Is Co-op’s war on lads’ mags justified?

Co-op made a big splash earlier this week when it issued an ultimatum to lads’ mags: introduce modesty bags or we’ll withdraw your titles from our shelves.

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As one of the UK’s biggest magazine retailers with over 4,000 stores, Co-op has given publishers of lads’ mags including Nuts, Zoo and Loaded six weeks to deliver their magazines in pre-sealed “modesty sleeves”, designed to obscure their front covers.

Co-op says it has received complaints from consumers despite its current policy of using opaque screens to conceal front covers featuring scantily clad women.

Following Co-op’s ultimatum, Tesco also announced this week that it was considering tougher restrictions on how it sells lads’ magazines, but has not yet decided whether to follow in the Co-op’s footsteps by forcing publishers to use bags to obscure sexualised front covers.

The display of magazines is a matter for each individual retailer, according to the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, although there is a voluntary code of practice.

Although, Co-op’s move has stirred up debate, discussions on the topic have been numerous since the Government-appointed Bailey Review in 2011 recommended modesty bags or boards and urged retail associations in the news industry to do more to encourage observance of the voluntary code of practice, amid concerns over the commercialisation and sexualisation of children in Britain.

Supermarket Sainsbury’s has been using boards placed over titles in an effort to shield children for years. The magazines are also positioned away from children’s magazines, above the eyeline and behind other titles. Likewise, Asda says it has been using its own modesty covers for a long time. Waitrose does not sell Loaded, Zoo or Nuts.

Nobody could deny that obscuring overtly sexual images from children is the responsible thing to do, but Co-op’s decision to announce an ultimatum to the press before consulting publishers has been badly received.

A spokesperson for Nuts, published by IPC Media, claims not only that the Co-op’s solution doesn’t work for consumers of men’s magazines but also that it “has not been welcomed by the feminist groups they were so keen to appease”.

By wanting to continue to profit from the sale of these magazines – Co-op could have decided not to sell them, after all – the retailer could easily be seen as wanting to have its cake and eat it too.

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