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The Magazine Scene Proves It’s, Like, a Teenage World

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They have titles like Jump and Blast! and Twist.

Hot young celebrities and boy bands beam from the covers under bright headlines that promise to decode dreams, explain what guys really think and spill the stars’ secrets on everything from their first kiss to how they combat zits.

They are the new teen magazines and they’re taking over your newsstands.

Moviegoing, phone-chatting, computer-using teenagers--a group not usually associated with reading--are buying magazines in numbers that bring smiles to publishers’ faces. The trend also pleases educators who say any reading--from teen to Twain--is good for you, although the topics of articles may not please feminists.

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A new Magazine Publishers of America study on the teenage market counted 233 magazines with content aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds. Fourteen teen publications were launched in 1999 alone, said Samir Husni, head of the magazine program at the University of Mississippi.

“At any given newsstand you can find a variety that ranges from 15 to 75 teen magazines. It used to be Seventeen, Young Miss and Teen. Now, you name it, it’s there,” Husni said.

There’s Latingirl for Latinas and Honey, aimed at African Americans. Jump is for active girls, TeenStyle just for hair and beauty. Seventeen, YM and Teen--older and more broad-based--are still the industry leaders.

‘Echo Boom Coming of Age’

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Established magazines such as People and Cosmopolitan have spawned Teen People and CosmoGIRL!, No. 1 and No. 5, respectively, on Barnes & Nobles’ list of top 10 teen magazine sales. Demographics are behind the teen magazine explosion. “Ten years ago, there weren’t very many teenagers so there weren’t very many teen magazines. It’s the echo boom coming of age,” said Lisa Granatstein, senior editor at Mediaweek.

Simply put, it’s buying power.

Nearly one in 10 Americans--23 million--is a teenager, according to the MPA study. The ranks have grown almost 7% during the past five years--outpacing the 18-to-34 age group and those under 12. Expected to grow by 1.7 million over the next 10 years, the group will be the only age group to experience a boom, the study says.

Teenagers spent $98 billion of their own money and their parents’ money in 1999, according to the study, which cited sources such as Teenage Research Unlimited, Merrill Lynch and Teen People.

How do publishers hook these savvy consumers, who have been exposed to advertising all their lives? With packaging, marketing and celebrities, industry watchers say.

“Everything is looking very MTV, very hip,” said Granatstein.

Teen People, launched in 1998, shot to the head of the class with the celebrity approach. The publication, one of the few that appeals to males as well as females, features Jennifer Lopez in a low-cut, tight-knit shirt on the May cover.

Selling celebrity works because “teens are so loyal they will try a new magazine if they see their favorite face on the cover,” said Lisa Lombardi, editor in chief of Twist, which features actor Freddie Prinze Jr. and “What Fame Taught Him About Love” on its May cover.

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But content counts too.

“Kids wouldn’t read something uncool or stupid. There’s enough content out there they think is worth their time,” said Granatstein.

To Jan Osborn, who teaches reading content in the School of Education at Chapman University in Orange, any reading outside of school is good reading.

“If you are reading out of school for fun--and that can be comic books--you’re improving,” said Osborn, adding that pleasure reading is essential to making progress in instructional reading.

“The feminist part of me is concerned about what’s in them [teen magazines]. I hope it’s not just making them little consumers of beauty products,” she said.

But if teenagers are allowed to read what they want, eventually they’ll move away from teen magazines and, if they have the reading habit, they’ll pick up the next magazine and the next, she said.

“I have a bias. I hope it’s the Nation rather than Cosmo,” she said.

But Osborn admitted that as a teenager growing up in the Midwest she frequently visited her grandmother and “voraciously read” Radio TV Mirror, which was loaded with Hollywood gossip.

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While teenagers might be fascinated by celebrities, there’s nothing more fascinating to a teenage girl than herself, said Diane Salvatore, editor in chief of YM.

The publication offers articles that help girls explore their inner lives and is heavy on music because it helps express emotions, she said. YM has done articles on social issues such as daredevil driving, teen suicide, heroin addiction, the rise of plastic surgery for girls and even teenage girl bank robbers.

YM encourages teenagers to read by using sidebars as points of entry into stories and using illustrations to present images that photography can’t, Salvatore said.

CosmoGIRL!, a YM competitor, also speaks to the inner girl, with opportunities for teenagers to voice their opinions, share a page of their diaries and rant about pet peeves.

When it comes to magazines, teenagers read differently than adults, who usually have just a few minutes at night to peruse their magazines. Teenagers read them at the computer, at school and with their friends as a social exercise, publishers say.

And the Internet plays a big role. Teen magazines all have Web sites and readers can join in live chats with beauty and fashion editors, download music, view articles, see photos from the latest celebrity shoot and e-mail the editors. Salvatore at YM and Atoosa Rubenstein, editor in chief at CosmoGIRL!, get hundreds of e-mails a day.

“It’s a misconception that the only thing girls care about is fashion, make-overs and celebrities. Yes, they love that stuff, but I get e-mail and how do they sign off? Quoting song lyrics that are important to them and with meaningful words and inspirational passages,” said Rubenstein.

A Focus on Self-Acceptance

But the content of most teen magazines might make feminists blanch.

Much of the 1950s’ teen magazine formula, what Jump Editor Lori Berger calls the three Bs--beauty, body and boys--is still evident. Twist promises “Make-Him-Melt Prom Hair and Makeup.” YM’s April edition offered “Kisses Guys Love! Lip Service From 100 Cuties.” Seventeen asks “How Far Would You Go for Him?” and features the “Boys of Buffy--Unzipped” but they don’t mean that literally.

Standard fare, according to Husni, includes “horoscopes, boyfriends, celebrities, how to be your best without being 5'5" and, somehow, sex in a nice way.”

Jump (“For Girls Who Dare to Be Real”) broke the mold by aiming for an audience of real girls, those who are active and not necessarily size 6. “Kick-Butt Queens” (a hockey player, a bull rider, a boxer and a wrestler) are featured in the May issue.

Cover girl Leslie Bibb of the WB’s “Popular” is billed as popular but not perfect and reveals she doesn’t like her butt. Readers also learn what she’s reading (“The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” by Rebecca Wells and “White Oleander” by Janet Fitch). Her favorite author? Toni Morrison--an answer English teachers would love.

Beauty, fashion and quizzes are on the magazine’s menu but the focus is on self-acceptance, Berger said.

“Other magazines say, ‘Buy this lipstick--you’ll get a date.’ For us, it’s ‘If this lipstick makes you feel better, buy it,’ ” she said.

Jump’s “real teen” focus quickly spread to other teen publications. Teen People features teenagers doing the extraordinary and covers topical issues such as Columbine one year later. The magazine uses 9,000 teenagers nationwide as “trend-spotters " and has a 35-member teen news team that files reports in the magazine and online.

Then there’s the Teen People Book Club (a partnership with Book-of-the-Month Club) that offers a monthly catalog, book reviews by teenagers and access to an interactive Web site (https://www.tpbc.com). The site works as an order form now, but plans to offer book chats about or with authors.

“The common perception out there is that teens don’t read. We found just the opposite to be the case,” said Anne Kallin Zehren, publisher of Teen People. The book club’s budget has tripled, she said.

What are teenagers reading? The club’s top five includes “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” (Jack Canfield), “She’s Come Undone” (Wally Lamb), “Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self” (Sara Shandler), “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” (Stephen King) and “Places I Never Meant to Be” (Judy Blume).

The “Review Crew” that helps select the club’s offerings says teenagers want more books about coping, more coming of age novels and more novels about teenagers and teen life, she said.

Books show up in a surprising number of teen magazines. Teen Movieline, new this year, did a write-up on Book Soup, the Sunset Strip bookstore to the stars. It suggests readers might bump into Brad Pitt there.

Who knows, they might even come away with a good read.


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