John

123, ABCs, and the big losers are…

In magazines on February 23, 2007 at 1:13 pm

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I’ve decided to start blogging again in a desperate bid to revive a flagging blog so that I won’t be lumped into the category of “failed blogger”, which, when you come to think of it, is rock bottom as far as ambitions go, considering a good few million others have their own blogs. On the personal front, I’ve finally kicked off my column for KLue magazine, entitled “Borak” and in it I basically rant on about whatever’s being talked about during lunch/dinner/mamak. The first column was about the duplicitous nature of magazines (KLue 100) and the second one, due out in March, is about my love affair with Pop music, and a small dig at Hannah T’s rebranding effort as she enters the pop arena. Will post the unedited versions up in a couple of days.

In the meantime, what got me all hot and bothered again was the recent release of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures in the British mag industry, and the biggest losers turned out to be the lads’ mag category. FHM, the market leader, has every reason to press the panic button after seeing its circulation figures plummet a whopping 25.9% year on year to sell an average 371,263 copies each month. This, from a magazine that used to sell over 600,000 copies just barely a couple of years before. And turns out that Emap has pushed the panic button. Editor Ross Brown has been removed from his position after 10 years, to be replaced by Anthony Noguera. Arena, Emap’s high-end quality men’s mag, also suffered, dipping nearly 30%, and its editor was also sacked (or rather “reassigned to special projects”) .

Said Rob Munro-Hall, managing director of FHM, Zoo and Arena: “Emap continues to dominate the men’s lifestyle magazine market with the biggest and best portfolio on offer. FHM, Zoo and Arena are all successful multiplatform international brands, and primed for further growth given their unique understanding of their respective consumers and advertisers.” Which, when translated, basically means: LALALALLALALALALALALA.

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The fact that GQ and Men’s Health were one of the few rare ones to buck the trend (though in very small increments of 1%) tells me how, since the introduction of the internet as a significant part of the media diet, the media is fragmenting, and the type of content determines what magazines will succeed and which won’t. FHM has always pushed the edge when it comes to its pictures, and its no big secret that it has evolved into pornography. Tit counts are high, nudity is no longer a stranger on the cover, and you don’t have to peek through a lacy bra to see some nipple action. The problem is, though, that when it comes to porn, the internet beats the monkey crap out of magazines. Whereas FHM can only show pictures of nude women, which, on the internet, is soooo 2000, dahrling. Sex tapes are abundant on the ‘net, and nudity in movie format are legion. So who wants to stare at a picture when they can download all these Girls Gone Wild videos for free? What made FHM’s value depreciate further was its switch from focusing on celebrities to its “Girl Next Door” approach, which, although boosted lagging sales, has backfired on them because the prevalence of these amateur porn is exponentially even more on the ‘net than a Paris Hilton sex tape.

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So, really, this sorta juvenile, lads’ material won’t live for long in magazines. Men’s weeklies like Zoo and Nuts, once heralded as a genius product, have suffered catastrophic dips, and I don’t see it coming back because their content is not dissimilar from the porn you get while surfing. Hell, the rumours are rife that even Felix Dennis is planning to sell of Maxim, the leader of the men’s mag market in the US. If you want proof of how new media trumps over old media in the lad’s mag department, scoot on over to Dennis’s purely online magazine, Monkeymag–it’s pure genius, and it’s got the figures to back it up: the average number of Monkey’s weekly editions opened in January was 209,612, and steadily rising. It’s not hard to see why: it incorporates all the web can do that mags can’t–movies, youtube, cut-n-paste–and in doing so, gives the “readers” what they want: nude women in action. Guys don’t want to read about how hot Sienna Miller and Jamie King are in sex scenes. We wanna SEE.

So, which leads me back to why GQ and Men’s Health are still on course: it’s all about the type of content. Magazines, and print media, aren’t dead, and won’t die in my lifetime. And that’s because magazines hold an advantage over the ‘net in that you don’t have to start your friggin’ computer up to read an article, more so when it’s a long-assed, 3000-word feature that you’d feel more comfortable reading while lounging around in the sofa with a nice cuppa. That’s the type of quality journalism like GQ and Men’s Health does, and it suits the medium. Coupled that with high-class, glossy-mag photo shoots that aren’t pornographic and not easily available (or easily substituted by any other amateur porn), and hey, you’ve got a winner.

Like John C. Dvorak said on TWiT 88, print media can’t simply whine about how circulation figures are dropping and blaming it on the ‘net for the downfall of their mag/newspaper. They’ve got to up and change their game, improve on the content in which print media trumps over the web. That means giving the reader a more compelling reason to own a magazine in providing better journalism, better pictures, and less porn ‘n’ gossip that anyone can pick up on the ‘net. So yeah, that’s what my hunch for the mag biz is heading to in the next 5 years. It’ll be interesting to see how these two medias will adapt to each other.

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