Teens read, and advertisers see a green light

Magazines that are struggling or closing thanks to the weak economy should consider adding "teen" or "girl" to their titles.

Business is booming for publications that offer makeover tips and 'N Sync stickers, especially those that have debuted in the past few years as spinoffs of already established adult brands. The latest, ELLEgirl, debuted Aug. 28. It joins titles like CosmoGirl!, Teen Vogue, and Teen People - all new since 1998.

"[The category] is doing very well," says magazine guru Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi. "It's one of the few genres in the magazine business that is experiencing continuous growth."

Teens are 30 million strong and growing with significant spending power -an average of $100 a week - making them an obvious target for advertisers. They also like to read, and don't limit themselves to one magazine, say publishers and teens. Whether it's to find out about music or makeup, to be hip or to know what the hip are reading, teens are driving sales of millions of copies a year.

"I like to know what's going on -even though I don't dress the way they say you should dress," says Brittany Wood, a 14-year-old high school freshman in Marshfield, Mass. She reads Teen People, CosmoGirl!, and teen-mag veteran YM because, "You get three different sources instead of one. I like to be more accurate."

In 1990, only five new teen magazines were launched, according to the Magazine Publishers of America. In 2000, that number jumped to 19. Publishers say it took time and the right factors -like the fast-growing teen population - for the industry to realize that the market could support more than just Seventeen, YM, and Teen.

"You had three highly successful mass-reach titles, so from a business standpoint, you really had to prove there was room for another magazine," says Anne Zehren, publisher of Teen People, from Time Inc.

Three years after its debut, Teen People, with its mix of what Ms. Zehren calls "stars, styles, and substance," has grown to a circulation of 1.6 million, putting it at the top of the category along with Seventeen (2.3 million), YM (2.2 million), and Teen (1.5 million), according to Professor Husni. It also won a national magazine award this year - beating out Vanity Fair and Sports Illustrated among others in the general excellence category.

ELLEgirl hopes to be the next success story, offering more international fare and targeting older teens -ages 14 to 17. Editor Brandon Holley says its audience wants both reported stories and the fashion and beauty advice that fills the pages of the debut edition.

But some critics, including teens, say that the messages the magazines are sending are too mixed: stories about anorexia alongside ads featuring thin models; features that tout being independent with those that tell teens what they have to own if they want to fit in.

"We already have enough pressure, we don't need them to tell us all these new things," says Ana Grossman, a high-school freshman in Duluth, Minn., and a member of the editorial board at a noncommercial publication for girls called New Moon (www.newmoon.org).

Both Ana and Brittany say teen publications are having an impact on their peers. "In school, a lot of people judge you by the way you dress, and I think a lot of people get it from the magazines," says Brittany. "They should do less about appearance and more about what's inside."

Teen magazines say they take cues from teens who they use as writers and consultants. "Teens are not very forgiving," Zehren notes. "They're marketing targets. They know it. But you better be honest with them ... or they're just going to walk away."

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