Teen title angst

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Competition in the teen-girl magazine niche, stuffed with contenders, will only heat up further in '02. The first salvos come courtesy of one of the genre's proven stars, Annemarie Iverson, as she puts her stamp on Primedia titles Seventeen and Teen.

Ms. Iverson, as Seventeen's editor in chief and editorial director of Primedia's teen titles, came to her new perch in late September after spending almost exactly a year at Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's YM. There she was the editorial head of the team that piloted the magazine to a 39.1% ad page gain-that's not a misprint-through November. First up on Ms. Iverson's agenda is a redesign of Seventeen, still the category's biggest title, with a circulation of 2.37 million for the first half of '01.

"Seventeen has to remain the leader," Ms. Iverson said. "It has to be the biggest book." It's getting some stiff competition from YM, though, which is now within 100,000 of Seventeen's circulation numbers, and outsells it on newsstands, although those numbers have fallen off from previous levels. (Shortly after she arrived at YM in 2000, Ms. Iverson told Ad Age she wanted to make YM "the biggest teen magazine in the marketplace.") Through November, Seventeen's ad pages fell 7.4% to 1,232.2, though it still attracted almost twice as many pages as YM's 692.3, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

"It's ultra-competitive right now," said Anne Zehren, publisher of Time Inc.'s Teen People. In addition to Hearst Magazines' CosmoGirl, this year saw the debut of Conde Nast Publications' Teen Vogue and Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Elle Girl. Next year, Teen Vogue is slated to publish two issues, as it did in '01; Elle Girl, which launched in August, will publish four.

All this happens against a backdrop of a legendary weak economy.

"It's a very shaky year we are entering," said a media buyer who asked not to be named. "I don't know if there will be room for all of them."

Seventeen's redesign, which comes with its February issue, changes the logo, and ups what Ms. Iverson calls the "fun quotient" in part, she said, by pumping up its fashion, beauty and graphic verve. The February issue, just now hitting newsstands, is noticeably revved up graphically, with hot pinks and reds replacing the more somber color palette that typified Seventeen in recent years. Ms. Iverson has also reorganized the interior departments to better focus the title's contents.

But Ms. Iverson's sterner test will come when she turns her attention to Teen, the title Primedia picked up in July as part of its Emap USA deal. Teen seems almost a cautionary tale as to how quickly an established teen player can shrink in such a crowded niche. Less than a year ago, Teen's rate base was 2 million. A redesign, which tightly focused the title on shopping, style, and celebrity from its general-interest roots, hit in August (AdAge.com QuikFIND: AAM32H). Its rate base dropped to 1.5 million this year-which made Time Inc.'s Teen People the third-largest magazine in the category. In February, Teen's rate base will fall to 1.2 million.

Teen's ongoing changes are "making all of us very nervous," said the media buyer that requested anonymity. Ms. Iverson said she wasn't certain how she will tweak Teen, but said that its content areas missed something crucial: "I think life." She said its current form was "just not enough."

The publisher's slot at Seventeen has been vacant since Linda Platzner, president-group publisher of Primedia's teen titles, was promoted in September.

Over at YM, meanwhile, Publisher Laura McEwen said the ascension of Ms. Iverson's second-in-command, Christina Kelly, to the editor-in-chief slot made the loss of Ms. Iverson less of an issue, and promised that ad pages would continue to rise in '02.

Teen People's Ms. Zehren, without naming names, said that in '01 her title "walked away from a lot of business we find unprofitable. ... There's a tremendous amount of discounting going on" in the category. (Teen People's ad pages rose 2.5% through November, to 950.9.)

Ms. McEwen dismissed Ms. Zehren's assertion. "We did a better job of selling our brand," she said, adding that internal figures showed a 47.7% revenue gain for full-year '01. "I don't think that's a fair comment."

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