CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: ISSUE US MEN’S MAGAZINES - Why naked women will win the West/When a circulation of nearly half a million isn’t enough, it’s time to go downmarket

Men’s magazines in the US are a bit like women TV presenters in the UK. Venerable older ones with a solid reputation can do very well, even as younger upstarts with lots of attitude and little clothing get enormous publicity and popularity. But the casualties of the newer, sex-drenched culture are anybody attempting to appeal to a younger, edgier market while at the same time retaining self-respect and a slightly more intelligent outlook.

Men’s magazines in the US are a bit like women TV presenters in the

UK. Venerable older ones with a solid reputation can do very well, even as

younger upstarts with lots of attitude and little clothing get enormous

publicity and popularity. But the casualties of the newer, sex-drenched

culture are anybody attempting to appeal to a younger, edgier market while

at the same time retaining self-respect and a slightly more intelligent

outlook.



At the end of last month, Si Newhouse’s Advance Publications announced

that Conde Nast was ceasing publication of Details and refashioning it

under the umbrella of Fairchild Publications in October. The news set the

New York publishing world buzzing.



Details was always a magazine that punched above its weight in the

magazine world. It started as a hip, downtown Manhattan book with

decidedly gay sensibilities, which rapidly became a must-read for Conde

Nast editors wearing Helmut Lang. They liked it so much, in fact, that

they bought the company. Conde Nast installed James Truman as editor and

the magazine became even more of a bible for hipsters and magazine

connoisseurs worldwide.



Truman was eventually elevated to the position of editorial director for

all Conde Nast publications - a position that nominally put him above even

such stars as Tina Brown at the New Yorker, Anna Wintour at Vogue and

Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair.



But Conde Nast still wasn’t completely happy with Details. While it was

attracting high-end advertisers and was a darling of the media world, its

circulation stubbornly refused to rise above 400,000 or so. ’Conde Nast

has, traditionally, published books with a circulation base of 700,000 and

above,’ a spokeswoman for the company explains.



After Truman’s departure, Details went through a series of high-profile

editors, none of whom managed to square the circle of hipness with a high

circulation. Joe Dolce found out he was being fired when a friend told him

that he’d been approached about the job. Michael Caruso, a high-flying

Conde Nast editor, was hired to take it on, and introduced more babes and

heterosexuality into the mix, as well as a certain amount of sport.

Newsstand circulation rose, but not enough for Newhouse.



Caruso was axed in favour of Mark Golin, who was brought in from the

soaraway success of Maxim. Golin, who had achieved Maxim’s seven-figure

circulation in next to no time, was unabashedly downmarket, publishing

articles about strip-club secrets and photos of any B-list actress willing

to get her kit off for the lads.



But Si Newhouse is not Felix Dennis, and Golin still had to work within

the Details tradition. By the final issue, the downtown fashion

advertisers were nowhere to be seen, with ads from the likes of Nintendo

and Camel cigarettes. Even so, Gucci bought space, albeit on page 17, and

Details had to remain a respectable publication - something Maxim

certainly wasn’t and isn’t.



An exit strategy for Conde Nast came with the dollars 650 million purchase

of Fairchild Publications last August.



’Fairchild has had a great deal of success with books in the 400,000 to

500,000 area,’ a Conde Nast spokeswoman says. What’s more, Fairchild

specialises in fashion magazines - precisely the area in which Details, in

its heyday, was strongest. And there was even a gap in the Fairchild

roster. Fairchild’s flagship publication is WWD, the daily fashion

newspaper read by everybody in the business. WWD’s staffers also produce

W, the extremely successful outsize consumer fashion monthly. WWD has a

brother publication, DNR, devoted to menswear, but DNR does not have a

consumer title attached to it. Or rather, it didn’t until now; Details has

been tapped to take that role.



Details might not be quite the 100 per cent fashion magazine that W is:

after all, on the women’s side, Fairchild also publishes Jane, a more

general interest women’s magazine. But it is certain that Newhouse’s

attempt to beat Maxim at its own game is now officially over.



That particular game will be won by publishers with less refined mores

than he.



One such publisher is Bob Guccione Jr, the son of the Penthouse

publisher.



Guccione has created Gear, the first US book to tackle the British imports

head-on. While Gear is still very much in its early days, it has already

shown the kind of irreverence that Maxim and FHM are slightly more wary of

displaying.



Gear certainly has an easier and more laddish sense of humour than

Details.



While the Gear masthead says that if you send unsolicited manuscripts ’a

wad of cash wouldn’t hurt either, if you get our drift’, Details fell flat

with a spine line saying: ’Prithee purchase me, good sir. Thy wallet doth

bulge so.’



GQ manages to continue strongly as a venerable institution with excellent

writers such as James Ellroy, Walter Kirn, Joe Queenan and Will Self.



It has solid competition from Hearst’s Esquire and from Jann Wenner’s

Men’s Journal, a sibling publication to Rolling Stone, which focuses on

the life outdoors and headline writers such as PJ O’Rourke.



These bigger, older magazines still don’t see Maxim and FHM as competitors

although that might change in the future. What the UK imports have done is

squash the middle of the market more or less out of existence. Details is

only the most recent and highest-profile casualty: others to cease

publication recently include Icon, a soi-disant ’thoughtstyle’ magazine

that couldn’t compete with imported T&A.



At least it makes a change from the usual complaints about American

lowest-common-denominator juggernauts rolling into Europe and obliterating

all the subtle local culture. In the world of men’s magazines it’s the

other way around. But still, it’s not much for the Brits to be proud of.



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