Teen mags: Still a girl's best friend?
As the glossy Miss Vogue hits the newsstands, Meg Carter wonders if the time-honoured relationship between teenagers and their favourite magazines can ever be rekindled
Tuesday 14 May 2013
Fashion shoots featuring products from Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo. Articles on under-21 style icons and the joy of wearing crowns. And Pixie Geldof on English fashion designer Henry Holland. Welcome to Miss Vogue – out now with the June issue of British Vogue – a teen magazine unlike those its readers' mums will recall from yesteryear.
"A lot of teenagers buy Vogue and I thought they would appreciate a publication specifically for them," according to Alexandra Shulman, editor-in-chief of British Vogue and Miss Vogue, whose inspiration for the new title is Teen Vogue, which is a success in the US. "We're doing it to see if there is the reader and the interest out there."
If there is, the publisher Condé Nast will tap into a lucrative market. Britain's 7.5 million teenagers wield spending power estimated to be worth £7bn a year and, despite the recession, young people's demand for designer goods is growing fast. The designer childrenswear sector alone grew by nearly £20m between 2007 and 2012, according to the retail analyst Verdict Research.
But can the innate acquisitiveness and aspirations of teenage girls really reverse a behavioural shift that's become engrained in recent years? To put it bluntly, British teen magazines are in decline. For proof, look no further than the dwindling number of dedicated titles now available at the newsstand and the slumping readership of those few that remain.
Just last month, Bauer Media announced it was shutting More!. The title's closure is a reflection of dwindling interest among younger sections of More!'s18- to 24-year-old heartland, some suggest, and a growing preference for digital content.
"Current data suggests that online is where teen publishers need to be in the future," observes Alison Drummond, head of insight at the media agency Carat. "Growing use by teenage girls of online magazines is coming at the cost of print sales – which are falling – as demands change, driven by a desire for social interaction online around relevant content."
The smartphone has become today's teens' most highly prized – and used –possession, and as a result this age group are lighter TV, radio and national press consumers, Carat's recent "My Phone is My Life" research shows. While teen boys use their smartphone mainly for gaming and entertainment, however, teen girls spend more time accessing non-gaming content and using social networks.
It's a marked shift and one that has resulted in teenage girls meeting the needs once served by teen magazines in interesting and unusual ways, according to Callum McGeoch, creative director at the youth engagement agency/digital youth publisher Livity, which in February switched publication of its own teen magazine, Livity, to online-only.
"Not so long ago, young women had a relationship with a trusted media brand which acted as their recommendation engine," he says. "Now, their filters are their friends and key individuals they look up to through social media networks."
Generally speaking, he adds, broad-brushstroke lifestyle titles make less sense now because so much content is consumed by this age group online where that content is accessed "vertically" – in other words, by specific subject or theme – and where video material is the most popular type of content.
For previous generations of girls, magazines have also been a trusted source for advice about relationships and a safe place to learn about love and sex. "The biggest thing we've seen replace the advice function once served by the traditional teen mag is YouTube stars vlogging from their bedrooms about relationships, sex and drugs," McGeoch says. "Meanwhile, online channels such as Zoella and Beauty Crush are the new J17, while interactive platforms such as Stardoll allow teens to create their own look rather than read about someone else having a makeover."
Consider the many teen magazine brands that have bitten the dust in recent years and it seems he has a point. Yes, you can still buy hard copies of Bliss, Mizz and Shout. But in February 2011, at the age of sweet 16, Sugar switched to online-only publication and now exists as the website Sugarscape.
Meanwhile, among the numerous fatalities during the Noughties were Cosmo Girl, Elle Girl, Smash Hits and Just Seventeen. And let's not forget those who came before, notably Jackie – though its must-read agony column by Cathy & Claire could upset your mum if she read it over your shoulder, the problems it addressed and advice it gave were timeless and wise.
Not everyone agrees the writing is on the wall of teen magazines, however. Over at Immediate Media – publisher of Top of The Pops magazine which, with sales of 72,000 every four weeks, claims to be the UK's top teen title – editor Peter Hart insists TOTP meets a need teenage girls still have while that digital content alone just can't meet. Posters, free gifts and unparalleled access to star talent willing to share personal experiences of the challenges they faced growing up are key elements of the mix, he explains: "Facebook and Twitter may be huge for teenage girls, but they only take you so far, and teen content on dedicated websites is really quite limited."
Back to Condé Nast, and publishing industry observers expect Miss Vogue to be well received thanks to the integral role print magazines still play in the high-end fashion world, the aspirational lifestyles they peddle and the premium glossy environment they offer advertisers. As Drummond points out: "An estimated 11 per cent of British Vogue's readers are 15- to 19-year-olds. So the magazine format still has relevance to younger readers."
Perhaps. But do today's offerings share the emotional resonance that defined many of their predecessors? Jackie and its rivals, including upstarts Blue Jeans and My Guy, are still regarded warmly as coming-of-age bibles by many women of a certain age.
In part this is, surely, a reflection of the era they served – a time when, with less content to choose from, teens were more easily pleased, and supportive advice about teenage problems was harder to find. And then there's nostalgia, of course. Which helps explain why decades on there's still a market for rebound Best of ... books, hardback albums and two compilations of Jackie: Dear Cathy & Claire.
But many, surely, would argue with the suggestion that today's teenage girls' need for information and support about growing up is any less. And, besides, regardless of whether it's at the bus stop on the way to school or via Facebook, the need to share experience and ask advice from friends is as great as it has always been.
Can the current crop of teen content – with its emphasis on fashion, lifestyle and celebrity in-magazine and online –have the same lasting impact? Ultimately, only time will tell.
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