Marie Claire has published its first issue under the editorship of Aspasia Karras. Karras is a jovial character who laughs easily. Quite often, and quite disconcertingly, she references herself in the third person in a mock-horror tone.
Aspasia Karras... introducing a little Jozi to Marie Claire.
Less mock and more horror is what some of the good folks in the Cape Town magazine industry must experience every time Karras draws a parallel between criticism of South Africa's magazine industry and its still seeming inability to truly transform itself in line with the changed South African reality and the fact that most of that selfsame magazine industry is based in the mother city. (Or might that have to do with the corporate cultures at the two major publishing houses in this country, namely Media24 and Caxton?)
Karras points out that 43% of Marie Claire's readership is black, 36% is white and 21% coloured or Indian. She does so to prove that her magazine truly speaks to South African women, as opposed to speaking only to white South African women, or only to black South African women. She happens to disagree with supporters on the desirability of magazine-apartheid. She believes these demographics were the reason the publishers of Marie Claire, Associated Magazines, looked to Johannesburg to find a replacement for Kate Wilson who left to launch Women's Health for Touchline.
Karras says she and her Jozi team bring a new, multi-cultural energy to the magazine, which explains why she is intent on staying where she is rather than moving down to the mother city. She has established a strong editorial team in Johannesburg and has based her fashion director (Sharon Becker) as well as senior editor Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine there. Cape Town-based editors will also fly up to spend time in Johannesburg.
Cape Town is no Jozi
Karras played host to members of the French publishing industry just before this interview, and she relates how they commented on the difference between Johannesburg and Cape Town as being akin to that between Paris and Saint-Tropez. While the energy and vibe in Jozi speaks for South Africa (as Paris does for France) only Cape Town offers Saint-Tropez, says Karras.
Her strategy for a strong Jozi team might well be mimicked by other Cape Town-based titles, and according to Karras it is in line with the group strategy for Associated Magazines. House and Leisure, she points out, has already established a strong team in Johannesburg.
Karras came to Marie Claire from a features editor position at The Times. Prior to that she was features editor at Elle. Her experience in the multi-media newsroom of The Times could prove especially useful to Associated Magazines, which so far has failed to successfully leverage its brands online.
Even while settling in, Karras (a blogger herself) saw to it that Marie Claire launched a blog and Twitter account (@marieclaire_sa). A more formal web presence will be revealed in the second part of the year, according to Karras. She plans a full website with possibly several blogs, bringing readers' news, photo galleries and behind the scenes footage. She believes that by building communities online the offline product can only be strengthened.
The fashion and beauty coverage will be bumped up, Karras promises, following the appointment of Bekker as fashion director. The post had been vacant for a couple of months resulting in less than ideal fashion coverage. She points to a photo shoot for the May issue done in New York directly after the New York Fashion Week as proof that the magazine is already upping its game. The shoot featured South African designer clothing modelled by local beauties who have made good in New York.
Karras has also been focussing on upping production values, something she sees as essential for magazines in surviving the rise of digital media and its mommy-blogs, which have already made a significant impact on women's magazine sales in, for example, the USA.
The challenge of a falling circulation
Magazines have had a tough time this past year and Karras believes the recession's impact on sales will be coming through even clearer in this year's circulation numbers. A look at circulation figures supplied by the ABC shows Marie Claire seeing a dramatic decline in single copy sales from 41 073 in Q4 2006 to 36 188 in Q4 2007, 32 984 in Q4 2008 and 28 495 in Q4 2009. This represents a decline of more than 30%. Paid circulation dropped from 44 916 in Q4 2006 to 32 191 in Q4 2009 - a decline of more than 28% over four years. Karras quite obviously isn't happy with current circulation figures and wants to rebuild it to where it was before the recession took hold. On the advertising front Karras believes the magazine is holding its own. She is confident that her push on beauty and fashion will push adspend up.
Karras doesn't expect the launch of Women's Health to impact on her title. She believes the magazine is more mass market orientated than Marie Claire and would be better viewed as competition to titles such as Shape and Longevity. She doesn't believe the new title has the same focus on strong journalism and offers readers a significantly different value proposition.
Freedom to create a product for the thinking woman
On the demise of Femina, Karras said it was a sad day for the local magazine industry but she did not agree with the over-40's pitch to its desired target market. This was probably too limiting, Karras feels, and, she adds, the magazine was produced on a shoestring, which didn't help matters.
As consumer magazines become more formulaic, repetitive and, well… dull, Karras believes her magazine still offers its editors freedom to create a product for the thinking woman. Marie Claire, says Karras, tells women to live their lives, that the world is an interesting place, and worth thinking about. Its history of feminism has offered a powerful boundary protecting the magazine from the general dumbing down some other titles have been experiencing.
The magazine has always aimed to be different from the bulk of womens magazine titles. It seems to have found an editor who is quite different too, and that could prove be a key strength as the title pushes to regain ground lost these past few years.
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Have followed your writing and think you will be a fantastic editor. Although would like to see you back in newspapers. You are too intelligent to suffer the woman's mag industry for too long :-)
Aspasia, Mazltov Hun! I know (from working together within the Johnnic stable a few years back) you will turn the mag around. You are one of the most gracious women in publishing with an abundance of style and poise! I can't wait to see what you bring to the table.
Hopefully the new ed will take Marie Claire in a different direction than the tacky tabloid one they've been on lately - just look at the cover lines like "my dad was a drug dealer", "I spend thousands on plastic surgery" etc etc. The articles are vapid and boring. MC used to be hard-hitting but recent articles on 29-year olds who spend R4000 a month buying clothes for their child is just ridiculous. The covers have been beautiful lately but the content leaves much to be desired. The fashion is too expensive and out of reach and the overall tone is very superior. Unless the new ed pulls a rabbit out of a hat, circ will keep falling because readers are used to better.
Hi All, i always have these ideas that i think given a chance can be turned to something but all that is missing is someone who is "like minded" to work around these . I need your advise as to how can i take these forward maybe someone to bounce these off or something... If you can help.. by all means shout.
was the point of this press release? Yes, we know there is a new editor but seeing is believing when it comes to diversity at any of assoc's titles. Marie Claire is just one of the many white woman's magazines that refuse to bend a little and allow newer, fresher writers a foot in the door. take it from a black freelancer who's been there, been turned down with no valid reason.