OK Latest Celeb Weekly to Cut Rate Base

But That Doesn't Mean Category Is Going Away

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- OK magazine's decision to cut its circulation guarantee by 100,000 copies, 11% of its total, is only the latest retrenchment in the celebrity-weekly category -- but it doesn't mean print's celebrity dream is dying.

It's certainly tempting to think, particularly if you're a little sick of all the attention given famous people, that celebrity magazines are feeling an undertow.

It's been a while, after all, since the category's red-hot growth started cooling. OK's move follows similar cuts at Star, In Touch Weekly and Life & Style Weekly in the past few years. It drops the category's combined paid-circulation guarantee to its lowest point since 2005 and 900,000 copies below its peak in 2007.

The drop also comes as competition is stepping up on the web. TMZ captured the celebrity scoop of the year when it broke the news of Michael Jackson's death. Bonnie Fuller, who made Us Weekly a powerhouse before jumping to Star, was named in July to direct coverage at HollywoodLife.com. And the newsstand business, which celebrity weeklies rely on more than most magazines, is getting hammered in the recession.

So far this year, celebrity weeklies have actually held their ground better than most, selling 6.9% fewer copies in the first half than in the same period in 2008, according to data published in The New Single Copy and provided by MagNet, the Magazine Information Network. Declines in other categories, by comparison, included drops of 10.6% for women's titles, 10.9% for entertainment magazines, 12.1% for teen and children's titles, and 14.5% for sports books.

"People and Us saw some recovery in May and June, which is before the Michael Jackson issues, which produced some very, very big numbers," said John Harrington, publisher of The New Single Copy. "There is also some hope for an uptick from Ted Kennedy's death. While some of the category may be 'challenged,' I have a lot of confidence in the big players."

Eric Blankfein, managing director for channel insights at Horizon Media, agreed that consumer demand isn't going away. It isn't growing like it used to, he said, but it's still there. "Is it showing a lot of upside?" he said. "Probably not." But enough people will probably continue to buy the magazines, he said, to maintain levels more or less where they are.

And while OK is cutting its paid circulation, others are edging upward. Life & Style just quietly added 50,000 copies back to its circulation guarantee, according to Ian Scott, president of Bauer Media Group, which publishes Life & Style and In Touch. Moreover, Us Weekly plans to increase its rate base by another 50,000 copies in January. People magazine, the category leader, is keeping its guarantee steady at a whopping 3.45 million.

Maintaining enough advertising support for so many titles may prove a bigger challenge than finding newsstand buyers and subscribers. Marketers using celebrity weeklies are often seeking scale, which tends to favor the biggest magazines, said Kathleen Brogan, print director at Carat. And as long as the recession's effects put a crimp on ad budgets, she said, most advertisers sure aren't going to buy all the books in the category.

Celeb-Weekly Rate-Base Changes
Rate base Last change First-half newsstand First-half paid and verified circulation
People magazine
Time Inc.'s People
3.45 million Added 50,000 copies in 2007 1.3 million, down 12.8% from first half last year 3.6 million, down 4.9%
Us magazine
Wenner Media's Us Weekly
1.9 million Added 50,000 copies in 2008, will add another 50,000 in January 2010 843,479, down 3% 1.9 million, up 2.1%
Star magazine
American Media's Star
1.1 million Cut 150,000 in April 601,115, down 14.3% 1.2 million, down 12.3%
In Touch magazine
Bauer's In Touch Weekly
800,000 Cut 200,000 copies in January 745,123, down 17.7% 800,519, down 16.2%
OK magazine
Northern & Shell's OK
800,000 Cut 100,000 copies in September, retroactive to July 398,360, down 20.4% 809,292, down 10.6%
Life & Style magazine
Bauer's Life & Style Weekly
450,000 Cut 100,000 copies in January, added back 50,000 copies in July 478,788, down 7.8% 488,807, down 7.5%
Source: Publishers' reports to the Audit Bureau of Circulations

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