Media spotlight on: men's magazines - Stuff

Niche publishers think small to survive in the men's market. A new-look Stuff indicates there is life in an FHM-led sector, Richard Cook says.

When the relaunched Stuff magazine reappears next month it will have a shapely young woman on the cover. And some gadgets. You might think there's not been much change there, then. But you'd be wrong. Next month's will be a transitional edition, comprised of material commissioned by its former publisher Dennis - which closed the title - and by Haymarket (publisher of Campaign), which bought it last week.

When the first solely Haymarket-produced edition appears on the shelves in April, the nubile young cover star is likely to be absent. The position may in fact be occupied by a digital TV or by the very latest DVD machine.

And that difference is at the heart of a fundamental sea-change in the way the fringes of the still buoyant men's magazine market now operates.

'We haven't finally decided whether we shall be getting rid of the scantily clad woman on the cover, but the chances are that we will,' Haymarket's publishing director, Kevin Costello, explains. 'Because we want to create a title that women will feel comfortable picking up. What we are not going to be is toys for the boys or lists of the top ten holidays or top ten cigars. We are going to be about serious product testing and the sort of expertise that we have on some of our specialist titles like What Hi-Fi - but with a certain lifestyle element as well.'

The distinction is important. Stuff sold a little better than 60,000 copies in its Dennis incarnation, a respectable enough figure in most niche markets but hardly enough to register in the welter of paper that now comprises the men's magazine market. As commentators wait for the bubble to burst, the market leader, FHM, goes on refining the formula that has now made it the single best-selling glossy monthly magazine in the UK.

Bigger than Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping and the rest of them. Good Housekeeping celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, but it's barely ten years since For Him magazine was a pale imitation of an Italian trade title distributed free in menswear outlets. Now it sells three quarters of a million copies. And while Loaded's growth curve might have levelled off, Dennis's mainstream men's title, Maxim, has successfully propelled itself into the market's big league.

Haymarket is predicting sales of around 70,000 for the new-look Stuff.

But even if the relaunch is supported by a marketing push, it is not going to compete with FHM, Loaded, or Maxim, or even with the sector's thoroughbreds, GQ and Esquire. By becoming more product-literate, though, and toning down the bikini shots, it aims to become attractive to advertisers in the same way that car titles are. It can appeal to readers in a wide age range and catch the very people preparing topurchase the expensive electronic gadgets it reviews.

The tone is important because despite the demise of the Dennis incarnation of Stuff, the market already supports T3, while Freestyle Publications' bi-monthly Boys Toys launches with a 50,000 print run and a brief, according to its publisher, Mark Nuttall, to service those 'readers who have grown up on laddish content and are now demanding more sophisticated and valued editorial'. It's getting, in other words, more than a little crowded out there.

'I'm surprised that they bought it. There's already T3, Boys Toys sounds the same and Stuff had got to the point where it had already played the sex card to shore up circulation - with precious little success,' the Booth Lockett Makin media director, Ian Clark, says. 'The problem for this kind of niche men's market title - whether it be for gadgets as here, or for film with the likes of Premiere - is simply the success of the big players like FHM and Maxim. They are doing so well in pagination terms that it's not hard to devote 15 pages a month to specialist areas and then there's no need for people to buy an additional magazine.'


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