Two-and-a-half years ago, in a newspaper article written to celebrate Arena's 20th birthday, its founder, Nick Logan, was refreshingly honest about the magazine's frailties (especially in its earliest days) as well as its strengths. It's the frailties that may have contributed to last week's decision by its owner, Bauer Consumer Media, to close the title.
It was a sober assessment - and in that respect, almost unique. Down the years, few who have been associated with the title have found it possible to bring anything like a similar level-headedness to bear.
The views of another alumnus, Anthony Noguera (who, as editor between 2002 and 2005 and more latterly as the editorial director, presided over Arena's endgame), are far more representative. He has stated that Arena "has been the best (and most copied) men's magazine in the world".
Dylan Jones, who edited the title between 1989 and 1992 and is now the editor of GQ, believes that Arena basically created the British men's magazine market - and it's certainly true that Conde Nast, which was one of Arena's launch backers, learned much that would convince it to turn GQ into a more serious mass-market proposition.
But Jones has, in previous fits of hyperbole, gone further, arguing that Arena was actually the first to identify (and nurture) that hideous bastard child of the 90s, the "new lad" - and that the title was thus responsible not just for the style and fashion elements in men's magazines, but also for the puke-spattered excesses of Loaded and the weeklies that followed in its obstreperous wake.
Well, perhaps. But if there's a common strand here, it's a belief in the awesome purity of the Arena vision. The magazine has, in some quarters of the media industry, always been a cause celebre. In a sense its believers have all been waiting, more or less impatiently, these past 20-odd years, for Arena to attain its destined transcendental status - the glorious failure.
Another one of its former editors, Ekow Eshun, famously argued that magazine publishing should be "ideas-led rather than consumer-led". Quite.
Consumers are oddly ungrateful beings, though. The sad fact remains that over the last six months of 2008, Arena, despite being the most innovative and widely copied magazine in the world (possibly ever), was only selling 17,071 actively purchased copies a month.
It's sometimes argued that Arena's importance can be boiled down to the fact that it invented metrosexual man. Or was in some way, a torch bearer for the whole notion of metrosexuality.
There may be a tiny grain of truth there. But there are more than 17,000 British men whose attitudes and lifestyles could be categorised these days as metrosexual. Few have been touched (directly at least) by Arena.
Let's face it, even thelondonpaper these days believes that it is a metrosexual organ. Arena's problem was that it was founded basically as a vehicle for the Scottish stylist Ray Petri, one of the founders of "Buffalo style" and the man who was best known for putting men in skirts.
In the end, 17,000 was perhaps a fair sale for a magazine aimed at the sort of men who think David Beckham actually looked sort of cool in a sarong.
1. Arena was launched in September 1986 by Wagadon, Logan's company. Logan, who had previously been the editor of the NME and was a founder of Smash Hits, set up Wagadon (with backing from Conde Nast) to launch the style and music title The Face in 1980. Wagadon was bought by Emap in 1999, when Conde Nast baled out.
The Face closed in 2004. Emap's consumer magazine interests were acquired by Bauer in a deal concluded in January 2008.
2. Competitive momentum in the men's monthly market built steadily. GQ launched in 1989, Emap's FHM was retooled as a mass-market lifestyle weekly in 1994 and IPC's Loaded came along in the same year. The runaway success of this set was FHM, which in 1998 had a circulation of more than 775,000 (although it's now just over one-third of that figure). Even at its height in the mid-90s, Arena failed to break through the 100,000 barrier.
3. The final issue of Arena goes on sale today (12 March) but publication of international editions (Denmark, Ukraine, Turkey, Korea, Thailand, Singapore) will continue, as will its twice-a-year UK spin-off, Homme Plus.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Arena's lingering demise has occurred against a backdrop of a debate about whether it's possible to make much of a go of any form of men's magazine these days.
- Circulations on both the "lads' mag" monthlies and weeklies have been on the slide for years now - and once your audience begins looking for what they want on the internet, it's almost impossible to leverage any previous brand loyalties. These are worrying times for consumer magazine publishers.
- However, there are exceptions at the more "glossy" end of the men's market. NatMag-Rodale's Men's Health title grew its circulation in 2008 by 4.1 per cent to 250,094. GQ's sale held steady at 130,094 and The National Magazine Company's Esquire added 0.4 per cent to its circulation to reach 60,051.
- Media buyers have always believed that, laudable as Arena's intentions were, it tended to fall between two stools. Fans of cutting-edge fashion are, almost by definition, fickle - and it has been many years since Arena has commanded "badge" values in Shoreditch or Notting Hill.
- By the same token, if a magazine is perceived as precious or elitist, it's going to struggle to attain any traction in more mainstream markets. Arena has never looked all that attractive to car, hi-tech and drinks advertisers. Premium vodkas, for instance, would look at it but not session lagers.
- Vanessa Clifford, the press director at Mindshare, says she will mourn this loss. But not overly. She states: "Arena was a strong niche title, if that's not a contradiction in terms, and it's always sad when a title closes. But there are other ways to reach the audience that Arena reached. There are strong titles such as GQ for mainstream style and fashion and for the edgier fashion audience, the likes of Dazed & Confused and Vice are now a strong option."