Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Magazine War (1960)

From the May 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three million pounds is spent every day in this country by young unmarried people up to the age of 24. There are plenty of industries—cosmetics, clothing, and so on—which are eager to help them spend this money: the magazine publishers also are after their share. 

Young girls, for example, can choose from an increasingly wide range of picture papers with names—Roxy, Valentine and so on—which indicate that they are very different from the magazines which used to be read by young girls, full as they were of tuck-shops and winning goals scored at hockey. The raw material of these magazines is the weakest of love stories, sometimes— incredibly—involving a famous singer. Some of the strips are said to be inspired by the title of a song hit, although it is usually difficult to discern the connection. Pop singers are prominently featured, giving advice, reviewing records. All of which probably helps to sell the latest products of the recording companies. The characters in the strips have invulnerable morals. Every girl, like a piece in a jig-saw puzzle, must find her boy. Of course, there are obstacles, but love—innocent, chaste and eternal—solves everything in the last picture.

Who publishes this twaddle? On the one hand, Fleetway Publications Ltd. puts out Roxy, Valentine and Marilyn. On the other, Odhams Press Ltd. is responsible for Mirabelle, Date and Marty (named after a rock and roll singer). At the moment, Odhams are setting the pace; Mirabelle and Marty are glossy, with some of the stories told in photographs: Fleetway are trying to catch up with the saucy (and pricey) Honey which, like Date, was introduced last month. Of course, the magazines kick off with a free gift—Marty gave transfer portraits of current heart-throbs, which could be ironed on to a blouse or headscarf.

The picture romance magazines are a sideshow in the war between the two great publishing houses. Fleetway is the result of the Daily Mirror, in December. 1958, paying about £16 million for Amalgamated Press Ltd. (Womans Weekly, The Autocar, Marilyn), which had been owned by the Berry family. Odhams, which was already publishing Woman, John Bull, Picturegoer, etc., paid nearly £2 million in April, 1959, to absorb Hulton Press (Lilliput, Housewife) and a month later bought—for £12.7 million—their bitterest rival, George Newnes Ltd. Newnes had published Womans Own, Tit Bits and the Practical Householder, etc.; they also owned C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd., the publishers of Mirabelle. Odhams is now the largest of the magazine groups with an enormous printing works at Watford.

These two publishing giants are fighting for the fivepennies of the little girl who daydreams at her typewriter or the factory machine. Yet it is difficult to find anybody who will admit to both reading and enjoying the picture love books Here are two opinions:
17 year old: Well, they’re all the same. I don't like them, although 1 do read them. Some of my friends buy them every week and my little sister gets lots of them. I suppose they must like them or perhaps it's the pictures and transfers and things they give away.
18 year old: I just pick them up and read them and then I think, well, I don’t know—why did 1 read that? 1 mean, it never happens, does it? You get on a 'bus and look at a chap and he looks at you and oooh! Well, it never happens, does it? It's not what you find in them, it's girls about sixteen wishing they could find what's in them.
Nevertheless, Marilyn and Mirabelle, for example, each sell nearly 400,000 copies every week. Put this fact alongside the lament of a London librarian, a few years ago, that “Children of fourteen and fifteen seem to want only books written for five-year-olds. And the older teenagers hardly ever enter the public library at all.” It seems a rather depressing picture.

It is pointless to blame the youngsters alone. If a girl has a job like a copy typist or a sweet packer, she often needs about the same mental power to read one of the strip romances as she does to earn her living. And the frustration and boredom of it all means that she is receptive to the magazines which promise, as one does, “Hundreds of wonderful love scenes to make your eyes dreamy!"

There’s plenty of people to tell us that teenagers are a social problem, youngsters in difficulty over growing up. But capitalism has few tears to shed for them. For in truth they are a market, to be captured and exploited. No shareholder ever wept over that.
Ivan


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