'I know what women want'

Its rivals were quick to stick in the stiletto, but Glamour is now the bestselling monthly magazine in Britain. Editor Jo Elvin describes the essence of its success to Ciar Byrne

Jo Elvin has a short attention span. She is also the editor of the newly crowned best- selling monthly magazine in Britain. The two are not incompatible. In fact, Elvin's self-confessed "flitting" is entirely representative of the readers of
Glamour, a publishing phenomenon which has proved to a once sceptical magazine market that small is beautiful by selling 605,000 copies a month, nearly 150,000 more than its closest rival
Cosmopolitan, according to circulation figures released last week.

Jo Elvin has a short attention span. She is also the editor of the newly crowned best- selling monthly magazine in Britain. The two are not incompatible. In fact, Elvin's self-confessed "flitting" is entirely representative of the readers of Glamour, a publishing phenomenon which has proved to a once sceptical magazine market that small is beautiful by selling 605,000 copies a month, nearly 150,000 more than its closest rival Cosmopolitan, according to circulation figures released last week.

"She'll be flicking through while she's on the phone, or on the internet," explains Elvin, describing Glamour's target reader as a "switched on, urban thinking" girl in her late twenties. "It's for the kind of people for whom airlines made upper-economy class. Not quite rich enough to be living the Vogue lifestyle, but that doesn't mean she doesn't want to," Elvin adds.

When Glamour sashayed on to the scene in March 2001, rivals were quick to stick in the stiletto. "It's just a pygmy," said Duncan Edwards, the managing director of Cosmopolitan's publisher the National Magazine Company. Cathleen Black, the president of parent company Hearst Magazines, told a conference of Cosmo editors to squash Glamour "like a little armadillo on the road".

They have now been forced to eat their Philip Treacy hats. Since late 2003, Cosmo has been conducting trials of a "travel size" edition, identical in proportions to Glamour's A5 format, which it is now preparing to put on a more regular footing. Marie Claire also sells in an A5 edition at airports and major London stations, and Elle has followed suit this month.

Elvin is surprised it took them so long. "When Glamour came bolting out of the gates I thought 'Everyone's going to jump on to this', but I guess it's almost slightly embarrassing to have to admit that I was right. I've never panicked because I've always expected it to happen."

Although Cosmo's travel size was on sale for half of the six-month period covered by last week's figures, the magazine's circulation slipped by 1.2 per cent year on year.

Critics have attributed Glamour's success to the novelty of its fit-in-a-handbag size and its lower cover price - the magazine launched at £1.50 and now costs £1.90 compared to Cosmo's £2.85 - but Elvin is confident that it is what is between the covers that has won the day.

"The fact that Cosmo hasn't moved a jot since they've done the price-cutting and the travel-size thing is the final vindication that there is more to Glamour than that," she says.

When Glamour overtook Cosmo to become the best-selling women's magazine in 2002, it was seen as an important landmark, but Elvin downplays the competition between the two glossies. "I hate to do their ads for them, but what they say is true. Their sales have not suffered since we launched. That's because we are very different magazines."

When Cosmo launched in 1972, women were struggling to break into a man's world. "It has a valid place in publishing history. It was about being successful, but on quite masculine terms. To be taken seriously in the boardroom it was all about shoulder pads and hard red lipstick and being ballsy," Elvin says.

Thirty years later, Glamour is designed to appeal in a post-feminist era. "As the group of women who were the target age we didn't feel that we had to be ball-busters to be successful," says Elvin. "I'm not saying that the glass ceiling has been well and truly shattered, but I don't think women feel they have to hide their feminine strengths to be successful any more."

Sex is another important point of difference between the two magazines. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Glamour's publisher Condé Nast, summed this up when the magazine first launched. "The Cosmo girl usually goes to bed on the first date and probably can't remember the bloke's name the following morning. The Glamour girl makes him wait until the third date and insists he take her shopping the next morning."

"Cosmo's full of real-life stories about 'I bonked my boss on the bonnet of a car', we don't do that," agrees Elvin, summing up Glamour's approach to relationships as "more cerebral and emotional, honest and realistic".

"To me that's one of the markers of a younger magazine. If your readers are titillated by something a bit rude and naughty, that is territory for people to whom sex is quite a new thing. Whereas our readers are mostly living with their boyfriends or husbands and they're a little bit bewildered at where all the sex has gone sometimes."

So what is the essence of Glamour's success? Elvin believes it is the ability to flow seamlessly from features on 10 fantastic handbags to serious stories about women's lives. One of Elvin's proudest achievements was when Glamour became the first magazine to go to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban and offer expertise to a women's magazine that had emerged from the underground. Securing the first interview with Sadie Frost following her marriage break-up from Jude Law was another coup.

Born in Sydney, Elvin, 34, began her magazine career on Australia's teen bible, Dolly. After an unhappy stint as a publicist on Neighbours - "it wasn't for me" - she moved to London, and worked as a barmaid and waitress before being appointed deputy editor of TV Hits magazine. She went on to launch teen titles B and Sugar then graduated to the women's market as editor of New Woman.

But Glamour, which has existed in the US since 1939, was her Holy Grail. "I've always been really obsessed with American culture - magazines and TV shows - so I'd always loved American Glamour. When Nicholas [Coleridge] was casting his net, I was the one whose jaw was on the floor and my arms around his ankles."

Having far and away surpassed her launch target of achieving a circulation of 350,000, Elvin's next ambition is to maintain Glamour's position at the top of the market through "gentle evolution" of a winning formula and brand extension.

This year saw the magazine's first Woman of the Year awards, won by the singer Christina Aguilera, whom Elvin admires because she made a go of her musical career despite being slated in the press for "wearing chaps and making a rude video".

Elvin is "thrilled" by Glamour's success, but she is far from complacent. "People do have this idea that we all sit around sipping champagne while we have our manicures, but when you have a magazine that everyone is so visibly chasing it's incredibly hard work."

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