Iconic Music Title Takes Brand to Radio, TV and the Web

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LONDON ( -- When Smash Hits!, once the U.K.’s most popular music magazine, closed after 28 years this month, it was mourned extensively by nostalgic 30-somethings. While e-mails flooded in to radio stations bewailing its demise and the BBC News ran items on its closure, the magazine’s target audience -- teenagers -- most likely shrugged their shoulders and moved online without shedding a tear.
'Smash Hits' first cover, 28 years ago, and the last one, this month.

Smash Hits! had its heyday in the '80s, when the biweekly title’s circulation peaked at 1 million copies and helped launch the careers of budding stars such as Kylie Minogue. Famed for its playful, irreverent style -- interviewees were asked ridiculous questions such as the color of their socks rather than about their music -- its pull-out posters adorned the walls of millions of teenage bedrooms and it was particularly popular for printing the lyrics to fans’ favorite songs.

Down to circ of 120,000
But recently readers had been deserting the title. In the last set of circulation figures, published by the Audit Bureau of Circulations in August 2005, Smash Hits! reported a fall of 4.4% to 120,000 copies an issue. Emap, publisher of Smash Hits!, blamed the declines on young readers who now spend more money on mobile phone and Internet content, and said the brand will continue to exist as a digital music TV channel, Web site and digital radio station.

Smash Hits! undoubtedly suffered from changes that have taken place in the pop music industry. Teenagers can view videos and soak up music gossip online, and Internet downloads have grown to the point that there is less interest in the traditional "singles" charts that tracked sales of CDs sold in music stores. Another casualty of this trend was the BBC’s long-running teenage music program “Top of the Pops,” which moved off prime-time TV a year ago.

However, problems in the teen market are not confined to music-led titles. The entire U.K. teen entertainment magazine market has seen a sales decline of 30% over the past three years and advertising revenues in the market have been estimated to be down by 25%. In last August’s figures, circulations of almost all teenage titles fell year-on-year.

Last September Hachette Filipacchi shut the U.K. edition of ElleGirl after four years, and teen magazines 19 and J17 closed in 2004. Readers have migrated from those titles to older-oriented celebrity titles, as well as to new media.

Changing teen marketplace
“It’s not just about music, it’s about the whole marketplace changing and the way that younger markets interact with the media,” said Steve Goodman, managing director of WPP Group’s M Print, London.

However, he doesn’t believe that this is the end of print media for this target audience. “Publishers need to re-evaluate how they put their magazines together, to work more ‘hand in glove’ with other media such as their Web sites,” he says. “In particular, layout needs addressing so that teenagers can dip in and dip out of content, as they would do online.”

Mr. Goodman believes that if titles can create a strong brand, both on and offline, advertisers will want to buy into those brands.

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