The World: Will football and boobs find an audience in US?

Christian values and conservative advertisers may militate against success for men's weekly magazines, Lucy Aitken writes.

The US TV graveyard is littered with the corpses of UK comedy shows that failed to survive the journey across the Atlantic and, for every Office, there are tens of Couplings. There are some formats, it seems, that simply won't translate. Does the same hold true for publishing? The Hearst Corporation may soon find out. Industry sources suggest that the magazine giant and Esquire publisher may be set to launch a men's weekly title - along the lines of the UK's Zoo or Nuts.

In the US, the men's monthly titles that originate from the UK are almost as hot as Sports Illustrated's infamous swimsuit issue. US Maxim sells more than 2.5 million copies and Stuff, Maxim's stablemate at Dennis, and Emap's FHM sell nearly 1.3 million each.

So, a men's weekly hitting US newsstands isn't beyond the realms of possibility.

Nuts and Zoo, which have respective ABCs of 275,459 and 240,215, created a new category in the UK. Their success has no doubt inspired many publishers to find a tiny gap in the super-sized US magazine market.

Unsurprisingly, the official line from Hearst doesn't give anything away.

"We have nothing to announce," a curt spokeswoman says. "We have a number of projects in development, as we always do, and there are no details to disclose at this time." Hearst has, however, announced its first foray into the women's weekly market with Quick and Simple later this year.

Time is also tight-lipped about whether Nuts, or a similar title, might one day land on American soil, although Dan Cotton, the publisher of Zoo, reveals that Emap isn't ruling out a move Stateside. "When we researched Zoo, we believed that it had legs internationally. Sport and entertainment all over the world revolve around weekly cycles and our ability to apply our tone to the news agenda is an international currency: we've deliberately built a set of values that we believe translate," he says.

Cotton thinks that men everywhere love sport, women and banter; FHM's international success is evidence for anyone in doubt. Yet he's also aware that launching Zoo in the US would take extensive testing; the editorial would have to cater to the delicate American palate, particularly if advertisers aren't going to be sniffy about it.

Given that young men are an extremely sought-after yet fickle audience for advertisers, who would advertise in a US weekly? George Janson, the managing partner and director of print at MEC Global in New York, thinks weeklies will attract - and repel - the same clients as monthlies: "Men's titles attract alcohol, fashion and grooming products, but packaged-goods brands are too conservative to use them."

Another issue is distribution. Eighty-six per cent of magazines are circulated via subscription, but men's monthly titles have higher than average success on the newsstand, averaging between 25 and 30 per cent of total sales. There are potential headaches, though, when retailers decide not to stock a title because of its content: Wal-Mart went wobbly over Maxim 18 months ago and stopped selling it.

Janson also thinks that the men's market is close to saturation as it is. "Who would these new magazines bump off?"he asks. "There are only so many men to go around." What's more, gaming has become so popular among young men in the US that advertisers are choosing to target their audience through magazines in this niche. Game Informer Magazine has enjoyed a year-on-year circulation increase of more than 40 per cent.

But there is a strong launch culture in the US, and a rash of celebrity-obsessed weeklies have appeared in recent months - Inside TV from Gemstar-TV Guide International being the latest to join titles such as People, Star, In Touch and Life & Style.

Could the US men's weekly market grow out of the celebrity market, as it did in the UK?

Andy Clerkson, the editorial director at Dennis, doubts there will ever be a sustainable weekly culture around the Nuts and Zoo model. "Those titles are boobs and football, and the US knows nothing about football and they're not going to get away with boobs. You have to create a magazine that's attractive to advertisers," he says.

Yet Eric Fuller, the group publishing director at IPC's men and music division, IPC ignite!, thinks the monthlies have paved the way for weekly titles: "When Maxim and FHM launched, readers, advertisers and distributors were prepared to accept a much spicier product so, thanks to them, there is a much more liberal view about content." Fuller also thinks advertisers would find higher frequency titles a helpful addition to existing media choices. Retailers, TV stations and film distributors often want an environment for time-sensitive ads that monthly titles cannot offer.

In fact, Fuller's main concern about men's weeklies in the US is the dearth of potential cover stars in a society where more airtime is being given over to Christian values. "The kinds of girls that appear on the cover of Nuts and help sell the most copies are page-three girls or TV stars from the UK's established tabloid tradition. But the US doesn't have that kind of culture." Where's the US's answer to Abi Titmuss when you need her?

TOP US MEN'S INTEREST TITLES

Magazine 2004 total paid 2003 total paid % change

circulation circulation

Sports Illustrated 3,319,300 3,238,974 2.5

Playboy 3,113,780 3,100,093 0.4

Maxim 2,524,447 2,510,144 0.6

Game Informer Magazine 1,846,631 1,317,912 40.1

ESPN The Magazine 1,791,219 1,726,217 3.8

Men's Health 1,692,282 1,686,195 0.4

Stuff 1,280,644 1,262,483 1.4

FHM 1,219,665 1,105,892 10.3

Source: ABC/Magazine Publishers of America

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