After a 2003 characterised by a paucity of launches from major magazine publishers, 2004 has started with the sledgehammer of two major debuts and the creation of a new market: men's weekly magazines.
Sledgehammer in impact because of the massive marketing spend behind each title (Emap is backing its Zoo Weekly magazine with £10 million and IPC Media is supporting its Nuts with £8 million) but also because of the tone of the magazines.
These are titles that leave nothing to the imagination. The first newsstand issue of Nuts features "Britain's No 1 Babe", Kelly Brook, cavorting on all fours while Zoo opts for a semi-naked Christina Aguilera alongside the immortal line: "Sexy pics! Dirrty talk."
Already the bunfight has started between the two rivals with IPC claiming the moral high ground, arguing that its title is not a lads' mag but a "men's mag" that appeals to 18- to 34-year-olds with the potential to attract some readers from outside this age range. Emap is pitching for a similar audience, 18- to 30-year-olds, with an unrestrained diet of "100 pages of girls, football & funny stuff".
Circulation revenue may prove to be of greater importance to the publishers than ad revenues with these weekly titles, but what do the launches offer to advertisers? Do they differ at all from the rash of monthly men's titles and is the editorial any good?
Tim Brooks, the managing director of IPC Ignite!, was part of the Nuts launch team. He says: "We are offering topicality and magazine production values that create a higher impact than newspapers. There are no pretensions, it's a mass-market product that is trying to entertain people."
Brooks believes that since newspapers have started going after female readers, there is room for products that offer an exclusively male audience: "Advertisers are getting high repro quality at a high frequency and low wastage in large numbers. This is not a combination currently available to them."
IPC argues that Nuts is a "higher quality publication" than Zoo Weekly and eschews "tastelessness and vulgarity". It's certainly less "in your face" than Zoo, which, in its free first issue, sports a high naked breast count and a quiz that asks: "Is your Doctor Dr Shipman?"
Paul Merrill, the editor of Zoo Weekly, says: "It's a weekly men's magazine that likes a laugh, will show pictures, up-to-date stuff and will be campaigning on behalf of readers. Zoo will be setting the news agenda for blokes in the UK."
Merrill and Brooks both believe that there is room in the market for both titles and Merrill argues that it is better for Emap that there are two titles creating more momentum for the new market.
However, others believe that the launches will have an impact on men's monthly sales, including IPC's Loaded and Emap's FHM.
Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, says: "I think this is fascinating. I rather like the magazines but do think that if they do well they'll be cannibalising magazines such as Front, Jack and Maxim. If they're pumping so many copies into the market with men buying a weekly, you have to ask what can FHM or Jack offer that's different?"
Rival publishers believe that men's monthlies will have to raise their game to offset the readers they may lose to the weeklies. Andy Semple, the head of special projects at Dennis Publishing, which publishes Jack and Maxim, argues that the monthlies will reinvest in higher quality in-depth features as a point of difference.
But what does he think of the weeklies? "I think Emap's Zoo is a far stronger product editorially than the IPC one. It's got under the skin of the market and is seizing a mass market of C2DE readers who want girls and gags - and doing it well. Nuts feels slightly apologetic for what it is."
So are we likely to see Dennis taking on its rivals? Semple sits firmly on the fence: "It sounds cowardly. It's a case of never say never but, on the other hand, I can't say we definitely will. We pretty much publish magazines around guys so, if there is a growth in this high-frequency market, we'd be foolish not to look at it."
Some observers believe that a launch from Dennis is unlikely, that the costs involved are prohibitive. "I'd back Richard Desmond (the owner of Northern & Shell) to do it," one senior magazine executive says. "He already has the Daily Star, which is essentially a daily men's mag, and he has the ability to launch things very quickly."
If Desmond, who already publishes titles such as OK! and New! in the weekly market, joins the fray, then IPC and Emap might not have things their own way. But judging from some of the images in Nuts and Zoo, putting balls on the line isn't a problem at either publisher.
Publisher: IPC Media
Cover price: £1.20
Circulation target: 150,000
Number of pages: 100
Advertisers include: Procter & Gamble, five, Dixons, Blockbuster, Hugo
Content: Women, sport, true stories, TV listings, cars
Ad agency: Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO
Naked breast count: 0 (if you count a coat of Dulux as clothing)
Publisher: Emap Consumer Media
Cover price: £1
Circulation target: 150,000
Number of pages: 100
Advertisers include: Quiksilver, HMV, 20th Century Fox, Pulsar,
Content: Women, sport, TV listings, bizarre pictures
Ad agency: NMI Advertising
Naked breast count: 20