As FHM and Maxim take the plaudits for the extraordinary growth
they’ve achieved in the past 12 months, spare a thought for James Brown
In a sector whose sales during the first half of this year were up by
around 25 per cent on the same period last year, the title with the most
celebrated editor - brought in amid great fanfare just over a year ago -
was one of a handful to register a fall in the latest round of figures
from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
The performance of GQ under Brown is beginning to bear comparison with
that of Manchester United under Ron Atkinson: the swankiest kid on the
block just isn’t cutting it.
Of course, even football clubs usually give their managers more than 12
months to sort things out and Conde Nast isn’t a company prone to panic.
But I really felt for the GQ publishing director, Peter Stuart, as he
forced himself to trot out some all-too familiar excuses on Friday. ’It
took six months to get the right editorial team together,’ he explained,
admitting that this was six months longer than anticipated. ’It’s like
turning a supertanker around,’ he continued, no doubt wincing inside as
he resorted to a cliche worthy of Big Ron himself. ’We’re very happy
with what James has done and we have colossal faith in him.’ Was that a
vote of confidence from the board I just heard?
It’s true there are encouraging signs. Among those cited by Stuart
include a consistent increase in UK newsstand sales - up from 88,000 a
year ago, to 92,000 six months ago, to 94,000 this time. But with
subscriptions and overseas sales down, the comfort offered comes in
portions not much bigger than crumbs.
If it sounds as if I’m gloating, I’m not. From a personal point of view,
I still hope Brown can succeed because, if he can marry the wit and
irreverence of Loaded to the maturity of GQ, Conde Nast will have a
magazine I’d enjoy.
But already the more grown-up elements of the mix are being cast aside
as the magazine adopts an increasingly laddish approach. Stuart readily
admits that ’we’ve realised there’s no point putting men on the
And his faith in the new editorial team is based on their ability to put
’the fun’ into GQ.
Stuart says he’ll be happy when the circulation reaches 150,000. By that
time, FHM will probably be over the one million mark. Let’s face it, if
it’s fun they’re after, the punters know where to find it. And
advertisers, in turn, know where to find the punters.
Surely, in the face of such incomparable sales figures, GQ must
concentrate on bolstering rather than diluting its upmarket credentials.
Whether making its half-naked women more ’classy’ than those in its
rivals will suffice or not, we shall have to wait and see.