Lads mags cannot bank on continuing success

Men’s magazines are the publishing success story of the Nineties with 600 per cent sales growth.

But is such spectacular growth sustainable? Men’s magazines exist on revenue from two key sources: advertising revenue and copy sales. To understand how secure they are, one can draw comparisons between leading men’s titles and their counterparts in the women’s market, which is more mature.

During the past 12 months, media tracking body Media Monitoring Services shows that FHM, Loaded and Maxim carried three quarters of the advertising booked by Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Company, despite selling 27 per cent more copies. Given the fact that men’s magazines are turning away some Autumn advertisers due to large scale demand, there would appear to be a policy of keeping advertising to editorial ratios lower than the women’s magazines.

The female titles have a head start in that women spend more on cosmetics and toiletries. However, there is room for the men’s magazines to increase the amount of advertising carried from the financial and retail sectors, both of which are more heavily represented in women’s titles.

Perhaps men’s magazines have a greater reliance on fashion clothing and accessories. While 14 per cent of the women’s titles’ advertising falls into this category, nearly a third of the men’s revenue is made up of clobber. There could be large cutbacks in this area if the recession takes hold.

As far as copy sales are concerned, men’s magazines have successfully marketed themselves, often through the mutually profitable practice of releasing key pictures of their latest interview to the press. The current crop of interviewees appeal to the fickle, fashion conscious audiences most likely to be influenced by commercial messages.

But what about older men? As readers age, surely there is room for more mature titles? Either the existing magazines, such as Esquire, could mature, or we could see the creation of a new sub-sector with the launch of additional brands to cater for older tastes. Given the overwhelming conversion of 18-34 men to the concept of magazine buying, there is no reason to suggest that more of the 35-plus sector cannot be similarly persuaded.

However, for the moment, it is important that the sector markets itself towards a wider range of advertising categories to ensure greater revenue security, especially in the light of a possible recession. It won’t be easy because publishers will need to consider toning down this sector’s notorious editorial content. This will take a lot of nerve considering the large contribution it has had to the success of these titles so far.

In last week’s media comment, a picture of David Charlesworth, head of Channel 4 sponsorship, was inadvertently used to illustrate a piece by Booth Lockett Makin media director Ian Clark. We apologise to both for any inconvenience this has caused.

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