When it comes to women’s and men’s magazines, the word on every editor’s lips seems to be “value”. This is particularly true of women’s magazines. When a woman is strapped for money and time, getting bang for her buck is what counts.
ELLE editor Jackie Burger says that the spirit of the post-recession era is practicality and efficiency. “I see this even in beauty and fashion (trends),” she adds. For Burger, value is not so much about bulk as about “efficiencies”. She says, “We (as a magazine) need to take a snapshot of the issues women face day-to-day, making life easier for them. You are short of time, you come home from work and you have to cook a meal – isn’t it nice to find something in a magazine that makes that easier?”
ELLE showed a solid increase in paid circulation figures in 2012 Q4. Burger is cautious, however. “The first quarter results we are starting to see now show that the consumer is a little more oppressed,” she says. “At the end of the year, the consumer is spending more, [and] there’s a little bit more of a celebratory mood.” However, ELLE could certainly take credit for its success, which Burger believes may have been due to their roll-out of a “layered approach”, generating interest online to drive up copy sales. ELLE’s October cover starred SA celebrity du jour Bonang Matheba, shot in New York, and, in November, the magazine featured an exclusive interview and cover with American singer-songwriter Solange Knowles. These are two celebrities with strong Twitter followings who created buzz around both events. The magazine’s ‘Rising Star in Design’ and ‘BlackBerry Star Reporter’ competitions also raised brand awareness, says Burger.
Value is also key for Afrikaans title rooi rose, says editor Martie Pansegrouw, and it lies in creating a good read packed full of content. The title’s glossiness and size makes it stand out too as a luxury read, she adds. “We are offering a full spectrum. We try to remain a bit of a read, more than a page-through.” One example is that rooi rose has, since their launch 71 years ago, started providing fiction as part of the package. “We also still publish short stories, which has always been a point of difference with other magazines. There are not a lot of places where Afrikaans writers can get published.”
rooi rose rallied from disappointing 2012 Q3 results to overtake SARIE as the most read Afrikaans women’s magazine for the first time in years. So what is the magazine doing right? “We are a positive read; we are a very pretty read. I think our larger and more luxurious size has a lot to do with it. We thought to emphasise the difference between our competitors with our size. We want to be brimful of sense, brimful of style,” says Pansegrouw.
rooi rose recently underwent a redesign with the help of creative guru Jaco Janse van Rensburg, though it was more ‘tweaking’ what was already working, rather than a complete overhaul, says Pansegrouw. The redesign was based on research done by Caxton into all their titles and was a year in the making.
Comparison with SARIE has always been odious to both brands and does not reflect the realities of the market properly – Afrikaans magazines compete with English titles as much as they do with one another. Local is often said to be lekker in this sector (given the sustained success of the Afrikaans magazines and those aimed at black women, like Destiny) as well as the pulling power of local celeb covers, but Pansegrouw says it’s tough out there for a magazine that opts for local faces. “English magazines are using the same faces, so our little pond (of celebrities) is getting smaller. Magazines used to use images like mothers and babies, because this is what readers liked; now they know that celebrity covers work.”
Despite their drop in circulation, for Burger, SARIE still stands out. “SARIE continues to deploy something that is very solid, that has always worked for them. Yet they are straddling modernity with SARIE winkel (their groundbreaking e-commerce platform) and their brand extensions… They really understand what their reader wants.”
That is the crucial factor, says Pansegrouw, and is what rooi rose has always striven to do, with their Readers’ Forum. It also explains the phenomenal success of relative newcomer Kuier. This Media24 magazine is four years old and targeted at coloured women in Cape Town, though it boasts a significant male readership too. As well as the usual women’s magazine content, like fashion and food, Kuier features advice and inspiring real-life stories and “really has its finger on the pulse of its readers”, says Pansegrouw. Kuier’s success also bears out Burger’s assertion that the emerging market is where it’s at for magazines right now.
Bearing in mind that Kuier’s rocketing figures will probably level out as it penetrates its market, their Audit Bureau of Circulations figures are still impressive: they were up by more than 36 000 copies in the latest ABCs (between Q3 and Q4 2012).
Kuier editor Kay Karriem has said that her title fills two gaps in the market: coloured women and the mid market. In an interview with The Media she says it’s not just about that demographic. “Our themes are universal. They are so important that anyone could identify with them. It’s a life we identify with, the struggle of being here now. We care about Eskom prices going up, we want to know what effect the horsemeat scandal will have on us. Are we aspirational or inspirational? That’s not what we’re about, we are very much about reality. No one is going to identify with drapes that cost R5 000 per metre.”
Karriem says they are constantly re-evaluating their value proposition. Again, it’s about giving the reader value. “It’s all about the reader and they are always telling us what they want. Our price increase, for instance. The cover price went up by R2 at the end of last year, so we had to add value to the content. I believe value must be measurable, quantifiable. We ask, what are they getting for R2 more?” Kuier added, among other content, crossword puzzles and a cover mount. The brand also hosts regular events in community halls that are usually sold out in minutes.
When it comes to men’s magazines, it appears that the age of the lad mag is over, as FHM’s falling circulation seems to indicate. Whatever the reasons for this locally, it does reflect a worldwide trend in lad mags and in men’s magazines in general. It’s not just FHM: GQ, Men’s Health, Popular Mechanics and Stuff were all down. Destiny Man is doing fairly well, possibly due to the popularity of the black market among advertisers.
Playboy rallied from shocking 2012 Q3 figures that were apparently caused by an error. When asked if this had a detrimental effect on advertising, editor Charl du Plessis says it didn’t help, but it’s not the real issue for them. He says conservative corporate media agencies don’t want to put Playboy before clients. Also, they struggle to get some retailers to stock them. “There’s a difference between what a retailer in Koekenaap and a retailer in Greenpoint consider appropriate,” he says. “But then you’ll go to Koekenaap and they’ll have COSMO talking about orgasms and FHM with their usual crassness. Our covers are traditionally more conservative (so they can be displayed on shelves).”
Du Plessis says retailers tell him that copies of Playboy are among their most shoplifted items – men may be embarrassed to be seen buying something that some consider pornography. For this reason, Playboy regards the internet as strategic: when readers engage with the brand online, they are more likely to buy a printed copy.
Given the above and that Playboy SA is still a small company, their April cover was a decided risk. The Playboy team put the cover together in response to the outcry about violence against women in the wake of the deaths of Anene Booysens and Reeva Steenkamp in February and featured a strong anti-rape message.
Du Plessis says the cover was a collective effort. “We thought, boy, we can’t let this go, we have to make a statement.” The final result is black with the headline “Annual Sex Survey: No Means No” and the suggestive outline of a woman’s back and buttocks. “We were playing with the idea that men’s magazines… all have annual sex surveys. We tested the cover with a number of people and our creative agency and got a good reaction; everyone was very positive… (but) we’re also not sure if it’s speaking to our market.”
The cover drew praise and condemnation from rights groups and the media. Few, however, mentioned the back cover, which gave practical steps that men can take to reduce the incidence of sexual violence.
Playboy has slashed its rate card, says Du Plessis, to provide value for advertisers. Value for readers and value for advertisers – these are both imperative in magazines right now.