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Reading Up on Teen Culture—J-14 and Teen People

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My last column covered magazines aimed at teen audiences and discussed some of the general themes I found within the covers of four popular teen magazines.

This week we’re looking deep inside two of those magazines that market to the youngest teens—and likely even preadolescents.

J-14 – Volume 5, Issue 11 – October/November 2003
Circulation: 577,817
U.S. Ranking in circulation size: #151
Advertising — (number of ads from each category appearing in this edition)
Beauty (Cosmetics, hair care, etc.): 3
Fashion: (Clothes, jewelry, etc.): 2
Celebrities & Entertainment: 5
Other (Toys, filmmaking school): 4
Editorial —(number of articles from each category appearing in this edition)
Beauty (makeup, hair, etc.): 2
Fashion: 5
Celebrities & Entertainment: 27
Other (Horoscopes, embarrassing moments, boys, truth or dare, cool comebacks): 4

Barely six years old, J-14, the youngest of the teen ‘zines, is also aimed at the youngest audience. The inside cover ad is pushing lip-gloss with two dolled up models who can’t be more than twelve. Another is selling the Lizzie McGuire “On the Go” video game, while little toy figures that mimic cool characters and DJ’s from a dance club are offered a few pages later.

And like a typical 14 year old, J-14 is growing quickly in its circulation size. Sporting a look that’s high in celebrity paparazzi, the pages are covered in snaps of anyone famous mugging for a camera lens or, as is obviously the case on page 80 with Jennifer Lopez trying to take a private morning walk, looking somewhat annoyed at meeting yet another pushy photographer.

Fashion stories also abound with famous names. One, titled Hike Up Your Skirt, promotes tiny little bands of fabric (complete with prices and manufacturers’ names), with shots of celebrities wearing their own short garments. Or for do-it-your-selfers, some money-saving advice: “Try cutting an old denim skirt to a new length!” (When it comes to hemlines, it seems the only direction is “up.”)

Looking at the numbers for advertising content, you may be led to believe J-14 is light on marketing. Unfortunately that is definitely not so. Along with famous names, the few other editorial pieces are laced with advertising messages, making them more like infomercials than information. Many are pushing teen sensuality as well.

An example is a short item selling Britney Spears’ new album, in which the singer describes her work as “…kind of sensually done.” The unnamed author of the article says Spears turned up the heat because of “the lack of attention she’s been getting from guys.” Says Spears: “I haven’t been touched in such a long time.”

The fascination with all things rich and famous extends into virtually every aspect of the magazine. One of the more unusual items provides the real inside scoop on what the stars are made of—a two pager on belly button reading. The technical term is omphalomancy. (I can’t believe that word isn’t in my computer’s spell checker?!) Close-ups of famous navels are analyzed to determine personality traits: “The teardrop shape of Ashanti’s navel shows the compassion she has for everyone in her life.” Odd… there’s no author mentioned for this piece either…

For more traditional “new agers,” there are also horoscopes (which are again linked to celebrities).

And, in common with the other magazines I examined, there’s a hefty emphasis on body image with tid-bits like How Beyoncé Got Her Amazing Body (“I make some good sugar-free Jell-O…”).

What’s the best J-14 had to offer? A couple of pages on turning some old clothes into something new seems to be the most positive item—and it was written by a named columnist who interviewed two women who weren’t celebrities… although they are celebrity fashion designers.

Teen People – Volume 6, Number 8 – October 2003
Circulation: 1,587,331
U.S. Ranking in circulation size: #49
Advertising -- (number of ads from each category appearing in this edition)
Beauty (Cosmetics, hair care, etc.): 26
Fashion: (Clothes, jewelry, etc.): 10
Celebrities & Entertainment: 12
Other (Anti-drugs, cell phones, food): 14
Editorial —(number of articles from each category appearing in this edition)
Beauty (Articles about makeup, hair, etc.): 4
Fashion: 5
Celebrities & Entertainment: 17
Other (Horoscopes, embarrassing moments, boys, truth or dare, cool comebacks): 7

Teen People is the adolescent offspring of People, the huge mother ship of magazines. An AOL Time Warner property (links to AOL internet pages abound), this relative newcomer to the magazine rack has become a major player thanks to monstrous marketing muscle.

A dozen pages of advertising, all of which follow this periodical’s trend toward selling beauty and fashion, lead to three separate tables of contents for “stars,” “your life,” and “fashion and beauty.” Again, celebrities, makeup, and advertising become a blur in many “editorial” pieces, but not quite to the extent of J-14. And for those concerned about overemphasis of body image, there are many examples of lean and trim figures across the pages.

While all of the magazines I looked at promote the zodiac religion, Teen People appears to be making horoscopes a major component of their pages—with ten of them being devoted to the subject. Many other articles and photos indicate the star signs of models and celebrities.

Some of the articles in the “your life” category (what I classified as “other”) are devoid of celebrity and advertising content—a refreshing change. However, one of the most unusual is a single page about a 16-year-old girl whose parents began running a “clothing optional” resort in Arizona when she was 9. A couple of discreetly shot photographs of her naked in the pool are accompanied by her positive feelings of life in the raw: “I don’t need to wear clothes just because most people do … When I go off to college, I’d like to try and be as clothes-free as I can.”

That should be enough to kill a few contracts with fashion advertisers!

Embarrassing moments (accidentally taking your temperature with the family Chihuahua’s rectal thermometer), advice for stressed teens, a page focusing on a particular career, and tips on getting accepted into college round out the offerings.

The best I found within Teen People is a one-page feature called “Debate Club.” This issue’s topic is affirmative action, and two letters, representing both sides of the argument, are published. Readers are encourage to log onto the magazine’s website to participate in future debates.

Next: What are magazines catering to our oldest teens touting? Look for our in-depth coverage of the two biggies: YM and Seventeen.

Circulation and ranking figures based on six month average, January to June 2003, from AdAge.com [http://www.adage.com/page.cms?pageId=1020].

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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