X Magazine a 'genuine alternative' for upmarket women

Natasha Sundharawipata, publishing director of X Magazine at Fremantle Media Enterprises, tells Media Week why the new weekly X Factor spin-off will compete in the most lucrative part of the magazine market

Issue one of X Magazine leads with Cheryl Cole's deadly battle with malaria
Issue one of X Magazine leads with Cheryl Cole's deadly battle with malaria

It was surely only a matter of time before The X Factor, the annual ITV pop talent show that draws in 20 million viewers and has been licensed to 20 countries around the world, became a magazine - and this week, the results are in.

On Tuesday (14 September), shoppers at Tesco noticed a new entrant to the supermarket’s shelves in the form of X Magazine, whose launch issue features a smiling Cheryl Cole and the exclusive: "Seven days that shook The X Factor."

Whether the future of the appointment-to-view programming monster - which earns its creator Simon Cowell £7m a year for judging alone - was ever "shaky" is doubtful, but as a bold brand spin-off, the magazine certainly delivers.

Everything about the new music weekly is larger than life and designed to appeal to the masses - niche media this isn’t. It has 100 pages, a print-run of "hundreds of thousands" and is distributed exclusively - for now - through the nation’s largest supermarket, in a deal designed to saturate the UK’s TV homes.

Issue one contains the details of Cheryl Cole’s near-fatal battle with malaria (pictured above), an audience with Kylie, a "Style File" on former contestant Diana Vickers and an insight into what Beyonce carries in her hand luggage.

You can even (on page 83) see an artist’s impression of Lady Gaga eating a unicorn - and all for £1.95, priced bullishly at 30p more than Bauer’s Heat, which seems to have ‘inspired’ the tone and design of the title.

However, publishing director Natasha Sundharawipata insists X Magazine sits in the quality women’s sector - on a par with Grazia, say, rather than Reveal - with ad rates "pegged at similar levels to the other quality women’s weeklies".

"X Magazine is not a youth magazine; our target market is 18 to 34 year-old women. It’s a quality women’s weekly that will compete in the most lucrative part of the magazine market because it is not like anything else on the shelves."

She adds: "This is not another celebrity "me-too" magazine and we are not looking to cannibalise readership from other magazines. We want to create a genuine alternative for women wanting to be up-to-date on the music world."

Celebrating pop

The project is a collaboration between - and is funded by - The X Factor’s co-producers Syco Entertainment and Fremantle Media Enterprises (FME), a division of TalkbackThames owner Fremantle Media.

Together, the super-producers developed the concept for the magazine and appointed publisher Haymarket Network to deliver an editorial product that is "top quality, exciting, popular and, ultimately, successful".

"X Magazine will have a unique and competitive position in the UK market as the only women’s weekly that loves music and celebrates pop as one of the UK’s most vibrant music genres," Sundharawipata elaborates.

"It will feature international music stars from across the industry and give readers behind-the-scenes access to the hit TV show, with fashion and beauty features, celebrity news and gossip."

FME manages licensing activity for the X Factor franchise, and the magazine is the latest brand extension following this year’s launches of a multi-console game, clothing and fashion accessories and - naturally - karaoke products.

The publishing team hope the magazine’s "instant brand recognition" - which Sundharawipata describes as "priceless in terms of promotional value" - will persuade people to become regular buyers. But, just to make sure, Tesco is backing the magazine with a "significant" national promotional campaign to "ensure their customers come in store to buy it".

FME is also harnessing the power of its X Factor fanbase, running further promotions and social media campaigns to attract its legions of website and Facebook followers, boosted by significant on-air and local radio advertising.

The magazine will originally be distributed exclusively to Tesco for the launch period, before being rolled out on newsstands nationwide. FME declines to say how long the magazine’s launch phase will last for, but it is expected X Magazine will be available on the newsstand within the current series of the TV show.

While The X Factor is on-air, X Magazine will "focus strongly" on related stories such as contestants, judges, songs and guest stars, with contributions from Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Danni Minogue and Louis Walsh.

The show’s "internationally renowned" guest artists will also contribute, as will its stylists and choreographers from behind the scenes who will, apparently, provide "insight and ideas".

But the magazine will have a life beyond each autumn’s series of the TV show, says Sundharawipata, who describes it as "a year-round showcase of great music, big star interviews and celebrity culture and style".

"We will be breaking new artists and brands, going backstage at festivals and offering readers in-depth interviews. X Magazine will celebrate both today’s pop stars and the legends of the past."

She adds: "The X Factor brand provides year-round content from the Live Tour, the US show launching in 2011, past contestant stories and then the start of the auditions again in late spring 2011, so we certainly won’t be short of content."

A continuous cycle of Cowell-fuelled content - that's either a very good, or a very bad thing, depending on your point of view. But, judging by the past form of Cowell's other media ventures, at least it is sure to make money.

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