ELLEgirl pays the price for being too exclusive

IN THE AUGUST
issue of ELLEgirl, star columnist Peaches Geldof reflects on the rather
yawnsome prospect of a family holiday when you’re pushing 17. “Swimming
with dolphins together in Barbados, having quaint lunches with grandpa
and grandma in the south of France… it’s all so clichéd.”

Therein
lies the reason ELLEgirl has been closed by Hachette Filipacchi after
just four years. How many British teenage girls have enjoyed the above
experiences at all, let alone enough to have grown jaded?

The
central premise of ELLEgirl was that highspending and sophisticated
girls were desperate for a fashion bible all of their own. The
magazine’s cover slogan, “dare to be different”, targeted leaders not
followers, the kind of assured young alpha females you see embracing
each other in clingy tops on the Telegraph front page having collected
12 A* GCSEs.

ELLEgirl
started off as unashamedly elitist, featuring designer labels, styled
and photographed as exquisitely as a grown-up glossy. Although beloved
of fashion PRs and journalists – editor Claire Irvin won best teen
title BSME last year – the question was, how many 15-year-old girls can
afford £300 D&G dresses? Not many, was the conclusion from the
magazine’s only released ABC figure, 90,000 for the second half of
2004. Although rival publishers regarded this as inflated, it was well
below nearest rival CosmoGIRL (current ABC 164,000)n and too
insignificant for ELLEgirl to secure big advertising.

Of late,
ELLEgirl has featured cheaper high street clothes and put Girls Aloud
on the cover. But this nod to the mass market is too late.

British
teenagers clearly do not want a pure fashion title. If they did, Condé
Nast would have launched teenVOGUE in the UK – its US spin-off sells
600,000. But US Vogue sells two million, whereas the British fashion
publishing remains a small if highly lucrative niche: grown-up Vogue
and Elle each sell an unwavering 200,000.

Besides, a
sophisticated teen would disdain to buy anything with “girl” in its
title. Far cooler to be seen with grown-up Elle, only 80p more for
twice as many pages. With its identical design and format, ELLEgirl
seemed a mere sliver of its adult brand, rather than an autonomous,
sassy little sister. It was just crying out for the pacier and cuter
Glamour-size format.

Today it is a struggle to get girls to buy
teen magazines at all. The sector represents 1.7 million sales per
month, down from 2.2 million two years ago. As Annabel Brog, editor of
market leader Sugar (ABC 285,000), wrote in Press Gazette last month,
young girls enjoy watching Sex And The City and shopping in New Look as
much as their 40-year-old mums. Girls are getting older younger: women
are staying young longer.

Mainstream culture is now uniformly youthful and accessible. The generation gap has closed.

And
this is no mere trend. The battle between kids of the Sixties and
Seventies and their parents was between the deferential pre-war order
and an emerging frank, sexually free and meritocratic modern world. Now
that battle is over, young and middle-aged women stand on the same
side, our tastes and aspirations converged.

As Peaches herself
said after making a youth documentary for Sky: “It’s like teenagers
today have nothing to rebel against.” Girls regard their mothers’ lives
not with horror, but with approval.

They want what their mums have: a career and marriage, a nice car and holidays.

With
no identifiable youth culture, what can a teenage magazine offer that
its readers can’t get in Heat or Glamour? The answer is emotional
support. Because, however assured modern girls appear, their
insecurities about boys, their looks and the future are eternal.

And
ELLEgirl, with its singular focus on fashion, failed to address this.
Its features were more issue-based and abstract. Items on AIDS in
Africa or the Kabbalah cult were laudably intelligent, yet appealing to
minds rather than quivering young hearts.

ELLEgirl also began
with the disadvantage of publishing only bi-monthly until March 2004,
limiting its ability to build a loyal base.

CosmoGIRL was monthly
from the start. And its mother brand Cosmopolitan, with 463,000 monthly
sales, was more mass market and visible.

Besides, its formula of self improvement, hardedged campaigns and real-life stories was easy to refocus for a younger reader.

ELLEgirl
feels like an exclusive club you can’t join without Sienna’s wardrobe
or knowing Pete’n’Kate. It is too cool to ever be goofy or funny or
rude. And there just aren’t enough British teenage girls out there to
get picky about your readers. ELLEgirl is exclusive when the by-word of
teen publishing today is inclusivity.

Sugar and Bliss have defended declining sales by throwing themselves wide open to readers.

Both
have formed clubs that entitle members to write for the magazine,
interview celebs, review CDs or test beauty products. Nothing builds
teen wannabe loyalty like a tiny taste of stardom. The magazines invite
girls to send in diaries and keep blogs, and poll readers by e-mail
about their preferred cover stars. Bliss staff even go to school
classrooms, sitting beside 14- year-olds so they can fully understand
their lives – which Peaches may be amazed to know, have little to do
with Caribbean dolphins or the bistros of Antibes.

AS ONE
Hachette Filipacchi mag closes, another opens. And on to the shelves
where teen and women’s titles look ever more alike strides the
decidedly grown-up Psychologies.

Wow, this magazine is hard work. And
I don’t mean that as a derogatory metaphor. I mean, it literally sets
you tasks. This month, columnist Dr Pamela Connolly (wife of Billy)n
wants me “to examine your own messages from early carers” and work out
how they’ve affected my sex life.

Later, I must name my core
values from a list of words like “respect”, “honesty” and “acceptance”.
Then I have a quiz to ascertain my “boundaries”. This really is an
intriguing and brave launch. Columnists like Dr Pam, Derek Draper and
Alain de Botton, and interviewees like Tony Parsons, Chrissie Hynde,
Tim Lott and Linda Grant flatter the intellect without overtaxing it.
How refreshing to ask a celebrity – this month, Meg Ryan – about her
inner journey rather than her wardrobe. How audacious not to have
fashion in the magazine at all.

Yet, for a wordy magazine, the
writing is not brilliant – and so humourless. The Dossier section is 20
pages on the nebulous notion of the “real you”. By the end, I’m unable
to face my inner-being. I’m unsure whether by next month readers will
have read it all, let alone done their homework. Will they guiltily
bunk off, rediscover their trivial outer-being and pick up Vogue?

Janice Turner is a columnist for The Times and a former editor of That’s Life Next week: Alison Hastings

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