UPDATE: The publisher of FHM, Australian Consolidated Press, has just announced it will close the magazine after its circulation halved in the most recent audit.
“The May issue will be its last, and the website will also be shut on the day the title is taken off the shelves.”
ACP said it would try to ‘redeploy’ employees.
“The decision to close a title is never an easy one and FHM is certainly no exception,” said Matt Stanton, CEO, ACP Magazines. “FHM is a terrific brand but, given the current market conditions, it has been difficult for ACP to make it a commercially viable proposition.”
Here’s Mamamia’s initial interview with Mark Dapin, former Ralph editor-in-chief, about the demise of the men’s mag:
All those boob jokes might soon fall on deaf ears.
After years of leering and jeering at women, it’s the men’s magazine industry’s turn to get on its knees. Circulation figures are plummeting. Even the readers are turning away from the content that, at its worst, has seen people become confused whether the magazine coverlines are written by an editor or spoken by a rapist. Seriously, there was a study and most men got them the wrong way around.
Think about what that means.
Well, those days are almost over. Don’t believe us? The latest circulation figures for one of Australia’s leading bloke’s titles FHM – published by Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) – dropped by half in the last half of 2011. It dropped from 50,154 copies sold to 26,026 copies. Just like that.
It is, as Mumbrella describes it, ‘one of the biggest circulation drops in Australian media history’. It reported: “The drop for as significant a brand as FHM is virtually unprecedented.”
Weekly title Zoo launched amid much fanfare in 2006 and was pronounced by some as the busty-covered saviour of the industry. For a while, it did well. But even its sales tanked 18 per cent in the last half of 2011, about 18,000 copies.
No amount of cover-photo leg seems to be able to save them now. But what, exactly, is happening?
If there’s one man who lived and breathed the men’s magazine, it’s former Ralph editor-in-chief Mark Dapin. He wrote the book Sex and Money about his climb to the helm of Ralph through the hedonistic ranks of the industry including stints writing for Penthouse, People and Picture magazine. We spoke to Mark to get the low-down on the changes:
Mark, I’ll start up front, are ‘blokey’ magazines about to pass into oblivion?
I’ve thought about this quite a bit and I’ve looked at the statistics. When ACP closed Ralph in favour of FHM, I was told the men’s magazine market was cyclical. Which I thought was a bit of a cop out. In retrospect, there was some truth to it. In the late 1990s when lads magazines first started, a number of other magazines died so that they might live.
Australian Playboy died. Well, it atrophied and decayed and disappeared and it was a major international brand. And I suspect the same thing will happen to FHM.
Popular magazines exist in a moment of time, they are a snapshot of their moment in time and the attitudes.
The golden era of these magazines I would suggest coincided neatly with the time of my own editorship. [Mark wanted it known he was mostly joking when he said this. Mostly.]
So the golden era has passed, what happened?
My suspicion is that, in the same way men turned away from soft-core porn magazines to lads magazines, men are now turning away from lads magazines for men’s health and fitness titles.
I suspect the market has matured. In a sense, FHM and Ralph created the market they dominated. But now those readers have moved on and matured. The industry tried to create an entry level product, Zoo, but I never saw that as a product with an intrinsically long life.
What you have with women’s magazines, however, is a traditional chain of command. A way in through Dolly and then up through Cleo and Cosmopolitan and graduating to your Madison types. With the men, a lot of these steps were missing.
But when they’re gone, if they’re gone, are we going to be missing out on anything?
I’ve said it before, lads mags are politically irrelevant. All popular magazines are fraudulent constructions. You can take any story from Playboy in the 1990s and run it today in 2012 and no one would think it odd. They just repeat themselves into absurdity.
To what extent has the Internet been involved in the downfall of the lads mag?
I doubt whether there Internet has had any greater effect on the lads mags than it has had on any of the other magazines. During their heyday there was any number of stories in the press and there was this great moral panic that lads mags would bring about social decay with all those cheesecake poses [this is the colloquial term given to 'soft core' photography of women, initially used to describe otherwise modest wartime poses that showed generous amounts of leg], that this would somehow have had a palpable effect on men.
Well, a.) I put it to you that it had none and I was right and b.) it’s absurd when you look at how mild ‘objectifying’ women is compared to to what any eight-year-old could find on the Internet in ten minutes.
I honestly think Men’s Fitness has inherited the crown of the lads magazines. It’s a tight, witty publication. Men are looking for a community that reflects them and I think this mag is a little closer to where there interests lie these days: the gym, body image, how to pick up women and all the rest. It’s doing the same thing lad’s magazines have always done.
Is it doing it in a more sophisticated way? Well that depends on how you define ‘sophisticated’. Maxim, FHM, Ralph and Loaded were all commercially sophisticated vehicles. If by sophisticated you mean the new breed are aimed at a wealthier, more middle class audience, then yes.
Are you fond of that industry, do you miss it?
I have absolutely no nostalgia about it, no.
I am not a reader of them, I might occasionally pick up Men’s Health in the doctor’s waiting room, but in any case I’m about 12 years too old for even that now. I don’t care. I don’t care about what they are selling or the readers they are selling it to. These magazines, the lads mags, are a naked, money-making venture driven by contempt not only for themselves but for their readers and presided over by a rapacious management.
They never contributed to public debate, they are meaningless.
Mark Dapin is a writer and reformed men’s magazine editor. He pens a column for Good Weekend Magazine in the Sydney Morning Herald and is the author of Spirit House, King of the Cross and Strange Country: travels in a very different Australia.