A long time ago I worked on Business magazine, where Jeff Ferry – then one of the newshounds – was doing a piece about Gerald Ratner, of Ratner the jewellers fame. At the time, everyone was mystified by how well they did. One day Ferry came back to tell us of his progress. “He was saying to me, you wonder how we make profit? It’s because these things are crap!” We laughed at the idiocy of the guy and his customers. Great copy for the piece, we thought.
A month or two later, Ratner made the same comments – except to an audience at the Institute of Directors, with a host of national newspaper journalists listening. Within days, the brand was toast.
Now Heat magazine may have done much the same. Its centrefold of stickers included a really distasteful one about Jordan’s son Harvey – who is blind and autistic with a disorder which renders him clinically obese. (Read this Guardian piece from the mother of a disabled child for her reaction:
As the mother of a profoundly disabled, somewhat “funny looking” child myself, the sticker reduced me to tears. It played directly to some of my darkest fears for my son – that he will grow up to be lonely, an outcast and the butt of cruel jokes.
(Yeah, I know that feeling. It’s receding, but it lingers.)
But what drove Heat to such a massive misjudgement? This is a magazine that used to know its readers, and when I used to pick it up, the feeling I got was that it didn’t think its readers were cruel. But this was cruel; heartless; thoughtless. It lacked compassion.
So what’s happened to Heat? Competition. The explosion of dire celeb mags out of organisations like the Express group, which are cruel, competing with each other to be the most crummy and snide; that’s what’s happened. It’s a race to the bottom and Heat has found itself caught up. There’s now no saving this sector: it’s going to implode.
My wife – a former media correspondent on The Independent, let’s not forget – points out that precisely the same happened in the lads mag market. When Loaded started, it was witty and original. Then other mags piled in, and finally Nuts and Zoo joined, and that was it. Bye-bye quality, hello tits and trash.
So, crow over the coming demise of the celeb mags. We’ve been here before. The key question now: what’s the next super-niche?
(And isn’t it impressive that I found a pic of Jordan with all her clothes on?)