When self-proclaimed “porn baron” Paul Baxendale-Walker bought lads’ magazine Loaded last year it was reasonably assumed the title might be taken a step down market.
Despite being a former lawyer and published author, Baxendale-Walker’s association with pornography – he has also produced and starred in films – overrides all else in his public image. So much so that before starting the interview he says: “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my clothes on.”
- November 17, 2015
- November 17, 2015
- August 13, 2015
But Baxendale-Walker says he wants Loaded to become a more up-market title, known for its exploratory journalism, sport and interviews, as well as for publishing pictures of topless women. Apart from a back-page ‘Agony Uncle’ column (“it’s nice to give something back”), he says he has no time to impose his “personal taste” on the title.
He bought Loaded a year ago after previous owner Vitality Publishing entered administration with debts of almost £1m. Circulation was said to be around the 10,000 mark at that time – down from around 300,000 a month ten years before.
Blue Publishing’s managing director Ray Kidd, who joins Baxendale-Walker half way through this interview, claims circulation has grown by 50 per cent – to 15,000 on the newsstand – in the last year.
But why did Baxendale-Walker decide to take over a poor-performing magazine in a declining sector?
“I was strolling around the garden in my country estate and the phone rang. For once I answered it, and somebody said: ‘Do you want to buy Loaded?’ And I said: ‘Okay’,” Baxendale-Walker explains, as he opens his cigar box and lights up. “Why not?”
He attributes the apparent success of Loaded in the last year to an increased pagination (which is now pushing 200), improved quality of content and contributors, and, perhaps most importantly, Ian Edmondson.
A controversial choice, Edmondson joined Loaded after being sacked as assistant editor of News of the World in January 2011. He is currently awaiting trial on phone-hacking charges.
“The fact that he was available at all was a lucky coincidence – thank you, Rupert,” says Baxendale-Walker. “Brilliant – we’ve got a news guy at the heart of the Loaded operation.”
The acquisition of Loaded in April 2012 only whetted Baxendale-Walker’s appetite and he has spent the last 12 months adding to his print and television portfolio.
As well as launching Loaded TV he reveals that he also tried to buy Loaded’s competitors: Nuts from IPC Media and Zoo from Bauer.
“I said I’d buy them and then they didn’t get round to saying yes,” he says. “They were just not getting back to us adequately so I said: ‘Fine, we’ll do it ourselves then.’”
In February he launched Zip, a new weekly lads’ magazine, which combined with Loaded, he thinks, can take on their rivals. With Zip averaging a claimed circulation of 6,000, Baxendale-Walker says there is no chance he would offer to buy Nuts and Zoo now.
“I said, ‘well, we’ve got a Loaded fanbase – they only get their fix once a month. That’s not very fair – we should do it weekly’,” he says. “By doing that it enables us to have a second wind with features and ideas we want to run.
“And it enables us to give more photoshoots to the girlies, which is very important because we’re part of social services.
“We’re keeping these poor girls warm and fed and clothed and off the streets. Quite a few of them are single mums, you know. So we are actually in social service.”
Again addressing the issue of the declining sector, he says: "The market as a whole has shrunk from the glory days but you’re never going to improve your worth in a market by going away.
"You’ve got to take the market on, you’ve got to lead the market. And that’s what we’re doing now."
In addition to Loaded and Zip, Baxendale-Walker also owns a range of pornographic men’s magazines, including Mayfair, Razzle and Escort, under the Paul Raymond Publications name.
Away from lads’ mags
Baxendale-Walker’s next big project is aimed at women – Rush, a weekly magazine for women aged under 30, which could launch as soon as September this year.
“It’s for the girl who’s too busy living,” he says. “And it’s completely different to the rest of them.
“Instead of all that stuff – forget about celebs, forget about fashion – it’s about real girls, real lives. Which means partying, booze, taking drugs, having sex and going on cheap holidays – not necessarily in that order.
“And we’re getting in an editorial team in that age range so they can write about their experiences.”
He says a national newspaper looked into the possibility of launching a similar title a few years ago and got good feedback but pulled out.
“Apparently it’s not the sort of magazine girls want to be seen reading. ‘And as a family newspaper we wouldn’t want to be promoting the sorts of things girls actually do’,” Baxendale-Walker says.
“If it was a magazine about knitting patterns and looking after small teddy bears that would be okay. But a magazine about having fun, partying, boozing and all the rest of it – ‘no, no, no, we mustn’t do that’.”
He adds: “We’re not worried about that and we’re going to let the girls read what they want to read. Maybe they don’t want to read it – we’ll see.”
Managing director Kidd reveals that it is Blue Publishing’s vision for Rush to be displayed alongside Zip on newsstands and said the company may experiment with the idea of selling them together on offer.
Baxendale-Walker says: “Imagine a girlfriend and a boyfriend in Tesco – ‘that’s yours love, and that’s yours’.”
Blue Publishing also owns motorsport titles Superbike and Formula, and is currently plotting the launches of a psychic magazine, a body art magazine and a pet jewellery magazine, which will be distributed in his chain of Animal Magic pet accessory stores.
With such a growing range of magazine titles and television programmes operating out of Baxendale-Walker’s Surrey offices – on an industrial estate in the small town of Hersham – it is difficult to predict what he will get up to next.
He doesn’t rule out further magazine activity, but makes clear he is not plotting an expansion into newspapers. “It’s a different market. A) There aren’t any particularly up for sale, and B) It’s a whole new set of headaches,” he says.
“At the end of the day what could I say as a proprietor in newspapers that isn’t being said anywhere else today? I’m not particularly interested in moving news from one place to another.
“There’s freedom here. We do exploratory journalism in Loaded. We cover stuff that doesn’t get covered in newspapers because we have the time.”
Baxendale-Walker does concede it is a struggling market – particularly in print – but says that its costs are so low that he has relatively little to lose.
He adds: “What’s the risk in having fun?”