Sales are slumping across the sector but Hello! chief says royal family has staying power thanks to new generation
Love Island may have been the surprise television hit of the summer, but interest in reality TV stars in Britain is showing signs of waning while intrigue surrounding the royal family reaches record levels.
The latest circulation figures show sales of celebrity magazines are slumping, and the editor of one of the market leaders has questioned the longevity of reality TV personalities.
While the stars of this year’s Love Island may soon disappear from viewers’ minds, Rosie Nixon, the editor-in-chief of Hello!, said interest in the royals had reached an unprecedented level thanks to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Nixon said the new generation of royals had “changed the image of our monarchy” among the British public and around the world.
ABC magazine circulation figures show dramatic declines for both celebrity and women’s weekly titles. The circulation of Heat fell 17% in the first six months of 2017 compared with the same period last year, while rivals Look, Closer and Grazia were down 35%, 20% and 13% respectively.
The celebrity titles are battling against social media and online rivals such as MailOnline, but the slump in sales also suggests the appeal of reading about celebrities has declined since an explosion in interest around the turn of the century that sparked huge audiences for shows such as Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!
The circulation of Hello! was down 9% year on year between January and June, but up more than 2% compared to the previous six months.
Nixon said the magazine industry was “really tough” but the royal family was the “gift that keeps on giving”, while Pippa Middleton’s wedding in May had bolstered her title’s sales by 100,000 in one week.
“They appeal across age groups,” Nixon said. “I think the average reader age for Hello! is late 30s, but then we say we are read from everyone from 18 to 80. There is a big age span there and the royals transcend that age group, I think.
“I think the Duchess of Cambridge really has had a phenomenal effect. She was the normal middle-class girl who bagged a prince and it was such a fascinating story. She has made the royal family feel more accessible.
“Prince Harry made a very interesting comment recently when he said he couldn’t imagine now that a young boy at the age he was when he lost his mother would walk behind her coffin at her funeral in the glare of the world media. That wouldn’t happen any more and the fact he has even spoken about that shows a very different image of the monarchy than we had. That buttoned-up and not talking about your emotions that we previously had has been completely blown apart.”
Nixon, who has been at the helm of Hello! for almost a decade, said interest in the royals was the highest it had ever been, helped also by Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
“I think they could be our Brexit secret weapon,” she added. “Their [the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s] trip to Poland and Germany probably did more for us than Theresa May will ever be able to do. They really have changed that image of our monarchy.”
Asked why Hello! had outperformed other celebrity titles and enjoyed a prolonged period of success in Britain over 30 years, Nixon said: “I think we have always stuck to giving a platform to true stars, people that really are celebrated because they excel in an area of their life – whether that is acting or singing or sport, genuine talent.
“I think those kind of stars have longevity and those stars are always going to burn brightest for the longest time. I think other titles have played more to trends or people who are popular at the moment. The reality show stars that were very popular 10 years ago – the public doesn’t really want to read about those in their magazine any more because I think we can keep up with them online or on social media. It’s a different calibre of celebrity.”
Nixon said social media had changed how the public interacted with celebrities, but some stars now wanted to pull back from using Twitter.
“I think they give so much away themselves, although we are now seeing a change in the popularity of Twitter,” she said. “People are realising that you can actually say too much, and do you want to comment on everything?”
Hello! launched in the UK with an interview with Princess Anne conducted in Buckingham Palace. Nixon would like to be able to mark its 30th anniversary next year with an announcement that Prince Harry and the actor Meghan Markle are engaged.
“That would be nice if you could arrange that,” she said. “I think we are hoping that a wedding may be on the cards there. That would be great news for Hello! Obviously I can’t actually dictate when Harry might pop the question, but we are hoping that he might. They have been together for a year now just about, so that seems like a good enough time for me.”
Despite the pressure on the industry, Nixon backed Hello! to survive. “That make-up of big royal exclusives combined with these amazing wedding photo albums that Hello! is known for has kind of not changed really. I think even though obviously the personalities that we feature – the movers and shakers of the day – are now different, the way that we compile the magazine is actually comfortingly the same to our readers.
“I think in a time when the headlines are dominated by bad news, the escapism that Hello! provides is still one of its key strengths.”