You’ve got to admire his chutzpah. Richard Desmond, the former Mr Asian Babes, has declared he’s going to launch a glossy monthly similar to Vogue and Elle. Like it’s that easy.
Like Mario Testino is just waiting to jet in to shoot covers, perhaps snapping a few Star Birds while he’s about it.
“It’s as absurd as opening a chip shop in a lay-by and saying you’re going to take on Claridges,” says one publisher of glossies.
And indeed, in a sector predicated upon image and exclusivity, can a proprietor with such down-market associations as Richard Desmond ever succeed? For a start, will glossy fashionistas work for you? Well, if you throw enough money at them, they might manage to get over themselves.
Vogue publisher CondÃ© Nast, for all its cachet, is notoriously tight with cash, assuming staff have a little trust fund on the side.
And Desmond, although he drives his staff long and hard – which might be a culture shock for some monthly ladies – does pay a decent whack.
The glamorous international cadre of photographers, stylists and models, who have the pick of publications from New York to Milan, might prove a greater challenge.
But as Desmond has proved with OK! – which blew the more up-market Hello! out of the water – an enormous cheque can buy you David Beckham’s wedding.
So why not Kate Moss on your cover? She works for cheapo Rimmel, so she ain’t that picky.
Luxury advertisers too, for all their aching snobbery, will come in if the deal is right and editorial quality is sufficiently high.
The bottom line is, a Desmond glossy could work if he is willing to dip long and generously into his very deep pockets.
But this is a publisher whose default mode is making knock-down copies of winning titles (and Emap must be wincing that his Heat rip-off New! now sells 350,000).
Cut launched in August, but is cluttering newsagents’ shelves
But New! is composed of blurry paparazzi shots, hand-me-downs from other parts of his empire, The Daily Express, Star or OK! A glossy magazine would require lavishly expensive and wholly original editorial, good paper stock and fine repro.
British glossy readers are so exceptionally well-served, so darn discerning, they can detect a scintilla of tackiness, a less than lush product.
And Desmond cannot buy off Vogue readers by making his title cheaper: their magazine is a luxury product, they like it expensive.
And if Desmond, as is rumoured, makes his clunkily-named BHappy a copy of the US Lucky, he really ought to consider why its publisher Cond´Ã© Nast hasn’t launched it in Britain.
Lucky consists of nothing but stuff.
There are no features, no artsy photos or too-gorgeous models making you feel bad about your 200lb McSelf. Just page after page of merchandise with stockists’ details.
You even get a cute bunch of stickers to slap on things you might buy down the mall.
Shopping mags are big business in the States. Besides Lucky, CondÃ© Nast launched a men’s title, Cargo, and also has plans for a homes mag to compete with Time Inc’s Cottage (not a title for the UK, unless they’re aiming at the pink pound).
Meanwhile, former UK Cosmo editor Mandi Norwood has just launched Shop Etc. for Hearst.
They work in the US, partly because Americans are uber-consumers, the population is widely dispersed and reliant on mail order.
But the real reason is because advertisers love shopping mags: they feature tons of product with no snippy journalism.
Critics say Lucky lacks integrity in its choice of goods, pandering to advertisers.
But then it is advertising which makes them hugely profitable, because although Lucky sells one million copies, 85 per cent are practically given away as cheap subscriptions, only 15 per cent purchased from newsstands.
Shopping titles have never rocked in Britain, nor in France and Germany.
Shop, a spin-off from Company magazine, was not successful enough to be free-standing and – after two issues – is once again a Company supplement.
New Woman’s Boutique met the same fate.
Instead, glossy magazines have, in recent years, absorbed the values of shopping titles: giving readers useful information as well as beautiful visuals.
American In-Style has been particularly influential.
“Until seven years ago, Vogue would just have had a headline saying ‘Pony Club’ and there would be a picture of the Queen as a girl on a horse and a Hermes scarf,” said one editor.
“From this, the reader had to deduce that the pony club look was in and if she came upon anything similar, she should buy it.
“Now there would be ten items clearly photographed with exactly where to get them.”
There is also much of Lucky’s utilitarian approach in Glamour, its dinky pages lending themselves well to those “10 best…” features.
Most glossies also bring out shopping supplements at least twice a year, such as Vogue’s shoe special this month.
A Lucky clone must be a temptingly cheap prospect for Desmond: no fancy shoots, just get the PRs to whizz over a jpeg. But the nearest we have to a pure shopping magazine, In-Style, had a shaky start, until editor Louise Chunn so cleverly adapted it for the British consumer.
Which meant wrapping shopping features up in sophisticated editorial and providing that labour-intensive fashion service “edited choice”.
Picking the 25 best winter coats, not making the reader sweat over 90 with her sticker book.
Whoops! I’ve just tripped over another pile of unsold Cut magazines, cluttering newsagents across the land. Even at 50p, mid TV campaign, trade estimates reckoned 90 per cent of the 700,000 print run were being returned.
Bauer insiders are calling it a monumental disaster – a grave embarrassment for new MD Dave Goodchild, who sold Real and dispensed with the company’s biggest talent, Lori Miles, to make way for this, his first-born title.
With a wit that makes Nuts read like The New Yorker, Cut’s mission is to provide a news digest for white van man.
As one industry wag put it: “It’s The Week, done by chavs”.
Which means a lot of Cut consists of ripped out bits of other publications including, in this week’s issue, a joke lifted from Front – a rival men’s mag.
Has Cut no pride at all? If a working class fella wants a summary of current events, he can buy a tabloid newspaper.
This is sharper, more up-to-date, on paper not much cheaper than the usual Bauer bog-roll – and has tits.
Cut, although crude and sexist, is oddly prudish.
The big mystery is what an editor as good as Simon Geller, who led Men’s Health when it was absolutely my fave magazine, is doing here. It’s like finding Red Rum giving donkey rides on Scarborough beach.
Janice Turner is a columnist for The Times, firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is a former editor of That’s Life and Real