Does Stuff's move herald a new era for men's mags?

Is Stuff's decision to remove women models from its front covers significant for the industry, Arif Durrani asks.

News that Stuff, the UK’s biggest-selling gadget magazine, will no longer use images of scantily clad women to help sell copies sparked a debate last week.

Since its launch in 1996, women in various states of undress have been a staple for the tech title. The new look is said to be the culmination of research and cover trials for three editions.

Will Findlater, the editor-in-chief of Stuff, admits the move was not made lightly. He has worked at the title for ten years and reveals the team has been testing covers without models since 2010.

"Personally, I’ve never been particularly comfortable with it [use of female models]," he says. "I don’t think it represents the content of the magazine and have always found it quite disingenuous."

Back when Stuff first hit the newsstands, it was a golden age for the so-called "lads’ mags". In the late 90s, these publications were flying off the shelves, with FHM and Loaded selling more than 770,000 and 450,000 copies a month respectively.

Stuff hoped to benefit from being displayed next to these titles as opposed to being in the more staid special-interest sections in the shops.

But those days are long gone. The likes of Maxim and Nuts have since closed, and the magazines that remain are, in sales terms, shadows of their former selves.

Stuff, meanwhile, is evolving from a monthly print magazine into a multiplatform brand. Circulations of around 77,000 copies may be down from the highs of 100,000 in 2006, but are still up from its first ten years.

Print subscribers continue to be heavily skewed towards men (about 94 per cent) but, online, there is a far more even split (40 per cent female) as technology becomes more mainstream. But Stuff’s move away from female models on its covers is still a big moment.

Kerin O’Connor, the chief executive of The Week, made a name for himself during his time as the international director of Maxim. He understands Stuff’s decision but warns the move is "not without risk". He says one thing research studies consistently show is that respondents say they want things that, in practice, they don’t actually like.

So, is the decision an industry milestone?


YES Will Findlater, editor-in-chief, Stuff

"Newsstand behaviour has changed massively and so have opinions in society among men and women. I believe it will open the mag to a wider audience, which we’re already attracting online. I’d like to see more magazines follow suit."


NO Zoe Bale, head of press, Carat

"Scantily clad’ women no longer sell magazines and tech is now more mainstream, so a woman on the cover could impact credibility. This is a step change for Stuff, but the market has been evolving in this direction already."


YES Ade Onilude, founder, Women in Marketing

"With the influence of social media, brands have to be responsive to the ever-growing voice of women. It’s a post-lads’ mag era, and brands being perceived as using negative images of women are now being named and shamed."


YES Daniel Cowen, co-founder, 3Doodler

"We’re thrilled 3Doodler was one of the gadgets used to test the waters in Stuff. The research could not state more clearly that sex does not always sell. The UK is ready for a tech mag that doesn’t need to feature a woman to spark interest."