Magazines Teen Market: Losing readers to MySpace? Then this could be the answer

As the magazine-buying habits of teenagers are thrown into disarray by the internet, the print industry needs to come up with a response. At 'CosmoGIRL!', the editor reckons she has. Charlotte Philby reports
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The Independent Online

The teen magazine market is suffering. Internet sites are luring readers away from the printed word toward their computer screens, with stark consequences.

Hachette Filipacchi blamed digital platforms for the decline in readership that led it to abandon ELLEgirl last year. Emap closed Smash Hits magazine after 28 years of production. Circulation of CosmoGIRL!, owned by National Magazines and a subsidiary of Hearst, has fallen in circulation from 173,135 in 2005 to 142,010 this year.

Yet Celia Duncan, the editor of CosmoGIRL! since its launch in 2002, dismisses claims that her publication is under threat. What is more, she has made the bold decision to use the internet, one of the key causes of her falling sales, as the platform for this month's issue.

November marks the second annual music edition, which has a carefully prepared formula. Try to picture the scene: a happy-go- lucky 15-year-old girl (the average age of Cosmopolitan's "fun, younger sister") purchases the new edition of her preferred glossy. It features interviews with some of her favourite bands, most likely composed of emaciated boys with tousled curls, dressed in tight jeans so skin-tight that they are surely a detriment to natural circulation. While swooning over heart-throbs, scrutinising the antics of the popular Hollywood set, and eyeing up the latest trends, the reader is directed by vertical print along the side of the page to either the magazine's official website www.cosmo girl.co.uk, or CosmoGIRL!'s link on the Rupert Murdoch-owned website that has been held responsible for stealing the attentions of a huge number of teenage magazine-readers: www.my space.com/ cosmogirlmagazine.

When logged on to the appropriate web page, as indicated by the relevant magazine page, the reader will find an image of an iPod containing songs that correlate to 25 of the 130 pages in the publication. Here, she can listen as she reads to a carefully selected theme-tune, creating a multi-media experience. For example, on the fashion page Wear It Your Way, she will be directed to listen to the Arctic Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor".

Duncan responds to the suggestion that leading valuable readers into the hands of the enemy is unwise. "We were concerned when we set up our MySpace page in April this year that we would be encouraging our readers to spend more time on the site. In fact we've found it to be the most amazing interactive marketing tool ever, and it doesn't cost a dime."

Cash up-front may not be required to set up a MySpace page, but surely the long-term damage of sending readers into the depths of the world's most popular social networking site could cost the publication more than a subscription fee? "We're now the No1 teen-magazine page on the site," Duncan says. "What's interesting is that our subscribers want more than anything to be featured in the magazine, so I don't feel we're losing out. We've tailored it to complement each monthly edition. It was designed to help us better understand the way they think about things, and it's been an amazing success."

MySpace is one of a growing number of social-networking sites, which have taken over the role traditionally fulfilled by teenage lifestyle magazines. The communications regulator Ofcom has estimated that 54 per cent of young people regularly use such sites, resulting in less time spent reading magazines, listening to radio, and watching the television.

The official CosmoGIRL! website, www.cosmogirl.co.uk, was launched at the same time as the publication started in 2002, three years after the birth of the American version. Duncan says that the web-page has allowed the brand to access an audience that it could not reach through the magazine alone. So why is there a need for the MySpace alternative? Does it not distract readers from the official site?

"It's not an either/or situation," Duncan says. "Cosmogirl.co.uk serves an entirely different purpose, acting as a far broader platform. It's much deeper, with layers of pages, offering competit-ions, celebrity gossip, horoscopes and style advice. Our MySpace is only one page deep, and acts as a community for very loyal readers. We've creating a forum where they can see what other girls are doing. We receive comments from readers about the publication, and we feature eight different 'top friends' every month. It's a very positive thing."

Duncan is a positive woman. She prides her magazine on its "confidence-boosting formula". "We've inherited this from our mother brand [Cosmopolitan], promoting self-confidence in our readers. Equally important is the drive to push the barriers and try new things."

Trying new things is one of Duncan's personal principles. She studied Russian at Bristol University, before taking a post-graduate course in periodical journalism at City University. She contributed to the Moscow Guardian while acting as clubbing correspondent for iD magazine and researching Russian stories for Channel 4's Eurotrash, the deliberately cheesy late-night TV focusing on "soft porn, titillation and eroticism".

Despite falling sales, Duncan remains an optimist. "We've been doing better than our competitors. Though our figures have fallen, it wasn't by as much as our two main rivals. The key to our success is having a unique selling point - the link to the biggest magazine-brand in the world, as a global product."

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