Does Red really stand for revolution?

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The Independent Online
Men, teens and home-improvers have been blessed with new, inspired magazines whose innovation has brought them rising sales. Meanwhile, what has the women's market been doing, asks Paul McCann, and will January's new launch from Emap really be the next Big Thing?

It has been a good year for magazines. Paper prices fell, the election-timed consumer boom boosted advertising and publishers moved quickly to get new titles on the shelves. According to Register Information Services, over 180 magazines were launched this year.

While some of those magazines were for women, like Wagadon's Frank, it has been impossible to ignore the feeling that while men's magazines, teen magazines and even homes and interiors magazines are making hay while the sun shines, the classic woman's glossy is in the doldrums.

Last year was the year of the teen magazine. The introduction of the "Baby Cosmo", Sugar, by Attic Futura shook this highly competitive sector out of its complacency. Sugar devastated Just 17's circulation and forced its publishers to redesign in the style of its new rival - a perfect-bound monthly aping the style of grown-up glossies.

The year before, the action had centred around men's magazines and the oft-quoted revolution brought about by Loaded. This year the revolutionaries became the establishment when in July FHM overtook sales of Cosmopolitan to be the best-selling glossy lifestyle magazine in the country. FHM is selling more than 500,000 while Cosmo dipped after years hovering at 450,000.

Magazine editors believe men's magazines are outpacing women's titles because they have taken risks and invested in innovative journalism: "Women's magazines are stuffed with people who grew up with women's magazines," said Richard Benson, editor of The Face, Britain's first style magazine for men and women. "But it is only when you are pushing against the boundaries of a format that you produce good things and if you're steeped in it you're not pushing against it.

"Loaded gave a forum to writers from the music press who had been putting out intelligent, funny journalism for years. They helped reinvent the form. Women's magazines think and act in cliche."

Instead, this year the big developments have been in the specialist niches of the women's market. More precisely targeted homes magazines have been taking advantage of the fact that during the current economic upturn people are not selling their houses, but are instead staying put, spending money and time doing them up. A fashion statement for some people is more likely to be a Heal's sofa than a designer outfit. There were four significant launches into this market and the rising sales of titles like Period Living - which has seen its sales treble in two years from 35,000 to around 100,000 - illustrate the health of the sector.

The parenting market has also seen the salami get sliced even thinner as five new magazines launched this year. There are now "family" magazines from the BBC that are absolutely up-to-date and include single parents and working parents in their definition of families. And then there are even Christian parenting magazines that have a more traditional view. A new "emotional" family magazine is planned by the National Magazine Company.

Despite all this activity, women's magazines still lack the "vision thing". The last one to shake the market up was Marie Claire's "I was a child bride in a Brazilian brothel" features and its affordable fashion. And Marie Claire will be 10 years old next year.

"It is difficult to see change in the glossy market because there is so much money at stake," says Richard Britton, director of press at the media buying agency CIA Medianetwork. "They have the formula of sex, fashion, beauty and health and they dare not stray away from it. The ones which have tried to reinvent themselves, like SHE, are not really any better off."

Many looked to Frank to break the mould with more intelligent, grown- up writing, and no horoscopes or sex advice, but it is generally thought to have been disappointing and anyway is still on the fringes of the market. Its editor, Tina Gaudoin, previously worked at Tatler, and Frank is very much an exclusive, upmarket read. Its sales are unlikely to go much higher than 100,000.

Richard Britton thinks it is worth looking at the mass-market women's weekly titles to see how the paradigm can be shifted. After years of declining sales the popular weeklies have been given a shot in the arm by magazines like Now and Here. They threw out the traditional knitting, puzzles and true-life stories of magazines like Woman and Woman's Own, and replaced them with a much more tabloid newspaper diet of celebrity gossip and (post- Diana you have to whisper the word) paparazzi pictures.

If music journalists provided the drive for the lads' mag boom and tabloid newspapers the inspiration for change among the women's weeklies, Kath Brown thinks newspapers can provide the model for her new magazine.

Kath Brown was the woman behind the wildly successful Sugar. Now she is editing Red, the magazine from Emap that launches next month and the one that gathered plenty of pre-launch publicity with the new demographic group known as "middle youth" - the 30- to 40-year-olds with children, gardens and a Radiohead album. The post-punk mothers who will never wear a Laura Ashley print frock.

"All my features people have come from newspapers rather than magazines," says Brown. "It's so we can have a fresh approach to what we're doing because everyone in their 30s has been reading magazines for over 10 years. And newspapers have become very good at features. Women my age are getting more pleasure from the Real Life section of The Independent on Sunday than those in magazines. They're better than we are at it and it's time that magazines got their act together."

Red is to be the biggest magazine launch since Marie Claire and will not be niche. It is looking for a circulation of 200,000 at the outset but wants to be much bigger.

A lot of revolutionary talk is spouted before new magazines appear, which frequently end up looking much of a muchness with their rivals. Only time, and ultimately sales, will tell if newspaper features and an older target market really is the big new idea.

Women's magazines launched in 1997

title month publisher

Food and Travel 12 Fox Publishing Ltd

Tesco 6 Forward Publishing Ltd

Time to Cook 9 Prism Publising Ltd

Hair for You 9 Style Publishing

30 Beautiful Homes 9 IPC Magazines Southbank Publishing

Beautiful Living 6 H.Bauer Publishing

Inspirations 6 GE Magazines

Sainsbury Homebase Living 4 Redwood Publishing

Cross Stitch Gallery 5 Creative Crafts Publishing

BBC Family Life 9 BBC Worldwide Publishing Ltd

Early Learning Magazine 4 Redwood Publishing

Pregnancy Plus 6 Book Production Consultants

Promise 9 Pace Media Limited

Bridal Guide 5 Time Warner Publisher Services

Occasions 9 Business Marketing International Ltd

Wedding Hair & Beauty 12 Style Publishing

Conde Nast Traveller 10 Conde Nast Publications Limited

GMTV Magazine 5 IPC Magazines Southbank Publishing

Passion CD magazine 5 Passion Publishing Ltd

Made Up! 10 IPC Magazines Southbank Publishing

Frank 9 Wagadon

Panache 9 ASAP Communications Limited

So 10 Beyond Communications

B magazine 4 Attic Futura (UK) Limited

Source: Register Information Services