As last week’s round of The Apprentice showed, finding a successful formula for a men’s magazine is easier said than done. Both teams settled on formats that managed to alienate potential advertisers and readers – genius. One route was the very well-trodden Lad’s mag format, all boobs and hair gelled wey-heying (curiously championed by the female team leader), the other a poorly executed attempt at cornering the lucrative over 60s market by patronising its sophisticated and wealthy audience.
The teams would have done well to have read the latest ABC circulation figures. The men’s magazine market has probably never been in worse shape. Former market leader FHM sales plummeted by 23.3% year on year. Loaded, the doyen of 90s laddish culture shifted a mere 49,448 copies, down 30.8% year on year and just 10% of it’s (wey)heyday circulation of 450,000. Even market leader Men’s Health took a hit of 1.9% and saw circulation fall to a less er…healthy 245,923. So what’s going on here? Are men more sophisticated? Are we men now more interested in the development of our own chest size rather than that of young women?
In the interests of fair research, I recently bought a copy of GQ (circulation steady at 120,087) and found myself grinding my teeth in irritation at the fashion spreads; fresh faced teenage male models in outfits that no hetero man over the age of 25 should ever contemplate whilst simultaneously espousing the virtue of a lemon yellow £1200 travel bag “for the summer”. We then have an article by the 50-something Tony Parsons on the virtues of late fatherhood. So just who is GQ aimed at? Very wealthy but mature 21 year olds who like to think ahead? Despite the aspirant editorial line, this month’s edition was just £2.00 proving no matter how many colossally expensive travel bags they buy, GQ’s readers are fickle about what they pay for magazines.
According to newly appointed Esquire editor Alex Bilmes the aim of a men’s magazine is “to entertain and amaze with sharp writing, groundbreaking design and startling photography”. Let’s hope he’s right as he has a task on his hands with a paltry circulation of just 60,000 to boost.
By far the biggest circulation goes to the free-weekly Shortlist at a whopping 521,713, up 1.7% year on year. So what’s their secret? On first inspection, there’s a distinct lack of silicon boobed girls and more emphasis on useful information and advice. A manual for the modern man if you will. I’ve often felt that men and women consume magazines in rather different ways; women tend to use a magazine as stimulus, for ideas and self-affirmation while men need unambiguous instruction manuals. Do this, get this. Of course, the main benefit here also is that it’s free. With some titles creeping toward the £5.00 barrier it’s no wonder it’s doing well in the circulation war and hence attracting advertisers. We love free content and the website also succeeds where others fail miserably in their need to flog you a mag.
Who’d have thought the puffy-eyed and hungover men’s magazine could reinvent itself? It’s refreshing to see the lager and fags taken out of the format and on circulation figures alone, it appears to be working well. Just don’t try charging for it.