Dylan Jones, the editor of British GQ has some advice for magazines on how to say alive:
If you were to take a look at the new tombstones in the magazine graveyard, you could be forgiven for thinking that the men’s magazine market – at least in the UK – is dead, and that it won’t be long before it has its own mausoleum with the epitaph: “Here lies the men’s magazine market, 1988-2009.” In the past month alone, Arena has closed, Maxim has ceased to publish, and Sport – the free weekly thrust into your hand as you leave the tube – has been kicked into touch. Not only that, but the migration to the web has been as concerted as it has been well-publicised. So why do I think the men’s magazine market has a future? Well, as the editor of British GQ for the past 10 years, I’ve been studying the market at close quarters, and the only way is up. Yes, this year has been challenging, especially for the “lads’ mags”, which have suffered more than most, but the thing about this recession (as with all recessions), is that quality will rise. (FT
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The bubble burst for the more downmarket men’s magazines about five years ago, principally because it was no longer cool to be seen with one. Back in the 1990s, whenever I was asked, I liked to say that there was a mass-market end of the men’s magazine market – with the likes of Maxim, FHM, Loaded, etc – and the upmarket, luxury end, with GQ and Esquire. But these days there is no mass market, because those magazines have either folded or taken a significant cut in circulation.
The problem with that end of the market was that it became extremely reductive when times got tough. When these publications began having circulation challenges, the only weapon in their arsenal was sex, and the only way to make sex more shocking was to make it more extreme – little more than pornography, really. And as pornography is now free online, why buy a magazine? The numbers tell the story: according to the most recent ABC figures, Nuts fell 13.3 per cent year on year in the six months to December 2008; Loaded fell 21.7 per cent; and FHM fell 13.5 per cent; but Men’s Health was up 4.1 per cent and GQ had its 11th consecutive ABC increase.
Why? Because both Men’s Health and GQ have always looked to the upper end of the market. What GQ tries to do is operate as an intelligent features magazine with a slight male bias. When a story comes up we simply ask ourselves, “Is this a good idea?” Do we want to send AA Gill to the Nürburgring, do we want to send Tom Parker Bowles to review the best restaurants in Chicago, and would it be funny to ask Boris Johnson to test drive a tank? (Incidentally the answer to all of those questions was “yes”.)
I worked on newspapers for years, and whenever I thought of an idea or commissioned a story, I did so thinking it was interesting, not by worrying about how it was going to define our readers as individuals. The problem with a lot of men’s magazines is that they worry too much about who they’re addressing, when they should be worrying more about the quality of their content.
We’ve never been embarrassed about being called aspirational. Never been embarrassed about being called yuppies. At GQ we always figured there were as many men who wanted a martini as wanted to drink beer straight from the bottle, so into the cocktail bar we marched. And quickly discovered that the thirst for lifestyle brands was not limited to home turf, but existed in many markets, especially those labelled “emerging”, an understanding that drove our expansion into Russia, France, India, Romania, Bulgaria and, later this year, China. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the growth of men’s magazines abroad has mirrored their evolution at home: downmarket titles have crumbled or folded all over Europe, and the successful ones are the upmarket ones. Like the newspaper industry, over the next year or so the magazine industry will experience contraction and consolidation. And when the recession is over, there will be fewer men’s magazines standing, but they will be stronger. We will have benefited from the demise of others, our circulations will be stronger, our advertising sales healthier. Quality will out. Which is how it should be. So for now the graveyard is fine without us. And as Spike Milligan once said, I don’t mind dying. I just don’twant to be there when it happens.
Dylan Jones is the editor of British GQ