Back in 2001, the Guardian newspaper asked, "Where have all the women gone?", and it is a question that has plagued the editors of leading British newspapers for the past two decades as only 41% of women - 10.3 million - read a daily UK newspaper (October to March 2008).
Genevieve Roberts, a former features writer and reporter for The Independent, now an advertising planner for McCann Erickson on the Evening Standard account, told me: "Almost every newspaper is trying to appeal to female readers. In crude commercial terms, females are the main shoppers in more than 50% of households, and advertisers want to appeal to people who shop so they have the opportunity to buy their product."
This is the crux of the issue, advertising is now more than ever driving the bottom-line of newspapers, and it is crucial that newspapers attract the right demographic to appeal to advertising agencies and businesses.
Without female readers, the advertisers will look elsewhere.
The Glossy Magazine Approach
Newspapers are tackling this problem in two distinctly different ways: the glossy/gossip magazine approach and the female interest approach.
(From July 2007 to December 2007: Female = 43%)
Daily Mirror Editor Richard Wallace has discretely changed the focus of the newspaper from the traditional male-orientated tabloid to appeal to women who buy popular weekly gossip magazines.
Andrew Higton, a sub-editor at The Mirror, told me that this marketing approach has involved a significant change in culture for the staff. Editors, reporters and sub-editors are often told to make copy more "female-friendly". This new approach is applied at all levels, for example, when President Nicolas Sarkozy of France visited the UK, subs were told to focus much of the story on Carla Brunei's outfits.
The Daily Mirror's shift towards the glossy magazine style has also involved changing the look of the whole newspaper in an attempt to make it more visually appealing to the female market. The newspaper has now gone full-colour, redesigned its features pages, covers female issues such as family life and children, and it contains more celebrity-focused pictures alongside the news stories.
This is also the approach that Richard Desmond's Daily Express is following. The newspaper is using its experience in the magazine market (Richard Desmond is the proprietor of the increasingly popular weekly glossy magazine, "OK!") to attract women readers. It is also the path that several of the new free daily newspapers are following, such as The London Paper, which regularly features celebrity stories on its front page.
The Female Interest Approach
However, Helen Lewis, sub-editor at the Daily Mail, said to me that she is not so sure that the glossy magazine route is correct. She told me, "The problem lies in conflating 'female interest' with 'celebrity story', and although it's been a successful formula, I think it's one that's coming to the end of its usefulness in terms of shifting copies."
The Daily Mail is the most successful newspaper in the UK in terms of attracting female readers. In 1995 (Jan to Dec) 49% of its readers were female, in 2006 (Jan to Dec) this had grown to 52% and the figures for 2007 show that it had held onto this 52% demographic. The Daily Mail enjoys more female than male readers. However, it has not completely gone down the celebrity gossip/magazine style. Undoubtedly it does feature these kinds of stories, but it balances this with news stories and a style proven to attract female readers. According to the National Readership Survey, women care about news - it being their "main reason for purchase" - but they like to be told pretty briskly what has happened, but not what it all may or may not mean. The survey also indicates that British women are turned off by sport and are not too keen on finance.
A quick glance at the Daily Mail after reading this data shows how the Daily Mail has struck the right balance to appeal to the female demographic.
Genevieve Roberts told me during an interview on this issue: "In the UK, the Daily Mail has the highest percentage of female readers, and unsurprisingly, this increases its appeal for advertisers."
(From July 2007 to December 2007: Female = 42%)
The Times deliberately targets females with its T2 supplement magazine, just as the Guardian (from July 2007 to December 2007: Female = 46%) targets females with its supplement magazine, G2.
These magazins are not aimed solely at women, but The Times' chose to advertise to females when it re-launched the supplement, indicating the importance of female readers to this publication. In a £1m-plus campaign, they targeted a cross-section of women: professionals, housewives and mothers.
The Wall Street Journal Online appears to agree with The Times and the Daily Mail's approach for attracting female readers. In May of this year it launched a new section aimed at a female audience, however, it is also not going down the glossy magazine route. WSJ Online executive editor Alan Murray told Reuters, "Our experience has shown us that there are a lot of business and professional women out there who crave not just fashion and beauty advice, but an intelligent news-oriented community where they can share experiences and swap ideas."
Early indicators point to the Female Interest Approach as having the most success, but only time will tell which strategy works in the long run. The battle lines have been drawn in one of the world's most aggressive newspaper markets, and it is certainly a battle that other editors will watch with interest.