Style's gone out of fashion

So farewell then Sleaze, we knew you as Sleaze Nation. Gone the way of The Face to wherever style magazines go when they die – presumably some kind of cutting edge knackers’s yard, where they are melted down and turned into something useful such as a camouflaged sun visor.

That’s two deaths in the style sector in almost as many months. How many more to come? How many, if you like, dead mags walking? There is the great survivor, ID, and Rankin’s Dazed and Confused, both of which get by on tiny budgets and big reputations and – is this significant? – no sales audit. But that’s about it when it comes to the style sector these days.

It seems cool magazines are suddenly uncool, while such magnificently uncool magazines as the new men’s weeklies are very hot indeed. Has the world gone mad? The truth is the bell tolled for the style press a long time ago. It was always a tiny sector, but it had grown from little more than fanzine beginnings in the Eighties – Blitz, The Face, ID – to being a respected phenomenon by the Nineties.

The Face – the one style magazine that was ever brave enough to submit itself to a sales audit – touched 100,000 sales in 1994, more than the men’s magazine it spawned, Arena, and more even than GQ and Esquire.

Then IPC launched Loaded. FHM and Maxim followed and The Face’s sales headed south. By the time the title shut this spring, circulation had slumped to more like 20,000.

Now you might think these two things could hardly be related. How could bumper crops of boozing and birding be compared to unisex bibles of style filled with cutting edge women’s fashion? But remember that, before Loaded, style magazines were often a default purchase for men living in an age of political correctness and club culture, where women’s groups and eye-liner were all the rage (for both him and her) and existing men’s magazines like GQ put Michael Heseltine on the cover. Remember that, when the tide turned in the early Nineties, Oasis, Chris Evans and Gazza bodysurfed in on a wave of lager to become unlikely icons of temporary and borderline cool. But they all made Loaded’s cover.

No surprise then that the likes of Loaded walked off with a whole bunch of readers. Suddenly men’s monthlies could deliver all you could get in a style magazine minus – big sighs of relief all round – the cutting edge women’s fashion. No surprise then that when the new men’s magazines began announcing massive, audited ABCs, the style press started to look very puny indeed.

Then along came the internet to kick sand in their face. Why wait a month for your cultural agenda, not to mention wardrobe, to be updated when you could get a daily bulletin? Faced with such indications of a magazine’s mortality, what is an editor supposed to do? Perhaps you persuade your publisher to shut you down gloriously (Nick Logan, the owner/founder of The Face, was said to have considered this for a matter of seconds in 1999 before opting to sell the title to Emap for £16millions instead)? Or do you turn into a website? Or soldier on while all around complain that the magazine is not what it used to be? The result is that confusion reigns and doubt creeps in. “Who is the magazine for?” is the question that won’t go away. And before you know it, you arrive at a point (as The Face did shortly before the end came) where you so completely lose the plot you employ Kurt, a gay Australian masseur, to provide your keynote column.

Sleaze’s equivalent of using Kurt may well have been when it dropped the “Nation” from its name and launched, into the teeth of the zeitgeist, an anticelebrity crusade in January.

Which brings me to the weeklies.

They too are magazines for their time and the question of frequency is also key. Why would a lad brought up on the instant thrills of the internet wait a month for his magazine? A week is long enough.

As recently as January very few in the business thought men would buy a weekly, but clearly they have, as many as 400,000 or so copies a week.

But then very few people in 1994 thought men’s monthlies could stray so far from the path trodden by the style press and still be a success.

Does this mean – and in many ways this would horrify all concerned – there is a Kurt lurking in the corridors of the men’s monthlies? Not a gay masseur, of course, but a crisis of identity that spells the beginning of the end. Only for those without deep pockets and a strong brand, is my guess.

Clearly a monthly is supposed to be a very different reading experience.

It’s not disposable. You are meant to acquire a collection that – in some cases – allows the picture on the spine to reveal itself.

Which means it needs to offer value for money. Not only with cover shoots that are new and exclusive, but also with editorial that hasn’t been seen before.

Why pay around £3.50 for anything less? Not when the weeklies can deliver the usual suspects nearly threetimes as cheaply and four times more frequently.

This is one hell of a challenge for editors and publishers, but a selfinflicted one for IPC and Emap. So why do it? Because it appears the prize is a hugely expanded men’s sector. The 1.6 million readers the weeklies are attracting a month almost matches the size of the existing monthly market.

They could double the size of the men’s market. The price to be paid will be some cannibalisation, but not annihilation. Clever publishers will have a foot in both camps, if they can afford it.

When the style mags were being launched in the Eighties you could start a magazine by mortgaging your house. Now when IPC and Emap go toe-to-toe, as they are with Nuts and Zoo, the marketing budgets weigh in at £8m each.

Which is what it takes to convince the likes of Tescos (the supermarkets are increasingly king) that they won’t be wasting a centimetre of retail racking space.

No surprise then that there’s little room for yesterday’s magazines on the shelves of the country’s premier food retailer. If we’ve lost our appetite for the style press, the supermarkets never really had one. Which is a shame because of all magazines, the style press needed a sell by date. And now they have virtually perished. 

Janice Turner is away.

Tom Loxley was editor-in-chief of Maxim and Maxim Fashion from 1999-2004.

Next week: Chris Shaw

by guest columnist Tom Loxley

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