x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

The Instant Expert: 37 years of People magazine

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week Rick Arthur casts a jaundiced journalistic eye on the lighter-than-air People magazine.

THE BASICS People is a US magazine of celebrity and human-interest stories, published weekly by Time Inc. It pulled in US$1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in revenue in 2010. Advertising Age magazine honoured it as Magazine of the Year in 2005 for excellence in editorial, circulation and advertising. It launched the modern phenomenon of overblown celebrity news.

IN THE BEGINNING The magazine was spun off from the "People" page in Time magazine. Its first issue, on March 4, 1974, featured the actress Mia Farrow (The Great Gatsby) on the cover. Inside were stories on Gloria Vanderbilt, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the wives of US military men who were missing in action in Vietnam

THE MIX The magazine's content, then and now, is split roughly 50/50 between celebs and human interest. Still, and as seems verified with every issue, it embraces what one staffer, in a 2006 interview with Variety, conceded is a "publicist-friendly strategy".

FOR EXAMPLE? Well. Ed Begley Jr, the journeyman US actor and tediously sententious environmentalist - and who is famed among Hollywood journalists for his predilection for attending the opening of an envelope and for his publicist's insistence that he be covered doing so - twice (twice, in 1974 and 1998) was anointed by the magazine as one of its 25 Most Intriguing People. Enough said.

BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE EXCLUSIVES? Money talks. People is notorious among its rivals, and even among some of its sister publications at Time Inc, for its lavish spending on celebrity photos. Forbes.com cited a figure of $4.1 million (Dh15.1 million) the magazine paid in 2006 for a shot of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie cooing over baby Shiloh. The magazine said it paid less.

BUT DON'T ALL MAGAZINES DO THAT? Sure, especially OK!, the world leader in celebrity gossip. But People started the practice. Us Weekly then-editor-in-chief Janice Min sniffed to Variety in 2006: "They pay staggering amounts for the most nominal things to the huge things. One of the first things they ever did, that led to the jacking up of photo prices, was to pay $75,000 (Dh275,480) to buy pictures of Jennifer Lopez reading Us magazine, so Us Weekly couldn't buy them."

SO WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION? To be human is to gossip. So opines Dr Charlotte De Backer, a lecturer in the department of media and communication at the University of Leicester. She told O magazine in 2007 that our hunger for the latest dirt is all but embedded in our DNA and that we learn by watching others succeed or fail. In other words, read about Amy Winehouse's latest fall from grace - such as how she just bombed in concert in Dubai, infuriating her fans -and you'll know how not to behave.

WHAT ELSE DOES THE MAGAZINE DO BIG? Special issues, such as "Most Beautiful People", "The Best Dressed" and "The Sexiest Man Alive". (Two-time winners of the "sexiest" honour: Pitt, George Clooney and Johnny Depp.)

ANYTHING ELSE NOTABLE? Exclamation point abuse. Some cover lines: JONAS WEDDING ALBUM! BIKINI BODY AT 48! HALF THEIR SIZE! THE NEXT PRINCESS! WE MISS OUR BABY!

IF IT'S SO CHEESY AND EPHEMERAL, WHO READS IT THEN? Well. Some 3.5 million people a week, including The Instant Expert.

 

NOTABLE RIVALS

HELLO Launched in the UK in 1988. Treats celebrities less sensationally and more respectfully than other mags.

IN TOUCH WEEKLY Launched in 2002. Geared towards a younger audience. Bills itself as "fast and fun".

LIFE & STYLE WEEKLY Launched in 2004. Sister publication to In Touch Weekly. Focuses on "helping readers incorporate" celebrity fashion and beauty trends into their own lifestyle.

NOW Launched in 1996. One of the UK's biggest-selling magazines.

OK! Launched in 1993. Best-selling celebrity gossip magazine in the world, with some 30 million readers. Pays big for exclusive photos.

STAR Launched in 1974 by Rupert Murdoch, but switched from tabloid to magazine format only in 2004. Part of American Media empire, which includes the National Enquirer.

US WEEKLY Launched in 1977, but switched focus from movie industry news and reviews to celebrity news and style only in 2000. Part of Jann Wenner's US media empire.

ALSO: Gente and Chi in Italy, Voici in France, Bunte in Germany, East Touch in Hong Kong and Stardust in India.