At a time when it's becoming increasingly hard for publishers to make money, Cosmopolitan believes media executives should rely less on advertising and circulation models and focus more on events.
Pulling away from advertising might seem contrarian for a legacy publisher but it’s a shift that has turned the brand into a success story.
"Sex is not just what this brand is anymore - we are now looking more at longform," says editor Farrah Storr, who has helped steer a radical overhaul of the title’s editorial, marketing and distribution over the last year. It’s scrapped the old ‘fun fearless female’ strapline and introduced ‘I am Cosmopolitan’: its call to young people who now consider themselves global citizens of the world.
Looking at the magazine now, following an extensive overhaul, it’s a world away from the sex-tips articles and lowbrow reputation that first defined it. However, its signature sunny vibe remains and combined with the more thought-provoking reportage it has turned Cosmopolitan into the comeback queen of publishing.
Cosmopolitan was at its all-time low in 2014, haemorrhaging readers in print and digital, with a combined circulation of 257,725. Compare that dire situation to a 57.8 per cent jump to 405,308 in the same figure six months later, putting it as the highest circulating women's glossy magazine, and the turnaround is pronounced.
"The next step for me as an editor to take Cosmopolitan to the next level is to see more long form hard hitting features," reveals Storr.
In 2015, Hearst led an innovative shift in how to distribute magazines. Since magazines see the most sales in the first week of every month, on the third week of every month Cosmopolitan hosts an event, to boost sales and interest in the lag period. The idea, Storr explains, is to create a ‘community of Cosmo’ to get more people affiliated with the brand and then put a magazine in their hand.
Cosmopolitan’s use of pop-up distribution points, which sees upwards of 80,000 free issues distributed, helped the magazine nudge above 400,000 monthly circulation in the latter half of 2015 for the first time in six years. The magazine’s success in turning around a period of rapid decline was also helped by a significant reduction in its cover price, from £3.80 to £1.
With a blueprint in place for the future, the publisher accepts that it has to stay cognisant to the fact that it can’t exist in isolation as a magazine anymore. While the magazine will always steer the brand’s ship, there’s as much focus on events and digital, forming what the Cosmopolitan team refer to as the “trinity” internally. What this essentially means is the magazine is viewed as a ‘calling card’ for the brand of sorts rather than a core contributor to its commercial strategy.
“Events are icing on the cake,” Storr said. “People pay money here.”
Moving forward, Storr said the focus will be on more events - “two events across the year is not enough” - specifically those of the experiential calibre. For a brand like Cosmopolitan there needs to be a constant interaction with its readership.
The brand will also be tapping into bloggers and their highly engaged audiences to promote Cosmopolitan content. Just recently, Cosmopolitan created its first bespoke editorial proposition for advertising partner Estée Lauder; a digital pop-up brand that combines native, user-generated and influencer content to promote the beauty brand’s latest range.
While Cosmopolitan inhabits most social media spaces, its channelling much of its energies into Snapchat. It was the first magazine brand on the platform, and claims to see high engagement on Discover. Snapchat, more so than other platforms, allows for a “very intimate experience with your readers”, said Storr.
“We've definitely noticed a conversion from those people who are consuming Cosmopolitan on Snapchat who are then picking up the magazine and also coming to our events” Storr noted.
Cosmopolitan’s success story shows the consumer magazine sector is faring better than the newspaper sector, which has seen print circulation and ad revenues rapidly decline. While some 60 magazines grew their circulations in the latter half of 2015, total daily sales of UK national newspapers have almost halved since 2000 to less than 8 million. The newspaper industry is littered with failures and false dawns as recently seen by Trinity Mirror’s brief experiment with the New Day.