Whatever you do, get a great figure on the cover

Once
upon a newsstand, the women’s glossy monthlies sought to catch the eye
through the allure of their cover girl, bedecked with the seductive
prose of the coverlines.

Not any more. They’re all playing the numbers game.

Even the poshest titles have given up proclaiming “How Special We Are” in favour of “Wotalot We Got”.

Since
sex and fashion are common fodder, apparently the only way to pull in
extra readers is to shout that you’ve got more than the others. More of
anything.

Which is why giant numerals dominate almost every cover – as witnessed by the bumper autumn issues.

In
reverse order, the issue of Tatler hailing “The return of the ladies
who lunch” chooses to go big on “25 ways to get your beauty sleep”
(presumably midafternoon).

Zest goes further in offering “Top 40 sex and love problems solved”. Promptly
topped by Red’s “50 ways to spice up your sex life”, which is matched
(numerically, if not erotically)n by the re-launched and
self-consciously domesticated She magazine with “50 secrets and
solutions to everyday dilemmas”.

New Woman promises “141 ways to
dress sexy for under £60”, but has to give way to Eve’s “371 ways to
dress yourbody type”, Elle’s “484 pages of sexy fashion” and Company’s “534 sexy style solutions”.

So much for the small fry.

Sharing
the shelves with its US parent, which modestly offers “101 sex types”,
our home-grown Cosmopolitan takes the numbers game still higher with
“932 hot new season must-haves” – plus “Have 400 calorie sex”.

But
even this grand total has to give way to Glamour – the small-page
magazine designed to fit my lady’s handbag – which comes up with the
staggering total of “1,427 new season updates”.

Not exactly a ladylike rounded figure, but no more and no less, it insists, than a blunt 1,427 of them.

Nicholas
Coleridge, managing director of Condé Nast, the publishers of Glamour,
claims that it was his magazine that started the numbers game two years
ago, modestly describing the process as “a phenomenon that’s gathering
pace”.

“People are looking for value for money these days,” he says. “Giving precise numbers of what is on offer implies just that.

“And
when readers find that there really are 1,427 of what we promised, it
adds to the integrity of the title and they will come back for more
when next month’s issue promises 211 of the latest handbags or 327 new
shoe styles.”

Coleridge emphasises that there is an exhaustive
checking process to substantiate the specified number, whatever it
turns out to be – with no rounding up or down. More and more rival
publications have also learned that media-wise readers sense that too
neat a total has been contrived.

Which explains why their covers prefer 141 to 150, 371 to 375, 484 to 500 (or 499 or even 501).

So
in a world dedicated to ultimate beauty and perfect grooming, it would
seem that the uglier the number, the more realistic it is deemed and
the bigger the sale.

Only two of the glossies practising this
newsstand numerology failed to post increased circulation figures over
the latest ABC period. And for Glamour it’s not merely a case of
outscoring the opposition on its cover.

With sales of 609,626, it can boast the biggest number of them all.

Peter
Jackson is a former editor of TV Times and The Sunday Times Magazine,
and was launch publisher of Elle in the UK and MD of News
International-Hachette, Rupert Murdoch’s European magazine operation.
He runs creative consultancy Grayling Publishing.

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