'I don't just do sex. There's room for intelligence'

As Cosmopolitan prepares for a relaunch, does this mean the days of the multiple orgasm are numbered? Editor Lorraine Butler faces the challenge of making a magazine nearly three decades old stand out from its newsstand rivals

The unwary visitor to the offices of
Cosmopolitan last week would have had to negotiate their way past not just the usual security staff and receptionists, but a desk full of five dildos "in the process of being tested by staff", a cut-out of Latino pop star Jennifer Lopez and a selection of nipple tassles.

The unwary visitor to the offices of Cosmopolitan last week would have had to negotiate their way past not just the usual security staff and receptionists, but a desk full of five dildos "in the process of being tested by staff", a cut-out of Latino pop star Jennifer Lopez and a selection of nipple tassles.

That said, Lorraine Butler, the magazine's new editor, doesn't want you to think Cosmopolitan is just about sex. "I'm amazed when people say to me 'it's just full of sex'. Firstly, there's nothing wrong with that, but secondly, it's not. We've campaigned to have the date rape drug GHB banned, and for various people who were wrongly convicted. If I was here just to do sex, as a former features editor of The Times I would be completely the wrong person for the job."

If she sounds a little impassioned, it's not surprising. What people think about Cosmopolitan is at the forefront of Butler's thoughts at the moment, as she prepares for her relaunched magazine to hit the stands next week.

The 32-year-old, who succeeded Mandi Norwood at the helm of Britain's best-selling women's glossy in June, is about to unveil some radical changes - and with them, attempt to buck the trend of drip-drip decline in the sector's circulation. The cover design and inside typefaces, which have remained constant for years, have been overhauled, and new sections added. But Butler, a pert, slim blonde who, like her blunt predecessor, claims to embody " Cosmo spirit" to a "t", is keen to stress that the tone of the magazine will remain much as it always has. "I would never change what it's about. It's an award-winning, number one formula, I'd be daft to change it. We're refreshing and modernising it."

Set against a plethora of new titles, the 28-year-old magazine was starting to look its age, its "orgasm" quips a little spent. While the covers were right for their time, says Butler, they had begun to feel "old-fashioned. The October cover is more glamorous and modern. I'm a big fan of spending hours on cover lines and while we won't change the tone, I think we can be cleverer, make them work a bit harder."

It is not just design that is getting a makeover. Butler is to introduce a new section at the front of the magazine, a mixture of celebrity, fashion and beauty, a formula that has seen "celeb fashion" mags such as Now carve their way into the circulation war, and has prompted rivals to include some of the same. Celebrity, she acknowledges, is now a necessary offering in the women's market, although she adds that they don't "need" to do it to sell the magazine.

But what the editor really wants is to recover some of the edgy controversy that characterised Cosmo in its younger years, largely through what she terms "intelligent" writing, and from names more often seen in newspaper columns. "Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf used to write for Cosmo and in the last five years, it's been a hit, but we've lost a bit of that. We're never going to become Granta, but there is room for intelligent think pieces," she says.

In mind, she has writers such as Bitch author Elizabeth Wurtzel, as well as newspaper journalists who she believes could be encouraged to write for a women's magazine. The relaunch, she says, is about "giving Cosmo that voice back", and tackling issues that other women's magazines might not want to.

Considering just what has appeared in women's magazines over the past few years, it is a little hard to imagine what that might be. But what the new Cosmo will retain is its relentless positivity. And the sex. "The Cosmo reader is as happy to see naked male centrefolds as she is to read a serious piece about date rape today. It's a fantastic formula; Mandi Norwood did great things and Marcelle (d'Argy Smith) did what she did with it as well... I hope I'm not the one who makes history by grinding it into the ground."

This last is spoken too gaily for her to consider it a real possibility. Certainly, based on her past history, it's unlikely. Butler has enjoyed a Formula One race through some of the top jobs in journalism. From deputy editor of Marie Claire, she was appointed features editor of the Times, where, within three months of starting she was approached by Duncan Edwards, National Magazines' deputy managing director. As someone who read the magazine from age 12, she considered it her dream job, and accepted with only the smallest of backward glances at her most recent employers.

"I've been moving fast," she says. "My only regret is that I've moved quite quickly through jobs, but it's only because something has always come up that was unmissable."

Butler's career beginnings were inauspicious. She left school without qualifications and began work on her local paper, the Cornish Times. It was that newspaper grounding, "spelling people's names correctly", that has stood her in good stead - and it's one she values in her own staff. "I almost make it a prerequisite because you know how things work, you've learned about the importance of accuracy and how things are put together." No surprise, then, that she has just appointed a new deputy with a print pedigree, Helen Johnston from Femail.

Cosmopolitan's last ABC, while down 4.3 per cent year on year, was still 20,000 ahead of its nearest rival, Marie Claire. And Butler, while admitting that the imminent UK launches of Condé Nast's Glamour and Time Life's In Style are likely to have some impact, is bullish about the magazine's position. Despite the plethora of recent "intelligent" launches, from Emap's Red to the BBC's Eve, she says she doesn't even count them as rivals. "I think Eve is boring. Cosmo is fun and happy, it's about keeping it positive. Look, I've been up against Marie Claire, who've been covermounting like mad and we've moved even further ahead. If you're giving the reader what she wants - and we are, although it sounds arrogant - we should be OK."

She insists that there is enough point of difference to keep Cosmopolitan in the top slot. "The formula will keep us unique. It teaches you every aspect of women's lives, it's about what's most important to them, relationships. You don't find that anywhere else alongside news and tongue-in-cheek sex features. We are the only magazine that does that package."

Self-confidence, then, appears to be a prerequisite in the Cosmo girl of today. Either way, she stresses that to survive on the magazine, one has to "lead a bit of a Cosmo life". (In Butler's case, this currently involves fretting about whether the weather will hold for her imminent beachside wedding). Most Cosmopolitan editors last between five and seven years. Butler believes she will probably last around the same.

"I think that would be sensible. I would be too old and unfashionable to carry on then. And one has to have lots of sex to be editor of Cosmo, and with kids and things I probably wouldn't be." She is keen to stress afterwards that she is joking. But not that keen. Lorraine Butler is a Cosmo girl, after all.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Guru Careers: PR Account Director / SAM

£50 - 60k (DOE) + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A PR Account Director / SAM ...

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific