Lights, Cameras: Celebrity Mags Are The Success Story Of '06

As some of the biggest magazine genres struggle with declining readership and ad pages, one plucky category--celebrity mags--is having a blockbuster year.

Without question, the big story for celebrity mags in 2006 is the phenomenal growth of InTouch Weekly and sister publication Life&Style Weekly, launched in 2002 and 2005 by Bauer Publishing. There's also good news from its competitors, like Us Weekly--launched by Wenner Media in 2000 and relaunched as a glossy celebrity mag in 2002--and Star Magazine, a tabloid relaunched as a glossy mag by American Media, Inc. in 2004. Although the magazines are nearly indistinguishable at the newsstand, they still succeed individually.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), in the first half of 2006, InTouch Weekly's newsstand sales rose 5.3% over the same period in 2005, climbing from 1,090,088 to 1,147,390. In a marked difference from almost every other genre, InTouch Weekly's newsstand sales dwarf its subscription base, which grew 27.5% to 42,546.



And according to the latest figures from the Publishers' Information Bureau (PIB), in January-September, InTouch's ad pages rose 38.6% compared to the same period last year--topping 646, as revenue jumped 84.6% to almost $78 million. Meanwhile, a similar Bauer title that also offers celebrity fashion tips, Life&Style Weekly, saw newsstand sales increase 48.3% to 469,749, as pages grew 13.4% to 283 and revenue jumped 113.5% to over $15 million during the first nine months of 2006.

Bauer is not the only company turning gossip into gold. American Media's weekly Star Magazine is following a somewhat different route, transitioning to a subscription base model, with the blessing of advertisers. While newsstand sales fell 14.4% from 879,356 to 752,498, subscriptions rose 39% to 761,505, for total 6.1% circulation growth. On the ad end, in the first nine months of 2006, ad pages rose 9.1% to 689, and revenue jumped 27.6% to over $114 million.

Finally, Us Weekly's newsstand sales rose 1.7% to 1,006,191 as subscriptions jumped 15.1% to 788,670. In the first nine months of 2006, the mag's ad pages rose 4.8% to 1,311 and revenue jumped 34.6% to almost $197 million. While the celebrity weekly niche has risen, there have been casualties--most notably Time Inc.'s Teen People, which the publisher announced it would close in July after months of falling ad pages and revenue. According to the PIB, Teen People's total ad pages for the first half of this year fell 14.4% from 2005, from about 353 to 302, while ad revenue fell over 10% in the same time period.

Samir Husni, a magazine expert at the University of Mississippi's journalism school, said Teen People is a victim of its own success, tracing the title's rise and fall beginning with its 1998 launch. "When Teen People was launched, it was one of the big success stories. But then we had title after title for teens hitting the newsstands. That created this whole teen celebrity niche."

The death knell was the arrival of InTouch, Husni says--in large part because of its greater frequency: "I call it the InTouch weekly revolution. When InTouch launched, the first major weekly covering the celebrities at this apparently cheaper price--$1.99 per issue--they took the market by storm. Then came all the other weekly titles. InStyle, Us, Star changed from a tabloid to a magazine, then OK came to the market, then Celebrity Living." Looking back, Husni says, "those celebrity weeklies have replaced the need for the more expensive teen monthlies."

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