Psychologies magazine: Not just a pretty face

As French import 'Psychologies' prepares to hit our newstands, Sophie Morris asks whether British women are ready to drop celebs for something more cerebral
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The Independent Online

Psychologies aims to satisfy the increasing demand for self-help and self-improvement information, in a glossy monthly package. The magazine's runaway success in France is down to the publishing guru Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber, who rescued a yellowing academic journal almost a decade ago and nurtured it into its present form. But, as the UK launch editor Maureen Rice freely admits: "What works brilliantly in France isn't necessarily going to work here. It's got the DNA of the French magazine, but it's very different."

Rice, who worked on the launches of both In Style and Eve, is convinced that the independent British woman feels rather neglected by the current one-size-fits-all approach to magazines, and is ready for more specialist magazines.

The UK Psychologies' answer to this is a content that is focused and academically rigorous without being too demanding. A beauty piece, for example, looks at the concept of "allure" through unconventional icons such as Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich and Sarah Jessica Parker. Another article looks at how we pass judgement on people based on first impressions, and why we rarely change that opinion. There's also practical advice on how to improve your relationship with your mother, and a look at the psychological fallout of last month's terror attacks in London.

In short, it's intellectually stimulating but it's not rocket science. As Rice explains: "It's not some arcane thing that's parked off in a university somewhere. It's just the way we live, the way we are. If you'd asked me, 'Are you interested in psychology?', I don't know what I would have replied. But I would have said that I'm fascinated by behaviour and emotions. Think about the conversations we have with our women friends: what do we talk about? We may not call it 'psychology', but that's what it is."

Clearly, French women take the pursuit of happiness very seriously, but they were also introduced to philosophy at primary school. And the reason why they don't have as much of a need for magazines with cover lines shouting, "Lose 6lb in as many hours!", may be explained by the title of the book, French Women Don't Get Fat.

So, since British women seem to dwell less on existential issues than their French counterparts, Rice is packing her version of Psychologies with advice that is both insightful and practical from experts such as this paper's agony aunt Virginia Ironside and the psychologist Oliver James. "It's time for a new level," agrees the former Cosmopolitan editor Marcelle d'Argy Smith. "We've had pop psychology in magazines for so long, and it's patronising beyond belief."

Easy Living, a competitor for the attentions of a similar readership, covers a broader spectrum of topics compared with Psychologies' narrow focus, but its editor Susie Forbes concedes that the popularity of her "Emotional Intelligence" pages is an indicator that Psychologies has a chance of doing well in the UK.

Rice is confident that she has hit on the right formula for reinterpreting over here what French women can't seem to get enough of. She says that French women are somewhat lacking in the humour department, and that her readers will demand some levity, however serious the topic. She expects to reach women aged between 35 and 55, but is more interested in their "psychographic" profile than what stage they have reached in their lives as the subject matter cuts through the generations.

Still, magazine-selling celebrities are very much a part of this attractive parcel. Meg Ryan is on the cover of the first issue and is interviewed inside, but Rice says that such interviews with stars will be intimate rather than gossipy or voyeuristic. "I'm quite interested in how Meg Ryan dropped two dress sizes but I'd read that somewhere else. She talks about getting older and how she's been through a lot of personal change," she says.

Chrissie Hynde, Derren Brown and Tony Parsons are other famous voices in the first issue, which is priced at £2.50, rising to £3, a confident pitch that may not capture that many impulse buyers, but does position Psychologies firmly in the quality market. And following Easy Living's inspired launch offer of 12 issues for £12, Psychologies will offer six issues for £6.

The biggest obstacle to Psychologies' success may be the absence of vital advertisers - at present, it is relying on beauty products and little else. Otherwise, it will be up to British women to choose between psychology and Paris Hilton. As Rice is the first to admit, "It's not necessarily for everybody," but it will certainly make a refreshing change in what can be a very predictable market.

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