Business Analysis: Women's weeklies back in vogue as publishers cash in

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The Independent Online

The women's weekly magazine market has enjoyed seemingly unstoppable growth over the past few years, as launch after launch has tempted readers away from their traditional staple diet of monthly glossies. Yesterday, the UK publishing giant Emap revealed it is to push yet another contender into the weekly women's sector, with a chunky £12m launch budget.

Established monthlies such as Glamour, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan - once the darlings of the UK female magazine sector - have been losing supporters in their thousands over the past few years. Meanwhile, weekly titles such as Pick Me Up, which has generated sales of 500,000 from a standing start just 14 months ago, have been going from strength to strength. By the end of last year, sales of women's weekly magazines were pushing 10 million, a rise of more than 25 per cent in the past four years.

Today, Daily Mail & General Trust aims to become the latest publisher to try to steal a piece of the action - relaunching its Mail on Sunday supplement, You, as a glossy weekly title available on the news stands every Tuesday. Although the more patient reader will still be able to pick it up for free the following weekend with the MoS, DMGT hopes to persuade 150,000 women to pay £1 each week to get their hands on the glossy five days early.

You is the third new weekly tittle to hit the news stands in less than two months, and the seventh major launch since the start of last year. With the news yesterday that Emap plans to launch another title this summer, concerns about market saturation have heightened.

Lorna Tilbian, at Numis Securities, says many media companies feel under pressure to regularly launch new titles because of an increased "promiscuity" in the consumer magazines market. "We're all multitasking these days, and now we're all multi-buying too," she says. "If you buy something like Grazia, you've read it by the end of your Tube journey. The weekly magazines are not as big, so you can read more of them."

She concedes that the recent number of launches cannot be sustainable: "The sector's still in its growth phase. But eventually it has to become saturated."

The relaunch of You comes just weeks after two more weekly titles hit the shelves for the first time. The Anglo-Australian publisher NatMag launched Real People in January, while Rupert Murdoch's News International made its debut in the UK consumer magazine market last month with Love It!

Both of these latest titles compete in the fast-growing "real life", or "easy entertainment", market, where the stars of the show are everyday people with extraordinary stories. "My baby died as I breastfed him" reads the cover line on a recent issue of Love It! "Girl, 3, left with sadist so mum could go boozing" reports Full House, which launched 12 months ago.

These real-life titles have captured the imagination of thousands of readers who are less interested in the aspirational features of the glossies, and more interested in stories they can relate to.

And it is this market which Emap is looking to steal a piece of with its launch this summer. Louise Matthews, the managing director of Emap Entertainment, says the group's new magazine, codenamed Project Jackie for the moment, will bring a fresh, "slightly more intelligent" twist to the real-life sector. Targeted at mothers heading back into the workplace, she says it hopes to build off the success of factual entertainment programmes such as Jamie's School Dinners and Supernanny.

Ms Matthews hopes Project Jackie will provide another prong to its attack on the established monthlies, and more tired weekly magazines, complementing the success of Grazia, its weekly glossy which launched 13 months ago.

Grazia has similar content to some of the traditional glossies, but keeps its material more up to date by publishing every week. Although it retails for less than half the cover price of the likes of Cosmopolitan, Numis's Ms Tilbian says its weekly print run ensures it has turned over four or five issues for every one Cosmo. And with weekly sales of 170,000, it's not far behind the monthly numbers for Elle and Vogue.

The key to the glossies' survival remains their advertising success. But, with the premium advertisers such as designer brands largely uninterested in the real-life titles, these magazines rely on high circulation. Ms Matthews believes the likes of Real People and Love It! will need to shift at least 500,000 copies a week to become profitable.

She points out that magazines can come and go in weeks if the reader support is not there. Hachette's Crime Confidential, for example, lasted just six weeks last year before it was pulled.

Anna Trinder, a media buyer at OMD, the advertising agency, says advertisers will usually get behind a launch if there is a serious commitment from the owner. Emap invested £16m in the launch of Grazia, while DMGT is putting £8m into the relaunch of You. "So long as the owner is putting a decent amount of money behind the launch, the advertisers will usually have faith," Ms Trinder says. "It's also quite important who is behind the project. For instance, News International just launched a new title, and you know with a company like that, that it's going to be more than just a whim."

Ms Trinder adds that she believes there is at least another year before the market will hit saturation, pointing out that the new titles often feed off each other in the battle to steal readers from the monthlies.

With the latest launches increasingly looking like copycat projects rather than true innovation, few disagree that it is only a matter of time before the runaway growth peters out. The next few months promise to be a game of musical chairs for the industry with each publishing house hoping to successfully get one more title away before the music stops.