Will the Heat generation feel like a new Woman?

THE RELAUNCH of Woman cost £3.2 million, a turnover of five editors in a year and was Mike Soutar's final act as editorial director of IPC, although he was too deep in battle with Sylvia Auton to attend the firstissue celebratory drinks.

But will the relaunch resuscitate the 70-year-old mother of all weeklies, which once sold four million copies and now hovers below 400,000?

Visually at least, new Woman is a huge improvement. It has a fresh, perky palette more modern than its former 1980s primaries, yet less lurid than the flaming flouros of Closer and Heat. For such frantically busy pages, they are a pleasure to behold and enhanced by nicer paper stock.

The most marked evidence of Woman rising a few notches up market is fewer ugly people (or at least made-up and better photographed), something you only appreciate flicking through the mingers in Woman's Own.

And Woman now has 16 extra pages, although this just feels like padding the editorial bra when you compare its 84 pages with Closer's voluptuous 100-plus. Besides, to pay for this Woman has increased its price to 85p, still cheaper than the celeb titles, but now a risky 7p more than Woman's Own in a hugely price-sensitive market.

IPC is remarketing Woman as a glamorous, indulgent treat.

Which is a more upbeat plan than creating a weekly Good Housekeeping, as proposed by original relaunch editor Sarah Edwards, whose dummy was deemed boring by Soutar and led to Edwards' exit after just four months. But not before she had alienated many of the doughty and long-serving Woman staff with a style as shouty and abrasive as you'd expect from someone who writes her signature in block capital letters.

Former Bauer editor Lori Miles had the tricky task of caretaking the magazine for nine months while a permanent replacement was found and a new relaunch masterplan devised. By now, the Woman staff were weary of the permanent upheaval since long-serving editor Carole Russell had left in May, and made the unprecedented step of reporting management to the staff council for its neglect and lack of direction. Woman's new editor Jackie Hatton, a mature, wellregarded IPC hand who listens to her team, has done much to diffuse this ill-will.

So what has changed at Woman? Well, the fashion is prettier and there is more celebrity coverage beyond the stock soap stars. But really it is the same-old-same-old of real life, family-centred reports and practicals packaged to reflect the shifting aspirations of middle England woman.

In a weekly market which has almost doubled in five years to 25 titles, it is ever harder for the classic weeklies to stop their slide. Why would a 30-year-old bother to revisit the magazine her mum read, when half a dozen funky new brands have been created just for her?

What makes the "classic" weeklies seem dated is not so much the subject matter or even its execution — which in Woman's case is diligent and solid — but the magazine's deadly lead times. In the digital age, six weeks is no longer acceptable in a women's magazine. It removes all urgency to purchase. Woman defends its celebrity coverage as being indepth and timeless, while Now and Heat have topical flim-flam. But if you use a cover pic of Jennifer Anniston — as Woman did a fortnight back — you'd better have the absolute latest word on her Brad baby heartbreak, not some bought-in agency interview topped up with cuttings.

Also, it would be great to see Woman buying top-rate true life. Years ago, it would have been the natural home of human stories of national importance, and indeed Woman secured the first interview with Herceptin campaigner Barbara Clark, on the basis of the magazine's trustworthy reputation alone. But this week Josie Russell, a decade after her attack, spoke to First. Such exclusives go for four-figure sums these days, which is sadly way beyond the meagre page budgets of a magazine which, however IPC spins it, is thriftily managing its decline.

IT'S RATHER a waste of time to pronounce on a newly launched Emap title because three months later it is a very different animal. Closer sharpened its tabloid claws, Heat transmogrified from geek to gay.

And First is sure to evolve from its perplexing opening issue, which sold a disappointing 130,000. Isn't there supposed to be news in it, I thought. Oh, I see that two-page photo of George Clooney is supposed to explain world famine. Blimey, there's more current affairs in Grazia.

There are mutterings in Emap circles that First features too much remote and random international news, and not enough domestic topics with direct impact on women's lives such as education, health and crime.

The TV ad seemed to illustrate the problems of selling news as an appealing proposition. It features a woman in a hair salon who turns to her stylist in exasperation at, presumably some Big Brother-ish chit-chat, and says, "Why can't we discuss the MRSA superbug?" It jars since women go to hairdressers to zone-out and read trashy magazines. The point isn't that women want to chat about MRSA, simply that they want to be informed.

And First still has to find a way of spinning that worthy, serious stuff called news into a succinct, surprising and above all relevant editorial. The long report on global warming last week was so dull and undigested it seemed to have been copied from a webpage.

Research by rival publishers has shown that when weekly readers are given First they like it and feel being seen with a news title has cachet. Until they are told the price and then they balk at paying £1.20 for something which doesn't even have Martine looking fat in a bikini.

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