Celebrity magazines feel the heat as gossip sites boom

The Brangelina twins have arrived, Madonna will enter her sixth decade tomorrow and we are in the midst of the latest series of Big Brother. But despite the glut of celebrity gossip, sales of celebrity magazines have hit the buffers.

Titles such as Heat!, Closer and Reveal saw their sales plunge, in the latest figures from the Audited Bureau of Circulation.

The success of gossip websites, the economic downturn and growing apathy towards Big Brother were responsible for the collapse, industry experts said.

Heat! magazine's sales fell under the half a million mark to 470,129 for the six-month period to the end of June – 11.8 per cent down on the previous six months, and a 15.8 per cent decline on the 558,365 copies it recorded one year ago. The rival celebrity title Reveal fared worst of all, losing just over a fifth of its circulation, down from 347,257 last year to 277,002. Closer magazine fell by 7.5 per cent on last year, while Love It! fell by 7.1 per cent.

Hello! bucked the trend, no doubt helped by winning the rights to show the first pictures of the new twins of the Hollywood A-listers Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, earlier this month. The title increased its cover price to £2.50 from its usual 50p for the special edition, which contained 17 pages of glossy images of Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline. Its circulation rose to 427,054 at the end of June, 8 per cent higher than the previous six-month period and 1.7 per cent up on a year ago.

OK! magazine's circulation was up by 9 per cent on last year at 607,048.

Mark Gallagher, executive director at media agency Manning Gottlieb, said the glossies had been knocked sideways by the evaporating interest in Channel 4's reality television show.

"Big Brother is massive for these titles and it just hasn't been a water-cooler conversation topic this time round," said Mr Gallagher. "That will have had a significant impact on sales. Consumers may have also realised that these magazines are very similar in content. It could be that the same number of consumers are now buying less titles. The sector has simply peaked."

Paul Grainge, a media expert at Nottingham University, said the drop might be attributable to a squeeze on readers' disposable income: "The magazine market is very unstable and it would come as no surprise if tough economic conditions were to blame."

The internet plays a role: websites such as Popbitch, Perez Hilton and TMZ are popular for their waspish, regularly updated content. "There is a real generational change going on at the moment and many young consumers are using websites for their gossip," said Ellis Cashmore, author of the book Celebrity Culture. "These sites are updated several times a day and are free. Consumers may not see any point in buying a copy of Heat! or Hello! at the end of the week."

He added: "Although circulation is falling, it has to be remembered that in most cases they are falling from a very high starting point as they have had a lot of early success."

The publicist Max Clifford said: "I think the celebrity magazine market is suffering from a credibility problem. Readers are beginning to realise that so much of what is in them is fiction, which lessens the excitement of buying them. Celebrity culture is not on the wane, though. You only have to look at the number of people who queue up at auditions of reality TV shows in the hope of becoming celebrities themselves."

A report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising last month showed that advertisers were moving away from traditional media, opting instead for the internet. It found companies were ditching advertising in magazines, newspapers, radio and television during the second quarter of 2008 in favour of the internet.