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Sassy Tries to Shake Up Teen Magazine Market

February 21, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Sassy is making a brash entry into the teen magazine market, promising to take a plain-spoken approach to topics like sex and death that it contends other teen magazines handle only gingerly.

The first issue of the magazine, aimed at teen-age girls, appeared on the newsstands last week and set the tone by asking on the cover, ″So you think you’re ready for sex? Read this first.″

Under the headline ″Losing your virginity,″ the story discussed questions like ″Will I like it,″ ″Should I talk during sex,″ ″Will he know I’m a virgin″ and ″How long will it take.″

Another story referenced on the cover of the premiere issue was ″Three suicides: Stories you won’t forget.″ In one of the recollections, the mother of a girl who killed herself described what happens in an autopsy.

″We are talking to them as peers just as they talk to each other,″ said Jane Pratt, the 25-year-old editor in chief of the magazine.

She said the staff develops story ideas by asking themselves what they wanted to know when they were 15 and no one wanted to tell them. In addition to the issue-oriented stories, the magazine also includes lighter topics such as how to flirt, makeup tips and what to do when you think others are talking about you.

Some of Sassy’s competitors, however, say Sassy treats some topics inappropriately.

Robert Brown, associate publisher of Teen magazine, said the feature on losing your virginity took ″a very sensational approach.″

He said his magazine has carried stories on ″delicate subjects″ involving sex but that it takes ″a more responsible and educational approach.″

Ira Garey, publisher of Seventeen, said his magazine handles similar issues ″in a less provocative manner″ than Sassy does and has built its circulation over 44 years to more than 1.8 million, tops among the teen magazines.

″We don’t feel that gives us a reason to be critical of them, but ultimately it is left to the reader to make the decision,″ he said.

Sassy is published by Fairfax Publications Ltd., the U.S. unit of the Australian-based John Fairfax Ltd.

Sandra Yates, president of Fairfax Publications, said at least $10 million has been invested in the launch, that the initial circulation is 250,000 and that the goal is to reach a circulation of 1 million in five years.

The magazine is reaching the market as the number of teen-age girls continues to decline.

Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research firm based in Lake Forest, Ill., estimates that there are about 13.7 million girls aged 12-19 and that their ranks have been thinning for more than a decade.

While a pickup in the sheer number of teen-age girls is not expected for several more years, their buying power continues to grow, making them a compelling target for advertisers.

Peter Zollo, a executive at Teenage Research, said teen-age girls made the decisions on spending $37.7 billion in 1987, up 6.8 percent from 1986.

In addition to its editorial style, Sassy is breaking with other teen magazines by taking condom advertising.

The first issue contains a full-page condom ad that notes ″They’re easy to buy - you’ll find them in any drug store, usually on a display rack.″

Seventeen and Teen refuse to accept condom ads because readers may view them as having the implied endorsement of the magazines, Gorey and Brown said.

But Sassy’s Ms. Yates said carrying such ads is ″part of our responsibility to teens to let them know what is available.″

She said there is ″no evidence to suggest that giving children information about contraception means they will engage in those activities any earlier than they would otherwise.″

But Sassy falls into step with the other teen magazines by rejecting cigarette and liquor ads.

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