Sounding boards

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Teen magazines, like the readers they serve, seem preoccupied with the way they look. They can be catty, sniping at one another with the quiet ferocity of a jilted ex. For example, Teen President Lynn Lehmkuhl describes rival Seventeen as "dull, dusty and old-fashioned." And they're highly susceptible to peer pressure, battling for the love, respect and dollars of the same advertisers and readers.

That said, despite a chillier ad climate and intense competition within the category, most of the Big 5 teen titles have so far navigated the 2001 storm quite nicely. Three out of five posted gains in ad pages for the first five months of 2001, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's recently redesigned YM registered the most substantial gain, up 51% in ad pages vs. a year ago. At the other end is Teen, with ad pages down 12.1%. Uncertainty surrounds Teen's place in the market because parent Emap USA is on the selling block.


The Big 5 teen magazines have one overarching similarity: They target girls. Only Time Inc.'s Teen People pulls in a sizable male audience-20% of its readers are boys, says Publisher Anne Zehren. According to Teenage Research Unlimited, 80% of girls between ages 12 and 19 read a magazine for pleasure every week, compared to 65% of boys. Spotting an underserved segment, Rodale had its eye on teen-age boys with its launch last summer of MH-18, a spinoff of Men's Health.

Other teen-focused magazines with predominantly male readership tend to be niche titles such as gaming or extreme-sports magazines. "Other than the skateboarding and surfing publications, [advertisers] don't have a place to reach teen guys," says Paul Turcotte, VP-publisher of Men's Health.

The future of M-18, however, is still in doubt; the magazine is behind schedule on its plans to increase frequency.

Being read about equally by boys and girls is Teen Ink, an ad-supported monthly distributed to 3.5 million high school students, published by the non-profit Young Authors Foundation.

Teenage Research Unlimited pegged teen spending at $155 billion last year. But even for marketers of products that aren't specifically aimed at teens, these magazines are important because young people influence parents' purchases and are developing brand preferences that could last a lifetime. "Companies that weren't targeting teens are beginning to move dollars out of the 35-plus category and into the teen mags," says Julie Press, who as president of Press Media, Santa Monica, Calif., buys ads for cosmetics marketer Bonne Bell and Den-Mat Corp.'s Rembrandt oral-care products.


"You have to get them now, even though they don't represent as much volume as the older segment," adds Doug Ng, VP-associate media director at Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, who handles Gillette Co.'s female shaving products.

"You're looking at a group that is very brand-conscious and whose relationship with products and brands is very important to them," explains Nina Link, president of the Magazine Publishers of America. "They look at these magazines as an authority, as a role model to help them figure out what is appropriate and what their peers are doing."

The magazines are returning the affection by giving readers direct access to their editors as well as a voice in the editorial process. CosmoGirl Editor in Chief Atoosa Rubenstein-herself only 11 years out of high school-attempts to read the 1,000 e-mails she receives from readers every day, while Teen People has identified 10,000 of its readers across the country as "trendspotters" who test new products and provide feedback. "This generation of teens believes there will be a female president in their lifetime," says CosmoGirl Publisher Kristine Welker. "They're so confident, and we take all our cues from them."

"The overriding emotion is that kids really want to be listened to. ... they really want opportunities to be heard," says John Meyer, publisher of Teen Ink, whose content is entirely teen-written.

The major problem faced by most of the teen mags is finding a distinctive way to reach this audience. Several critics agree with University of Mississippi journalism professor and publishing industry watcher Samir Husni, who argues that "everything in the magazines is shopping and boys, with manufactured heroes like Britney [Spears] and the Backstreet Boys in between."

"I think most of the research supports that this is a pretty optimistic generation because they haven't grown up with the Cold War, they haven't grown up with the nuclear threat, and they've lived through, up until very recently, a pretty darn good economy," Mr. Meyer says. "They haven't exactly seen hard times. And I think there's a lot of positive things out there."


Publishers and editors concede some overlap in content but strive to accentuate the distinctions. Teen People boasts extensive celebrity style and music coverage. Primedia's Seventeen attempts to offer "a worldly perspective on growing up," says President-Group Publisher Linda Platzner. YM has moved away from its relationship/advice niche and upped its fashion quotient. Teen is reinventing itself as a shopping-first title ("No more oh-my-God-my-mother's-a-drunk-and-I-had-to-raise-my-brother-and-sister stories," promises Ms. Lehmkuhl).

CosmoGirl, launched by Hearst Magazines in summer 1999, revels in the empowered attitude pioneered by big sister Cosmopolitan. Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Elle Girl, to debut in August, will serve up international style for older, more sophisticated teen-agers, says Editor Brandon Holley.

Publishers are rejiggering products to reach teens better. Teen will unveil a new design and editorial focus in its August issue. A new look for Teen People also kicks off with its August issue.

As for the future, only YM Publisher Laura McEwen will suggest that the category is approaching a point of saturation. "I think there will be room for three very strong magazines-YM, Teen People and Seventeen-and everybody else will be on the periphery," she predicts.


Teen's fate hangs on the sale of Emap. On the guy side, MH-18 had planned to go every-other-monthly by January but has yet to do so. The latest issue came out in May. Rodale's Mr. Turcotte says he's encouraged by the response MH-18's first three issues have generated among readers and advertisers. "Advertisers are dying for this thing to work," he says. Rate base is 175,000, and advertisers have included Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Ford Motor Co. Mr. Turcotte hints at a possible alliance with one of the Big 5 teen magazines but says an agreement has yet to be reached.

The teen category continues to be enticing, however. Alloy Online, which CEO Matthew C. Diamond describes as a teen media company, this year launched AlloyGirl, and Advance Publications' Conde Nast Publications recently ended a test of Teen Vogue with no decision yet on whether the spinoff will launch.

Ms. Link sees niche-oriented publications taking center stage-"teens and news, sports and hobbies." Thanks to the modern teen-age girl, few observers believe that any teen magazines are going to have trouble finding a date for the prom. "It's a very good time to be in this business," Ms. Platzner says.

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