I was recently stopped dead in my tracks by the publisher of a top
glossy magazine, who asked me which ones I read for pleasure. In reply,
I explained that I was a media junkie, who systematically sampled most
products on offer, rather like a wine taster, because that was my job.
Favourites did not come into it, I said pompously.
But I later realised that I was not telling the whole truth. Until quite
recently I would curl up with a magazine such as She or Marie Claire,
and enjoy it for an hour or so at a time. So I deliberately set aside a
day to read a big selection of the December glossies.
I am a huge admirer of the energy and creativity which the fundamentally
small teams which run magazines pour into them. At this month’s British
Society of Magazine Editors conference there were dozens of committed
people, debating long and hard about how to attract readers, while
balancing the demands of advertisers.
When you consider the number of top editors from Linda Kelsey (She) and
Nicola Jeal (Elle) downwards who have quit this year, it is clear that
this is a most demanding sector.
But many of the glossy monthlies seem to be degenerating into marketing
packages, rather than coherent editorial propositions, aimed first and
foremost at the reader. I know that Christmas issues are especially
bloated with advertising, but do they have to be overstuffed, like the
worst sort of turkey, with inserts?
Being faced with a 330-page Good Housekeeping, the UK’s top-selling
monthly, is rather like having a huge doorstopper of a book crashing
onto your knee. It has traditionally been valued by middle-class women
for its infallible Christmas recipes, provided by the famous Good
But these pages, which should be the core of the magazine, seem oddly
devalued by the double page ads for soups, supermarkets and ovens. And,
since they start on page 257, they seem almost an afterthought.
All the glossies have inserts which are deliberately of a different size
or on a different, stiffer sort of paper to the rest of the magazine.
This means you cannot avoid them when you open the magazine, which is
what the advertisers want, but it is tremendously annoying.
This is not a blast against the number of ads as such, or necessarily
their placing. Most magazines do try hard to hook you up front with at
least some grabby editorial or high profile column. But overall, there
is far too much space devoted to advertorials and promotions (fashion
spreads from Dorothy Perkins or Next flowing seamlessly from the
magazine’s own fashion pages). Publishers want to ride the boom of
advertorials, especially as it is hard to raise cover prices. But a bit
of restraint and a refocus on editorial would not go amiss for 1996.