The argument for men's magazines.


Recently former RALPH editor Mark Dapin was interviewed about the circulation problems in the lads’ magazine market. In the latest magazine audit, FHM’s monthly circulation in the last six months of 2011 was 26,026, compared to 50,154 in the back end of 2010. The magazine now has a circulation just better than Australian Personal Computer magazine and just worse than Australasian Dirt Bike magazine.

Zoo Magazine has also suffered quite badly, auditing at 70,992 an issue. I’m not sure what Zoo used to sell, but I think it peaked around 180,000 an issue a few years ago.

It’s true that if, in the distant future, all Australian records in this period went up in flames with just magazine circulation audits surviving, it’d be reasonable for archeologists to assume that Australia had become an Islamic Republic, such has been cliff the popularity of lads’ magazines has fallen off.

“After years of leering and jeering at women, it’s the men’s magazine industry’s turn to get on its knees. 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,” the piece says.

This isn’t the lads’ magazine category I remember. When I worked at RALPH, I worked off a style guide (that I was told was written by Dapin and deputy editor Elizabeth Knowles) that said that women should not only be treated with respect, but that we should be in quiet awe of them. All of them. At all times. It was the second rule. The first being that exclamation marks are almost always an abomination. I agreed on both counts. Misogyny sucks, so too exclamation marks in subtitles when the actor is clearly not exclaiming something.

After reading the intro I expected Dapin to defend to the death a category he helped create, here in Australia anyway. He chose not to.

“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.”

The quote reminded me of an interview I read in which Ken Kesey was asked why he’d never watched the film version of Once Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest. Kesey asked the interviewer that if a bunch of bikers were raping his wife in the front yard, would he like to watch? I’d like to think Dapin was talking about what lads magazines became, not what they once were.

I don’t read Zoo, but I’ve flipped through it. There are some funny guys working on that mag, but the obsession with sexism, debasement and mess suggests that they’re creating a different type of beast to the lads’ magazines I remember.

I recall Dapin saying himself in another interview some time ago that lads magazines weren’t really for lads, they were for relatively literate, middle class guys who are just spending some time in a lads’ world.

Zoo, I suspect, is actually for lads and now, as the most successful magazine in the category, they set the tone. That may be why FHM is suffering so badly, as perhaps the last remnant of the old guard. An old guard that I think deserves to be defended.

I picked up my first Loaded magazine in the mid-nineties (Loaded was the first and best lads’ magazine). It had Martin Clunes on the cover, alongside a cover line that said “Look just buy it you tightfisted bastard.”


As Johnny Carson was a host and David Letterman was an anti-late show host, Playboy was a magazine and Loaded was an anti-magazine.

I read the thing cover to cover and literally everything in the magazine was funny. Loaded, initially anyway, was a humor magazine, with a dark and honest perspective. If it was to be compared to a current TV show, it would be Louie.

One month the staff would take acid and fill the features well of the magazine with pictures they’d drawn and the stories behind those pictures, next they would visit the Church of Euthenasia and discuss the merits of auto-xenocide. And the cartoons? Never bettered. The staff was smart, strange people making a smart, strange magazine.

I was living in suburban Perth at the time, a teenager bored out of my mind and Loaded was a well-needed monthly iconoclastic holiday.

Editor James Brown eventually got sick of producing Loaded, and convened an editorial meeting seeing if the staff wanted to sell the computers (owned by the publisher) and move to Columbia with him. He wasn’t joking. By the time he’d left, he’d already spawned a category, with clones all around the world, including RALPH.

I remember picking up the first RALPH magazine, with the cover screamer ‘God’s a snob, Bradman’s an idiot.’ I liked what I read. I had a vague interest in the girls (honestly at the time I though Inside Sport did a better job), but what I liked in RALPH was the very Australian (but not ocker) sacred-cows-make-great-steak humour.

When I worked on the magazine years later, I always thought the magazine was primarily about bizarre humour. The girls were as necessary as advertising, but not the heart of the magazine. The heart was Chris Ryan competing at the World Beard Championships, or the staff arranging a counter-protest against a group of ecologists who were trying to stop an action movie being made in Sydney, or the glorious wasting of celebrities time.

“So, Vin Diesel how do you feel about kittens?”

Later in the interview, Dapin says he was asked if he is fond of the industry. He replies that he has “absolutely no nostalgia about it.” The industry? I’m with him on that one. The magazines however, I have great nostalgia for.

Lets face it; a lot of magazine writing is much ado about nothing, so why not make it funny nothing? If I were a first year semiotics student, I may even suggest that lads’ magazines were a response to the explosion of lightweight magazines in the nineties, disguising themselves as essential and meaningful manuals. So, it’s insignificance you want, eh? How about a homeless man reviewing the latest Radiohead album?

It fed our boyhood impulse to make the finest sand castle possible and then kick it into the sea.

I don’t really know why, when most magazines caught a cold, lads’ magazine started the early stages of ebola, but let’s not forget there was a time when lads’ magazines were the only place on an Australian magazine newsstand to get a laugh.

Former Fairfax journalist and Sport&Style Magazine editor, Ben Mckelvey now works as a freelance writer and TV producer. You can find his website here and his Twitter here.

We spoke about the “other side” of men’s magazines on Mamamia here. This link includes the interview with Mark Dapin that is referenced in Ben’s post

Do you remember the glory days of men’s magazines? A time when you’d happily buy your partner a subscription?