Ian Burrell: Championing real women helps Essentials to buck the trend

 

The circulations of many women’s magazines are falling off a cliff. It’s partly down to the recession. When supermarket aisles are less crowded there are fewer people to make impulse purchases at their news-stands. And celebrity titles seem less attractive when the sumptuous lifestyles of the featured stars seem so far out of reach.

Some magazines have tried to dig their stilettos in, most notably Condé Nast’s Glamour which has led the revival in cover-mounts, offering branded gifts from Nail Inc nail varnish to Clinique health products to defend its 530,000 sale.

But elsewhere there has been carnage. Hearst Magazines title Company saw sales tumble by 17.1 per cent year-on-year in the last ABCs. The same publisher closed She magazine and Cosmopolitan Bride last month. IPC’s Marie-Claire was down 10 per cent on 2010, while Heat, once a magazine that could do no wrong, was down by 21.7 per cent year-on-year. Its sister celebrity title in the Bauer Media stable, Closer, fell by 12.7 per cent. The so-called “real life” sector is also suffering with IPC’s Pick Me Up down a colossal 18.1 per cent on the year and the once invincible Take A Break from H Bauer losing 50,000 sales in 12 months. These are big numbers.

And yet the picture is not uniformly bad. The magazine most notably bucking the trend is IPC’s Essentials, which has made a conscious decision to champion “real women”. Those are not the real women of the “real life” sector, who relate outlandish and bizarre stories, but a demographic that does not crave celebrity gossip nor aspire to the glamour of the highflying careerist or trendy girl about town. But some of them are happy to be magazine cover stars.

Every issue Essentials puts a real woman on the front, rather than a model or a celebrity. And this month, for the second October issue in a row, it has created a gatefold cover featuring a selection of readers. Last year’s version delivered a 25 per cent increase on the normal sale.

This year, editor Jules BartonBreck has gone further and allowed seven readers to guest-edit the magazine. There are sound commercial reasons for this approach. Since the big statement of last year’s “Real Women issue”, Essentials has steadily picked up readers.

Sales are up by 9.9 per cent on last year, making it the fastest-growing women’s magazine in the UK. “It came together at the right time,” says Barton-Breck. “In a recession our readers were looking for something more real – not living on the credit card and all that business.”

It’s an approach that echoes some of the success that retail brands such as Dove and Debenhams have had in using real women in advertising.

Essentials embeds that ethos in its editorial offering. It has no problem with describing its readers as “suburban” or acknowledging that they are “35-55 plus” in age. This is not the world of The Devil Wears Prada and honesty is a vital part of the appeal. “They live in villages and small towns as opposed to cities. Everything is local for them, their friends are local, they have a very nice life and I think they feel they have too,” says the editor. “They don’t want depressing stories or anything that doesn’t have a happy ending.”

That’s not to say the magazine doesn’t present itself as a treat, albeit at £2.90 – a budget price for a monthly. “People are looking to magazines that cheer them up with a lot of practical value they can use, where they can afford the fashion and are able to cook the recipes,” says Barton-Breck.

It’s a simple recipe all round and the same comfort reading appeal has also benefited other titles in this section of the news-stand, such as Hearst Magazines’s stalwart Good Housekeeping and its stablemate Prima and the IPC title Woman & Home.

Barton-Breck thinks she is on to a winner. “It’s not something that’s going away and the more feedback we get the more I can’t believe that other magazines don’t do this, although I don’t want them to.”

She was nervous about allowing the readers to guest-edit (“I was dreading it, thinking if they come up with some hideous ideas how am I going to say ‘No’”), but says her own East Sussex lifestyle – reflected in her monthly editor’s letter – is not so different from that of the people who buy the magazine.

Essentials was criticised on some American blogs when last year’s groundbreaking “Real Women” gatefold cover featured black readers on the turn rather than the front. This year’s Real Women issue has a pretty 33-year-old Asian woman who works in PR but Barton-Breck says she never thinks about such things as ethnicity and that the seven chosen guest editors merely reflect the magazine’s readership. She is delighted with the results. “Some people asked ‘Is it going to look downmarket? Are the readers going to look chav?’ But my argument would be ‘Why am I going to put someone horrible on the front cover?’ My criteria are still the same as if it was a model.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence