Terry Mansfield is feeling a little ruffled. The normally unflappable managing director of the National Magazine Company, publisher of Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Harpers & Queen, sent out an e-mail to his key staff last week, saying that he was "not worried" about the enormously successful launch of Glamour by his rival at Condé Nast, Nicholas Coleridge.
To most, it was an indication of some considerable worry. The e-mail was triggered by a gloating advert taken out in the press by Coleridge, boasting that Glamour was "straight in at No 1 in the UK" with a circulation of 450,213, beating Cosmopolitan in the women's glossy market, where it has been No 1 for decades.
"Of course, this is not true," said Mansfield. "Cosmopolitan is still No 1." Who is telling the truth? It looks like a case of literal, if understandable, economy with the truth on Coleridge's part. Glamour's circulation within the UK is indeed higher than Cosmopolitan's, which is an amazing feat and an unprecedented situation for a newly launched magazine. But count in overseas sales, and Cosmo pips its rival by 690 copies, at 452,176 to 451,486.
The result is that both men can argue they are right, but Mansfield is definitely feeling ruffled. "Cosmopolitan is a worldwide brand, operating in 43 countries," his e-mail reads defiantly. "In the next month we will be launching Cosmopolitan Bride and CosmoGIRL!. When Condé Nast is doing all that, and launching a chain of Glamour cafés, then I'll worry about the threat of serious competition."
He adds that he doesn't want to run retaliatory ads "and give people the chance to write those 'handbags at dawn' stories they love so much".
More than handbags, though, this is an outbreak of attaché cases at dawn. As an editorial prodigy, Coleridge used to work for Mansfield, who is 20 years his senior, at Nat Mags. The two could not have more contrasting styles as managing directors – and, technically, editors-in-chief – of glamorous publishing houses.
Like rival football managers before a big match, they are very polite to and about each other in public. Still, Mansfield's observations to me about Glamour have a hint of the feline quality so treasured by those of us who write "handbags at dawn" stories.
"Glamour has had tremendous success in the US, and they have been thinking about bringing it here for four years," he says. "At long last Nicholas Coleridge has brought it here. I think he's done a great job and should be congratulated. But it is being sold at a predatory price [£1.50, compared with Cosmo's £2.70]. If I had brought Cosmo down to £1.50 I wouldn't have been happy with a sale of 400,000; I would have sold 700,000.
"I don't have any battle with Nicholas Coleridge," he continues. "But I wonder how long they are going to keep it at £1.50?"
The two men's characters, like their business styles, are completely different. Mansfield is an engaging, old-fashioned character of immense and effortless charm. He speaks coolly and precisely, a little like Michael Caine in the 1960s, and has the ability to hop from person to person at a cocktail party, making even the lowliest employees feel that they are valued.
Mansfield doesn't pretend to be au fait with youth trends, and some of his lieutenants say they have spotted a degree of remoteness in his manner ahead of his scheduled retirement next year, when he is due to be succeeded by Duncan Edwards, his dynamic deputy, who is 25 years younger than him. Mansfield's greatest gift, say some who have worked with him, is as a talent-spotter, and as someone who rose up through the commercial side of magazines, he has a fine understanding of who will make an exceptional editor.
Coleridge, 43, also has a devastating charm, but it somehow seems more modern in its execution. An exceptional and precocious talent on both the publishing and editorial sides – rather like Mansfield was 20 years ago – Coleridge has a reputation for being more brutal than Mansfield, a product of a tougher media generation. He is also more hands-on as an editor-in-chief, with more confidence in his own editorial abilities.
"The world has moved on since Cosmo defined women's magazines," Coleridge says. "People are more sophisticated now. I won't knock Cosmo," he adds. "It absolutely understands a certain type of reader. But Glamour has come in and grabbed the most attractive part of the market."
In fact, Glamour claims to have done something even more remarkable, and made around 100,000 people who didn't usually read magazines at all buy Glamour every month. He says it has not been decided if and when the cover price of the mini-sized glossy is going to be increased.
Mansfield, at the age of 63, has seen the market evolve from the 1960s, when Cosmo was outrageous, to where it stands now. And he is the one who has the perspective to say: "I have seen Cosmopolitan establish itself as a global brand, in 43 countries, over 30 years. When Condé Nast has done that [with Glamour] and when it launches a chain of Glamour cafés, then I'll get really worried."Reuse content