Media Perspective: Innovation and investment can lift the men's market

Men's magazine editors do have a bright future. It just might not be in men's magazines. Look at Greg Gutfeld, the motormouth American who presided over a bizarre and circulation-churning period at Maxim UK.

He has returned to the US to host the late-night panel show Red Eye on Fox News (more of which in the "Things we like" column). His presenting skills and satirical eye are ample proof that men's mag editors are capable of more than just talking about how great the 70s were on Top 100 ... shows on Channel 4.

Plucky Brits, though, continue to ride the men's magazine merry-go-round. Jeremy Langmead, the respected editor-in-chief of Wallpaper* (not strictly a real men's mag, but men have been known to read it), has arrived at The National Magazine Company's Esquire

Meanwhile, Emap's Arena has completed another editorial upheaval with the hiring of Giles Hattersley from The Sunday Times as its new editor.

The recent hype around the two titles is baffling, given their miserable performance in the UK market (their combined circulation is a dismal 87,024), but then their barren showing is being used as a barometer for the men's market. This seems nonsensical given that better-produced, better-marketed titles such as GQ and Men's Health are holding or even increasing their circulations. The problem seems not to be in the market or in men's reading habits, but in the titles themselves. Improved editorial and investment behind Arena and Esquire could still pay off.

At the other end of the market, online has been identified as the panacea for the likes of Loaded and FHM. Media agencies say that the print titles have become too pornographic, too laddish, for changing audience tastes and that it may be too late to turn them around.

And they're probably right. In which case, is Dennis Publishing's Monkey magazine (200,000 and upwards online circulation) really the answer? Who knows? Critics, though, reckon its tactic of basically taking a print format and slapping it online is merely an evolutionary step.

Other successful online products are focusing on a transactional, e-commerce-based option (looking beyond the men's market, Conde Nast's Stylefinder.com is already winning plaudits). Publishers of men's magazines may adopt a similar approach. Emap is still in intensive care judging by its trading update this week, and a press release on the relaunch of its Golf and Motorcycle websites hardly set the pulse racing. But its focus on commerce and community did offer clues as to how Emap sees the future of online and the commercial model could be replicated for the likes of FHM and Arena.

Publishers will have to work harder to win revenue from the men's market, but it is still there. Having an inspired editor is vital, but that may no longer be enough.