Teen mags warned to adapt to new media

The teen sector of the magazine industry can be saved, but it needs a "massive shake-up", according to the launch editor of one its last standing titles.

Peter Loraine, who launched the BBC's Top of the Pops magazine in 1995, spoke to Press Gazette in the wake of Emap's decision to "suspend" publication of its four-year-old title, Sneak, nicknamed "baby Heat".

Emap is currently in consultation with staff, after ceasing publication of Sneak last Wednesday week, sales of which had dropped from 80,077 to 74,299 in the last six-monthly ABCs.

Sales figures are expected to drop even further when the next six-month magazine ABCs are announced on Thursday.

Sneak is Emap's second teen title to be axed in 2006 — Smash Hits! closed in February, after 28 years on the shelves.

Loraine said: "If you're 14, you're probably wanting Heat, not the baby version."

He said that the teen mags sector had failed to move with the times, and that no publication looked dramatically different from how it did 10 years ago, despite overwhelming evidence that the market has moved on.

He said: "It upsets me that it's falling down around us. Last week there was the Top of the Pops wrap party for the programme, and then Sneak closed. It just needs a massive shake-up. It's not about just rolling over and giving in.

"The big publishers, Emap and IPC, need to think if they're not encouraging people to grow up living the magazine culture, why is someone going to start getting into that at 16 or 17, if they've never known it before? They need to start investing to turn this around rather than just thinking it's a dying area and concentrating somewhere else."

Loraine, who is now general manager of Polydor subsidiary Fascination Records, said the answer might lie in taking the technology from the net to mobile phones, and creating "some kind of big mental idea to turn it on its head".

Emap Elan managing director Dawn Bebe last week blamed new media for taking teens away from magazines, but said that, unlike Smash Hits!, the Sneak brand would not be developed on other platforms such as the web and TV. Bebe confirmed that Emap was in consultation with Sneak staff.

Emap is not alone in its thinking — IPC sold Mizz to Panini earlier this year and has no plans to extend its Teen Now title beyond its twice-yearly frequency.

Natmags' CosmoGirl and Hachette's Sugar have also been on a steep decline.

BBC Magazines continues to publish Top of the Pops, despite its TV namesake's demise.

The decline of teen magazines is not just a British phenomenon. In July, a BBC delegation to South Korea reported that, in a country where broadband internet penetration is 97 per cent among teens, the youth mags market has completely collapsed. Mike Harvey, editor of Top Gear, who was part of the team in Korea, said: "The kids didn't want to know about magazines — the magazines were so yesterday."

Publishers' instincts on the teen market were backed up in a report released last week by Ofcom, the communications regulator, which found that teenagers were switching from old media as broadband penetration rose in the UK.

Ofcom said that 11.1 million households and small businesses now had a high-speed broadband internet connection, that 70 per cent of teens use social networking websites, and that reading magazines was down over 20 per cent in the 15- to 24-year-old age group.

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