A staff shake-up in the celebrity magazine market could be good news for celebrities hoping for less salacious coverage of their personal lives.
People magazine senior staffer Alexis Chiu is heading for Bauer Publishing’s In Touch magazine to take on the job of executive editor, according to the New York Post, at the same time that Bauer's Life & Style Editor-in-Chief Dan Wakeford will also be the head of sister pub In Touch.
This magazine version of musical chairs could be beneficial for the Bauer publications.
"As People is perceived as the nice tabloid, the best of a bad bunch by most celebrities and agents, I'd say Bauer's poaching means they want to send a message: We can be trusted; we can be classy -- something they've battled with since launching," said Sarah Ivens Moffet, the founding editor of OK! Magazine and author of the new memoir "Amerikarma."
"I think it's a good move if they can tread that fine line of being sweet and sassy," she said.
But will it also be beneficial to the subjects covered?
Chiu not only brings all her contacts and sources from working at People magazine but also the kind of trust and goodwill that comes from working for the most celebrity-friendly of the weekly magazines.
"Working at People allows you to build a rapport with celebrities and their publicists that you simply can't do at the other magazines because you are constantly saying horrible things about them," one magazine insider explained to The Huffington Post. "Chiu will bring some of that to In Touch."
Both Wakeford and Chiu are strong hires for In Touch. During Wakeford’s three-and-a-half-year reign as editor-in-chief of Life & Style, he positioned it as a more glamorous celebrity weekly.
This prompts the question of whether In Touch will head into more gentle territory when it comes to celebrity coverage, looking toward an era of cooperation with Hollywood rather than enmity.
Chiu was most recently a co-author of People's "Most Beautiful" cover story featuring Beyoncé, one based on cooperation with the star's team.
"We trust Alexis," one Hollywood publicist revealed. "We may take some of our exclusives her way even after the switch."
The entire celebrity magazine market as a whole is taking a softer stance on celebrities, which is why this hire might be a smart one for Bauer.
"Celebrity news in magazines is going much softer because they can no longer afford to alienate any celebrities or their fans," said Cooper Lawrence, "The Cult of Celebrity" author and host of the new celebrity podcast "Loose Talk."
"Fandom today is also at a whole new level because fans have access to information about celebrities in unprecedented amounts," Lawrence said. "They will turn away from a magazine that is too negative about their favorite star.”
Representatives at In Touch and People did not respond to requests for comment.
The celebrity magazine market has long been trying to find a way to reinvent itself in the wake of the 24/7 online news cycle, and these new hiring moves could help.
From 2010 to 2011, People magazine remained the leader in the category with a circulation of about 3.5 million. Subscriptions climbed 6 percent but circulation fell 10 percent at newsstands. During the same period, In Touch's single-copy newsstand sales fell about 16 percent and Life & Style's 22 percent.
But have no fear, People fans. The magazine probably won't lose its place on the top of the celebrity magazine heap anytime soon.
"People created this category in 1974 and is still the leader as far as branding and recognizable with consumers," said media analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. "While other magazine categories have been struggling, celebrity books have become increasingly competitive, and this move is another example of that. But People will remain the category leader."
But solid scoops by competitors as well as compelling photos could certainly take away at least a portion of People's market share.
Experts say a contraction in the celebrity magazine market is likely to follow the boom of the early 2000s that produced the People competitors in the first place. What the Chiu's hire signals is that Bauer is placing bets on In Touch's weathering this storm.
"The celebrity category is likely to consolidate," said John Harrington, the editor of the publishing newsletter "The New Single Copy."
"So if there is a message here it could be that Bauer, publisher of In Touch, is counting on In Touch to be one of the survivors. And certainly People will be, too.”
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