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Press & publishing

Closer encounters

If Heat is for the metropolitan, twentysomething, office girl commuter, Closer is for her dowdier, older, provincial sister

Picture gallery: inside Closer's special free issue

Janice Turner
Friday September 20, 2002

Closer, Emap's new celebrity-led women's magazine, is an attractive, pacey, perky new title that ought to worry the moribund old dinosaurs of the classic women's weekly market.

Titles such as Bella, Best, Woman and Woman's Own struggle to reinvent themselves as modern players. But, whatever groovy redesigns they think up, all readers will ever say is "my mother read that" and every six months their sales show another sharp decline.

Better just to invent a new one. Which is where Closer fits in. The magazine has four components: celebs, real life, puzzles and TV listings. The package on the surface is quite attractive, combining something trivial and fun to flick through with longer reads.

But shouldn't a magazine do something really well? Isn't that the point? And Closer does everything - at least to judge it (probably very unfairly) by its first sample issue - only adequately.

The paparazzi shots are very old potatoes. The pictures of Tiger Lily kissing her nanny (Closer's opening spread) were in the Daily Mail and other papers weeks ago, as was a feature about the family of a thalidomide victim.

Celebrity coverage is now so competitive that magazines, fighting the tabloids and throwing cash at photographers for long-lens pictures of GMTV stars crossing the road, need a very specialist and sharp picture desk.

There is, as yet, no evidence of this in Closer. It has the feel of a long lead-time Sunday supplement rather than a pacey weekly read. Compare its tired Catherine Zeta Jones marriage feature with hot news of Sadie and Jude's baby in Emap's own Heat or the latest on Kylie's love life in Now.

Also Heat's wit and attitude, which takes the mick out of celebs more than it sucks up to them, is entirely absent here.

If Heat is for the metropolitan, twentysomething, office girl commuter, Closer is for her dowdier, older, provincial, out-of-the-loop sister.

The real life stories show promise, however, and ought to unnerve the classic women's weeklies. But, again, most of them have appeared in the tabloids first.

These stories, and the number of puzzles in Closer, show Emap has its guns aimed at Take a Break's one million weekly readers. It may seem old fashioned and often bizarre to the outsider but Take a Break knows how to please its ferociously loyal followers.

Closer may peel off a few younger, more aspirational women but its puzzles and prizes are not substantial enough to sway Take a Break's core reader, who is older, C2DE and northern.

But the magazine that is most likely to lose readers is IPC's Now. The clever, long-standing editor, Jane Ennis, invented the celeb/women's weekly and has presided over a steep yet steady ABC ascent, taking Now to a circulation of 570,000 for the first half of 2002. But Closer has the same components, a friendlier, more feminine design, the same quality paper, the same price of 1 but TV listings as well.

The Closer editor, Jane Johnson, like all tabloid journalists who leave to edit magazines, will feel she has something to prove to her former Sunday Mirror colleagues, who'll say she has gone to swim in the girlie shallow end. I bet, once she finds her stride, Jane will fight her hardest for exclusives to make them weep.

Emap is a company with guts which, unlike some publishers, knows about modern marketing, has a management team that supports editors (Ian Birch, the wise and wiley editor in chief, leads the team) and is absolutely determined not to allow a launch to fail.

Let us not forget Heat was initially a huge flop. But the company grabbed it, found it a clever young editor in Mark Frith and turned Heat from a male-oriented TV guide into a sassy, frothy, must-read with its last ABC pushing half a million and climbing.

And judging by its massive sampling exercise for Closer - 1 million copies of a 100-page issue handed out free - Emap is signalling it means very big business indeed.

· Janice Turner is a former editor of Real and That's Life!

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