Instagram is our biggest competitor

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Circulations of celebrity magazines like Heat have plummeted in the UK in recent years in the face of digital competition – but the American entertainment weekly People tells a very different broadcast story.

In 2000, it had 2.1 million subscribers. By the end of last year, that figure had risen to 2.7 million.

Although the title’s overall circulation has fallen over the same period – from 3.55 million to 3.46 million – its sales numbers are impressive and run counter to broader industry trends.

So who in the age of gossip sites and social media still pays to read a weekly showbiz magazine?

“Everyone,” UK-born People editor Dan Wakeford said in a video call interview. “We reach so many American women. We are a demographics breaker.

Obviously, “everyone” is a slight exaggeration. But People – through print media, its (industry-leading) Apple News + edition, website, daily podcast, and digital channel, PeopleTV – reaches millions of people in the United States and beyond. According to data from Comscore, People.com has a print and digital audience of 88 million adults per month.

“They are mostly women,” Wakeford adds, when asked to restrict his audience. “They are very busy women. Many of them are mothers. They are looking for an escape that makes you smarter.

Discreet? “I sometimes take the metro”

People magazine has been published weekly in the United States since 1974. Its founding editor, Richard “Dick” Stolley – recently deceased at the age of 92 – made it his mission to “tell ordinary people’s stories. doing extraordinary things and extraordinary people doing ordinary things ”. .

In a Stolley obituary, The New York Times said People magazine had “changed the course of American publishing with its personality-driven approach to journalism.”

Wakeford, who was previously editor of In Touch and Life & Style magazines, joined People as associate editor in 2015.

In April 2019, just over a year after the sale of People’s publisher, Time Inc, to media giant Meredith, Wakeford stepped in to replace Jess Cagle as editor.

At the time, the New York Post claimed Cagle’s exit was “proof that the era of celebrity magazine editors is over.” The Post hinted that Cagle chose to leave at the end of his contract because he felt “wronged” by Meredith, “a Midwestern company known for its innuendo.” Meredith rejected the suggestion at the time.

The Post went on to describe Wakeford as “low key.” The newspaper quoted an anonymous “friend from Wakeford” describing him as “the kind of guy who takes the subway to restaurants … he doesn’t fly across the country and send a limo to pick you up.”

Wakeford laughs when asked about this story. “This article was fun,” he says. “And I kind of liked it because it made me look very out of place and relatable.

“But that wasn’t really true, and it wasn’t a friend who said that. I sometimes take the metro – I haven’t done it for a very long time – but I also take cars.

Wakeford adds that while “the glamor of entertainment journalism has certainly been lost over the past year and a half because we’re all at home,” working at People is “always a lot of fun” for its more than 200 employees. .

Celebrity Journalism Must “Deliver What You Can’t Get On The Internet”

So how did People manage to maintain a circulation of over 3 million in an age when there is an abundance of celebrity information available for free on the Internet?

“We are the experts in celebrity, human interest and entertainment stories,” says Wakeford. “We have proven this for many years.

“And now, at a time when there is so much mistrust of the media, our journalistic rigor and our brand equity [bring] a sense of authority to the content we produce.

“When you talk to people about People, they always tell us… ‘Oh, I know that’s true when I know it’s in People.’ “

Wakeford suggests that many other celebrity-focused magazines “haven’t adapted” to the digital world.

“They don’t provide anything you can’t get elsewhere,” he says. “The internet provides rumors, speculation and fun. You need to invest in journalism and the magazine and reportage profession [to] give away what you can’t get on the internet.

Supermarket tabloids have struggled in recent years. National Enquirer, for example, saw its circulation drop from 2.1 million in 2000 to 150,000 at the end of last year, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Globe has grown from 740,000 to just over 80,000 over the same period.

“I’m not going to talk about specific magazines,” Wakeford said. “What a lot of these entertainment magazines have done is not provide anything different than what you could get for free elsewhere.”

“I have empathy for Meghan and Harry”

Before moving to the United States in the early 2000s, Wakeford trained as a journalist in the United Kingdom and worked for Heat magazine in London.

When asked to identify the differences between British and American celebrity journalism, he said: “The American public is much more puritanical.

“The British press is much more closely watched by [the Independent Press Standards Authority regulator]. The American press is watched by the appetites of the public.

“We have freedom of the press and the constitution, so we are not restricted by any governing body in this way. But we are perhaps more limited by what our audience wants.

Earlier this year, British journalism came under heavy criticism from Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry described the British press as “fanatic, especially the tabloids”.

Although Winfrey’s production company has been accused of distorting British media coverage of the royal family, the majority of Press Gazette readers (including many British journalists) agree with prince harry.

Wakeford appears to be among those affected. “I think after watching it, and being here and being involved in both, I can totally understand and empathize with them. [Harry and Meghan]. “

Is this a view shared by others in the United States? “I don’t think the United States has such a strong take on what the British press is doing,” says Wakeford.

“They are aware that we should be checking a lot of things that are coming out of Britain, and that is what we do every day. This is really my point of view. I empathize with Meghan and Harry.

“Instagram is our biggest competitor in the world”

In 2021, when a celebrity wants to make an announcement to their fans, they can do so on any number of social media platforms, bypassing traditional media. This creates a major challenge for any post that writes about famous people.

“Definitely,” Wakeford nods. “Instagram is our biggest competitor around the world.” But he thinks People have an advantage.

“We’re talking to a larger audience,” says Wakeford. “So a celebrity can talk to their own audience on their social networks. But they are already preaching to the choir. It’s the people who follow them, their fans.

“We’re reaching a larger audience of people who don’t necessarily engage with this celebrity. And celebrities also recognize our expert in storytelling. We are the best at telling these stories. “

The cover of People magazine, Wakeford says, “dictates what all of America is talking about next week.” We fix the cultural conversation.

“That’s why celebrities so desperately want to be on the cover of People. That’s why they climb to get there.

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