Seen the show, watched the movie? Now read the magazine  It's what the US has been waiting for: the gospel according to Oprah

If ever there was a brand waiting to be turned into glossy print, Oprah must be it. Now O is born.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Seen the show, watched the movie? Now read the magazine  It's what the US has been waiting for: the gospel according to Oprah

If ever there was a brand waiting to be turned into glossy print, Oprah must be it. Now O is born.

By David Usborne

18 April 2000

Newsstands across America will be sagging a little lower this week as one more magazine fights for space and the attention of readers amid all the competition. And, without question, it will be a heavyweight. And it is not just a matter of numbers - no fewer than 850,000 copies will be printed of issue number one.

The real weight of this newcomer, which launched yesterday with 324 pages, of which an impressive 166 will be advertising, has to do with its masthead. This is O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine. If ever there was a brand waiting to be translated into glossy print, Ms Winfrey, surely, is it. Indeed, perhaps the real surprise behind this launch may be that there is not a Winfrey magazine already out there.

It has been 15 years since Winfrey first burst into America's consciousness with her daily television show, which is now seen by 22 million viewers a week in the US and reaches markets in 119 other countries. Britain, of course, is among them. Over that time she has also become an Oscar-nominated actress, a film producer, an internet investor, and a book club entrepreneur.

Through all of that, the Winfrey message has remained remarkably focused. To some it may seem preachy and cloying, but it surely has an audience. It is directed entirely at women and it is about inspiring them to overcome adversity, to brush away negativity and to make more of their lives. The formula has been most especially potent in the US, where self-improvement and fulfillment is a national religion.

"We've heard the sermon on the mount," University of Mississippi professor and magazine analyst Samir Husni remarked, "They are writing the gospel for her now."

The gospel is a joint effort of Ms Winfrey's own Harpo Entertainment Group and Hearst Magazines. It will begin life as a bi-monthly, but there are plans for it to go monthly from September. Winfrey herself claims to spend up to six hours a day helping to craft the new title, although she has a team of full-time editors charged with bringing out the magazine that will bear her name.

Rumours of tensions at the magazine have been circulating for weeks, with claims and counter-claims about too many editors spoiling the broth. Winfrey is said to have exasperated her staff with her tendency toward perfectionism. Pieces that she deemed condescending had to be rewritten way beyond deadline, and photographs were canned because they contained items not to her taste. She spied an ugly bowl in the background of one and some candles in another that were too garish. Winfrey also has the last word in her advertising department. She has banned all tobacco advertising, for instance.

The birth of O is itself proving rather muted. Apparently, Hearst has learned a lesson from last year's debut of Talk, the Tina Brown-edited monthly it co-owns with Miramax. That came into the world with a star-studded party on Liberty Island. O's arrival was celebrated only with a party last night in a Manhattan loft.

The idea, says publisher, Alyce Alston, is to have "a small wedding and a big anniversary". She added: "Everything we did was looking at the long term, we really want to have a strong year, or two years or five years. Overhype doesn't do anyone any good. It doesn't demonstrate anything."

The prospects would seem powerful. The hope is not just to attract Ms Winfrey's huge TV audience, but to widen it with women who are younger and more affluent, many of whom don't watch Oprah because they are working. Officially, the magazine is meant as a "personal growth guide" for women aged 25 to 49. "It's about making a difference in your life," Alston says. "It's about the passion of your inner life."

Every cover will feature Oprah herself - a formula successfully tried by that other American brand, Martha Stewart, who has her own Martha Stewart Living magazine. And she will write two regular columns opening and closing each issue, "Let's Talk" and "What I Know for Sure".

If Hearst and Harpo are having any last-minute doubts, they might remind themselves of this: when Oprah was featured in 1998 on the covers of Vogue and Good Housekeeping, they sold 810,000 and 1.4 million copies respectively - best sellers for both titles in that year. Giving her a title of her own is likely to go down as the least risky magazine venture in history.