Spirit of weeklies past

Emap’s forthcoming Grazia is not the first glossy weekly to be offered to British women

The following is an editor talking about her new magazine. Can you name its title? ” X is a weekly unlike other weeklies. It’s glossy and stylish, just like the expensive monthly magazines, yet it’s pacey, instant and newsy. Most magazines take weeks to produce: X takes days – making us more up-todate and able to report on what’s happening now.”

Yes, it does sound uncannily like Emap’s forthcoming launch Grazia .

But it was Sally O’Sullivan talking about Riva , way back in 1988.

This £3.5million “super-launch” by Carlton (a then satellite of IPC) was the last great quest for that publishing Holy Grail, the up-market women’s weekly.

Skimming Riva ‘s first issue, it has many similarities with the announced plans for Grazia : meaningless Continentalsounding title, celebrity covers, breaking news, “who wore what” spreads from premiere parties, designer fashion, the odd hardish-hitting feature.

But Riva sold less than half the 350,000 copies Carlton had guaranteed to advertisers and that was needed to recoup themag’s hefty production and staffing costs.

It closed after seven issues, amid a whole tumbril-load of rolling heads.

Carlton concluded that British women were not ready for a glossy weekly: the divide between the buyers of posh monthlies and “cheap and cheerful” weeklies was unbreachable.

Critics, however, said Riva was too staid and slow-paced to succeed as a weekly.

Either way, for the past 16 years publishers have been scribbling the tantalising business equation: “luxury brand ad revenue + mass sales x 52 = ££££!!” before dolefully lobbing it in the bin. So what has changed to make Emap confident Grazia can succeed where Riva failed? First, to paraphrase Tony Blair, “we are all middle-market now”. The redtops are dying, the broadsheets turn tabloid, the Mail soars.

Today half of young women are graduates, compared to around 10 per cent in 1988, thus Grazia starts with a far larger pool of aspirational potential readers.

Moreover, the distinction between high and low culture has blurred: The Times debates Big Brother . Likewise, a Marie Claire reader gets the odd copy of Heat just as she mixes Prada heels with her Zara coat. This isn’t slumming, but a modern, eclectic cool.

Grazia hopes to bottle that mix, to contain glam and gossip within one title. And you could not find a journalist who is better placed to bridge the divide between tabloid pace and designer élan than Grazia editor-inchief Fiona McIntosh. Besides stints at the Daily Mirror and editorship of Elle she ran the Evening Standard magazine, which has the immediacy and frivolity of a Friday night glass of fizz and suggests a workable tone for Grazia .

And Grazia has a major advantage over other British launches such as Eve or Red: it will not struggle to get on the advertising schedules of international fashion houses. Grazia is a revered 66-year-old brand which already sells 245,000 copies in Italy.

Italian Grazia : handsome template

Emap’s partnership with Mondadori has guaranteed Grazia UK’s place at the top tables of Armani and Prada.

It will have an identical format, Emap says, to Italian Grazia which is a handsome magazine, albeit with a preponderance of right-hand ads making it feel editorial-light to British eyes.

The matt paper and grainy gravure printing does not flatter the up-market fashion and beauty visuals. This is not an anorak point: readers are quick to calibrate a magazine’s quality and Grazia is supposed to satisfy their glossy needs.

Unlike its Italian sister, Grazia UK will have celebrity covers (models, unless household names, now provoke outraged reader cries of “who the hell is she?”).

These will not be studio shoots, but red carpet snaps of Kate or Rene. This will not only give Grazia a must-buy urgency, but free it from the tyranny of celebrity publicists who now dictate terms to the star-hungry monthlies, demanding not just picture and coverline approval, but blandly uncritical editorial.

So Grazia can be a little more spikey, which it will need to be if it is to compete with the queeny wit of Heat and Closer ‘s shameless bitchery.

And whilst Grazia claims it will limit itself to upmarket celebrities – more Moss and Winslet than Jade and Jordan – posh readers enjoy laughing at the chavs as much as admiring the frocks. What will Grazia do when I’m A Celebrity or Big Brother, which fuel Heat and Closer sales, are running full throttle? Turn up its nose or lower its sights? Celebrity is the oil of modern publishing: a vital and limited commodity, with demand always threatening to outstrip supply. But readers do not care whether they get it crude or refined.

I watched a Heat reader on a train journey who had just been given a free copy of Reveal . She and her friend skimmed through both commenting on the pap shots, but making no critical distinction between their fave mag and the me-too copy.

Since celebrity is now a given, to succeed a magazine needs at least one other dimension and a distinct voice.

Heat provides brilliant TV and culture listings, delivered with fizzing humour. Closer and Reveal have TV pages plus great tabloid true-life to give them heart. Grazia will have celebrity plus fashion and features.

But is fashion and shopping news so urgent we clamour for it every week? The newspaper supplements – particularly You magazine and both the Telegraph and Times on Saturday – are already bursting with well-executed style. Can Emap guarantee 150,000 fashionistas will buy Grazia every week when only 200,000 buy Vogue and Elle each month?

It will all be in the execution. Intelligence and wit, inventiveness and insight, so achingly absent from the homogenous monthlies, would win many fans. And Grazia editor Jane Bruton, who delivered a pitch perfect launch on Living Etc , and has turned around Eve , is a phenomenal features talent.

But it is a tough market out there, with the monthlies practically cover mounting their own grandmothers to keep stable. New magazines are having to promote and re-promote to build a reader habit: Reveal sold well whilst TV-supported, but slumped straight afterwards. Grazia ‘s cover price will be particularly sensitive, with Closer and Reveal at £1 and Glamour still only £1.90.

Grazia will need brilliant ideas and every penny of Emap’s £16million budget if it is ever to lay the ghost of Riva to rest and finally uncover that Holy Grail.

Janice Turner is a columnist for The Times. janice.turner@thetimes.co.uk. She is former editor of That’s Life and Real

? Next week: Alison Hastings

By Janice Turner

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