Stop the Press! Is it the End of an Era for Lads’ Mags?

Bauer Media has announced that it will suspend publication of FHM and ZOO magazines by the end of the year, marking the end of the ‘lad’s mag’ era that dominated UK magazine publishing for much of the 1990s and early 2000s.

The news comes months after the closure of rival publications Nuts and Loaded, which have also haemorrhaged readers in recent years.

Declining sales

During the 90s, FHM was published in 27 countries and in its heyday saw circulation figures of over 700,000. It was world famous for its ‘100 Sexiest Women in the World’ annual poll, which saw aspiring models and actresses chomping at the bit to feature in the list and raise their profiles. But earlier this year, circulation figures dipped to less than 75,000, sounding the deathknell for the publication.

Similarly, weekly men’s magazine ZOO, launched in 2004, has seen a sharp decline in sales, with just 24,000 copies per week being sold in the first half of this year.

But why?

‘Lads’ mags’ have become the latest casualties of the consumer shift to mobile devices and social media, and the proliferation of free content online.

The ‘lads’ mag’ market has been depreciating for some time, but it’s not because men have become more moralistic about seeing boobs in print. On the contrary, they are still consuming the same content as before; it’s just that they’re doing it online.

In the pre-internet days, there was one reason a guy would buy FHM or ZOO: the photos. But with the growth of the internet and all the porn sites that have come with it, content has now become easily, quickly and freely available. Blokes can now track down revealing images of their soap-star or reality TV crushes directly from a porn site or a celeb’s Instagram account – some of which boast more followers than the circulation of the recently defunct ‘lads’ magazines’.

So where do marketers connect to lads now?

You only need to look at the rise of networks like TRUE LAD and The LAD Bible to see where the male demographic is spending their time. These media sites celebrate lad culture in all its finery. Banter is their currency, and they do a great job of engaging their audience, with funny photos and videos. They also encourage users to contribute content to the community.

And then there’s YouTube: young men spend hours watching other gamers to learn the tricks required to dominate the leader board, whilst others watch videos of their peers talking about their lives and the challenges they face, as a source of advice.

This can be much more engaging to the under 25s than reading a magazine article.

 Is there a future for printed media?

At PR Superstar I’ve worked a fair bit with men’s media, from market leaders Men’s Health, Sport and ShortList, to luxury titles like Esquire and Wired, as well as traditional ‘lads’ mags’ like FHM and ZOO.

For a male-orientated publication to survive, they clearly have to do two things. One, make their content accessible online – and do it well. Two, make their content unique – something that can’t be found elsewhere.

In the meantime, it looks like we’ll have to figure out 2016’s ‘100 Sexiest’ for ourselves…

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