Now We Are One

Oprah's Magazine Celebrates Its 1st Birthday 
By Tina Guarino  

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Because of Oprah Winfrey, April 17, 2000 will go down in magazine industry history. O The Oprah Magazine hit the newsstands on that day and sold out immediately, drastically redefining the standards for a successful magazine launch. As O celebrates its first anniversary, the magazine continues to grow and insiders in the magazine world continue to marvel at its unprecedented success.

After the initial 1.1 million copies of the first issue sold out, another 500,000 had to be printed, to supply the demand for the Queen of Talk’s debut on the printed page. Barnes & Noble reported that it sold 99 percent, or 98,735 copies, more than any other premiering magazine issue in the store’s history. More than 25 percent of newsstand buyers filled out the 4 x 5 inch insert card and subscribed.

"What editor wouldn’t kill to have a magazine take off like that?" asked Lisa Benenson, editor-in-chief and editorial director of both Working Woman and Working Mother. "And it continues to do well despite the fact that everyone is struggling with the downturn in advertising."

In its first six issues, O had 905 ad pages, with revenues of $50.9 million. Typically, a well-established monthly magazine can hope to get just 1,000 ad pages — a year. What accounts for O’s success? "I think her secret is Oprah. That’s it," Benenson said. "They’ve done something smart. They’ve appealed to a whole lot of people who were losing a lot of interest in more traditional women’s magazines."

And while it does have the elements of traditional women’s magazines — O tells readers where to buy nice things and has celebrity interviews — Winfrey’s magazine has also added some variables, changing the traditional formula. Specifically, her emphasis on personal growth comprises 27 percent of the editorial content.

When you sit down with this magazine, you feel encouraged, bucked up and — if you’re the right type for O and Oprah — inspired. It’s like hanging out with a tight group of supportive girlfriends. The editorial voice is intimate and optimistic and on the same level as the reader; traditional women’s magazines adopt a more knowing, authoritative, even slightly condescending voice, as if they know better and more.

"Her message to her readership is don’t take crap, take risks," said Suzanne Braun Levine, former editor of Ms. "Your life is to make of it what you can or will and we’re all here rooting for you. And those are all the premises of the women’s movement."

Levine says the magazine differs from others because it is not the result of a formula. Instead, it’s a projection of a very powerful personality.

The secret to O’s editorial success is also what makes the magazine sell so well. Winfrey’s face has been selling other magazines for years. "You know your magazine is going to sell on the newsstand if Oprah is on the cover," Benenson said. For example, when Winfrey appeared on the cover of Good Housekeeping the magazine sold a record 1.4 million copies.

Realizing this, Winfrey has put her own face on all O’s covers so far. She doesn’t need a marketing blitz to create buzz, because she is the buzz. "There is nothing I share on these pages that I haven’t gone through or continue to move through myself," Winfrey wrote to her readers, in the "Let’s Talk" department of the premier issue. "I’m a woman in process, creating and striving for new dreams, new goals, new ideas." She is becoming the world’s first black woman billionaire.

Winfrey — or at least her magazine — transcends race, age and dress size. The median age of Winfrey’s readers, who are 95 percent women and 86.6 percent white, is 38. The median household income is $61,204.

This month’s launch of Rosie (see page 20) heralds the beginning of what seems to be a trend in the industry, one based on the amazing success of two TV-personality-based publications, O and the pioneering Martha Stewart Living. Stewart leapt from the airwaves to the pages of magazines in 1991. But O has swamped Living in terms of instant success. For example, the 1.9 million subscribers that Living took 10 years to attract, O has recruited in one year.

Even though Winfrey has a staff to support her vision, some doubt that others could trumpet her message so clearly and effectively without her there, up front on the cover as well as behind the scenes.

"If I was a magazine publisher, I’d be very careful because basically people like Winfrey, O’Donnell and Stewart go up in airplanes and airplanes come down," said Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair. "They cross streets and buses can hit them."

No doubt. But for now, everything is O-kay. While most of the more than 800 magazine startups each year don’t even make it to their first birthdays, O will mark its first year as an emerging leader in the industry.