So two new boozers have opened on the publishing high street, both advertising the same fare. Guys, there’s widescreen sport, fit barmaids and great craic.
Nuts looks a friendly joint, but once through the door you realise you’re in a Wetherspoon. It’s professional enough, but the little stuff bothers you: there’s muzak, a microwaved menu, the decor is bland and the staff just do their job. It’s OK, but you won’t make it your local.
Zoo Weekly is smaller, scruffier. A bloke is chalking specials on a board, the barman banters with the regulars, the music’s eclectic. And, although you know it’s too slick to be anything but part of a chain of bloody gastropubs, you don’t care. You’ll come back, maybe.
Now, I’m sceptical about whether the men’s weekly market really exists.
The monthly men’s sector shows zero growth and although 800,000 blokes read female-orientated weeklies, there is a yawning gap between a man flicking through his girlfriend’s Heat and him tripping to the shop every week to buy his boy’s-own mag.
Moreover, look at the redtop tabloids. Even the formidable Rebekah Wade can’t keep The Sun from a 30year low; even breaching Buckingham Palace can’t reverse the Daily Mirror’s decline. And the tabloids’ main wares – girls, gags and goals – are the very stuff with which Nuts and Zoo Weekly are filling their stalls.
But how these two launches reveal differences in corporate culture between IPC (Nuts) and Emap (Zoo Weekly). It’s like Nowv Heat: the former a diligent, all-boxes-ticked, competent job, the latter fizzing and surprising, with a stick of rock thoroughness so that a DVD review on page 102 is as funny as the opening spread.
Nuts, well, let’s tackle the name first.
Given that any men’s title has to break through male embarrassment at holding a magazine at all, why make it synonymous with either a) “you don’t have to be mad to work hereâ€¦” wackiness? or b) bollocks? IPC have opted for bigger size, better paper, laminated cover and higher price (£1.20 to Zoo’s quid). But if Nuts is aiming for a monthly, quality, slightly upmarket vibe, why does it look so cheap? It isn’t just the pallid, tacky Nell McAndrew in a Primark vest, it’s the dated logo typeface, the council estate road crash of colours: ©Sunday Sport.
Zoo Weekly has a bronzed Christina Aguilera, a more muted palette, a bustle of coverlines and several gags. It not only looks cooler and classier, but its stuff-in-your-back-pocket size makes it disposable. And if a weekly lingers, you don’t buy the next issue.
The pace of Nuts is languid: Zoo is breathless. A Nuts picture of a python gets a whole spread with a small caption.
In Zoo a comparable double-page pic of a bloke parachuting off a building also has a graphic and a fact box.
Weekly mags are snacks: they’re tasty, you dip into them, you screw the wrapper up wishing there was more.
Both magazines realise in their sports coverage their main rival is not another magazine but a national newspaper and work through the weekend to incorporate Saturday football.
But while Zoo appreciates that its reader will already know the scores and cooks them up into fodder for pub discussion, Nuts prints teeny-weeny pictures of every Premiership goal.
That’s 32 meaningless snaps of a man about to kick a ball. A week ago.
Unlike women, who buy magazines as treats and read for general pleasure, men purchase for a defined purpose: to choose a car or CD, to research a hobby or to masturbate.
It is difficult to formulate a strong reason to purchase for a general interest title. Which is why television listings are shoved incongruously inside both Nuts and Zoo. But if a men’s weekly is to succeed, the defining factor will be: is it funny? Nothing has greater pub currency than humour.
Nuts says: “I downloaded these jpegs from the internet. Huh-huh. And listen to this joke from our back page, it’s a cracker.” But this is try-hard and witless, the publishing equivalent of David Brent.
Because amid all Nuts’s spoddy features on spy planes and speed cameraevading sports cars, there is barely a witty caption or a smart headline. A piece on a rifle that shoots round corners is titled “The rifle that shoots round corners”: it’s the Ronseal school of journalism.
In Zoo Weekly the humour is not just grafted on. It has adopted the FHM never-a-dull-moment philosophy.
After a while, reading a “funny” caption on every single picture is grating.
But those hidden extra gags are extra value, it shows Zoo Weekly has a take on life. And wit bespeaks intelligence.
The other reason to purchase here is, of course, breasts.
Another thing I don’t get about Nuts is why, if it publishes pictures of Big Brother’s Tania rubbing factor 30 on page three’s Nicola, they bother to airbrush out a naked nipple? I know editor Phil Hilton wants a magazine that “fathers and sons can read together”. But do guys sit down with dear old Dad to look at crosssections of space stations and girls with properly fastened bikini tops? (Save that one for the therapist, Phil.) Men believe, and I’ve canvassed opinion here, that a magazine which promises girls should deliver them as near to naked as WH Smith will permit.
And it’s no use Hilton getting classy or PC or family values about it: there are nips in The Sun, GQ and Heat.
And there are 43 of them in Zoo.
If the weekly men’s market flies and the me-too copycats pour in – H Bauer has bought retail space for March, Richard Desmond is poised – Nuts will look very weak indeed.
Whereas my only fear about Zoo is its editor, Paul Merrill, who rescued IPC women’s weekly Chat with a howlowcan-you-go approach including make-up tips for battered wives. He didn’t join Zoo until this month so can take little credit for the concept, structure or first issue.
And Zoo’s only false note is his ed’s letter next to a funny photo of two shagging pandas. In it he promises the reader “regular pictures of pandas’ cum faces”. Saying it rather than letting the picture speak, kills the gag.
Crude and rude Merrill may be, but if Zoo Weekly is to succeed he must also prove he is clever. Janice Turner is a columnist for The Times on Saturday and former editor of That’s Life! and Real. She’ll be back in four weeks.
E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org Next issue: Bill Hagerty
by Janice Turner