By Janice Turner
NEWSPAPER magazines are the bi-sexuals of publishing, little loved or respected by either groups with which they consort. Newspaper journalists see supplement staff as lightweights and divas, shielded from the rigours of the edition. Magazine folk regard them as half-baked dabblers with zero style and crap paper.
So the decision to sell the Mail on Sunday’s You on the newsstands was greeted with predictable sniffiness. Indeed, even though the paid-for edition has a fifth colour and a few extra editorial pages, it is hard to imagine spending £1 on a Tuesday, buying a magazine which has been in 2.5 million recycling bins since Sunday evening.
You claims it is not trying to compete with Grazia as a ‘weekly glossy’. Editor Sue Peart makes the subtle distinction that her mag is more of a ‘monthly weekly’, i.e. a sliver of calm, lovely, exclusively shot glossiness, rather than a sassy, fast-paced weeklified take on up-market shoes, news and screws, so effortlessly executed these days by Grazia.
Besides, with You’s phenomenal print run, its lead times are too long to compete on topicality. And while it is a beautifully edited supplement, pitched perfectly at Mail woman’s tastes and aspirations, on the newsstand, between the screaming ‘sleb-tastic’ weeklies and the glossy doorstops, it is not a dazzling proposition.
But anyway, the maghags can draw in their claws. You’s newsstand debut has nothing to do with them and everything to do with newspaper marketing. In an age when weekend papers contain a dozen sections, including a couple of colour supplements, many readers sling half of them in the bin, unopened. Such are their profusion, these mags seem as tiresome and worthless as the ad insert cards which cascade out of glossies. But they are not worthless. They are very expensive editorial concerns, with many staff and fancy paper stock. Yet newspaper readers are ungrateful, jaded and spoiled. Moreover, newspaper price wars and the growth of freesheets have meant the sum a reader is willing to pay for her daily read has depreciated. News is now fast and free and everywhere.
So how can newspapers get their readers to realise the value of what they do? Well, why not prove that the supplement they got all crinkly reading in the bath is so fantastic it has independent worth. Look, people are actually buying it for a quid! And if you pay just £1.30 you can get it two days earlier with a newspaper thrown in. What a fantastic deal. As newspaper marketing wheezes go, this is highly elaborate. Associated Newspapers has invested £8 million in TV and billboard advertising and distribution, but most crucially in the "sumptious silk paper" You boasts about, as if the reader is likely to use it to fashion herself a thong. Women readers, of course, are expert at evaluating quality through touch.
And for those women who love You mag — which is (relatively) an oasis of female-friendliness and progressive thinking in Derry Street — yet loathe the shrill, disapproving tone of the main paper, they can now buy it separately and still contribute a quid to Associated coffers.
In 1994, You became the first newspaper supplement to target solely women. But since then, its USP has been eroded by the girlification of general interest Saturday mags, which have hugely increased fashion coverage to garner advertising (compensating for a decline in newspaper ad revenue generally) and to attract female readers, particularly younger ones who are least likely to buy a paper at all.
The broadsheet Sundays have now all created their own women’s mags: The Sunday Times’s bitchy Style; Stella, the Sunday Telegraph’s intelligence-insulting frothy mess; and the monthly Observer Woman, which I read cover to cover last week, grateful for the kind of sustained, intelligent writing you never find these days in Marie Claire.
Appearing on the newsstands is a powerful way of asserting that You was the original and remains the best.
Associated is aspiring to a newsstand sale of 50,000 in the Southeast alone, since it is yet to be rolled out nationwide, and will publish a separate ABC.
But if this figure is not achieved, the newsstand version will quickly be rolled back in again, its job as an MoS promotional vehicle done.
Yet could it work? Those in magazines who scoff seem to ignore the scale of the You brand: 2.5 million copies is a humongous figure, even if they aren’t actually sold. And Peart has the facility to change her newsstand edition, add extra pages, perhaps even in the future improve deadline times, to get in the week’s Oscar frocks.
You’s huge circulation gives it immense publicist clout, pulling in recent cover shoots with Felicity Huffman and Angelina Jolie. And it is impossible not to read the slow-mo martial humiliation of Liz Jones, a whole genre of her own, the car-crash columnist.
Meanwhile, as Grazia is now starting to look like the magazine which most ably serves our must-have age, there is no sign yet of rival publishers rushing out to launch copycats. To understand why, just look at the Grazia flannel panel: it employs the population of a county town! And all that beauty and fashion shot to monthly spec, eye-wateringly expensive paparazzi pix and celeb coverage… Until sales truly take off (the last ABC was 170,000) and ad revenue floods in, Grazia will remain the only weekly glossy in town. Except for the admittedly quieter, slower, older — but undeniably top-drawer — You mag.
Besides, while You’s newsstand edition may be a mere marketing exercise, so was the 1999 launch of Metro, the London freesheet created to see off a rival to Associated’s Evening Standard. And what was intended as a short-term spoiler became, to universal surprise, a huge, long-term advertising success. Both newspaper and magazine publishers will be watching You’s latest adventure with lustful pound signs in their eyes.