'Don't send in the celebrity clones,' warns Now editor

Now: broke 600,000 barrier

Fears that the celebrity bubble could soon burst increased as the July to December 2002 ABCs gave the first glimpses of a slowdown this week.

According to IPC, Heat, Hello! and OK! lost market share to the launch of Closer – Heat dropping an average of 16,000 copies a week. There are fears Now and Heat could be hit again by Richard Desmond’s planned new title, ON.

Although Now broke through the 600,000 barrier for the first time on the news-stands, outselling Heat, OK! and Hello! with sales of 611,130, editor Jane Ennis warned: “I don’t think there is much growth left and I don’t think the market can take any more launches of Now clones. When too many magazines start to execute the formula badly, the whole area becomes tainted and the bubble will burst. It’s like reality TV. People forget how much they enjoyed the first Big Brother because they have been bombarded with so many other reality shows.”

Now’s one-off price cut to 50p – a clear two-finger salute to the launch of Closer – sent sales rocketing to 900,000. Insiders fear there could be more cover price battles to come.

Louise Matthews, managing director of Emap Entertainment, said Closer had sold more than 300,000 copies on some issues, but denied it had hurt Heat. “They may have the same person on the cover if there is a massive news story, but the approach is different. Heat has a voyeuristic take; Closer is more sympathetic. To be selling over 500,000 copies is fantastic,” she said.

Heat outsold Hello! and OK! on the news-stand, up 56 per cent year-on-year. It will receive £5m-6m marketing spend this year and is due to introduce a new section, “The Scandal”, in the next two weeks.

Matthews remained sceptical about Closer bringing new readers into the market, however. “It has probably started to hit Bella and Best, which is what we wanted to do,” she said.

Having had three different editors in the past six months, Bella fell 8.8 per cent, while Take a Break saw another year-on-year increase to 1.2 million. That’s Life! sold 597,170, ahead of Chat, which reported an impressive 15.6 per cent increase. Coverlines such as, “I had phone sex with a chicken”, and the search for Britain’s Randiest Gran and Sexiest Short Bloke, resulted in a third consecutive rise for Chat, which even overtook Hello!. “It shows people are more interested in ordinary people living extraordinary lives than boring celebs,” said editor Paul Merrill.

OK! reported a 30 per cent rise to 632,791, ahead of Hello!’s 546,952. Hello! reversed its decline period-on-period, as did Woman and Woman’s Own. IPC has pledged to remove all bulks from its weeklies by the next ABCs.

By Ruth Addicott

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