The poaching war between IPC and Emap reached its peak this week as both publishers put the finishing touches to teams that will battle it out for control of a new market - men's weeklies. Emap's Zoo Weekly will go head-to-head with IPC's Nuts this month, both with £8m marketing budgets riding on them.
The battle for key staff indicates how ferocious the news-stand fight will be. Zoo Weekly completed its raids this week by adding award-winning writer Will Storr from IPC's Loaded to its team. At the same time, Nuts editor Phil Hilton, who was working on Zoo Weekly for Emap when he was poached by IPC last year, revealed his full 33-strong line-up. Several of his key journalists have worked for Emap.
In turn, Zoo Weekly is edited by Paul Merrill, the award-winning former editor of IPC's Chat, and has the onetime NME editor Ben Knowles as associate editor. A fierce tit-for-tat fight followed the initial poachings. IPC has tried to lure three staff from Zoo Weekly in recent months, sources say.
The first issue of Nuts will be handed out free to one million readers next week before it hits news-stands on 22 January, followed a week later by Zoo Weekly.
Both titles will offer a mix of sport, news, TV, celebrities and women.
Hilton said sport would play a big part in Nuts and described the coverage as "ground-breaking, lively and visual". Football will be dominant, with a strong emphasis on photography.
Asked if there was room for two magazines, he said: "I hope so. It's such an exciting new market. It's impossible to say how big it will be, but it's a lovely product that we have got and I think guys generally are going to be excited to see real innovation in this market.
"I'd be amazed if there wasn't a bit of trialling, but I think ours will gain a loyalty very quickly."
Zoo Weekly has a sales target of 150,000 by the end of the year and is believed to have a cover price of £1.50.
IPC is likely to match or undercut it.
Merrill said Emap had known for some time IPC was rushing out "a lastminute spoiler", but added: "We know that what we are doing is groundbreaking and there seems to be an insatiable appetite for a men's weekly.
We plan to be the best on offer and we believe readers will buy this one."
Some insiders fear the launches could cannibalise sales of the men's monthlies, which have slowed in growth in recent years. GQ editor Dylan Jones said: "I would imagine people at FHM would find it very annoying because at that end of the market, something like Zoo is really going to affect FHM. If I were editor, I would be furious. FHM, Loaded and Maxim will have an issue on their hands, because I think Zoo will be very successful. If Zoo works, why would you buy FHM, because your appetite for that stuff would be exhausted? It is a problem."
Maxim publisher Andy Semple warned the biggest challenge would be the covers, given that it is already highly competitive in the men's monthly market to find a woman "famous and pretty enough" to hold a men's magazine cover. "If you're trying to do that every week, it's going to be a real challenge," he said.
Merrill cited Jordan, Britney Spears and Pamela Anderson as ideal cover stars and said: "We've got our top 10 or 20 girls and a lot of them have said yes and come on board already. Being weekly, we'll be able to write more about what they are doing."
He insisted Zoo would have little effect on FHM, as research showed it more as a top-up purchase, adding that it would focus on breaking news and match previews in the sports pages as opposed to results. "We are not bringing out a pornographic magazine, but a general interest men's weekly. When people see Zoo, they'll realise it's a high-class publication, not downmarket or tacky."
BIG NUTS NAMES
The Nuts line-up includes: exLoaded editor Derek Harbinson as deputy editor; former Mojo and Empire art director Steve Fawcett; Jo Smalley, ex-Arena, Pop and The Face as managing editor; Hans Seeberg, ex-Max Power, as associate editor; Jon Axworthy, ex-FHM and Men's Health, as associate editor, features; Marcus Mays, from FHM, as associate editor, entertainment; Derek Balment, from The Guardian, as art editor; Nick Soldinger, Now's gossip editor, as news editor; Toby Evans, former chief sub of Closer, as production editor; John Gooch as picture editor; and Brett Lampit, TV editor. Editor Phil Hilton said he was also keen to hear from freelances.
By Ruth Addicott