Nothing easy about this picky, ungrateful bunch

Easy
Living has three problems that it must negotiate to please its
readersReading the snitty reviews of Condé Nast’s £17 million baby,
Easy Living, brought to mind the words of David Aaronovitch in The
Observer recently: “Women are leading the way in floating an armada of
grievances, many of them completely irreconcilable.”

Aaronovitch
was talking about a breed of loud and contrary female voters who whinge
about mobile phone masts but are glued to their own Nokias, who rail
against traffic but can’t be arsed to walk their kids to school. The
political parties are courting middle class, 35-plus, “do it all” 
women like no other social group, offering parental leave, tax credits, childcare strategies… everything but NHS pedicures. But are women grateful? Are we hell.

So
one has to feel for any publisher proffering a new magazine to this
toughest of crowds: the most affluent, educated and independent women
who have ever lived. And what a lot of picky, spoilt, jaded and
contradictory responses I’ve heard from women – in and out of the
magazine trade – about Easy Living.

“It’s too airy-fairy,” says one. “I’d never make my own wrapping paper – I want practical advice.” “It’s too humdrum,”

says
another. “I mean ‘Don’t be afraid to bake a cake’. Duh!” Some said the
fashion was too unwearable and elitist – “Yeah, like I’m going to
string pearls around my waist” – another moaned that one of the models
was long in the tooth.

The older glossy market is treacherous –
as the launches of Eve and Red demonstrated – because you are targeting
consumers who define themselves by the lofty boast that they don’t need
your product. How these ladies love to say they’re too busy to read a
women’s magazine, that glossies are full of PR bull, that they know
everything already and prefer to read a book/ The Guardian /the Far
Eastern Economic Review.

Easy Living must negotiate three
problems: it must not make its reader feel she is being squeezed into a
marketing pigeon-hole; it cannot underestimate her intelligence; and,
above all, it must not make her feel old.

The first problem is
the trickiest because Condé Nast has identified a spanking new niche: a
sophisticated breed of domesticated female who would no more buy Good
Housekeeping than she’d wear support stockings. And the first issue
determinedly presses all her buttons: Mrs Boden catalogue, Mr Grand
Designs, Cath Kidston and, the title’s pole star, Nigella. In Shane
Watson’s piece on life-style envy we see Easy Living’s manifesto.

If
what your readers most aspire to is effortless cool, the danger is
appearing to try too hard. Easy Living must feel like something the
reader has come across herself, which makes me think the TV ad – dumbly
generic, unsubtle, not a patch on Glamour’s – may have discouraged the
hipper fringes.

The magazine itself hits few false notes. It’s
interesting how it feels more up-market for not having celebrities. As
the first non-weekly I’ve ever seen to have a reader’s ‘come-on’ page
it promises lots of snooping around funky, attractive real people’s
lives and homes.

The fashion manages to be both wistfully
beautiful and uncommonly wearable. But as the ringmistress of cool,
Susie Forbes really shouldn’t grin so cheesily in her editor’s picture.

Secondly, Easy Living must flatter its readers’ intellect without itself being mentally taxing.

The
folk in the features were pleasingly brainy and arty: architects,
barristers, publishers with a sprinkling of bohemia in Tracey Emin and
Anita Pallenburg mixed with many ‘full-time mothers’

of the West
London variety, who will be Easy Living’s most devoted readers. But
Nigella’s literary choices are cancelled out by the suggestion we
rearrange our book shelves by colour – Bridget Jones next to Mrs
Dalloway, indeed!

While most of the writing was of a satisfactory
IQ, the psycho-bollocks in the Emotional Intelligence section averaged
just above She magazine twaddle.

But the only celeb interview is
front-runner for Suck-up of the Year. How’s this for a penetrating
question: “So Christie Turlington, of all your roles – businesswoman,
model, writer, campaigner, fashion designer, mother – which is the most
important?”

And when your readers are already likely to be media
savvy to the point of cynicism, running 20 pages of promotions – most,
including lowly Asda, indistinguishable from features – risks their
distrust of real editorial and just looks plain greedy.

Finally,
how does Easy Living deal with its target reader’s age? Eve , at
launch, used to stick older models on the cover, and strove to make a
virtue of fashion shoots with 40-somethings.

Older women, who
don’t only want to look at older faces, balked. Easy Living is pretty
age-blind about the women it features: well, as long as they are slim,
attractive and posh enough.

But a piece about friendships between
different generations – including playwright Pam Gems, 79 – offered a
new and hopeful take on female ageing. The face and body may wither
but, with a little effort, you can be cool until the day you die.

AS THIS year’s two major launches, Easy Living and Grazia face constant comparison.

But
while Easy Living is merely slipping into a thriving market (Good
Housekeeping up 4.7 per cent and Woman & Home up 12.6 per cent in
the December ABCs), Grazia has the far tougher challenge of forging a
whole new one, that of the glossy weekly.

And it’s problem lies on the shelves.

Grazia’s
purpose is to be more topical and newsworthy than the long leadtime
monthlies. But since it is mostly being racked with Closer, Now and
Heat , its tasteful, one-image covers are in harsh competition with
their screaming, gossipy front pages.

With sampling levels
reportedly below 200,000 during its TV campaign, one wonders if
Grazia’s pacing is too sedate. Is opening on horoscopes exciting
enough, when every magazine has a horoscope? At present, the news pages
lack a must-buy-now urgency.

Also, in trying to establish an
identifiable brand, the covers have become rigidly identical with their
dark backgrounds and pink text, so that readers might not realise the
new issue is in. But while real life, health and homes are very
accomplished, Grazia needs a strong and identifiable tone of voice in
its approach to celebrity, although it did take Closer and Heat some
while to find theirs.

It’s not behoven to stars for cover
approval, but Grazia is often blandly uncritical, to the extent one
wonders if Emap’s Italian publishing partner Mondadori has set the
tone. Liz Hurley’s onemeal, always-hungry diet was treated as a
reasonable idea when sassy Grazia readers would surely view it with
scepticism, even amusement, and was followed next week with a puffy
piece about Liz’s marvellous new bikini range.

Without the
gorgeous, original shoots brokered by the glossies or the look-at-Uma-
Thurman’s-weird-big-toe bitchiness of Closer, Grazia often finds itself
in Hello-ville.

Janice Turner is a columnist on The Times

Next week: Alison Hastings

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