The men's weekly magazine market was an unknown quantity at the start of 2004 but it's turned out to be a winner for Emap Consumer Media, with its title Zoo, and for IPC Media, with Nuts.
Having each invested £8 million on their launches, both titles have exceeded sales targets. Nuts has a circulation of 290,337, with Zoo trailing on 200,125. That makes Nuts the biggest-selling men's magazine in the UK on a monthly total; between them, they have roughly doubled the men's magazine market.
The market is certainly hot enough for H Bauer to be launching its own men's weekly, Cut, which will take the form of a digest of news from the week. The publisher hopes the title will be different enough to expand the market even further by targeting a slightly older age range. And then Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell is planning yet another title, under the working name of KO!, scheduled to hit the streets in November.
Advertisers have welcomed the sector for selling print to those notoriously hard-to-reach 16- to 34-year-old men. However, Jane Wolfson, the non-broadcast director at Initiative, is concerned that the content is "a bit flicky" - questioning how much impact an advertiser gets from the page. "But it's much more cost effective than using the national press," she says.
The titles are stealing some readers from the men's monthlies, but they have not been hit as hard as some imagined. IPC's Loaded, which celebrated its tenth year in 2004, lost 10.6 per cent of its sales over the past six months, while Emap's FHM lost 4.6 per cent.
Agencies are also watching to see if the men's weeklies might be stealing readers from the tabloids. Andrew Power, the press manager at Starcom Mediavest, says: "I think it's a very exciting market. They've got the things I like - girls, cars, sport." But he isn't so sure the weeklies will take readers from The Sun or the Star, given the need many readers have for a daily fix.
But as publishers pile in to try their luck, new entrants will need deep pockets. "With a small investment, they are going to get lost in the clutter," Power says.
Cover price: £1.20
Typical advertisers: Right Guard, Rustlers, Orange, faceparty.com
Zoo is trailing Nuts in circulation, but has still done well. It's exceeded targets and made the editor, Paul Merrill, very happy. "It's done better than we could ever have hoped for," he says.
It's certainly a smaller format than its competitor, but there doesn't seem to be a great deal of difference between the two. And they seem to be about level in terms of family friendliness.
Merrill claims the title distinguishes itself from its rival with a more newsy read: "Zoo has developed into the only weekly news magazine for blokes, breaking stories, getting involved in the news and celebrating everything important in our blokes' lives."
The Zoo editorial has changed quite a bit during the first six months and will keep on changing until the end of the year as part of the launch plan. According to Merrill, the first 12 issues were seen as market research.
At the moment, he's looking to bring a more "fan's-eye view" to the sports coverage and he promises other changes are in the pipeline.
"A strong magazine always evolves week by week or else it gets very stale very quickly," he says.
The title has done a lot of discounting, but Dharmash Mistry, the managing director of Emap Consumer Media, insists that this is part of the planned promotional budget.
"Price promotion has been one important strand in a successful marketing plan covering TV, press and radio through the Emap portfolio, and sampling via FHM," he says.
Despite winning over readers with discounts on the cover price, Merrill believes that Zoo's readers are loyal. For proof, he cites the hundreds of letters sent to the Zoo Uncensored section with its regular "Girls Talk Sex" feature, readers' letters, pictures of "girlfriends unclothed" and contrasting agony aunts - the raunchy blonde Jodie Marsh alongside Mo Mowlam.
Merrill is confident that the title has made a real impact. "Over the past six months, we've been the most talked-about magazine and we intend to stay that way," he says.
Mistry is bullish about the impending launch of at least two other titles into the men's weekly market. "Just six months ago, we were debating whether there was a space for the men's weekly market, now the debate is how big the space will be," he says. "We're flattered."
Publisher: IPC Media
Cover price: £1.20
Typical advertisers: T-Mobile, Wella, Right Guard, Lynx, LG
Nuts is the market leader in the new men's weekly market. Given that there's only one other title at the moment, that's perhaps not the most powerful claim, but it's certainly a strong position as the market begins to grow.
According to Eric Fuller, the group publishing director of Nuts and Loaded, it couldn't get much better. "It's been spectacularly successful," he says.
The title's editor, Phil Hilton, is equally bullish. "There's never been a clearer launch-versus-launch race that I can remember and we've won week in week out," he says, adding in Nuts vernacular: "I feel like a short, balding, non-millionaire version of Michael Schumacher."
Hilton feels that the editorial is distinctly different from Zoo, despite what might seem to be a very similar offering of sex, cars and sport, plus a smattering of gadgets and bizarre stories. "Nuts has a completely different tone and outlook from the opposition," he claims. "Men are very attuned to the editorial voice of their magazines and we talk to them like intelligent human beings rather than caricature 'lads'." Hilton also says that he's "very careful to produce a magazine that can be read by men with wives, girlfriends and children".
Having had more than a year of development before its January launch, the magazine hasn't had to do much more than tweaking over the past six months. With an £8 million launch budget, the biggest yet from IPC, it's had the resource to do plenty of market research to check out the ingredients.
IPC also put a lot of resources into marketing, funding a one-million issue giveaway the week before launch, plus five half-price issues.
But Fuller is confident that readers aren't buying on price. "Our marketing objective was to secure as much sampling early on as we could," he says.
With so much confidence only six months in, it's not surprising that Fuller says IPC is alert over the future of the men's magazine sector.
Meanwhile, Fuller is sizing up the titles launching into this market. He reckons it's going to be "very difficult". Not only will they have to break buying habits, but to do that they will have to stand out. "They only stand a chance if they come up with something original and innovative. This is a very young market, we don't know how many brands it's going to support. New entrants have got to bring something fresh."