Ditches Typical Girl-Talk Features for High-End Look

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The smartest new magazine of 2003 is a title aimed at teenage girls.

Granted, it has no competition so far for those honors, but Conde Nast Publications' Teen Vogue will be tough to beat in any event. The latest, littlest and most luxe player in the teen-girl category looks sleek, doesn't shy from decent-sized articles and boasts stunning visuals from fashion-world heavyweights.

No girl tales of woe
But what may be even more noticeable than its slimmed-down digest size is what's left out. There's nothing on relationships, no wacky first-person tales of woe. And the sine qua non of new-breed teen titles, the self-consciously chatty style built around an editor-as-best-pal-figure -- like CosmoGirl Editor Atoosa Rubenstein or Elle Girl's Brandon Holley -- is absent as well.

It's hard to picture soft-spoken

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Editor in Chief Amy Astley, a 10-year veteran of Vogue and a protege of its editor in chief, Anna Wintour, in such a role. For her part, she recalled seeing focus groups in which teens had much sport with that teen-mag tone: "'Hey, the 'rents are out of town! Let's party!' "

Taking the high road
Teen Vogue is hardly the only player aiming at the sophisticate teen -- aside from its fashion focus, its positioning somewhat resembles that of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s Elle Girl. (That niche may seem at odds with its $1.50 newsstand price, although Scott McDonald, Conde Nast's senior vice president of market research, suggested that was merely "introductory pricing.") But it is the latest attempt at a title trying to take the high road to success -- never the most successful route to magazine riches -- and even fans question whether there's room for another title in the hottest category of the past five years.

"I like it. They're doing [some] really interesting things," said Karen Jacobs, senior vice president and director of print investment at Publicis Groupe's Starcom, Chicago. But: "Do I think the category's overcrowded? Yup."

If the category's ripe for a shakeout, "we're going to be the ones doing the shaking," shoots back Steven T. Florio, Conde Nast president-CEO. Teen Vogue was first tested in 2000, and its long gestation led some insiders to believe it wouldn't launch, but Mr. Florio now says "it has my unqualified enthusiasm and support."

The sector's remaining traditional players, Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's YM and Primedia's Seventeen, now scrap with a series of spin-offs, which began with Teen People's launch in '98. Hearst's CosmoGirl came in '99, and Elle Girl hit in '01.

Newsstand declines
Still, the category's three leaders -- Seventeen, YM and Teen People -- posted double-digit newsstand declines for the first half of 2002. This can be read in two ways: that the energy has shifted to the newest entrants -- CosmoGirl's rate base will rise 25% to 1.25 million this year -- or that the space is overstuffed even without another addition.

Teen Vogue hits newsstands Jan. 28. Its initial rate base is 450,000, and Publisher Gina Sanders suggested the long-term goal for circulation was around 750,000 -- generally the cutoff point for what Conde Nast considers a mass-market magazine. A one-time full-color ad page is $36,400. Of the debut issue's 204 pages -- the minimum size for the title, regardless of ad sales -- are 80.4 ad pages, which Ms. Sanders said was the most for any teen mag launch.

Six issues are planned for this year, 10 for next year, and 12 for 2005. Among the charter advertisers are ones you'd expect in a teen magazine, like Estee Lauder Cos. and Old Navy, and higher-end players like designer-du-jour Marc Jacobs and high-end watchmaker David Yurman. (Ms. Sanders dismissed notions that some advertisers might have been brought into the magazine strictly as add-ons to deals with Conde Nast's formidable corporate sales unit, but one executive with first-hand knowledge of such dealings said this was happening.)

$500 clothing
Ms. Astley dismissed criticism lobbed at the title's previous four test issues, by pledging to feature no wares from the likes of high-end fashion players like Gucci and Prada -- save for the latter's lower -- priced Miu Miu line. "We try not to go over $500" for clothing in fashion spreads, she said.

All the same, Ms. Jacobs said, "They're going after the time-honored 'aim high, and hope the aspirational reader comes along' " strategy.

Will they?

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