Celebrity magazines price war

The first week of May 2004 saw the celebrity-based weeklies fighting for market share, with the main weapon being price:
Now launch issue: Mel Gibson cover
Now was launched in 1996 to bolster IPC's ageing women's weeklies, rather than as a celebrity title. Mel Gibson was the launch cover star

Now cuts price to £1

IPC's Now magazine cut its cover price by 20p to £1 in May 2004, in a bid to maintain its position as the top-selling celebrity weekly – it was 30,000 copies a week ahead of Emap's Heat. It also needed to see off competition in the celebrity magazine sector, from two new, downmarket magazines from Northern & Shell (N&S), as well as Emap's Closer.

IPC was in a weaker strategic position than its competitors in only having a single celebrity title. It is marketed as one of the company's group of five women's weeklies. Both Emap (Heat and Closer) and N&S ( OK!, New! and Star) have a 'cluster publishing' strategy to protect their top title (Heat and OK! respectively). Not only does this mean they can spread costs, but also that they can use a variety of tactics, including price and advertising rates, to undermine competitors. Sales of Now were down 6%, against a 2% rise for Heat.

Now was originally marketed as 'The smarter woman’s read' with higher production values and better quality content than IPC’s other women’s weeklies. However, it dropped that tagline and all the celeb titles are well-produced. It has gone in for Heat-style celebrity bashing, but retained non-celeb content with health, fashion, cookery and cookery pages. It has never carried television listings (all the competition, bar New! do), probably because this would hit its listings magazines, such as TV Times (Emap and N&S don't have any).

The IPC weekly carried ‘Now only £1’ in a large yellow circle on its 5 May cover. In fact all the issues for the first week of May promoted themselves on price, except Heat, which appeared to be keeping to the high ground with its £1.50 tag (in small type). Now’s cover (5 May) was also promoting a ‘15% discount at Warehouse for everyone’. Its coverlines were: ‘Beach bodies’, mainly an excuse to show unflattering images of people such as Geri Haliwell, Jerry Hall and Gillian Taylforth; ‘'Posey Posh'’; and ’'23 real life diet success stories'. Heat ran a similar knocking lead: ‘When surgery goes wrong’ with Posh’s boobs, Jordan’s boobs, Jodie’s nose and Jacko’s everything.

Closer launch issue cover
Closer was regarded by Emap as its most successful launch yet. Its sales of 385,036 each week to January 2004 were 15% up on the previous six months

N&S aggressive tactics

However, Richard Desmond, who owns the Daily Star and Express newspapers, as well as OK! publisher Northern & Shell (N&S), has adopted aggressive pricing strategies for his downmarket titles, Star and New!

Star has dropped from its launch price of £1.50 to £1, and appears to be exploiting its OK! credentials to attack Emap’s Heat. ‘50p less than Heat’ shouted one cover flash and ‘From the OK! People’ another. New! Similarly carried two flashes promoting its price drop from 70p and OK! link: ‘Only 60p’ and ‘From the OK! People’.

Emap’s Closer is leading on price, with ‘Only £1’ in a large, garish yellow flash.

N&S and Emap have been at loggerheads for a couple of years. In February 2002, when OK! carried Hot Stars as a supplement (which it still does), Emap warned N&S against launching a Heat clone. Then, in March 2003, Heat carried a gossip magazine supplement called Ooh! Scandal! as a spoiler in the week that N&S was launching New!.

OK! went weekly in March 1996
OK! went weekly in 1996 with Richard Barber as editor

Effect on Hello! and OK!

All this activity suggests that the celeb market will be in turmoil for some time. The original magazines, Hello! and OK! suffered, initially at the hands of Heat. Both saw falling sales, with Hello! down by more than a third year-on-year and OK! down almost 10%. In contrast, New! and Closer, had a first set of sales figures around the 340,000-mark. Heat recorded a 2% rise.

However, OK! was able to buy its way ahead of OK! by splashing out on exclusive access to big weddings, such as the Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas event that ended up in the high court when Hello! managed to sneak in a photographer. The latter has stuck to its royalty-based guns but even Desmond's wallet has been stretched and OK! increasingly has had to make do with B and C-list names from soaps and reality TV shows. Its free Hot Stars supplement also cheapens the OK! package.

Celebrity magazines 2003-04

Title Publisher Launch date ABC sales
Jul-Dec 2003*
ABC sales
Jul-Dec 2004*
Closer Emap Entertainment    28 Sep 2002 385,036 504,350
Guess Who!        Harmsworth Magazines Summer 1993 closed n/a
Heat Emap Entertainment 6 Feb 1999 566,731 552,215
Hello! Hello! Ltd 17 May 1988 50,374 382,391
Here! Gruner + Jahr 10 Jun 1996 merged with Now
12 May 1997
Hot Stars free with OK!(N&S) 7 Feb 2002 n/a n/a
New! Chic Magazines Ltd (N&S) 3 Mar 2002 334,310 396,079
Now IPC Media 24 Oct 1996 592,076 619,186
Ooh! Scandal! free one-off with Heat 1 Mar 2003 n/a n/a
OK!  Northern & Shell plc     Apr 1993
(weekly since Mar 1996)
570,927 529,492
Reveal ACP Natmag 23 Oct 2004 n/a 239,907
Star Northern & Shell plc 8 Nov 2003 n/a 211,551
*Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations (www.abc.org.uk)