Celeb mags near saturation point

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OK magazine landed in the U.S. looking a bit jetlagged.

A "wonder weddings" feature celebrated "cutest couplings" like Donald Trump's January wedding to Melania Knauss and the April nuptials of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. Jessica Simpson's interviewer began by saying, "You just turned 25," referring to her birthday-July 10.

Nonetheless, OK arrived last week, injecting the lucrative and fiercely competitive celebrity-weekly category with another player, another dose of energy and even more Tara Reid coverage. Whether it will work is anyone's guess.

"It will be pretty tough for these guys to crack this market because there's an overabundance of this kind of magazine," said Christopher O'Connell, senior VP-group account director at MPG. "OK could be D.O.A."

Then again, owner Richard Desmond has said his Northern & Shell company is willing to spend $100 million on OK over six years. Cristian Toksvig, CEO at Northern & Shell North America, said the weekly will boost its initial print run of 1.3 million by perhaps another 400,000 copies for issues three through six as part of a promotion with Wal-Mart. (The guaranteed circulation is much lower, at 350,000.)

The debut issue included 19 ad pages, from usual suspects such as CortiSlim and Xpel diet supplements to more mainstream brands such as Pleasures Exotic perfume from Estee Lauder and Smirnoff vodka.

"Our culture has become obsessed with celebrity and the media recognize it," said Michael Drexler, CEO at Optimedia International U.S. "But magazines are just oversaturated with celebrity. "

Ad pages across the celebrity-weekly category have increased this year. Us Weekly posted a 16.2% spike, for a total of 909 ad pages, from January through June, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.


At People, the celebrity weekly champion and target of an OK ad campaign that urged advertisers to "avoid dull People," ad pages grew 10% to a six-month total of 1,870.

"The tide is definitely rising," said Paul Caine, publisher. At the same time, he said, "There's limited interest from consumers and advertisers for this genre."

All the magazines claim they're about identities-People says it is about people, not celebrities, for example. The differentiator for OK is its promise to be "pro-celebrity."

It also, controversially, plans to pay stars for access. Ms. Simpson received an undisclosed sum (reportedly $200,000) and editorial approval.

"That's a little bit different than objective journalism," said Mr. Drexler. "But nevertheless that is a model that may very well work."

It has certainly worked for OK in Britain and elsewhere. In the States, it means readers and advertisers can now choose between the fanzine flavor of OK or the nastier tone of, say, the most recent Life & Style, with a cover that showed Ms. Simpson under the blaring headline, "Finally, Divorce!"

If readers want dirt, OK is unlikely to pay off.

"Readers are smarter than we think," said George Jansen, the head of print at Mediaedge:cia. "If they think they're being talked down to or tricked, they will catch on eventually and stop buying."


Owner: Richard Desmond, whose Northern & Shell also publishes U.K. tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Express and Daily Star

Estimated launch budget: $100 million over six years

Initial print run: 1.3 million

Paid circulation guaranteed to advertisers: 350,000

Pages including the front and back covers: 100

Ad pages in the first issue: 19

Quoted price for full-page color ad: $28,000

Cover price: $3.29

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