Glossy future in store for home-grown magazines

Readers used to turn up their noses at UAE spin-offs of big-name English-language publications. Not any more.

DUBAI // It was commonly seen as Hobson's choice - pay more for an international magazine or get the "watered down" locally produced version for a fraction of the cost.

But today people are increasingly choosing homegrown versions of the likes of Hello!, Grazia and Men's Health, according to editors and publishers. Readers say they now prefer some titles "made in the UAE" because of their recently improved content and relevance. Jordana Tasker, a 30-year-old Briton of Lebanese origin, is one of an increasing number of residents choosing local publications over the more expensive imported titles.

"I see no reason why I would buy an imported international magazine, they are so expensive and don't really address any issues I would find relevant. I'd rather read the local edition of Grazia than an international title like Vogue. "For a start, the fashion pages are relevant to the region, which means I can buy an item from a shop down the road. Also, who doesn't like reading about gossip or seeing their friends?"

International editions can cost up to Dh60. In the past few years, publishers have introduced several local editions of well-established magazines, at a fraction of the cost of their global sister publications. Consequently, the Emirates is now home to Harper's Bazaar, OK, and Esquire, while others such as IQ, Ahlan and Insider took their cue from established templates such as GQ, Hello! and Heat.

Kerrie Simon, of Grazia Middle East, is among the wave of editors attracting readers to their variations of established international magazines. She said: "We've managed to tap into what our readers want. We strive to be interactive, whether through e-mail, face-to-face discussions at reader events or through our Facebook page. We can gauge exactly what our readers like. This then becomes our focus in the magazine.

"We've also built up our readers' trust in that we're a respected source of information for traditionally sensitive subjects, such as marital affairs, fertility, domestic violence and charity work. While we do focus on international celebrities, we have a strong local content too." Retailing at Dh7, Grazia, which has a circulation of 10,400, is the region's biggest-selling fashion and lifestyle weekly, with weekly sales of 7,200.

Other celebrity gossip weeklies aimed at women, such as Ahlan (Dh7) and Hello! Middle East (Dh10), have established successful circulations. Men's magazines, meanwhile, face a tougher task convincing their readers they can compete with their international counterparts. Last year, a regional edition of Esquire was released with a print run of 15,000 - 8,000 for sale in the UAE, 2,000 for the wider GCC, and 5,000 complimentary copies.

In the past there have been several attempts at mimicking the templates of such established titles. However, the UAE's male readership has yet to be convinced. Christian Burne, a 36-year-old British communications consultant who lives in Dubai, said: "I never buy regional editions, they are simply not of the same quality. I am willing to pay the extra price for better content. "Locally published English-language magazines lack that cutting edge. They don't really inspire."

Stefan Young, 30, a property agent in Dubai, said: "I actually don't bother with men's lifestyle magazines at all, the international ones are too expensive and get heavily censored, while the local ones tend to be very tame by comparison. Some topics just don't translate to our markets and others are simply taboo." One of the reasons that regional titles are necessarily "tamer" is cultural and religious sensitivities.

Grazia's Ms Simon said catering to cultural sensibilities did dictate content, but did not affect the quality of the publication. "We do need to be careful not to be insensitive in our reporting. We would never run images of women in clothing that could be deemed offensive," she said. "When we run coverage of swimsuits, for example, we're careful not to use provocative poses or language that would offend.

"But we have found the local readership to be a lot more liberal and understanding than stereotypes would have you believe. These are very well travelled, well educated people who want to be informed, whether about a swimsuit or the rise of the female suicide bomber, which we ran recently." Lucy Freeman, the co-founder of the creative agency StickyGinger, said the general quality of magazines remained erratic.

"Men's titles in this region are naturally tamer given that, on the whole, sex sells and let's face it, you're never going to get your FHM reader satisfied as the content has to be watered down considerably. "Women are a different breed. Different ages and demographics obviously alter the taste factor, but what links us all together is the fashion. "There are a handful of excellent titles and conversely, there are titles that clearly rest on their laurels. It's apparent that brand editorial is heavily supported by advertising."

Ms Simon said: "There's a fine line between telling your readers what you think they should read, and offering them what they actually want to read."