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Media / Talk of the Trade: Glossy magazines lose their shine

AFTER three years of explosive growth, Cosmopolitan has recorded a surprise drop in sales: the July/December figures show a circulation of 456,703, 3 per cent down on the previous year. Terry Mansfield, managing director and publisher of National Magazines, blames aggressive cover- price rises. Cosmopolitan, which at present costs pounds 1.80, has borne six increases in two years. The last, of 10p in November, was designed to compensate for the anticipated imposition of VAT, which didn't happen. The editor, Marcelle D'Argy Smith, emphasises that Cosmopolitan is still highly profitable. But does price alone explain the setback? The magazine's heady mix of explicit sex and career-orientated articles may need refreshing. Perhaps modern women want something less sexually predatory.

MAGAZINE prices have been rising too quickly over the past couple of years, says Mr Mansfield, who also publishes She, Good Housekeeping, Harpers & Queen, Country Living, Company, Esquire and House Beautiful. After unveiling a second setback at the heart of his empire - She is down 11 per cent at 251,860 - he promised that prices would be held indefinitely. Advertising accounts for 56 per cent of National Magazines' income and cover price 44 per cent, compared with a 65/35 per cent split at rival Conde Nast.

THE LARGE drop at She is puzzling: it was successfully relaunched three years ago, by the editor Linda Kelsey, as a pioneering magazine with its finger on the pulse of 'jugglers' (youngish working mothers). Now She may introduce more glamour and fun to lighten its worthy image: currently it is promoting the International Year of the Family.

ESQUIRE has boosted its circulation by 38 per cent to 90,514, though Conde Nast's GQ, its rival in the men's glossy market, celebrated its first five years by breaking into profit and breaching the 100,000 barrier with sales of 100,424, a 10 per cent rise. Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Conde Nast, has no plans to freeze magazine prices: 'I think cover prices if anything are a bit low,' he says.