The future of celebrity magazines: Celebrity’s waning star

Does the continued decrease in the circulation of celebrity magazines signal an end to the nation’s infatuation with fame? Unfortunately for those who are not obsessed with WAGS, waste and the latest designer nonsense, the answer is, no. However, what i

ALISON BLACK

HEAD OF PRESS

FEATHER BROOKSBANK

Recent reports indicate the celebrity weeklies sector expect to be hit by further drops in circulation figures in the forthcoming ABC’s.

There is no doubt that consumer magazines as a whole are more than holding their own as a medium with forecasts from PriceWaterHouseCoopers predicting ad spend in this sector will increase by 14.8 percent and consumer expenditure on magazines by 8.8 percent from 2007 to 2011. Although most of the celebrity weeklies saw an increase in circulation 2005 to 2006, it was a different story in 2007 with many experiencing a year on year decrease with the exception of the Northern & Shell titles OK!, New and Star.

So why are celebrity weekly magazines experiencing circulation hits? Are we starting to experience celebrity burn out?

The public’s seemingly insatiable demand for instant and up-to-date celebrity, fashion and beauty news has led to the launch of several new womens weekly titles in recent years, so although new titles have brought growth to the weekly sector it is an increasingly crowded marketplace. When launching new celebrity weeklies in particular, publishers have adopted a penetration pricing strategy which enables them to attract the highest number of readers when they launch, so these readers are most likely to be price sensitive and may be more fickle and happily swap from established magazines to new launches or respond to a price offer.

The drive by weekly mags to get the latest gossip story has created a culture where people can quickly become overnight celebrities and although the surplus of reality shows such as Big Brother still provides new “celebrity” fodder, their exposure seems to be shorter lived. OK! and Hello! pay huge fees for exclusive features such as Wayne and Colleen’s wedding in order to boost sales. Overexposed celebrities, such as Posh, Jordan and Kerry Katona, may be leading to staleness with cover stories and photos often duplicated across titles. Also, is public opinion beginning to turn on the paparazzi’s relentless pursuit of the likes of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears?

The credit crunch could have some effect on circulations as cost conscious readers cut back on the number of weekly mags they purchase and because of the similarity in cover stories and photos the pricing of the mags could make an impact here as well.

Celebrity weekly readers tend to have a more upmarket and younger readership who will have access to the latest celeb gossip online long before a weekly mag hits the streets, and this is bound to have some impact on magazine sales. Publishers have responded to this with mags such as OK! and Heat producing online sites in the last couple of years though Hello! has been online since 1999 and being ahead of the game has given them the biggest online platform in this sector.

Another interesting thought is that most magazines sell 80 percent of their copies within the first three days of sale – are we soon going to see the first celeb mag to be published twice a week to satisfy the public’s desire for up to the minute celeb gossip?

On a positive note, whoever bids the most for the UK exclusive Brangelina twin photos are bound to see a massive circulation boost – and Brad and Ang are reportedly giving the estimated $10-12m they will get for the photos to charity – nice!

So back to the question - are we starting to experience celebrity burn out? I wouldn’t bet on it quite yet!

DAVID NEWTON

MEDIA BUYER

PHD NORTH

The notion of a declining celebrity market isn’t new, and the question seems to be raised on the eve of every magazine ABC release. Indeed I am sure that the question was first raised when the relatively new sector saw its first circulation drop on the back of what has been an impressive rise from relative nothingness.

However it’s important to firstly put the recent declines into context.

Hello! and OK! aside, the celeb market is relatively new, with Heat launching the sector as we know it in February 1999. Dependent on which titles you deem to be celebrity, there were only three titles serving the demand.

A whole new breed of celebrity was born with the inception of Big Brother in ‘99 and a whole raft of other programming having their first airing, including the likes of ‘Shipwrecked’ and ‘Castaway’ etc.

This celeb wasn’t a film star or high profile sports star but an everyman like me and you thrust into the media circus but nonetheless increasing and adding to the sheer mass volume of “famous” people.

With Heat being the only title servicing such programmes, there was clearly a gap and demand for other titles to launch all competing for a similar demographic in terms of reader. Enter the likes of Closer, New!, Star, et al.

The sector is now saturated with titles that all have very similar content and target audience. Added to this is the backdrop of our waning interest in celebrities that are just famous for being famous.

This year’s average viewing figures of Big Brother are approx 3.3m, whereas this was closer to 7m in 2001. Compounding the issue furthermore are titles such as the like of Bella who are trying to bolster circulation by tapping into this market.

Also important to bear in mind is the impact of the internet where you can access regular, free doses of celebrity via Popbitch or Holy Moly and sites such as HeatWorld offer the ability not only to view the stills of Paris Hilton’s latest nip slip but also watch the full video and more…

I doubt that the public’s appetite for Celebrity will ever go away, indeed ‘Celebrity’ as a concept has been around since the 1800’s with the first referenced celeb Giuseppe Garibaldi (the Italian revolutionary and military hero).

The drops in circulation seen amongst this sector are simply down to the amount of choice in the market and the loyalty of the readers. The same readers who once were picking up three and four titles per week are now realizing the duplication of content and the relative value in picking just the one or two publications.

The major publishers such as Bauer and IPC shouldn’t be too worried, though. Through brand extensions such as a quality website/TV channel etc, the impact of any circulation declines on advertising and cover price revenues can be minimized. We may start to see a consolidation of the market and some of the weaker publications may fall off the radar but there will always be a place for the likes of Heat and Closer on the News-stands.

GUY BEARDSLEY

GROUP MEDIA DIRECTOR

UNIVERSAL MCCANN

At a time when the media at large seem hell bent on reporting every doom and gloom story around, it would appear that reports of the supposed death of celebrity magazines following a circulation down turn are both premature and unfounded.

Inevitably there are circulation winners and losers in the highly competitive celebrity magazine sector. The most noticeable of the losers is Heat (the upmarket one!) which has recorded a decline of 11 percent and in the sector as a whole, the latest data available shows fewer copies are being sold across the board.

So does this decrease signal the death of a nation’s infatuation with celebrity? (and I use the term ‘celebrity’ in its loosest sense)

Unfortunately for those who are not obsessed with the latest Z-list utterances from the Big Brother Household, the answer is a resounding, ‘No’.

Does the decrease mark a shift in consumer behaviour that is likely to continue? The answer to that one is an equally resounding, ‘Yes’.

Celebrity is all about immediacy and at a time when the Internet is having a profound impact on all aspects of the print publishing world, its influence on the celebrity market is being keenly felt.

Sites such as www.mrpaparazzi.com and www.digitalspy.co.uk offer users instant stories within minutes of an event (again I use the term loosely) occurring and allow individuals to comment and engage with the content.

Publishers themselves have recognised the power of immediacy and all self-respecting magazine titles have their digital equivalent, all of which are clearly web first with news (I use the term... I think you get the message!)

We have established that consumers are still hungry for celebrity, it’s the source for the gossip that is changing, but how hungry are they at the moment? Do we really want to read about Kerry Katona and her shiny new Porsche Cayenne when it is costing us £90 to fill up our Ford Mondeos?

Traditionally ‘celebrity’ has been seen as a release from reality, as escapism. So there is an argument to say that interest should increase.

However as prices continue to increase and pressure on disposable income becomes more acute, how much do we want to escape into a world of wags, waste and designer nonsense? Ultimately will we get to the stage where it’s £1.40 on Look or a loaf of bread…

And having admitted I’m using the term celebrity in its loosest sense, we should turn our thoughts to what exactly constitutes a celebrity?

The explosion of Myspace, Facebook and Bebo – to name just a few – means that consumers have become enthralled in the world of real people, themselves and their friends. Video, photographs, funwall etc allow instant hits of information on subject matter far more interesting than Jade Goody.

A recent study by myspace.com asked 18 – 24 year olds what they would do with a spare 15 minutes, over 45 percent said they would log onto a social networking site, 11 percent said they would pick up a magazine.

Which kind of begs the question is self the new celebrity? And if it is just where do Heat and its ilk go in the future? If cyberspace is becoming the new place for consumers to get their daily dose of celebrity gossip, how long until cyber space starts to create virtual cyber celebrities. Anyone seen R2D2?

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