Where Have All the Girls Gone?

Shuttering of Jane and Cocktail Mags Signals Shift in Ways Women Consume Media

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When Ingrid Festin was young, she subscribed to Highlights magazine. As she got a little older she subscribed to American Girl and World. "Then in my teenage years, I subscribed to Seventeen and Teen People," she said. And now, as a 21-year-old paralegal in Astoria, N.Y.? "Aside from my Entertainment Weekly subscription, I read almost everything online."

Have all the young women who once loved magazines gone digital? Last week's shuttering of Jane and the aborted launch of Cocktail Weekly, despite the circumstances particular to each book, seem to suggest that yes, they're leaving magazines. But a closer look shows that most young women are actually still there reading -- it's more that the tight ad market and cacophony of new media options are combining to cull the field of titles.

Magazines' reach among girls between 12 and 19 years old has declined in the past five years, especially among the 15-to-17-year-old set, which saw the percentage of girls who said they had read a magazine in the previous 30 days fall to 79.9% from 85.6%, according to Mediamark Research.

Good, not good enough
But it's also true that magazines' reach among those 15- to 17-year-olds remains close to a whopping 80%. And penetration for 18- to 24-year-olds is higher than any other age group, at 92%, essentially unchanged from five years ago. Jane had paid and verified circulation above 700,000 in its most recent statement, while Teen People got shut down one year ago with paid circulation around 1.5 million. These aren't small numbers.

And yet ad money has been leeching from many titles edited for young women. Teen People had estimated rate-card revenue of $76.8 million in 2002, according to the Publishers Information Bureau; that figure fell 4.9% in 2003, dropped 9.6% in 2004 and slid 4.6% in 2005. In 2002, Jane was a $38.4 million book; 2003 was better, but the dollars sank in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

It's not that young women are completely abandoning magazines, it's that they've added other types of media. And advertisers have had to follow them, meaning advertising budgets for print that once went toward three or four titles in the field may now be directed at only the top one or two in order to free up money for emerging media. ElleGirl was collecting growing hauls of ad money -- until Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. killed it last year at age five, citing the expense of acquiring new readers every few years. Among those still doing healthy business, Teen Vogue and CosmoGirl have turned in steady ad-page growth. Even Seventeen, a behemoth with paid circulation above 2 million, has felt the pinch: Its estimated ad revenue fell to $101.9 million in 2006 from $120.8 million in 2002.

Diluted attention
Reader engagement is also clearly part of the equation. It's usually magazines' greatest draw for advertisers, but young women's attention is being diluted by new media properties and refocused toward social media. "We know that generally females spend more time socializing and communicating," said Suzanne Martin, a Harris Interactive research manager. "This has transferred right into their use of technology and media."

Rishad Tobaccowala, president at Denuo Group, put it another way: "It's less that the young are reading online than it is a category shift from reading to communicating."

Five years ago, magazines were still the key media destination for people pursuing their passions, said David Shiffman, senior VP-connections research and analytics, Media-Vest USA. "Print still holds a unique place," he said. "But the digital space has offered a ton of options. It starts to infringe on something that once belonged to print essentially alone."

Just in the last year, the percentage of women 18 to 34 who blog at least once a week rose to 30% from 25%, according Initiative's proprietary InVision 2.0 study. Those streaming audio rose to 43% from 37%; those streaming video grew to 42% from 34%.

The web has been Cheryl Alejandro's main media source for years, she said. She's 22, lives in New York state and spends most of her online time on Facebook. "I don't particularly read magazines," she said.

'Personal relationships'
For others, the internet and magazines live side by side. Jacqueline Mantey, a 21-year-old student at Kent State in Ohio, said magazines and the web each represent about 20% of her media consumption. "Magazines have always taken up that much of my media use," she said. "I love the feel, smell, look of them. In high school, I would have given up an extra pair of shoes to buy a magazine subscription. There's something comforting about them being tangible, and I really think women especially form stronger personal relationships with certain magazines. It becomes 'our' magazine."

Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of MediaVest Print Investment and Activation, said teens may be heavily involved with digital, but most girls love, read and want magazines, as long as they are meeting their entertainment or information needs. "Most of the magazines that closed were not what teens want today and how they want it to be served up: quick, relevant and nothing too long," she said.

"By the way, this is not an 'and/or' statement," Ms. Steinberg added. "This is an 'and' statement. They do both. They enjoy both."

Gregg R. Hano, a former publisher of Teen People and the father of daughters ages 19 and 17, understands the complexity of the challenge.

"My girls, when there was a lot of homework being done, would be online, watching TV, listening to music, flipping through magazines and doing their homework all at the same time," he said. "I actually went to the guidance counselor at Pelham Memorial High School and said, 'Is this normal?' She said 'Absolutely, yes -- this is the new normal.'"

And then there are the advertisers, increasingly interested in finding their quarry in new and more engaging ways. "You're really looking at beauty and fashion," Mr. Hano said. "For the beauty industry in particular, there's an awful lot of options and there's a lot of ways to reach them and they're being very creative in their approaches in the case of online."
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