American Pie 02.09.05

Hollywood, which is going through a bad time, largely, the critics
maintain, because it hasn’t produced many good movies so far this year,
is taking its depression out on newspapers. The big studios are
planning to cut back on their advertising in such big-city newspapers
as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – because, the movie
moguls claim, young people no longer read them. The audience the
studios are seeking are the 12 to 29 age group. “The only people who
read newspapers these days are older and elitist,” said one Hollywood
executive. According to the Motion Picture Association, people under 29
accounted last year for 57 per cent of moviegoers. The 40 to 59 group
made up 31 per cent and the over-60s 12 per cent. Newspapers’
readership, the MPA claims, is the reverse. People aged 35 to 54 are
the biggest readers of daily papers, followed by the over-55s.

A
plan by The New York Times to launch a weekly paper aimed at African
Americans who live in the town of Gainesville, Florida, has created
controversy. The Gainesville Guardian is intended, the Times claims, to
meet an unmet demand from black residents of the town. The paper will
only print about 10,000 copies, but the feeling is that the Times is
encouraging “separation of the races” – an idea considered abhorrent by
most civil rights organisations. As one critic pointed out: “It’s
resurrecting ghosts of the past when newspapers used to run special
sections for blacks and coloureds.” The Association of Black
Journalists has also criticised the proposal.

Meanwhile, on its
home territory, The New York Times is under fire for another reason. It
is spending millions of dollars on a new headquarters, a 52-storey
glass skyscraper off Times Square. But it has aroused the ire of some
by insisting that none of its neighbours should be “downmarket”– in
other words, no McDonald’s, Taco Bells or similar fast-food outlets.
Also not welcome are discount stores and medical clinics. What angers
some critics is that the Times is benefiting from a city tax programme,
under which it will receive at least $26m in tax breaks. Countering
this, the Times claims its headquarters will improve a rundown area of
the city.

When More, a magazine for women in their forties and
older, was launched in 1998, many shook their heads. They pointed to
the earlier demise of other titles for older women such as Lears and
Mirabella. But More has confounded the sceptics and is selling well
over a million copies a month. Newsstand sales are up 14 per cent, as
are ad pages. Women in their forties are now, it’s said, a dominant
force in the culture. Advertisers are latching on to the trend. Madonna and Demi Moore, for example, now feature in many ads. There
is even a trend to discard the waif-life images of models of previous
years. In fact, some ads have women admitting: “My butt is big” or “I
have thunder thighs”. The reason for the change? Some claim it’s the
advent of reality television. “Neighbours are the new celebrities,”
claimed one advertising consultant. “For every woman who may look like
a model, there are thousands who don’t.”

Are celebrity magazines
hastening their own demise? Newsstand sales of such titles as Us Weekly
and In Touch are up between 30 and 50 per cent. Each is selling well
over a million copies a week. And that’s the problem. There aren’t
enough slots in supermarket checkout lines. Richard Desmond is
spending several million dollars for slots for his US version of OK. He
has, it’s said, contracted for at least 100,000 to display the
1,300,000 copies coming off the presses. And that is the other problem:
there aren’t enough presses to handle the rush. Some editors are having
to stay up all night to get copy ready to send to the printers before
dawn for fear that they will miss their printing deadline.

The
magazines in the US that are faring worst these days are the news
weeklies, with Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report reporting
single-copy sales down from 4 to l6 per cent. Although newsstand sales
are only a fraction of the news weeklies’ overall circulations, the
decline is being taken seriously. The worry is how cable TV news and
websites will affect sales. Some experts, such as Samir Husni,
professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and known in
the trade as “Mr Magazine”, question how long the news weeklies can
survive in the internet age – especially since many offer readers their
own website services. He also questions their recent trend of devoting
whole issues to one topic when so many other specialist titles do the
same job.

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