Is The Face all partied out?

The once definitve style magazine has lost street cred and readers. Now its publisher, Emap, is trying to create a new title to recapture the youth market.
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The Independent Online

In what many are interpreting as yet another signal of the impending demise of self-styled style bible The Face, insiders at new owner Emap are reportedly developing a new lifestyle magazine title, Project Pop, to be for this decade what The Face "should be" for those who think the original title has lost its kudos. While Emap's top cheeses refuse to confirm or deny details of any new launch plans, others in the industry are wondering just what style and format a new The Face for the "noughties" might adopt.

In what many are interpreting as yet another signal of the impending demise of self-styled style bible The Face, insiders at new owner Emap are reportedly developing a new lifestyle magazine title, Project Pop, to be for this decade what The Face "should be" for those who think the original title has lost its kudos. While Emap's top cheeses refuse to confirm or deny details of any new launch plans, others in the industry are wondering just what style and format a new The Face for the "noughties" might adopt.

The Face reigned supreme as style bible in the Eighties but struggled to retain its pre-eminence in the Nineties against young upstarts such as Dazed & Confused and a host of underground-style titles like Tank. It spawned a host of imitators; newspapers began to write regularly about the strange ways of the young. And TV discovered "yoof".

Recently described, somewhat dubiously, as "the Queen Mother of style magazines", The Face suffered indignity last year when, after circulation figures had slipped to 71,382, creator and founder Nick Logan sold out to Emap.

It was a move many media analysts predicted would turn his flagship magazine into something "sterile and bland".

"There was certainly a fear that under new ownership, The Face would weaken by becoming more mainstream," one senior media planner observes.

"It's not that there was any doubt about Emap's publishing abilities - far from it. It was to do with a title that for two decades had typified the notion of 'free spirit' becoming part of a big, broad-based, sales-driven consumer publishing group."

The point is not wasted on Paul Keenan, until recently managing director of Emap Metro and now chief executive of Emap Digital, who is tired of hearing The Face written off and keen to point out that despite numerous obituaries, it has an uncanny knack of making a comeback. "It would be easy to sell more copies; the issue is more about enhancing its reputation in the constituency you care about," he said.

In the months following the acquisition, fears that The Face might "sell out" have proved unfounded. The downside, however, is that very little seems to have altered at all.

The editorial mix of the title remains little changed - cause for complaint by some that as long ago as the mid-Nineties The Face had lost sight of who it was talking to and that even under new ownership it's still yet to get back on track. Meanwhile, sales are still struggling.

" The Face is caught between a rock and a hard place," GQ's editor Dylan Jones believes. "It can either go more mainstream, or wilfully stray off the radar. For the time being, however, it's difficult to see quite what it plans to do."

Just what The Face "should be" seems simple. It "should be" what it has always stood for: an authoritative voice on cutting edge lifestyle and fashion.

According to editor Johnny Davis, The Face has always has stood for "giving people their head". It's about doing many things - not just rock, lifestyle or fashion. And its strength lies in not disappearing up its own backside. "So many other magazines are very, very cool with a capital C, very dictatorial. I hope we do it with a sense of fun," he told The Independent earlier this year.

Yet while the brand name remains strong in advertising terms, reality for Britain's original chronicle of pop culture is a rather different matter: for The Face is struggling to appeal to younger style-setters.

"When it launched 20 years ago there were no national newspaper style sections, satellite TV, MTV or internet - all of which now conspire to do exactly the same as The Face," Mr Jones observes. "If you want to know about the latest, cutting edge designer or film director you can just as easily find this in the Saturday Telegraph Magazine."

While the current position of The Face is felt by some to be more a reflection of changes in the marketplace than problems with the product itself there is, by definition, a suggestion here that as a product, it has failed to stay one step ahead.

Now, rather than re-launch the brand and risk alienating its existing core audience, Emap appears to have decided to maintain the title in its present form for its present readership while investing new efforts and resources into creating something as ground-breaking as The Face once was for today's style-conscious young consumer.

It's a formula likely to raise eyebrows - in the same way that IPC did with recent attempts to reinvent Sixties style bible Nova for a contemporary audience.

"To come up with Face 2000 you would need to do a completely different magazine covering completely different things," says Mr Jones. "Late teens and early twenty-somethings consume culture in a far more diverse manner than their predecessors. There's no virtue in reformatting what The Face does for a younger, more contemporary market." Sources suggest that Project Pop will be a monthly, agenda-setting, cutting edge lifestyle format and that its viewpoint and agenda will be what sets it apart.

Whether print remains the most appropriate medium to stand out and be different in the eyes of today's young style-makers remains to be seen, but Emap will hedge its bets by ensuring Project Pop (unlike The Face) is a brand transferable between radio, TV and new media as well as print from day one.

"There is always going to be room for something style-orientated and carefully targeted, and much of Emap's business success has come down to being in touch with much younger consumers and youth trends across a number of different media," Yvonne Scullion, who is client services director at Universal McCann, the media division of advertising agency McCann Erickson observes.

"If anyone can pull it off, I'd say Emap can." She may be right, but Emap cannot expect an open field. Already, other publishers are also exploring the potential to cash in on post-teen cutting edge culture "noughties" style, including the team behind one of The Face's young upstart rivals - Dazed and Confused.

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