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The season of relaunches

For Keats, in his Ode to Autumn, this is the 'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.' For publishers, autumn is a time of revamps, redesigns and relaunches as magazines enter the big season for sales - and advertising.

Decanter magazine front cover November 2006 redesign
Decanter redesign - ‘fresher, cleaner and modern feel’

Car magazine front cover redesign September 2006
Car relaunch: a change to a square format, new editorial features and listings moved to the website

 

October 2006 relaunches

IPC in particular has been dusting its titles off, with examples including:

  • Decanter (November issue on sale October 4): IPC Media’s title is after a ‘fresher, cleaner and modern feel’ as well as introducing new writers
  • TV and Satellite Week (on sale 3 October): again, IPC wants to be ‘modern and bright’ and easier to use; it also introduces a dedicated football TV guide
  • Ideal Home (on sale 3 October) claims to be the UK’s biggest-selling home interest title, so in a position of strength. Its strategy is: ‘a greater use of photography within the magazine and the design and layout are clearer and more modern, satisfying the readers’ preference to “view” the magazine’. This also takes place as Family Circle puts out its final issue, so IPC will want to capture those buyers and readers
  • Marie Claire took a big hit in the recent ABC sales results so IPC has gone back to the title’s core strengths of fashion, beauty, real-life, celebrity and advice. The main feature in terms of content from the relaunch is the tripling in in the number of pages devoted to ‘high fashion’, with the section now called ‘The Shops’. It includes a regular celebrity interview by Janet Street Porter.

Emap has also been on a relaunching spree, where it is possible to spot a significant trend. It, like IPC, has a central team analysing sales and cultural trends and working on strategies to exploit or minimise their effects. As so many young readers turn to cheaper weeklies and web sources, it wants its monthlies to be see as having more depth and 'luxury'.

  • Q has dropped its CD covermounts and wants to become a more "luxurious" monthly music read. This is a similar strategy to the recent Car relaunch. Editor Paul Rees wants to focus on usefulness, entertainment and quality – a mantra that sounds like a reworking of FHM’s ‘funny, sexy, useful’ from 1997.
  • FHM: Its revamp is not that recent, going back to July, and has been summed up by Press Gazette as: ‘inspirational, aspirational and intelligent’. Although it is still the sector leader, FHM’s sales have been in freefall since the arrival of the weeklies, Zoo and Nuts. It has lost its younger readers so has decided to concentrate on increasing its share of the falling monthly market – in other words squeezing out weaker competitors such as Front and Maxim. Editor Ross Brown said: ‘My job is to ensure that our existing readers come back more often and stay longer.’

So what is the difference between a revamp, a redesign and a relaunch? And why do publishers do it?
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Revamp, redesign or relaunch?

For a start, the terms are used pretty indiscriminately by publishers and quite what each entails depends on who is doing the re-thingamyjigging.

At a minimum, a revamp can suggest a mere freshening-up of the look of a magazine, perhaps as little as reworking the cover, with a new logo and different fonts for the cover lines. At the same time as the look is tweaked, there may be some changes to the 'feel' in terms of editorial contents.

A redesign usually marks the arrival of a new art editor or editor. New fonts may come in throughout the magazine, perhaps a change of layout grid, a more 'fashionable' palette of colours and new graphic elements to grab a reader's attention.

A relaunch should entail at least a fine-tuning of the editorial direction, which is signalled by a redesign. This is usually led by a new editor, though an incumbent may do the job to react to a changing marketplace. The changes at Marie Claire exemplify this. Editor Marie O'Riordan wrote in the Independent recently: ‘Last time the magazine did some serious navel-gazing was in September 2004, but, 20 issues later, there has been a raft of launches and relaunches into our space. We've never had this much competition and it's especially challenging for us now since many "me-toos" have stolen elements of Marie Claire's distinctive offering.’ That's one of the big problems of new ideas - they are so easily copied by your competitors.

Of course, these changes aim to keep readers or attract new ones, so there is usually a marketing drive attached with public relations activity, cover gifts to encourage people to sample the ‘new’ magazine and advertising. This may be done to catch the attention not only of consumers, but also newsagents and advertising agencies. Independent newsagents who are on the ball when it comes to selling magazines are more likely to position a magazine that is being promoted more prominently; and a publisher might spend money on buying extra space in WH Smith and Tesco. Similarly, advertising agencies who see money being invested in a title are more likely to consider it for their clients.
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What about last year’s efforts?

In October 2005, relaunches included Future's Redline, which added a consumer guide, ‘Nuts and Voltz’, and other sections, to keep up with the evolving modified car market. And to tempt more potential buyers to sample the title, there was a free cover gift of set of lights.

IPC's New Musical Express redesigned from a position of strength and rising circulation as a music weekly. Its changes included "massively increased" coverage of local music scenes and two pages devoted to club listings. The website, NME.com, was altered to match, with a tighter focus on gig footage and exclusive interviews.

The Wall Street Journal Europe newspaper underwent a relaunch to a colour compact format, as part of which the arts, culture and leisure section became a 20-page colour pull-out Weekend Journal. Another element of the agenda was to improve integration between print and online content, with tips, addresses and links to WSJ.com.

London listings title Time Out relaunched itself to focus better on London issues and living. Editor Gordon Thomson - who had joined from the Observer Sports Monthly a year earlier - said he was keen to win back readers from newspapers' listings guides and websites. The relaunch was backed by the title's largest advertising campaign for a decade.
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She magazine front cover relaunch
She: relaunch really only kept the name
 

Relaunch or reinvent?

At She, NatMags went about as far as it is possible to go in October 2005, throwing out one editorial strategy and team and bringing in another. It was ripe for change, with a circulation languishing at about 150,000. About £2m was pledged to promote She in 2006 - a small figure compared with the £13m devoted to launching Easy Living.

However, to attempt to reinvent a magazine – implement a big change in its editorial strategy - is rare and successful examples even rarer. It was done with FHM and Heat but failed with Melody Maker, The Face, Carweek, Nova and Punch, which all closed. In the case of humour weekly Punch, it had several make-overs over decades but failed and was then raised from the dead with big budgets and still folded! Nova too, was resurrected, in this case after almost 30 years, but folded again.

If a relaunch fails, the writing is probably on the wall, for the editor and the title. At She, the relaunch editor left within six months. Now, at 146,000, She's sales are bordering on the level at which closure becomes the main option for a big publisher such as The National Magazine Company. Emap closed Minx when it was selling 120,000 a month and IPC did the same with Options. The latter's fate was sealed when the relaunch of a year earlier failed.
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Word magazine front cover
Notice 'the' change to the masthead

 

The last word

Being fired is unlikely to be an issue - yet - on Word, the music title relaunched by David Hepworth and Mark Ellen last year, because they launched the company (Press Gazette feature). Their relaunch included adding the definitive title to become The Word (when he became editor of the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings reinstated the 'Torygraph's' original title as The Daily Telegraph). The magazine also reshuffled its front sections and instigated more reportage.

The Word relaunch was clearly a heartfelt one for David Hepworth. A Guardian article he wrote on design, with its emphasis on a magazine being a thing designed to sell not occupy a frame on the wall, should be required reading for everyone in magazine publishing. And newspapers too for that matter. Many of the latter have gone far too far down the same design road, resulting in similar products that look and - in a process of function following form - become boring. They no longer hold any surprises and lose their individuality. No wonder readers are shifting to magazines and websites. The irony was that Hepworth was writing in the Guardian on the day it unveiled its big redesign. What happened to his columns, I wonder?

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