John

The Long Rant: FHM Goes All Glamour–Will It Work?

In magazines on January 11, 2008 at 2:02 am

fhm.jpg

Just picked this up from the Guardian that FHM is going the Glamour way by launching a more compact, “travel” edition of the magazine. It’s about 70% of the original size, following the footsteps of Glamour’s “Handbag”-sized format in order to recapture a fading lad’s mag market–FHM UK was down 16% in its latest ABC figures.

Rob Munro-Hall, the managing director of Emap’s Men’s Lifestyle and Music Magazine Brands, was quoted in the article as saying that it’s “yet another example of FHM leading and beating the rest of the men’s magazine market into a new arena.” I’m not so sure if such a gimmick would boost sales. I mean, one of the reasons why the smaller-format Glamour is so popular is because it fits into a handbag. Like, hello, where are your handbags, eh, lads? It doesn’t make much sense to me other than it being a gimmick to get noticed again on the shelves.

It’s got the same content, same price, same amount of ads. So what really compels you to buy a smaller version other than the novelty of it? I haven’t picked up an issue of FHM UK in months now, but–this is nothing new, by the way–I can tell you that its the content that matters. What’s FHM doing that’s not already done on the web? Porn and D-grade celebrities are more prevalent (and free!) on the web on a daily basis than monthlies, and while editor Anthony Noguera has invited back a bunch of its hey-day writers to recapture its glory days of journalism, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Why? I’m not sure, but if these “golden-era journos” were hired to get back its original audience (those who grew up with FHM) it’s looks like a losing bet because FHM’s brand remains as a juvenile, lads mag. That crowd has grown older, wiser, and more affluent–more GQ, in other words–so they don’t want to be seen on the train carrying a mag fronted by the picture of a busty Reality TV star.

So what’s the solution? Heh, if I had the answer to that, I’d be applying for a job there. I’m drawing a blank, other than to admit that FHM has gotta swallow the bitter truth that, as George Costanza would say, shrinkage is inevitable. “We have to come to the fact that the younger generation of readers don’t buy magazines,” said a media analyst friend of mine. “They just read and get their stuff from the ‘net”

It looks to me that FHM is caught between two things–one, is that its brand is aimed at the young and horny, but the problem is that that audience is ‘net savvy enough to source out their own porn and funny news. Secondly, the more grown-up audience thinks FHM is too porny; regardless of whether there’s good journalism inside the magazine or not, FHM’s cover, and the brand its built over the years, isn’t mature enough to capture that audience.

I’m guessing that the editors there are trying to answer the question: “How does Porn Grow Up?” How do you remain relevant to your new horny audience, while coming off as an intelligent premium magazine, filled with good writing, that more mature people would want to buy?

Then I came across this article by Jon Friedman on Marketwatch, who posed the more important question to magazines: “Would anyone miss this magazine if it went away?” That’s a more relevant question for any editor to ask of his magazine today, more than “How do I market my magazine more aggressively?” or “How do I create more gimmicks to get it noticed?” I’ve been through the now-defunct Chrome magazine before, and sadly no one missed it, saved for some advertisers and PR people, who saw yet another opportunity to push their stories to drop off the racks.

This year may actually shape up to be a good one for the magazine industry. Propelled by the presidential election and the Olympics, the pace of advertising should be stronger than it has been in years. But this may prove to be a one-time phenomenon, as the industry could head back for the doldrums in 2009.

Edgy blogs and Web sites, which are by nature more confrontational in tone, have begun to unseat the trio. BizWeek, SI and Money have reputations for being stodgy cheerleaders, though their editors would no doubt disagree sharply with me.
It’s commendable when magazines have high standards and strive to be taken seriously. All too often, these “books” cross the line to seem dull, though.
A magazine can’t expect to solve its problems overnight with a redesign. It has to get readers excited. It can best do that by creating a sense of drama — not the melodrama reflected in such Band-Aids as a redesign.

People would still miss FHM, no doubt, but it’s increasingly more for nostalgic reasons–in the same way we miss Friends and 80s cartoons, say–than anything else. They’ve got a tough battle ahead to stay relevant.

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  1. I know that a certain, ahem, local publisher would totally dig the new travel edition. Because it’s smaller it will probably be a bit cheaper to produce. Mwahahaha.

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