The lads' mags play hard to get

I realised while trying to buy the four leading monthly lads’ mags (rather than GQ and its two copycats) for this review, that it is not easy to do. Finally, in a Shell garage I managed to locate Maxim, but on inspection I suspect that its elusiveness in the supermarkets and newspagents is not down to its popularity but because there just aren’t that many copies printed of this former 300,000-plus selling monster any more.

The shocking news that Maxim reportedly sold just 24,000 copies of its April issue after an ABC for the last six months of 2007 showed a 40 per cent year-on-year decrease to 78,463 would seem to indicate that the former second-biggest seller after FHM is in terminal decline– and so does studying the magazine.

For £3.70 I get a ‘Free Movie Special DVD’on the cover but closer inspection reveals that it is in fact a DVD of ‘Free Trailers of this summer’s movies’– hmmph! On the cover is Beau Garret, who we are told is ‘Hollywood’s hot new star!’When you have to tell your readers who is on the cover, you know that she shouldn’t be on the cover.

Among an uninspiring mix of interviews/gadgets and fashion, I found your standard but overlong, eight-page article on LA gangsters and a six-page feature on the cover girl, with a cuts job replacing an interview and a mere three, substandard, decidely unsexy, photos of Garret (one of which being virtually identical to the cover). At 154 pages and on thin paper, Maxim is lightweight both physically and in terms of ideas, and it seems inevitable that it will soon weigh nothing at all.

By contrast, Loaded, which registered a year-on-year decline of 29.9 per cent in the last ABCs, seems to have set about reversing its fortunes with gusto. At £3.40 it offers the best value for money, and the free pornalike fridge magnets on the cover encapsulate the irreverence and humour that made the magazine so popular in the first place.

Inside, it brims with vigour, ideas and attitude – the story of flogging a fake Banksy for £2,150 being a case in point, and the article on taking part in an LA-based soapbox race (which ended with the tragic death of one participant) being a well-written example of writers doing what readers want to read.

Steadfastly maintaining a sensibly high breast count, Loaded seems once again to be sexy, funny and packed with entertainment.

FHM’s June offering is its former million-selling banker: ‘The 100 Sexiest Women’issue, which weighs in at 196 pages including the 32-page supplement.

The gold cover, which says simply ‘100 sexiest Women In the World’cleverly does away with the constant men’s mag nightmare of finding a cover girl who somebody has heard of, but the editor’s letter undoes the good start with an excrutiating black and white picture of the editor-in-chief Anthony Noguera evidently thinking he looks cool and evidently not being so.

The layout is clean and stylish but it suffers from a quite staggering lack of new ideas – even to the extent that Grub Smith is back writing his sex column after a seven-year break. The rolling narrative interview with Theo Walcott’s pleasant but uninteresting 19-year-old girlfriend is ill-advised and the eight-page book extract from a soldier in Afghanistan is lazy, unimpressive and weak.

Following a 15.1 per cent year-on-year decline FHM, in an attempt to distance itself from competing with the flesh-loving weeklies, launched its ‘grown-up’new look last autumn, and what a tedious, nippleless nightmare it has become. In the absence of ideas, spiralling sales and further redesigns beckon as it chases Maxim down the publishing plughole.

Front, the newest of the lads’ mags (it was launched in October 1998), was for some while little more than an aggressive brochure for football hooligans but seems nowadays to have come to its senses. Its covers are consistently much more eye-catching and effective than its rivals, while ‘Mate In A State'(where readers send in photos of their friends in disrepair) continues to be the most compelling regular feature in lads’ mags.

Cleverly pitched a tad younger than its rivals, its content is fast-paced and funny with a frantic and colourful design to match. Its balance would benefit from the inclusion of a weighty feature, but its sheer exuberance has to be admired. Front remains unrepentant in its fondness for the female form and remains the cheekiest and most charming of the bunch.

The lads’ mag sector has struggled in recent years in the face of increasingly popular weeklies, the internet, youTube and newspaper supplements, but it seems that at least half of them are fighting back by with ideas and energy.

Piers Hernu is a freelance writer for the men’s lifestyle sector

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