Monday, February 5, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, February 5, 2001

Teenzine market riding the Tiger Beat

Tiger Beat, BB and 16 are three of nearly a dozen teen magazines owned by Primedia.

USA Today

Only a teen could differentiate between the dozens of look-alike fanzines on the newsstands. But whichever magazine she buys, chances are her money will end up in the same place — Primedia.

Primedia, best known for its flagship magazine Seventeen, owns nearly a dozen teen titles, including BB, SuperTeen, Superstars, Teen Machine and entertainmenteen.

But beginning with the February issues (on newsstands Jan. 23), only the company’s grandmother ’zines will be published: Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, 16 and BOP.

With screaming headlines, fluorescent colors and glossy pullout posters, these teen fanzines have been a rite of passage for girls for decades. From John Travolta to Aaron Carter, they remain focused on the hot act of the day. The past two years have been a bonanza for Primedia — thanks to the boy-band phenomenon led by the Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync, and their legion of female fans — and now the company is focusing on its best-known names. (It’s cheaper to print four big fanzines than 12 smaller titles.)

The oldest of the fab four, 16, hit the stands in 1957. Tiger Beat was launched in 1965, with Tiger referring to an old slang term for cute boys. The Gen X-era titles, Teen Beat and BOP, hit newsstands in 1974 and 1983, respectively.

Teen Beat’s January cover headline reads "Hotties on the Holidays." BB’s cover asks "Justin & Britney: Fairy-tale romance?" For the uninitiated in teen pop culture, that reference is to singers Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, who are dating. Duh! The articles rarely give last names.

The magazines feature a cleaner, neater redesign, the first in their history. The newspaper-quality paper stock is gone, replaced by slick color spreads. Primedia’s goal: to protect its "tween" magazine market from emerging competitors such as J-14 and Twist.

"These magazines have been driven by the rise and fall of boy bands," says Roberta Caploe, president of Primedia’s youth entertainment division. "Listen, that’s important, but there are other things going on with girls."

Tiger Beat will become a general entertainment magazine covering music, movies, TV and sports celebrities, a formula that made Teen People an overnight success when it launched in 1998. BOP will focus on music, covering edgier acts such as Eminem. Teen Beat becomes "a cool interactive magazine," with polls and quizzes, "the kind of magazine you’d want when you’re going to a sleepover," Caploe says. And 16 becomes a monthly "specials" issue focusing on a specific topic or act. The fab four also plan a major Internet presence.

But make no mistake. These are still your mother’s magazines. Through the decades, girls’ teenzines remain focused on one topic: boys. Their target audience: girls ages 9 to 12.

"Many of our readers are falling in love for the first time — with a celebrity, mind you," says Tiger Beat editor Louise Barile. "Girls are at that stage when boys in their class are nasty and smelly and mean to them, so idolizing ’N Sync’s Justin Timberlake is more appealing."

Teenzines are "the only constant in the magazine business," says magazine analyst Samir Husni of the University of Mississippi. "You just sit in your office, wait five minutes to see who’s the star today and publish your magazine tomorrow."

An editorial staff of 50 creates the teen fanzines. "They are all adults — I hate to say that — more women than men. I think it’s because women appreciate what it’s like to have a fantasy about celebrities," says Caploe, 38.

"I read Tiger Beat as an 11-year-old. I was a big Shaun Cassidy fan," says Barile, 35, whose column in Tiger Beat is sparkled with teenspeak such as "yummy" and "soooooo cool" and closes with a doodled heart and peace symbol.

As girls discover real boys, they abandon the fanzines for Seventeen or one of its competitors.

The combined monthly circulation of the fab four is about 400,000, rising and falling like the waves of stardom. Teenzines cost $3.99 apiece. The average reader buys two copies a month. Sometimes, she’ll buy four to get all the pieces of enclosed "super-sized puzzle posters." You do the math.

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