Has the men’s magazine market overstretched itself? Last week saw
the demise of Conde Nast’s GQ Active, at least as a stand-alone
Launched in May last year, the title failed to reach its circulation
target of 70,000 - so the November issue is the last before it merges
into GQ as a quarterly supplement from February 1999.
Immaculate timing - given that two male interest titles are scheduled
for launch in the next couple of weeks and one, Zest for Men from the
National Magazine Company, is in the same sector as GQ Active. The
other, Cabal’s Front, is a lad’s title in the Loaded mould.
Until recently, magazines for men tended to be either specialist hobby
titles or soft porn. There were also the hardy perennials of music and
football, while a tiny enclave was into style titles such as the Face
Loaded and FHM hardly added anything new but they got the mix of
ingredients in the right proportions and, more importantly, hit the
right tone. But perhaps it was optimistic to expect the emergence of a
men’s sector as broad and varied as women’s magazines.
Some magazines are the result of the visionary insight of a gifted
Others are the product of the market research industry and are planned
with meticulous focus group thoroughness. They are about finding gaps in
markets and markets in gaps. Fair enough.
But there are two other less reputable categories - the me-too magazine
and the sort of spurious title created to mop up advertising that
publishers have turned away from a mainstream magazine because there’s
no room left.
These ad-get, spin-off titles are rarely planned with readers in
Is this a worry in the men’s market? Jon Wilkins, the creative
communications director of New PHD, is concerned about some of the brand
extension ideas we’ve been seeing.
’This is a cluttered market and you have to be careful with these,
especially if you move too far out of your core territory. And it
usually lands you in competition with those who specialise in whatever
area you’ve targeted.
’If you have a successful men’s magazine, do you have the brand equity
in fashion or health? The danger is not that you just fail with the
spin-off but stretch the brand too far and confuse your core readers.
And if recession bites, the first to go will be spin-offs.’
Was incongruity a factor behind the demise of GQ Active? And what omens
does that carry for the launch of Zest for Men? Not necessarily bad
Terry Mansfield, the managing director of NatMags, insists: ’If you were
Nicholas Coleridge (the managing director of Conde Nast) and you had a
magazine with an uncertain future, would you do something about it
before or after a competitor launched? I think you’d do it before, don’t
’Not that Zest for Men will be like GQ Active, which is very
Zest for Men will be about the health not just of the body but of the
mind too. I think it’s clear there’s a real need for a magazine of that
type. You might have the best abdominal muscles in town but you can
still have challenges emotionally.’
Sounds plausible. But will male magazine readers ever be as
sophisticated as the advertisers dying to reach them? Mansfield believes
it’s possible. He reckons we are on the threshold of a cultural shift.
It will mirror a similar change in women’s issues.
He states: ’When I came into this business 40 years ago, there were
concerns with breast cancer that were never talked about. We have become
far more open-minded about it and that is reflected in the amount of
research now done in the area. Now we are realising that there are
equally important issues - like prostate cancer - affecting men. We can
help create a growing awareness of those issues.’