Following Lisa’s homage to the magazines of her youth this morning, guest poster Lisa Jewell reminds us why the disappearance of some of those magazines is a bad thing for girls.
I always feel wistful when I hear about another teenage girls’ magazine closing down. The latest case is the UK title Sugar, which will publish for the last time at the end of this month.
I can’t say that I’m overly familiar with the magazine – I don’t have a daughter and I’m too old to be in its target demographic. But from what I’ve read about it, it seems to still have the staple ingredients that most of us remember from our teenage years – including real life stories, a problem page and an almost confessional nature, whether it be about puberty health issues or matters of the heart.
The magazine’s publisher, Hachette Filipacchi, says it has decided to pull the plug on Sugar because of a “fundamental shift” in teen publishing as teenagers “spend their media time on mobile and web platforms and increasingly expect to receive content for free.”
It comes as little surprise – anyone now aged under 18 has no experience of life without the internet and we know they rarely buy print media. In fact, the only way that women’s magazines still manage to survive is that their older readership is used to buying newspapers or magazines. They’re the generation that grew up buying a weekly copy of their favourite mag – whether it was Jackie in the 1970s or Just Seventeen in the 1980s or 1990s.
Which begs the question – do teenagers still need magazines and is it just the format of them that will change?
When Sugar stops being published at the end of February, attention will shift to its online presence, Sugarscape.com. It has a significant number of users and is a place for teens to read articles, get advice and pick up fashion tips.
Teenagers, in essence, haven’t changed that much in the past 30 years – yes, their media habits have changed but they still worry about the same issues and have the same concerns as their counterparts from the 80s through to the Noughties (things like how not to get pregnant and how to deal with those blasted spots).
If anything, they are facing more pressures these days and need reassurance and someone to lend them an ear. And magazines can still provide that function. I remember looking forward to Saturday afternoon when my mum would bring me home a copy of Just Seventeen (this was prior to its funkier re-naming J-17) from the local shop.
I was only about 13 or 14 at the time and I had outgrown it long before I turned 17 but the magazine was full of articles I thought were relevant to me. Having three brothers and no sisters, I didn’t have a sounding board when it came to typical teenage problems so the magazine filled that breach. Along with the features on scrunching your hair or who you fancy out of New Kids on the Block, the magazine provided facts on sexual education and how to figure out the opposite sex (though I don’t know if any of us have ever managed that!)
I recently came across an old copy of Just Seventeen from April 1986 (the magazine spanned the years 1983 to 2004). It had been handed down to me by a neighbour who was a few years older than me and I think I got it in the early 90s. When I read it now, I’m struck by how much content was very UK specific and how I didn’t really notice it back then – Patsy Kensit is on the cover talking about her role in the film Absolute Beginners, there is a feature on Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson (who married later that year) and interviews with the cast of Grange Hill.
But there’s also a feature on having sex for the first time (including being emotionally ready and using contraception) along with a problem page mentioning issues like getting further education and grieving for a parent. In amongst the feature on how to perm your hair and the countless ads for Tampax were sources of information and reassurance that you were, in fact, a normal teenage girl.
For financial reasons, a title like Sugar couldn’t keep going in its printed form. Its circulation dropped 75 per cent in 13 years (from 486,000 in 1997 to 113,000 in 2010). However, its competitors, Bliss and Mizz, are still publishing and in Ireland, Kiss magazine is still around nine years after its launch in 2002. Its figures seem stable enough although it undoubtedly faces the same pressures that Sugar did (curiously though the website for Kiss is still under construction).
Teen mags have had their heyday and will have to move with the times, even if that means venturing online. But I hope the best part of them will stick around for today’s teenage girls.
Lisa Jewell is a freelance journalist based in Dublin who writes mostly on health, lifestyle and human interest stories. She regularly has to cull her magazine shelf. Twitter: @LisaJewelldub.