Bottling the essence of TV makeover mania

Janice Turner

IT IS the mother lode of women’s real-life
magazines and, defying the laws of publishing gravity, still sells 1.2
million a week, 16 years after it was launched. Who would not want a
piece of Take a Break’s action?

Real People, launched last week
as a joint venture between Aussie giants ACP and NatMags, has its own
guns trained at Bauer’s Big Bertha. Rarely has a new magazine had fewer
USPs: a few shopping vouchers and David Dickinson are the extent of its
original thinking. A “Wonder Nanny”, copied off TV, who plans to
transform problem children in a single week does not sound sustainable
and may be reason to call social services.

Mostly Real People is
a flagrant rip-off of TAB, just as Reveal was a blurry photocopy of
Emap’s Closer. Like TAB, Real People comes out on a Thursday and
contains the same balance of puzzles and true life with a dash of dowdy
practicals aimed at a broad target, 18- to 80-year-old familyminded
working-class women.

So can it seduce a few Take a Breakers with
its slightly funkier design and classier paper? Or will it go the way
of the last contender, Burda’s Full House, which after being de-listed
by major supermarkets, sales below 180,000 and recent staff cuts, has
only German pride – Burda and Bauer are deadly Deutsche rivals – saving
it from death.

NatMags has more distribution clout than Burda,
newcomers to the British market. And Real People is better-executed
with a wide enough age range to scoop up a respectable ABC as a second
purchase. Pick Me Up achieved its 504,000 opening ABC as a hearty
truelife snack to keep readers satisfied while waiting for the new
issue of their favourite mag. But the 350,000 Real People promises
advertisers is ambitious, particularly since next month News
International launches its own true-life title, Love It!

This is
NI’s first magazine venture and with typical chutzpah they expect to
sell 400,000. Looking at the dummy, I’d say Love It! is trying a more
risky strategy. Rather than aim at the big fat mass of true-life
readers, it is hoping to pick off younger women – 18 to 35 – who
currently enjoy true life in celebrity hybrids such as Closer and Now,
but regard existing real-life mags as frumpy and downbeat.

It! – which like the celeb mags, will publish on Tuesday – is edited by
Karen Pasquali Jones, features editor at that’s life! and my deputy
editor at Real, being paid off by Bauer after I was sacked. She then
created the final dummy Pick Me Up, but fell out with IPC on the very
brink of launch. Love It!’s success would provide her with sweet double

And rather than drag out the Take a Break template one
more time, Jones has tried to reappraise what a real-life magazine can
offer in the reality TV age, when texting, camera phones and chat rooms
are the biggest competitors for readers’ attention.

With its slogan “Real life just got a whole lot better”, Love It! tries to bottle the essence of TV makeover mania.

week it will feature a victim of the ugly stick who has been
transformed by plastic surgery. There will also be hints on improving
how the man in your life looks and treats you.

self-improvement message, Pasquali Jones hopes, will appeal to the
restless, low-attention-span, aspirational young woman ever more
willing to bung a boob job on her Visa card.

TAB’s oldster
car-boot-sale bargains have been replaced with eBay goods that readers
can bid for by text. The tiny slices of me-time busy readers have
throughout the day are served with a longish story headed “Read over a

and a shorter one “Read over a cuppa”. A 150-word “Read over a fag” tale has, alas, been scrapped from the dummy.

It!’s major weapon is marketing: 3.5 million copies of its 36-page
sampler issue will be inserted into The Sun and News of the World.
(Real People bizarrely was not even sampled with stablemate Reveal.)
But the question is whether the kind of celebobsessed young women Love
It! targets will stick with a magazine that eschews starry gossip and
pap shots.

But in the end the quality of the true-life stories
will determine the success of these launches. And competition for
love-rat tales and womb dramas is feverish: news agencies can now
charge £2,500 per story plus a £1,000+ fee to the woman herself. Amid
this costly scrummage, established titles which generate stories from
their own readers’ letters have a huge advantage.

So who will
lose sales? Pick Me Up, which inflicted little damage on rivals, showed
there is room for new players in the real-life market.

With both
new mags to cost 60p, that’s life! – at 68p and formerly the market’s
cheapest read – looks vulnerable, with only 48 small-format bog-paper
pages to Real People’s 60 big glossy ones.

But after a recent
revamp, that’s life! has perked up and its coverlines are intriguing,
funny and specific compared to the dully generic Real People’s “hero
mum” and “best mate betrayal”. And Take a Break itself looks fairly

No other magazine is so firmly and deeply anchored
in its readers’ lives. Besides the quality and economy of its writing,
editor John Dale never tires of new wheezes, like his Women’s Orgasm
Liberation Front, encouraging hundreds of grandmothers to attain sexual
ecstasy for the first time.

His latest, turning his Mums’ Army
into a political party that will stand candidates in council elections
on a slate opposing violent video games and yobbery, has been dismissed
as a stunt. But such is the cult-like mania of Take a Break-ers, you
never know, they could just win.

Janice Turner is a columnist for The Times and a former editor of that’s life!

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