Former Shortlist editor Martin Robinson hopes his new men’s lifestyle website will help guys who have been left feeling disconnected by “damaging” stereotypes of masculinity.
The Book of Man meets the need for “a new take and voice in men’s media,” says Robinson, adding: “We want to be a support network for men.”
The idea for the new media brand came from both professional and personal motivations, with Robinson having more than 16 years’ experience in consumer magazine world.
After starting off at Maxim and working his way up to features editor, Robinson went to NME as deputy editor and then to Shortlist, the UK’s most-read men’s magazine, as editor.
After leaving Shortlist in the summer of 2016 he found he was ill prepared for day-to-day life outside the media industry.
“I realised that I knew nothing about looking after my children or doing stuff around the house and there was no advice out there for men,” he says.
He also found the move affected him emotionally, saying: “I’d left a big job and was in a pretty dark place. I found there was very little to support men in terms of their emotional lives either.”
Robinson says that this lack of support can lead to bigger problems, such as mental health issues, addiction, and violent outbursts – he says he hopes this is where The Book of Man can step in.
“There’s a lot of talk of the symptoms but not the root cause of these issues affecting men,” he says.
“I wanted to make something where we engage with and question masculinity and try to deconstruct some of the damaging stereotypes, such as men not wanting to talk about their feelings and being stoic.”
While men’s lifestyle staples such as fashion, entertainment and grooming will be covered by The Book of Man, it will also make space for topics such as gardening, fatherhood, loneliness, jealousy and how to act in the post #MeToo world.
“We want to make the gender roles more fluid,” says Robinson.
“We are trying to open the dialogue and not just tell men what they should be doing, which can be terribly destructive. We want this information to make men feel reassured.”
The Book of Man, which launched last week, will include weekly columns written by both men and women. Rapper Professor Green is the website’s first guest columnist, who has written on insecurity.
The rest of the site will be updated daily with email bulletins sent out three times a day, morning, lunchtime and evening.
“We are treating our bulletins like a broadcast and will be putting them together live on the day so we can be really reactive to the news and what’s happening in the world,” says Robinson.
The Book of Man had a launch team of six and will have a core editorial team of five.
“It’s a tiny team and I want to keep it tight,” says Robinson. “Mark Sandford is the commercial director – he was at Shortlist while I was there and he was brilliant.” He says he is also recruiting others.
They are also looking for a wide pool of freelancers and contributors who Robinson confirms “will all be paid”, although there is no standard rate.
Robinson says the core Book of Man reader is in their early 30s, saying: “We’re aiming for a slightly older audience who are ready to engage and think more deeply about their place in the world and how to positively affect it.”
He says he wants to bring the high production values of print media to online, adding: “There’ll be a lot of long-form writing, paying attention to design and journalism.”
But, Robinson has no plans to return to the deadline-driven world of print.
“It’s currently impossible,” he says. “It’s too expensive and it’s not where the audience is anymore.
“Men are looking at stuff on their phones and online so that’s where you go to reach them. I can’t ever imagine going into print – and why would you?”
Robinson says sponsored stories will be the site’s main source of revenue.
He has partnered with men’s mental health charity CALM for The Book of Man’s launch, with additional investment from people within the publishing industry and outside it.
Robinson describes the current men’s magazine market as “a very strange place”.
“Obviously there have been a lot of closures through the years and a lot of bad press but in many ways it hasn’t changed since the 1990s and early 2000s,” he says.
“At one end of the market you have the elite luxury mags where it’s all about power, money and status, and at the bottom end of the market you have the lad titles which focus on beer and fun and being young and daft.
“They’re like Nuts and Zoo but without the boobs.”
Several men’s media brands have looked to take a wider view of the male experience.
GQ and Esquire both incorporate mental health into their health and wellbeing sections, while LadBible launched its “U OK M8” section as part of their mental health campaign.
However, Robinson believes these brands don’t always tackle these topics in enough depth. “I’ve never seen a men’s mag in the UK really engage with men’s feelings and emotions I think that’s what makes The Book of Man unique and exciting and I hope people will believe in it,” he says.
A few days since its launch on 16 April, Robinson says things have gone “far better than I could ever have imagined”, adding that the amount of traffic and reaction on social media had been “overwhelming”.