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American Journalism Review
Britain's Hot, Tell-All Magazine  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   July/August 1995

Britain's Hot, Tell-All Magazine   

By Alina Tugend
Alina Tugend is a writer based in the New York City metropolitan area.     


Cheryl was paid 200 pounds (about $328) for her traumatic tale about how she was molested under hypnosis. Sandra received 150 pounds (about $246) for her heartwrenching letter to her dead grandfather. Caron, Kathy and Debby were each paid 75 pounds (about $122) for "Heart Stopper" items about how they met their mates.

Week in and week out, Britain's popular weekly magazine, Take a Break, is filled with readers' stories about their star-crossed romances, terminally ill children, holiday disasters and nasty neighbors all written in a breathless "as-told-to" style.

For instance, Caroline's story about being sexually abused by her father, grandfather and three uncles begins: "He flicked open the shampoo bottle and smiled down at his daughter. 'Now close your eyes,' Charles Brown said... Suddenly she stopped giggling. Opening her eyes she saw her father's hand on her leg... She didn't like this bath-time game."

Launched in 1990 by the German publishing company Bauer, Take a Break is Britain's fastest growing magazine, selling 1.5 million copies a week, more than twice the 700,000 sold when it first appeared on newsstands. It is way ahead of any other women's magazine in this highly competitive market, and trails only Reader's Digest and What's On TV among general circulation magazines.

Take a Break not only breaks circulation records. In 1994 the magazine had the biggest growth in advertising revenue among the 11 women's weeklies on the British market.

But Take a Break's commercial popularity is not all people are talking about. Some say the tell-all tabloid has redefined the women's magazine market in Britain, and almost everyone offers a theory for its runaway success.

"It's the most revolutionary and it's the one that's being copied by others," says Paul McCann, a former reporter for London-based Media Week magazine. In fact, Take a Break's advertising leap last year is due in part to the fact that the magazine's unorthodox style has become more acceptable to advertisers as other publications start to imitate it.

"Take a Break introduced a style so salacious and gossipy, so scandal-ridden, that it has been able to get younger and older women to read it," McCann says. "It isn't age specific."

Another theory is that, unlike Cosmopolitan or Vogue, Take a Break does not create a chic world that the reader aspires to join usually in vain. Rather, the magazine supposedly offers reality, with stories of average, hardworking folk and unglamorous even unattractive photographs that "recreate" the events described in the stories.

One of Take a Break's regular features epitomizes the cash-for-reality concept that is at the heart of the magazine's success. A reader who sends in a photo in which he or she is posing with a celebrity receives the equivalent of $41 for buying into the idea that the reader, as much as the star, is the news.

While everyone may theorize and envy Take a Break's market share, John Dale, the magazine's editor, refuses to comment on its success.

Dale has no qualms about labeling those who don't understand his magazine's appeal elitist snobs and bristles at the idea that Take a Break is nothing but print voyeurism. He notes that the magazine offers medical advice every week and often takes up women's issues, pointing out a recent Take a Break campaign in favor of public breastfeeding.

Whatever Dale is doing appears to be working, and now everyone wants a piece of it. Bauer's nearest rival in the publishing world, IPC, has launched its own version of Take a Break called Eva.

But an article in London's Guardian one week after it hit the newsstands argued that Eva could never take away from Take a Break because of its cult status.

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