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OK! gets a $10m build-up in the US

Jane Martinson and David Teather in New York
Friday August 5, 2005
The Guardian


Newspaper publisher Richard Desmond brought his brand of air-brushed celebrity interviews to America yesterday in an attempt to crack the world's wealthiest weekly market with OK! magazine.

Promising to spend $100m (£56.5m) over the next six years to leapfrog mass market rivals such as People magazine, OK! launched across the US with a promotional blitz estimated to cost $10m alone.

Paul Ashford, group editorial director of Mr Desmond's Northern and Shell group, said: "We want to take the express route [to number one] and are prepared to pay the fare."



The first run of 1.3m copies was printed in New York state, Florida and California and distributed nationally. Its cover features the singer/actress/reality TV star Jessica Simpson, whose rocky relationship with former boy band heart-throb Nick Lachey is subject to constant front-page gossip in the other celebrity magazines. "If I got pregnant I'd be ecstatic," she reveals.

Magazine pundits have suggested that OK! will appear dull compared with the gloves-off journalism of rivals like US Weekly and People.

Mr Ashford denied this, saying that research suggested the diet of paid-for interviews was a hit in the American heartlands of the mid-west as well as LA and New York. "It's a positive magazine which has a feeling of well-being. People like it. It doesn't threaten them."

Christian Toksvig, chief executive of OK! in the US, said the group had spent the past eight months focusing on changes that would appeal particularly to the US market, such as clearer layouts with more signposting, larger font sizes, more fashion, health and beauty.

The group also intends to spend heavily on buy-ups such as the marriage of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Senior executives refused to discuss reported talks with Michael Jackson, following his acquittal on child molestation charges.

Other interviews inside the 100-page first issue include the actress Tara Reid and Law and Order's Mariska Hargitay. Otherwise the magazine sticks to images of the main American celebrity staples, the women from TV's Desperate Housewives and the OC, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. Unlike in the UK version, the Beckhams play a relatively small role.

The group hopes big Hollywood stories gathered by its 60-plus staff will be syndicated across the magazine's other locations. It is printed in seven places outside the UK, including China, with plans to launch in Russia and India.

Northern and Shell refused to cut a cover price of $3.29 a copy, way above some of its rivals, which include the 3.7m-a-week selling People magazine, Star and Celebrity Living as well as the revamped TV Guide.

Mr Ashford said: "OK! Has to be a premium product. It's upmarket in its nature and its price should reflect that."

Britain's Hello magazine plans to launch a US version in 2006.

Mr Desmond, who is on holiday, was unavailable for comment yesterday. He has previously denied stories that an earlier business venture saw him targeted by the New York mafia.


Related articles
04.08.2005: US OK sticks to UK formula




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