CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/MEN’S MAGAZINES - Men’s magazine sector shows signs of slowdown/Recent circulation figures indicate a consumer shift, Richard Cook investigates

By RICHARD COOK, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 February 1999 12:00AM

Obituaries for the men’s magazine market have long had a hollow ring about them. That has not prevented them from being written even as titles in this high-flying sector have soared from strength to strength.

Obituaries for the men’s magazine market have long had a hollow

ring about them. That has not prevented them from being written even as

titles in this high-flying sector have soared from strength to

strength.



But the latest set of ABC figures has finally offered the sector’s

detractors some support. They showed the market leader, FHM, suffering

its first period-on-period sales decline for more than five years.



In fact the figures paint a by no means uniformly gloomy picture. The

men’s market overall increased by 7 per cent over the last six months of

last year.



Compared with almost every other magazine sector that still makes it a

high flyer. Unfortunately, it grew by 27 per cent in the preceding

six-month period. Compared with its own impossibly high standards, in

other words, something has finally changed. Growth has started to slow

down.



It’s barely ten years since For Him Magazine was a pale imitation of an

Italian trade title distributed free in menswear outlets. Two years ago

it overtook Loaded to become the top-selling men’s title, selling more

than 350,000 copies a month - more than 200 per cent up on the previous

year. That might have been the limit of the title’s aspirations. In fact

it was just the start of them.



The figures out last week might have detected a small sales slip, but

FHM still sells more than three quarters of a million copies a

month.



With that background, you can forgive its publisher, Emap Metro, for

being bullish about the sector’s prospects.



’It will be interesting to look back and see if this is the point when

the men’s market peaked. Personally, I don’t necessarily think so,’ Paul

Keenan, managing director of Emap Metro, says.



’I certainly don’t think these figures are going to stop new entrants

from launching into the market. You have to remember that our last ABC

period included the launch of FHM Collection and the second issue of

Girls of FHM which sold 250,000 copies between them,’ he adds.



Keenan points to the NRS readership figures for confirmation of what he

calls the market’s continuing ’exceptional level of growth’. They show a

47 per cent increase in FHM readers (up to 3.2 million). Other

publishers, though, are more forthright about what they see as the end

of a special era in magazine publishing.



’I think it’s fair to say that we are seeing the first stage of maturity

in the market since the unprecedented growth of FHM, Loaded, Maxim and

Men’s Health,’ Eric Fuller, publishing director of Maxim’s owner Dennis

Publishing, argues. ’One point, often overlooked, is that the original

men’s market titles have been left behind. Increasingly, now, the battle

is between the four newcomers in a two-tier men’s market.’



The struggle is already on as spend on promotional activity and

covermounts has increased over the past 12 months. ’I don’t think it’s

fair to say that promotional initiatives have helped ward off falling

sales, but our monitors show that spend is definitely increasing,’

Fuller agrees. ’We use more covermounts ourselves now but in fact the

title that uses them most is GQ, which hasn’t really benefited in

circulation terms. FHM has spent millions on TV though and its

circulation growth finally appears to have stalled, albeit at a

staggeringly high level.’



The slowdown has encouraged publishers to look at expanding the market

by luring back the readers who fuelled the growth in the first place,

but who have grown up and developed more sophisticated requirements.

Men’s Health had the largest increase in this set of ABC figures and its

success has proved that the over-thirties do read men’s titles. ’The

younger end of the men’s lifestyle market may be levelling off,’ agrees

Simon Geller, editor of Men’s Health, ’but Men’s Health continues to

prove that it’s got what the over-thirties man really wants.’



Men’s Health has successfully seen off GQ Active, which is now a

quarterly distributed free with its big brother title. Peter Stuart,

publisher of GQ, says: ’GQ Active was not making money on its own, but

the first joint issue was in February, just after the last ABC period

and that was our biggest-selling UK edition ever.’



This older men’s market is an area that IPC has been eyeing lasciviously

as well. The return of Tim Southwell as editor of Loaded has helped

shore up a title that was starting to slide, and in a couple of months

IPC will launch Later, the first of what could be a raft of men’s titles

targeting a slightly older readership. Andy McDuff, managing director

for music and sport at IPC, says he wants a settle-down circulation of

around 100,000 for the new title.



’There are clear signs of the younger market reaching maturity and the

danger is that we will lose older readers in their late twenties and

early thirties who have preoccupations other than the standard diet of

birds and booze,’ McDuff says. ’That’s not to say that the new title

will be po-faced, it’s just that there is a slightly different attitude

and that’s what we will be trying to tap into.’



The figure of 100,000 that McDuff mentions is one that is assuming a new

significance for the old guard as well. Esquire’s sales are drifting in

that direction while the figure of 100,000 represents an increasingly

distant memory for the struggling Wagadon stable, which includes Arena

and The Face.



’The men’s market has started to find its level and has settled into two

categories. First are the lads’ titles and second are the more wordy old

established titles. For these, a circulation of 100,000 is a

consistently attainable figure,’ Nigel Conway, director in charge of

planning at MediaVest, says.



’They can be very valuable for advertisers at that level. The title that

is most intriguing to me, is GQ. Its latest issue features more nudity

than anything FHM or Loaded could come up with and, I suspect, it is a

test to see what difference that makes to sales.



’Bur I hope that’s not the route GQ is going down - it could be the

strongest brand in the men’s market and to throw that away - especially

as the market is peaking - seems foolish.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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