Media Forum: Is the men's market stagnant?

Are men's weekly magazines pushing out their monthly rivals, Alasdair Reid asks.

Thank goodness Zoo has a stylish and rather intellectual editor these days. Had the former Arena editor Anthony Noguera not been given the hot-seat last summer, the magazine might have continued heading in a very trashy direction. Instead, we are now treated to the likes of last week's "Chantelle! The last nude shots ever!" on the front cover and a choice between "one-minute fast satisfaction" and (for those with even busier schedules) "30- second quick relief" phonelines at the back.

Irrepressibly perky or what? And Zoo isn't even the top-selling title, though the men's weekly market- leader, Nuts, is prone to exaggerate the size of its own attributes. A few weeks back, it was forced to withdraw an ad claiming it was the top-selling men's magazine in Europe. Emap's monthly magazine FHM still holds that title.

But, in general, it has in recent months been brash business as usual for the men's weeklies. These titles are, after all, barely two years old - and their charm surely is in the unashamed way they act their age.

While their nipple count has ensured they've been bumped to the top shelves in supermarkets, they've begun a metaphorical mud-wrestling match with The Sun's editor, Rebekah Wade. She has threatened to reject their ads in response to rumours that they were about to publish twice weekly, thus taking them even more clearly on to tabloid newspaper turf.

There's a growing concern in the business that, although the weeklies are expected to achieve double-digit growth in this week's Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, the sector as a whole is becoming jaded.

David Pullan, the managing director of FHM Worldwide, clearly doesn't think so - though he does admit that the world has changed over the past three years. He explains: "We've seen the advent of broadband as a mass-market product and that shouldn't be underestimated in our market - men's magazine readers are classic early adopters. Meanwhile, attitudes have changed completely since the early days of lads' mags. We are less able to rely on staples (content formats and ideas) and have had to undergo an evolution in terms of content. Women in various states of undress are a staple but it has been interesting to see how the values of the more mainstream part of the market are seeping into the premium market. So it's true that monthlies are being squeezed on several fronts."

James Kydd, the brand director at Virgin Mobile, admits he's more likely to advertise in weeklies these days. He states: "I think the feeling has always been that monthlies are just too big. In their heyday, they attracted loads of ads and their pagination went mad, so standing out in that environment has always been a tall order."

But he believes that across the whole sector, innovation is at a premium - which is perhaps disappointing given the boldness with which publishers opened up this market more than a decade ago.

Claudine Collins, the group press director of MediaCom, doesn't quite see it that way - and she admits that she still finds the market exciting.

She explains: "Only two years ago, the weeklies revolutionised the market. It is easy to write off the men's magazine market because a few of the monthlies are likely to record significant circulation decreases in the ABC figures."

From an advertising point of view, she points out that although the upmarket magazines such as GQ, Arena and Esquire don't deliver huge numbers, they still offer a very valuable, sophisticated men's audience and are perfect vehicles for enhancing brand advertising. However, she warns that the monthlies with larger circulations, such as Maxim, Loaded and Front, are relying too heavily on price-cutting and covermounting in order to keep their readers. "They need to think of a real point of difference to their product," she says.

Mark Gallagher, the press director of Manning Gottlieb OMD, agrees the weeklies and the monthlies face difficulties when it comes to maintaining winning editorial formulas but the monthlies have greater problems in that respect. He says: "For both markets, titillation has to be a big factor but the weeklies have the extra advantage of topicality so they can do more in the way of sport and entertainment - and come up with the sort of stuff that will have people talking down the pub. I don't think the monthlies are the subject of pub talk very often these days."

NO - David Pullan, managing director, FHM Worldwide

"It's tough - there's no denying that. But young men are not going to stop buying magazines. The habit has been created, brand relationships have been established. We need to keep re-examining what a monthly magazine needs to deliver to justify itself. We are confident we have the creative talent to ride through this challenge."

MAYBE - James Kydd, brand director, Virgin Mobile:

"Perhaps the monthlies have lost their way. They just seem to get ruder and ruder. Publishers proved the sceptics wrong when they created the men's magazine sector over ten years ago. The problem is that their approach hasn't really evolved - and in order to thrive they need to start innovating once more."

NO - Claudine Collins, group press director, MediaCom

"FHM still sells over half a million copies per month and the two weeklies combined also sell over two million copies per month ... And if you compare the men's to the women's magazine market, this is still a relatively young sector and therefore there is still huge untapped growth potential."

MAYBE - Mark Gallagher, press director, Manning Gottlieb OMD

"These things, as we've seen before in the women's market, can be cyclical and monthlies could well become fashionable again but the big challenge for everyone is to maintain relevance. That's definitely easier currently for the weeklies and this sector will continue to be lively - I can see two new weekly launches this year."

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