At a time when young stars like Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez are minting money for magazines, Bauer is making quite a different statement with the cover choice for the first issue of its new celebrity weekly, Closer: Valerie Harper.
But if the beloved star of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda spinoff (recently appearing on Dancing with the Stars), 74, isn’t a top draw for 20-somethings, the magazine’s executives say she's just right for the 40-plus woman that Closer is aiming for.
“She’s well known for the Mary Tyler Moore Show and she was on Dancing with the Stars,” said Closer editor Annabel Vered. “She has a whole new group of fans.”
Closer is predicated on the belief that despite a crowded market for celebrity news, there’s a dearth of content for women who want to read about the stars they grew up as well as service content that speaks to them as over-40 consumers. In that way, it follows in the tradition of Meredith’s More magazine for baby boomer women and Prevention, which recently issued a redesign that embraces its over-40 audience. In the case of Closer, that means keeping up with Suzanne Somers and Lynda Carter (to name two of the stars featured in the launch issue), not the Kardashians.
“Kim Kardashian changing her name to West—I don't think our readers really care about it,” said Vered, who has had editing stints at titles including In Touch, Star and TV Guide.
In terms of visual presentation, Closer looks much like celebrity weeklies already on the market. It’s heavy on photos and short on text. There are reports on stars’ romantic news (Love Notes), having fun (Fun and Games!) and vamping on the red carpet (Generation Wow!), all through a positive lens.
“We’re not bringing them down,” Vered said. “These are celebrities our readers like, and want to celebrate them, rather than looking at their cellulite.”
Bauer is putting out 2 million copies of the launch issue at 25 cents each to encourage trial. After that, it'll distribute 500,000 copies weekly thereafter with a rate base of 150,000 and cover price of $3.99. Contrary to the ad-driven model of most consumer magazines, Closer, like Bauer’s other magazines, will be overwhelmingly dependent on newsstand sales, with only about 10 ad pages per 76-page issue.
Bauer's longstanding experience with newsstand titles notwithstanding, the launch flies in the face of industry trends. Single-copy magazine sales have been declining for years, falling 10 percent in the most recent reporting period.
While Hearst Magazines has had success with monthly spinoffs of well-established brands (HGTV, Food Network), Bauer is taking a gamble by launching an unknown title in a weekly format, pointed out John Harrington, editor of The New Single Copy newsletter, noting that weeklies have been disproportionately hard hit. “News is just so available in other places. If someone’s hot for the news about celebrities, they know it by the end of the day,” he said.
Veteran celebrity and women’s editor Bonnie Fuller agreed that there’s a market for positive celebrity news. But she questioned whether women want to read about stars that are 20, 30 years older. “They’re reading the younger weeklies,” said Fuller, now editor of Hollywoodlife.com. “There’s less differentiation between millennials and their mothers.” When they do want to read about women their own age, she said, “Is there enough material that’s fresh every week and that they’re not finding online?”
Already, those consumers also are being reached in print by People magazine (median female reader age: 43.8), Star (40.4) and the National Enquirer (51).
Bauer executives said that they believe Closer will succeed because it’s got a huge target market to draw from, namely, 75 million women over 40, who are underserved by other celeb weeklies.
“You’re seeing a sea change,” said Marc Richards, publisher of Closer. “Advertisers are tired of going after 24-year-olds who are unemployed. They want to go to where the money is.”