The lads’ mag is dead, long live The Lad Bible. That’s the theory that is emerging – if the way my phone has been ringing off the hook this week is anything to go by.
The planned closure of FHM and Zoo just months after Loaded and Nuts ceased publication has sounded the death knell for the print form of cheeky – and sometimes uneasy – red-hot maleness.
Is The Lad Bible – now followed on Facebook by half of all 18- to 24-year-old British men and a fifth of British women of the same age – the natural successor?
Certainly, our audience is young and mostly male (72 per cent), with a huge appetite for news and excitement. But, for me, that is where the similarity ends. The more I think about it, the more of an "air gap" there is.
Not only are we not the successor, the truth is we are not similar at all. The fault line between The Lad Bible community and 90s lads’ mags is the size of the Grand Canyon. It is the consequence of how the world has changed for us all.
A huge part is the generation gap: 60 per cent of The Lad Bible’s Facebook audience is under 24. Our Snapchat and Instagram following skew even younger. A lot of our audience were not even in Year 8 during the golden age of Loaded, Nuts and Zoo.
Growing up, their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp communities became their gateway to the world.
The reason young male audiences are "hard to reach" is because they often aren’t where traditional media tries to reach them.
Second, communities that come together through social networks have unprecedented scale. The Lad Bible reaches about 150 million people a week and attracts hundreds of millions of video views a month. Our audience script themselves into the conversation to the tune of more than ten million "likes", shares and comments a week. They come to us to tell us what they feel.
In the 24 hours after the news first emerged of the shootings in Paris, our newsfeed of 31 stories reached 105 million people. An avalanche of comments from our audience pleaded for tolerance, the importance of not lashing out at Muslims and the recognition that, while Paris was undergoing a terrible trauma, the death toll in Beirut should be similarly mourned.
We sometimes joke that, at The Lad Bible, we know more about young men than it has ever been possible to know before. But it’s not a wildly inaccurate claim: millions of interactions in real time throw off a heat map of data and instincts that is pretty 3D.
Our audience see themselves as good lads, smart lads, clever lads, determined lads, brave lads, resourceful lads, dad lads and funny lads. The vast majority want to do good things, get on, have fun with their mates and try to be good people. That’s their definition of what a "lad" is.
Under the microscope, they are probably little different from their 90s counterparts. The problem for FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo is that their emphasis on print meant they were unable to build an accurate map of who the audience really was and what they cared about.
Compared with the granular, complex and ultimately heroic portrait of men that we experience, even the glossiest parodies could not compete.