Go Figure: New Title Seeks To Widen Women's Market
Hoping to provide a more realistic take on the women's lifestyle magazine, figure debuted last week in more than 2,250 Charming Shoppes stores (which include the Catherines Plus Sizes, Fashion Bug and Lane Bryant chains). Produced by NYC-based communications firm Brinsights and Soho Publishing, the mag offers the usual women's-mag staples - fashion, fitness and home decor - but with a decidedly more populist bent.
"The market for this magazine is very, very underserved," says co-publisher and executive editor Geri Brin. "Lots of magazines talk about how they're for 'real women,' but real women do not wear a size two or four. figure is truly a magazine for 'real women.'"
The publication isn't exactly launching into the most welcoming climate. While companies may be in the process of upping their ad spending, the economy is still far from stable. Similarly, women's lifestyle and fashion/beauty magazines are free-falling at the newsstand, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) data. And Mode, a magazine catering to largely the same market that figure hopes to capture, went out of business at the end of 2001.
That said, certain targeted women's titles are doing quite well, both in terms of sales and ad pages. The Publishers Information Bureau has reported that More, a title aimed at the 40-and-over demographic, has seen a 38.9% gain in ad pages and 80.5% surge in ad revenue during the first seven months of 2003. Similarly, the mag has grown its readership by 18% during the first half of the year, including a 2.1% jump at the newsstand, according to the ABC numbers.
Brin does not view figure as a niche title by any stretch of the imagination. "You get five million shoppers a week at Lane Bryant and Fashion Bug and Catherines," she notes. "That's a considerable number of potential readers." Though figure has quoted a rate base of 300,000 to advertisers, Brin believes the mag will sell its entire print run of 400,000 copies. Given the immediate response to the mag at the three Charming Shoppes chains - Brin gleefully reports a two-day tally of 25,000 copies sold, and has the register receipts to prove it - it's hard to dismiss her enthusiastic projections.
figure's most distinguishing feature is clearly its store-first distribution model. Though the magazine is already in Books-A-Million and will be making its way onto newsstands in the months ahead, Brin isn't so sure the magazine needs distribution beyond the retail world. "What do we need newsstands for?," she says. "We want them and we'll eventually get them, but we've got all these stores."
The distribution arrangement has other benefits. By closely allying itself with the three preeminent retail chains for plus-sized women, figure will never lack insight into the consuming habits of its readers. Additionally, Brin believes the arrangement will facilitate a range of marketing tie-ins that other women's titles can't easily coordinate: "We can do sampling programs in the stores and other promotions that go beyond our pages much more easily than just about anybody else."
As for advertisers, the first issue of figure arrives at a modest 80 pages, but boasts appearances by consumer giants like Avon, Chase, Olay and Crest. While Brin seems mostly satisfied with the early results - "we'd like some more of the Mercks and Pfizers, but those will come with time" - she has not enjoyed her forays into the world of New York ad agencies.
"I'm not interested in badmouthing agencies just for the sake of it, but it's been exasperating," she explains. "I've never seen so much bureaucracy in my entire life, so many people who have no authority to make decisions. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who feels this way."
Such issues notwithstanding, Brin is deep into her plans for 2004 and beyond. While the magazine is officially a quarterly, its frequency could increase in a hurry if demand is there. "We won't go monthly until 2005," she explains. "I can see us doing more than four issues next year, but I don't want to be impulsive about things."