Hello! says 'goodbye' to celebrity gossip
Glossy magazine targets upmarket readers with lifestyle revamp – but will it last?
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Wednesday 05 September 2012
Cocking its nose in the air and hitching up its ballgown, Hello! has flounced out of the celebrity party in search of more upscale company.
After 19 years of bumping into upstart rival OK! at glamorous bashes and product launches, Hello! now wants to run with the fashion and lifestyle crowd and hang out with Grazia and Stylist instead.
Hello!'s Spanish owner has asked the publishing industry to re-categorise the title and wants newsagents to no longer position it on the shelves alongside OK!, the cut-price competitor published by Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell.
In a snooty letter to the Audit Bureau of Circulation's Women's Lifestyle & Fashion Sector, Hello! publishing director Charlotte Stockting explained her reasons for moving her title. "It… reflects a move away from the celebrity sector, and it's (sic) obsession with made-up stories, scurrilous gossip, poor production values, real-life stories and low cover price," she sniffed.
Ms Stockting claimed that, unlike its "downmarket" celebrity rivals, Hello! was known for "upmarket editorial, strong lifestyle content, stunning photography and excellent print production".
The move also reflects a shift in the public's appetite for celebrity news. During the past 18 months, the Royal wedding and the escapades of Prince Harry have eclipsed the tantrums of reality TV contestants and glamour models that had previously kept readers enthralled.
The mediocrity of the England football team alongside the heroics of Team GB's Olympic and Paralympic competitors has not helped their WAGs (wives and girlfriends) in negotiating deals for coverage.
This shift appears to be reflected in the comparative sales of the two magazines with Hello! – which has a longer tradition of covering the royals and high society – having narrowed the circulation gap with OK! in the past year from 60,000 to 3,000.
The Hello! decision coincides with the Leveson Inquiry into media standards, much of which has been concerned with criticisms by celebrity figures of their treatment at the hands of paparazzi photographers. "A lot of people perceive the celebrity magazine sector as being on the outside looking in, with long-range intrusive photographs. But our magazine has always been about people inviting us into their homes," said Roger Williams, associate publisher, circulation and distribution, for Hello!
In reality, Hello! is hardly likely to abandon celebrity coverage, which is central to its brand. Yesterday its website was carrying stories about reality boy bands One Direction and The Wanted, the Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh and pop star Rihanna. Williams said the website would start to move away from coverage of TV stars and concentrate on blue bloods and Hollywood A-listers.
One industry insider described the Hello! move as a "gamble" which risked "opening the door to OK! to grab that readership". Another consequence of the Hello! decision will be the end of bidding wars between the two titles which have previously been exploited by celebrity agents to maximise the earnings of their clients. For the WAGs and the C-listers these are worrying times.
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