Media analysis: Mens' titles launch to stem decline

From their heyday in the 1990s, lads' mags have lost much of their gloss. Now IPC and Emap are pinning their faith, and £8m each, on two competing weeklies aimed at a wider male market.

Marketers promoting products to men in the late 1990s could more or less rely on reaching the male youth market through lads' bibles FHM and Loaded. But things are not what they used to be, and readership is dwindling.

In response, both IPC and Emap have kicked off the year by investing £8m each to launch competing men's weeklies. They are described as being the first general men's weeklies in the world, but will they appeal? Each certainly claims to break with the style and approach of the lads' monthlies.

Editorial line-ups at new mags

IPC launches Nuts on 22 January, to be edited by Phil Hilton, former editor of the now defunct mens' monthly Later. He says the new magazine will still treat news with irreverence, but will have broader coverage than the existing lads' mags. However, that hasn't stopped him appointing former Loaded editor Derek Harbinson as his deputy, or FHM picture editor Marcus Mays as entertainment editor.

Associate editor of news Hans Seeberg joins from Haymarket's F1, and deputy sports editor Iian Spragg joins from football website Icons. Features are under former Men's Health writer John Axworthy, who was most recently freelance.

Emap's Zoo Weekly launches a week after Nuts. Boasting celebrity columnists, it will be edited by Paul Merrill, a former editor of women's weekly Chat.

Ex-NME editor Ben Knowles has been named associate editor, with former Sky editor Michael Hogan named as editor-at-large.

Mark Dinning has left the features desk at Empire to edit features, and TV editor Andrew Pettie has come from the Telegraph. Sports editor Matt Mason joins with a background that covers the Daily Mail, Match and Total Sport.

The late 1990s were the high-water mark of the mens' monthlies, but more recently the market has suffered several years of steady decline. Loaded experienced the second largest fall in period-on-period sales - dropping just under ten per cent to 261,937 in the first six months of 2003 - in the latest ABC audit. However, market leader FHM has rallied of late, managing a 3.4 per cent rise in circulation, to 600,568.

Under current conditions, the first 12 months of their publishing history will probably see the new weekly magazines evolving quickly to survive.

Nuts; Phil Hilton, editor

Aren't you just another lads' mag in a dwindling category?

'Nuts is definitely not a lads' mag. We're mainstream.'

Who is your target market?

'We'd be happy for a 17-year-old or a 34-year-old with children to read it. We've tested it and all men love it. Lots of guys have turned away from the lads' mags. This is a much more mainstream product.' What are the big sections you think will make an impact?

'The front has two sections: True Stories and Nuts News. We have, for example, a picture of a guy who caught a 23-stone fish in the first issue.

But we're also not afraid to treat serious material in a straight way.

We're likely to run a story on the capture of Saddam Hussein, but, by the same token, nothing about the euro. I couldn't read about the euro if you paid me. Features are picture-dominated, with first-person accounts of heroic and bizarre events, true crime, war reports that may include a diagram of a fighter jet, and perhaps a photo of an attractive woman.

They are clothed and depicted as in the Sunday supplements. It's important that men can take Nuts home to their wives without feeling they are reading a porno mag.'

What are you looking for from the PR industry?

'We're keen to get early looks at films and TV programmes. We're also very interested in gadgets, but, as we're a weekly, we must see them early and exclusively. Products can be anything from games and DVDs to cars. We're fresh off the blocks, so this is a good opportunity for PROs to make strong contacts with senior people.'

Zoo Weekly; Paul Merrill, editor

Aren't you just another lads' mag in a dwindling category?

' Zoo Weekly is a men's magazine, not a lads' magazine. As a result, we have assembled a great group of writers, with the aim of really setting the news agenda for blokes in the UK.' Who is your target market?

'We're aiming at 16- to 34-year-old guys who like a laugh, like reading about football and other news, and who feel they don't have a general-interest weekly magazine that addresses those interests. This is a groundbreaking, genre-defining venture. All of our research shows that we will grow the men's market and become an additional purchase to monthlies and daily newspapers.'

What are the big sections you think will make an impact?

'As blokes today are more sophisticated, it's not all tits and bums.

It's an intelligent read, and I don't think that today you can patronise readers. We will be at times irreverent and at others serious. But we have comedian Mark Thomas writing a column that will often be political and football news presenter Alan Green as a columnist. It is him, rather than, say, Vinnie Jones, because people respect Green, and we do have a serious side.' What are you looking for from the PR industry?

'We'll talk to the people making the news - we have a lot of great contacts with footballers and managers. We'll be doing the sort of great glamour shots and breaking news that will hopefully get us talked about. For now, though, we're keeping content to ourselves.'

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