You have to feel for the editor of Cosmopolitan every time the ABC figures come out. Lorraine Candy commands a juggernaut of a magazine which currently sells 463,000 copies a month, a figure which has remained pretty solid throughout her three-year tenure. She has brand spin-offs a-go-go – cafÃ©s, handbags, clothing – adding to its already huge profitability. She even has a new baby. In that exhausted Daily Mail construction “she is the woman who has it all”.
Yet the only story Candy ever gets to read is “Glamour knocks Cosmo off top slot after 30 years”, or this week, no doubt, “Glamour surges ahead of rival”, as CondÃ© Nast pops its cork to a 23 per cent year-on-year increase, taking it to 537,474. And, yes, that is now almost 75,000 ahead of Cosmo.
Speaking to parties from both sides you are left in no doubt as to the deep and bitter rivalry between them. How the venom flies. To summarise:
Cosmo on Glamour: you’re only successful because you’re cheap (£1.80 as opposed to £2.80). We’d sell a million if we cut our price. Glamour is only read by 17-year-olds, who just chuck it away when they get off the Tube. Your marketing is brilliant, your editorial is flim-flam. People buy it for the covermounts (which are tacky). You’re small: big deal.
Glamour on Cosmo: darling, if we’re cheap and tacky how come we pull in all the premium brand advertising? We are modern, cool and urban: you are stuck in the Seventies, po-faced and suburban. And, honestly, does any woman alive still need to be told how to perform a blow job? In detail? With a graphic?
Now I love a scrap, and have never been known to sit on a fence. But if you analyse the figures and the achievements of both Candy and Glamour editor Jo Elvin there is absolutely no reason to diss either of these sisters.
When Glamour stormed into the market in early 2001 with its sexy, multi-million pound advertising campaign, peerless marketing strategy and hot, dinky new format you would have expected Cosmo to take a major hit. But in fact it lost just 8,000 readers in Jan-June 2001 and recovered them all by December. Compare with Marie Claire, which shed 30,000 readers in the same period and has only scrabbled back up to 400,000 with its latest ABC.
Since then Cosmo has maintained a very even strain. Not just in circulation terms but editorially, in the confident and brave way Candy has resisted the temptation to over-react to Glamour and remain true to her magazine’s core values.
It would have been easy for Candy to follow Glamour – and all her other rivals – down the celebrity route. But Cosmo still has only three showbiz stars on the cover a year. And it is wrong to read a model as an anonymous face: it is an assertion of the primacy of brand. It says: don’t be Jennifer Lopez, be Cosmo woman.
Of Candy, who has spent much of her career in newspapers, is said to loathe the copy approval dictats which turn glossy mags into PR patsies. And perhaps, in the long term, celebrities will only further the already rampant promiscuity of women’s magazine purchasers: a reader will not consistently buy her favourite title. Instead if, for example, she is a Jennifer Aniston fan, she will just get whichever publication she appears on that month.
Neither has The National Magazine Company wavered in its position that covermounts are market stall tat, which buy short term gains: Cosmo only has two free gifts a year (flip-flops and a book). Compare that with Glamour’s perpetual covermounting or recently Marie Claire’s stupendous (desperate?) sweetener of two CDs.
And in a prevailing magazine climate of flipness, fame, and frivolity Candy has dared to run serious, lengthy pieces, which actually prescribe how readers can improve their lives, careers and relationships. Moreover Cosmo does that most unfashionable thing of all; it campaigns, lately against domestic violence and rape. It understands young women are vulnerable, not half as assured as they look.
Cosmo is your worldly older sister. She is not known for her sense of humour – irony is a real blind spot -but she always cares.
Glamour is a great mate, who is stylish and witty, will take you shopping and to parties, but will drift off if you jaw on about your problems. Though what a blast you’ll have with her!
Flicking through Glamour – its operative reading mode – I defy you to be bored. Not that every feature is the finest ever written, but nothing is ever too long. The A5 pages are just big enough for a “10 thingsÃ‰” or a pithy column. Then if we’re off to Afghanistan to meet the women post-Taliban or victims of sexual slavery don’t yawn because, flick, phew, we’re back to handbags.
Glamour’s genius is not its size. It is its pace and verve and its mission to amuse (when did the other glossies get so humourless?) Most of the time, it succeeds. Jo Elvin’s quick-witted, stroppy, boredom-threshold-of-a-gnat personality shines through.
She has realised that her biggest competitor today is not another magazine but the mobile phone. On her commuter train, in her Zara coat and Gucci perfume, twentysomething woman has a choice: read or text her boyfriend? It is no small achievement that Glamour has grabbed her attention.
And Elvin has pulled off an extremely difficult balancing act. She has created a mass-market magazine which leading designer brands, notoriously snooty about “environment”, love to advertise in. Stylish yet inclusive, huge sales and juicy ad revenues. Elvin truly deserves her growing clutch of awards.
So, as I write this on Valentine’s Day, let us not set up harsh comparisons for the sake of easy headlines. Let’s send bouquets to two matchless editors, Lorraine and Jo. Even if they’d rather eat their own (covermounted) handbags than send one to each other.
I seem to be suffering from entertainment magazine gender confusion. I thought my problem was over when I weaned myself off Empire (shut up, shut up, about boring Star Wars and Lord of the bloody Rings). But now Development Hell has published Word.
Well, I took it away last weekend and although I’m not a Nick Hornby-alike who rolls his own, I don’t alphabetise my CD collection or think much of their cover star wailing Nick Cave, I read every single feature. To the end.
It’s my new favourite magazine. Bless its (appallingly rare) belief in the written word, it’s mission to explain Eminem’s cultural context to squeamish types like me. Long live its eclectic, intelligent selection of what’s new and its witty appreciation of the classic. Hmm, think I might need a shave.
Janice Turner is a freelance journalist and former editor of That’s Life! and Real. She’ll be back in four weeks
lNext week: Alison Hastings