Branson serenades gay market

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Richard Branson's Virgin Group has begun selling records by direct mail, targetting groups such as gays, thirtysomethings and young married mums with a series of "lifestyle" catalogues.

Virgin Entertainment Direct has already launched two catalogues. One is called Compass and is aimed at over 35s who were once music buffs but whose interest has lapsed. Styling itself as "the entertainment directory from Virgin" it offers to help thirtysomething customers navigate their way through the increasingly complicated world of music.

The other is Crash Bang Wallop, a bi-monthly magazine aimed at the gay market. Garishly produced, it sells music, videos and clothing to young gay men. Described by Virgin as a kind of Loaded magazine for gays, its products include a yellow Absolutely Fabulous t-shirt bearing the legend "Fash Mag Slag" and videos such as Builder's Mate and the Kama Sutra of Gay Sex. Next month Virgin plans a third magazine, called 4 Me, aimed at 25- 35-year-old women who are married and may have children.

The move is part of a campaign by Virgin to expand its retail division beyond the Megastore format which is only located in large cities.

HMV has already launched a lavishly produced hard-backed catalogue of over 200,000 music titles aimed at the over 30s. It says that as a third of people in Britain live 10 miles or more from a record shop, mail order music makes sense.

Virgin's approach is unsual in that it is aimed at specific demographic groups, rather than adopting a scattergun approach aimed at the mass market.

"We tried mail order in the mid 1980s but it flopped," a spokesman said. "About a year ago we decided to look at an alternative approach targetting different lifestyles. If there's a market there we can create a catalogue for it."