Hello! and OK! feel the pinch from gossipy rivals

The rise in popularity of celebrity magazines Hello! and OK! has been halted by a new generation of titles.

Sales of Hello! fell by 36 per cent per issue to 347,416 in six months, while dropped by 22 per cent to 489,882.

Readers appear to prefer the cheaper titles packed with celebrity gossip, over the saccharine interviews and staged pictures of actors and aristocrats favoured by OK! and Hello!, the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) reveal.

The show business-oriented Closer magazine, launched last September by Emap, has achieved average issue sales of 334,542 copies in its first year. In the same market, New! magazine, launched in February by Richard Desmond, the Express Newspapers proprietor, recorded a first official ABC circulation of 339,035.

Mr Desmond's Now! magazine, the market leader in the celebrity category, recorded a sales drop of 35,000 in the last six months to 590,544, but an annual rise of 3 per cent.

The dwindling sales of Hello! and OK! is partly explained by a reduction in the number of copies given away in hotels and airports. Hello! gave away or sold at a discount 10,000 fewer magazines, from 145,000 last year. OK! has almost halved "give-aways" from 120,000 last year to 70,000.

Both were once regarded as certain winners with strong reader loyalty. Since its launch in 1988, Hello!'s mix of photospreads and gentle interviews proved popular with readers.

Mr Desmond, who made his fortune from pornography, launched OK! eight years later in 1996. Thanks to deals with David and Victoria Beckham, Michael Jackson and other stars, OK! became the market leader.

But the cost of star buy-ups and privacy cases have tarnished the top end of the market. This summer Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas won a High Court battle against Hello! over the unauthorised use of pictures from their wedding, which had been sold exclusively to OK!.

In the latest figures, Heat, also published by Emap, was the only established magazine to increase circulation - by 2 per cent to 565,484 in the last six months.

The figures showed declining fortunes in the "lads' mag" sector. FHM fell by 3 per cent to 600,568 in six months but increased year-on-year sales by 3 per cent. Loaded fell by 15 per cent annually and by 9 per cent over the last six months to 261,937.

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