Desmond to slash price of 'OK!' in effort to revive US sales

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The Independent Online

Richard Desmond will slash the price of his celebrity magazine OK! in the US and change its format, only three months after launching an American version to faltering sales.

The price of the magazine will come down to $1.99 (£1.10) from $3.49 on 16 February. Mr Desmond is also rethinking OK!'s approach in an attempt to bolster sales. The magazine, which is famous for its anodyne celebrity-friendly coverage, will have a newsier approach, more like the tabloid newspapers in the UK.

Reflecting the change of emphasis, the American OK! has poached David Thompson, a young British star who was previously at the downmarket tabloid The Globe, to a senior role overseeing its news content on the west coast of the US.

The changes come after critics have said OK!'s sales have been soft since the launch in October, despite $10m being spent on a television and trade magazine advertising campaign. Sources who monitor OK!'s operations believe that weekly sales have fallen to less than 200,000 on some occasions.

A spokeswoman for the US version of OK! denied this, saying weekly circulation was "well ahead" of the 350,000 weekly sales it has guaranteed to its advertisers. She added that the price cut was part of a promotional drive which is intended to end in May and said that while OK! would have a newsier feel, "its core values of sympathetic coverage and direct relationships with stars remain unchanged".

Mr Desmond's company, Northern & Shell, owns the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Daily Star. The colourful businessman put up $100m to launch OK! in America's intensively competitive celebrity magazine market.

But the project has been beset with problems, including clashing with the publishing giant Wenner Media over a plan to poach Nicola McCartney to become the next head of the American OK!.

Ms McCartney, a one-time editor of the British OK! who also worked briefly as executive editor at US Weekly, was to become editor-in-chief of the American OK! in April, succeeding Sarah Ivens. After a legal tussle with Wenner over the plan to hire Ms McCartney, she will not be joining OK! in the US after all. Ms Ivens will continue as editor-in-chief.

Meanwhile, observers believe that Mr Desmond is rapidly burning through his $100m investment and there are rumours circulating in publishing circles that the colourful businessman might seek a partner to invest in OK!'s operations, or even pull the plug on the business. Northern & Shell would not comment yesterday.