If launched, 'Gala' faces crowded field

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For a magazine without an official green light, there's a lot of activity around Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Gala.

Interim G&J CEO Axel Ganz, who launched the magazine in France a decade ago, speaks of a $100 million business plan to launch the celebrity-lifestyle weekly, and did not dismiss an insider's assertion that the project is quietly seeking staffers. Executives familiar with the project told Ad Age that its distributors have been primed for at least a soft launch in October, but insiders also talked of a one-off turning up even before then, which Mr. Ganz deemed "possible."

Two prototypes exist, one with Halle Berry on the cover and a later one featuring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. The most recent cover bears the tagline "Celebrity News & Lifestyle." Gala's plan calls for the magazine to use celebrity as an entry point into a broader women's lifestyle space, with a lusher look, a larger size, and articles on vacation getaways alongside fashion spreads and product and red-carpet snaps. In the Halle Berry issue, an editor's note from former Rosie editor Susan Toepfer calls Gala "the first American magazine to combine show business news with fashion, beauty, travel, entertaining and fitness features." No rate base or ad rates have yet been set.

Gala will succeed if it can hit with consumers and attract both mass and prestige advertisers-a mix which eludes the weekly players in the space. This would carve out a niche against the fluff of new-style weeklies Us Weekly and the Star, Bauer Publications' In Touch and, of course, the blend of celebrity and human interest that's made Time Inc.'s People the biggest revenue generator in the business.

ambitious launch

Should Gala launch it would be the most ambitious debut since Wenner Media's Us Weekly in early 2000. That launch was decidedly rocky, and in its early months a candid Jann Wenner reflected one problem with weekly publishing: "Putting out a couple million [copies] every goddamn week" means that, if things go awry, money simply "pours out."

But that was then, and in 2004, Gala would enter an ever-widening maw of consumer demand. "One year ago, a big week was when the four [celebrity weeklies] sold 2.5 million in a week" on the newsstand, said Wenner Media's General Manager Kent Brownridge. "Recently, we've been seeing 3 million [issue] weeks."

Both People and Us Weekly will report newsstand sales increases for the last half of '03. American Media's Star will post a decline, though Editor In Chief Joe Dolce points out the title raised its price recently.

Gala's prototypes list Fitness publisher Julie Pinkwater as the publisher, and she's expected internally to remain in that role, but Mr. Ganz said that no decision had yet been made about that position.

One major print buyer who's seen a prototype, who would only speak anonymously, said Gala's mass-class advertiser blend looked attainable.

Eric Blankfein, VP-director of planning for Horizon Media, New York, dismissed notions that the category was too crowded-but did warn of a budgetary fact of life. "I don't see us, in any category, being able to go three [magazines] deep," he said.

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