Courtesy of Janine, I am intrigued by this story about the collapsing circulation of the British lad mag. And not without a little bit of schadenfreude… but how do we explain this huge downturn in what had been a thriving sector? Is it that, as Janine hopes, the British man has suddenly become less sexist? I don’t think so, at least I don’t think there is evidence to suggest that. And the collapse is too sudden anyway to mirror a change in social attitudes.
Taking the individual results, while there is a decline all round, it is the 35% year-on-year drop in Loaded’s circulation that catches the eye. Why Loaded in particular? Well, I suppose mid-market squeeze comes into play. Consider that your more upmarket glossies like FHM and Maxim are basically consumer lifestyle magazines, maybe 80% taken up with cars, clothes and gadgets, including lots of advertising, with a little cheesecake thrown in to sex things up a bit. At the other end of the market you have your Zoo and your Nuts, the weeklies with a very young and working-class readership, which are about 50% football and 50% tits – the Daily Star in magazine form. In this scenario, Loaded, believe it or not, is the mid-market title, which would allow it to bestride a healthy market like a colossus, but suggests it has a softer readership, making it more vulnerable to a market downturn than a magazine with more of a niche readership.
But we also see huge falls for the other main titles – Maxim and FHM down 26%, Nuts and Zoo down 9% and 18% respectively. So what’s the explanation for this precipitous decline in the entire market? I have no evidence for this, only instinct, but I’m not convinced that the internet is to blame. The internet has, it’s true, killed off the old-style porn mag, but your net nerds who surf for porn are more likely to be enthusiasts, not casual readers, and in any case the lad mags don’t offer porn but Page Three-type glamour photography. Besides, although you can get all the saucy pictures you want on the net, that’s been true for years.
(Parenthetically, I’m yet to be convinced by the argument that the net is killing the print media. Personally, and the younger generation may be different here, I like to have hard copy in front of me. There is a bit of a parallel with Socialist Worker’s declining sales – your average punter who buys SW will buy it on a street stall or a demo, while I would guess that most readers of the online version are old lefties like me who want to keep tabs on the SWP. So you have to look elsewhere for explanations.)
Maybe there is a certain element of tease fatigue due to the mags’ actual (and legally constrained) tameness compared to what they promise. Old-time porn director David McGillivray used to say that the British sex film was “all sizzle and no sausage”, and that’s applicable here. The mags promise much more in terms of sexual content than they deliver. Let’s say that your glossy mag devotes as much space to cars as it does to glamour models – it will still put Lucy and Michelle on the cover in preference to a car, on the well-known publishing principle that attractive women on the cover sell magazines. And, publishing hype being what it is, the blurb will say “Lucy and Michelle – their hottest photos yet!!!” And then, if you shell out your three quid fifty, it turns out that what you get is six pages of Lucy and Michelle’s boobs – which are impressive, to be sure, if you like that sort of thing, but your mag-buying punter has probably seen them dozens of times already.
If I was to pull a theory out of my left ear, I would hazard a guess that one big factor is mobile downloads. The new generation of 3G mobiles have only really come on stream in the last year or so, but all the kids seem to have them. And, where dopey kids used to be restricted to the Crazy Frog, now you can download saucy photos and video clips direct to your mobile. This sort of thing gets advertised on the TV, and lots of teenagers appear to be buying into it. And that, I suppose, combined with a bit of the net and all the sauce that’s available on your Sky or Freeview, conspires to undermine the printed page. It will be interesting to see whether this is just a fad or whether the bottom has fallen permanently out of the market.
Rud eile: I’ll not bother with Gail Walker Watch this week, as her column is pretty boring – a bit on Amy Winehouse, a bit on ill-mannered motorists, and Prince William getting slagged yet again. You can have more fun with Catherine Townsend’s sex diary, though God alone knows what traditional Telegraph readers make of it.
Rud eile fós: I see Swiss Toni is speaking to the proletariat at Cultúrlann tomorrow night. I don’t think I’ll bother. All things considered, I’d rather be watching My Name Is Earl.