It’s enough to make a certain sort of media commentator choke on his chickpea falafel.
The astonishing success of the men’s weeklies, as announced in the recent ABCs, means that the size of the men’s magazine market has more than doubled in the last six months. Man alive, you can hear them moaning as they wag their greasy fingers of doom over the bank holiday barbeque, they’re turning us into a nation of tongue-lolling, lapdance loving half-wits, with an unquenchable thirst for cooking lager and an appetite for cheap aftershave.
Mind your head, is their message to the wider population, our standards are low.
This is nothing new. The men’s magazine sector, more than any other with the possible exception of teenage girls’ magazines, has always had to answer to more than their readers.
Who buys men’s magazines? The Guardian asked in June, sounding bemused and appalled in equal measure at the state of the nation’s male youth and about as tolerant of a minority’s interests as the Daily Mail.
Not that they had any reason to be confused. Their columnists have been laying into men’s magazines for the best part of a decade, certainly since Loaded launched in 1994, with lectures passing as comment under such headlines as ‘The shelf where standards don’t apply’ and ‘It’s all gone tits up’. You don’t need to have been a Viz reader to have wondered if they had mistakenly commissioned Victorian Dad.
The short answer to The Guardian’s question is: not many Guardian readers buy men’s magazines. The slightly longer one is about 3.8 million young men do so every month. Which is good news for those in publishing and advertising who recognise that young men are perfectly valid consumers and who had feared that the men’s magazine sector had reached a plateau when the men’s monthly market slowed down three years ago after several years of explosive growth. But it’s bad news for commentators of a certain disposition.
Because the truth is, if you don’t like men’s magazines then you really don’t like many millions of perfectly ordinary young British men. Which is fair enough – you’re not alone, from the vegetarian barbeques of north London to pensioners tending their cucumbers in Eastbourne, there are plenty of people who share your prejudice.
But it’s a bit like a manifestation of Lord Reith appearing before Channel 4’s commissioning editors to tell them he doesn’t like Big Brother. Or when your dad tut-tutted at Top of the Pops saying they don’t write songs with tunes any more. In short, it’s the kind of question asked by the sort of people who don’t understand why anyone buys The Sun.
Men’s magazines are the success they are because, in a very short space of time, publishers and journalists have become highly adept at celebrating and sharing with their readers – as even the critics grudgingly would have it – the ‘rough magic’ of being a bloke. Which might require an editorial recipe with a restricted list of ingredients – but what successful magazine doesn’t? – and it might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the mix is still skilfully and intelligently put together to meet readers demands.
And demand is rising.
The ABC figures suggest that many men are buying a weekly magazine and a monthly one and that the new weeklies are also attracting a new generation of teenage readers.
This lot can now get the sport and TV coverage they couldn’t find in a monthly. And for many of them they are reading their first men’s magazine – life, for some, is too short for 2000word reads, pages of advertising and fashion sections.
But with 1.85 million men still buying monthlies and now 1.96 million buying the weeklies every month, the men’s market has not just become more varied and innovative, it has also become the fourth biggest sector – after women’s magazines, TV listings and celebrity magazines – in the business. That’s in slightly more than ten years.
Compare this with the women’s sector, which has arguably been running for the best part of a century and accounts for sales of 7.8 million monthlies and 8.4 million weeklies.
This is a disparity which suggests that, although men have now acquired the magazine habit, they have a long way to go before magazines play such a large part in their lives.
Yet few are as quick to take the temperature of women’s magazines and pronounce on the health of British women as a whole. Meanwhile the British male, judged by his magazines, is taken to be a little disastrous, possibly even sociopathic, because he appears to have a perfectly valid, arguably prurient (depending on your point of view) interest in looking at pictures of minor celebrities disporting themselves in bikinis. Oh, and he likes jokes, first person adventures, cars, clothes, sex and sport.
Women, on the other hand, are not so sweepingly dismissed even though a fair number of their magazines offer up a different, but arguably equally valid/prurient (admittedly in a different sort of way) crop of minor celebrities in their swimwear.
The only difference is that these shots are snapped from a distance so vast that they appear to have used the Hubble space telescope, are taken without the subject’s consent and happen to be on a beach. The odds on there being more nipples in Heat than Nuts are short every week.
Similarly, no one would dream of suggesting that the equally restricted editorial mix of many women’s magazines – sex, shopping, first person tales of personal misery, food and fashion – means that the average British woman is not just dangerously limited, but actually dangerous to know.
No-one would be daft to suggest she is heading for a spell in Rampton.
So why the acceptance that young women have a hinterland beyond their magazine of choice – that their magazine doesn’t define all of their lives but just part -yet men aren’t allowed one? Girls, jokes, cars, adventures, sex and sport play no more than a part in the totality of young men’s lives.
Likewise, sex, celebrities, shopping and fashion might account for nearly all the editorial in most women’s magazines, yet it is readily accepted that that’s not where the lives of women magazine readers stop. It’s just where the flatplan ends.
From where I am sitting, a thousand miles from north London but, strangely, with a falafel on offer at the beach barbeque, I can detect the glowing embers of classic English snobbery.
The problem with men’s magazines, it seems, is the people who read them.
In which case, make mine a kebab.
With extra chilli sauce.
Tom Loxley is a consultant editor for IPC Ignite (publisher of Nuts and Loaded). He was Editor-in-Chief of Maxim and Maxim Fashion Janice Turner is on holiday
by Tom Loxley