Murdoch gets real with launch of new women's magazine

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When a new breed of real-life women's magazine featuring headlines such as "I sold my body to buy Lemsip and I was frozen to the loo" appeared in newsagents 15 years ago, many wondered if the genre had a future.

Now it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the magazine world, selling millions of copies each week - and some of the biggest names in publishing are belatedly trying to get in on the act.

For more than a decade, just three titles dominated the real-life women's weekly market - Take A Break, Chat and That's Life. But a year ago, the publishing giant IPC launched a younger, sassier addition to newsagents' shelves, Pick Me Up, which achieved an initial circulation of just over 500,000- the most successful women's magazine debut in a decade and a half.

Keen for a slice of the action, Rupert Murdoch's News International, publisher of The Sun and the News of the World, is launching its own real-life magazine, love it!, on 7 February, while this week saw the launch of ACP Natmag's Real People. With Full House, launched by Burda in 2005, there will soon be seven real-life magazines, where once there were only three.

The antithesis of celebrity magazines, "true life" titles focus on the sorrows and joys of ordinary people. Reality television has spurred women's appetites to read about people whose everyday existence resembles their own, rather than far-away fantasy figures whose lifestyles they can never hope to emulate.

These women may be over 40 and largely working class, a pariah market so far as many advertisers are concerned, but they are considered political gold-dust. At the last general election, the three main parties were all in hot pursuit of Take A Break woman.

The best-selling women's magazine, Take A Break, published by H Bauer, has a weekly circulation of 1.2 million and a readership of four million - twice that of its closest rival.

It is no wonder rival publishers want a share of this market, although insiders fear the current three million buyers might be turned off if the sector is saturated.

News International hopes love it! will appeal to the under-35s. The first launch from the company's new magazine division will have a regular feature on extreme plastic surgery and pictures of hunky firemen, and has been designed byMark Setchfield, who also created the look of the glossy celebrity weekly Grazia. The magazine's publisher, Augusta Barnes, said: "love it! is the first real-life weekly to target the younger reader. We're doing that with a glossy, aspirational package that she can relate to."

June Smith-Sheppard, the editor of Pick Me Up, said: "There hadn't been a launch for 15 years, but there were three magazines sitting there, week in, week out, selling very high numbers of copies. When Pick Me Up was an immediate success, it reinforced to the industry just how strong the real-life market is.

"Look at the TV, how many programmes there are that are real life. It's all about real people. It's where we are at so many ways at the moment," she added.

Typical readers of real-life magazines were "working-class women who live their lives for their family and friends," according to Ms Smith-Sheppard.

Chat's editor Gilly Sinclair backed that up. "They're witty and gritty, all heart and chutzpah ... the woman out on the street, the salt-of-the-earth, heart-of-gold character, the woman you want to live next door to."

The new crop of real-life titles comes at a competitive price - 60p compared to 76p for Take A Break and Chat and 68p for That's Life.