In April 1972, Cosmopolitan ran a near-nude centrefold of actor Burt Reynolds, pushing the magazine to the forefront of popular culture and generating a massive scandal. Almost 40 years on, naked shots of the likes of ITV weatherman Alex Beresford just aren't generating quite the same level of excitement among readers.
According to the latest ABC figures, for July-December 2009, the title - which is the second-biggest women's magazine after Conde Nast's Glamour - posted a 4.5% year-on-year decline in circulation.
Cosmo is not alone - the whole women's market has suffered during the recession and circulations are down at many of the leading monthly titles. The rise of weeklies such as IPC's Look, which offer a quick fix of fashion and gossip, have added to the competition, while the massive number of gossip and fashion blogs has squeezed the advertising market further.
Cosmo is a long-established brand; its first edition was published in 1886 in the US. The UK version launched in 1972 and a later spin-off aimed at teenagers - CosmoGirl! - was axed in December 2008.
Critics claim that the magazine's editorial formula of sexual positions, real-life stories and fashion and beauty advice has lost its spark and now appears outdated.
How can the title fight back? We asked Jenny Biggam, founding partner of media agency the7stars, and Tilly Boulter, chief executive of publishing agency Think, who started her publishing career at American Vogue, how Cosmo can revive its flagging fortunes.
Jenny Biggam founding partner, the7stars
As ground-breaking magazines go, Cosmo is up there with the best. For more than 40 years, the title has been at the top of its game with a circulation of more than 400,000. Even now, it is still the UK's 28th most-popular mag. With those numbers in mind, the recent drop doesn't seem so scary.
That said, the readership slide and closures in the men's market have shown how easy it is for readers to migrate from the printed versions of mags they once loved to websites, blogs and forums. It could happen to women's titles, too.
However, the title has a strong online offer. Publisher NatMag is known for supporting its brands and the recent appointment of a new creative director at Cosmo demonstrates the importance it ascribes to the magazine.
Cosmo is still a very risque magazine, and while that has worked well for it in the past, the market is changing - titles that focus on style and fashion are the current strong performers.
New entrants, such as free title Stylist, offer another option for consumers and advertisers, so all titles in this space will have to up their game as a result.
- Push the brand further upmarket, but don't alienate the core demographic. A more aspirational edge, with an increased focus on fashion, could help.
- The magazine has always been proud of its liberated stance on sexual issues, but perhaps a bit more campaigning on issues around the subject and slightly less emphasis on the nuts and bolts of the matter would help.
- Most importantly, make sure that any changes are tweaks, not overhauls. The magazine is in a fundamentally strong position - evolution, not revolution, is the key.
Tilly Boulter chief executive, Think Publishing
Reading through the March travel-sized issue of Cosmo, one can't help but feel this once-pioneering mouthpiece of the modern, liberated female has perhaps lost its way. The latest ABCs appear to agree - or can that 4.5% drop in circulation be explained by the economic situation? Hmmm, I'm not so sure.
Flicking through the 250-odd pages, it's hard to find anything particularly stimulating or surprising. That's if you manage to find your way around - the sections seem to blur together, hopping from a quiz to a Q&A to another quiz via a slightly ropey fashion shoot (fringed bolero over a bikini top, anyone?). The 'travel' format doesn't help - images are reduced to less than postage-stamp size.
Feminism has moved on. Today's 20- or 30-something woman is likely to be earning (and drinking) as much as her male counterparts. She is fun, feisty and knows what she wants: fabulous clothes and fun times - and to know where she can get them. She is career-conscious and cares about bigger issues. So, come on, Cosmo, it's time to find that old magic for the girls.
- Celebrate the magazine's heritage with a stronger campaigning voice for women's issues. The March edition touches on honour marriages and the size debate, but this voice doesn't come through loud and clear.
- Improve the magazine's navigation by including openers for all sections and a design device such as colour-coding. Also, look again at the front section - 'Cosmo news' just doesn't cut it.
- Continue to reduce the emphasis on 'does size matter?' features - we've moved on. Hire some new columnists who can offer a witty/intelligent take on life (in or out of the bedroom).
This article was first published on Marketing