introduced celebrity covers in July 2003, the result was an immediate double-digit increase in newsstand sales. More recently, Cargo, the men’s shopping magazine, put Andy Roddick on its September 2005 cover, and the issue was the year’s best seller.

This story first appeared in the September 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Hearst has yet to publicly report Shop Etc.’s circulation, but a spokeswoman said newsstand sales averaged roughly 200,000 for the June/July, August and September issues. (Lucky averaged about 250,000 in the first half of 2005.) The company has been testing three different cover prices — $1.99, $2.99 and $3.49 — and claims the title has sold “as well as, or better” at the highest price than at the lowest. The magazine also has two rate base increases scheduled over the coming year, which will take it from 500,000 now to 600,000 in February, and then to 675,000 in August 2006.

Such rapid growth is a strong selling point to advertisers, who have bought 494 ad pages in the magazine through October, according to Media Industry Newsletter. Neil Aescher, executive vice president of direct communications services at the media buying firm Zenith, said robust reader demand justifies the existence of another women’s shopping magazine. “So long as there’s a consumer appetite, if there are two books that have a slightly different way of covering a topic, that’s fine,” he said.

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