American Pie 15.04.04

Despite the gloomy forecasts, last year almost 1,000 magazines launched in the US – the biggest jump for nearly 25 years. True, few of these were big titles and large publishers such as Condé Nast and Hearst did not enter the fray. But perhaps because they were smaller, the survival rate was higher than usual – 60 per cent were still on the news-stands at the end of the year. A significant trend is that magazines are holding the line in price. The average cover price of the new titles was less than $6 (£3.25) – just a few cents more than the 2002 level. Does this mean magazines have reached the max?

America’s largest circulation magazine is getting a makeover. AARP, the magazine for US senior citizens who are members of the American Association of Retired Persons, which sends out 22 million copies every other month (more than TV Guide and Reader’s Digest combined) is trying for a little more oomph – and even, whisper it, a little sex. To start with, “senior citizen” is to be banned because it’s an outdated term, the editors believe. Stories of how to overcome physical frailty are being replaced with stories of relentless vigour. AARP is also publishing three editions – one for members in their fifties, one for the sixties and a third for those 70 and older. It has also started putting celebrities on its covers. The current issue features Billy Crystal, who at 57 is eligible to be a member of AARP.

To mark its 30th birthday, People put out a special issue that included some of its most memorable covers and stories. From the start People enjoyed great success. Circulation quickly climbed to more than a million and is now 3.6 million. And what were its most remembered – and most popular – covers? Celebrity weddings and British royalty. Princess Diana made the cover a record 85 times. The runnersup were not even close: Julia Roberts (18 covers) and Michael Jackson (14). People admits one of its worst decisions was to put Marty Feldman and Ann-Margret on the cover the week Elvis Presley died. Explained the editors: “We thought death was too macabre for the cover.” Now it’s different. In its birthday issue, People runs the cover of Elvis it wishes it had run in 1977.

More British women journalists are taking top jobs at US magazines. The latest is Sarah Pyper, who has been lured away from In Touch to join Jann Wenner’s US weekly. Pyper was previously deputy editor of Closer and before that editor of teen mag Sugar. Wenner recently signed up another Brit, OK! editor Nic McCarthy, to be executive editor at Us. Also climbing the ladder is Plum Sykes, whose first novel, Bergdorf Blondes, has just hit the bookshops. She has signed a contract for a second, The $10,000,000 Divorcee, reportedly for a similar six-figure advance.

Star magazine has been dispatched to tabloid heaven. That’s the word around the offices of American Media, which publishes most of the US’s best-known tabloids. Star, which like People also recently celebrated its 30th birthday, is no longer a downmarket gossip sheet, but a glossy magazine. For most of its life it was printed on regular newsprint. Now, under Bonnie Fuller, it’s competing with the best of the glossies. The revamp is said to have cost $50m (£27m). If it is a success it will cap Fuller’s career in magazine publishing. Her aim is to double the circulation to 2 million within two years. The editor of Folio, which reports on the US magazine industry, said: “I hate to use the word ‘greatest’, but she is certainly the most commercially successful editor of our time.” At People they are watching – but not commenting.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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