Media: A magazine that treats men seriously. Are you joking?

Are the days of Loaded, GQ and Esquire numbered? Publishing entrepreneur Angus Kennedy certainly hopes so.
IMAGINE, IF you can, a men's magazine without babes or beery bravado. For Angus Kennedy, 35, imagining is not enough. Frustrated by what he sees as a gap in the market for a stimulating, thoughtful read, he's finalising plans for his own men's magazine launch.

"I want to produce the first men's magazine not to treat its male readers as mindless fools," he explains. It was while driving his Jaguar to work one morning last year that Kennedy first saw the light. He had been running the family publishing business, Islington-based Kennedy's Publications, for 11 years, since dropping out of university. When his mind was finally made up, he gave his half share in the business to his brother James, and walked away. There followed almost a year in the wilderness, with Kennedy and his fiancee selling up to relocate from north London to Ireland's Wicklow Mountains. They took time off to de-stress and think what they wanted from life. After some months indulging in books and country air, Kennedy realised that the idyll had to end.

"I had to think about earning money again, but this time I'd do it on my terms," he says. The solution? With money in the bank from the sale of his London home, motorbike, Jaguar (he now drives a pounds 900 Saab) and a new business partner whose identity remains undisclosed - as he is yet to leave his current job in another publishing firm - Kennedy set up Blue Sky Magazines. And this week he unveils details of his first title: Quest. Targeting 35- to 45-year-old men, it aims to carve out a new consumer market - among the majority of men who are not reading any men's magazines.

He commissioned the market-research firm BMRB to survey men's magazine readers and non-readers to gauge reactions to the current range of titles on offer. "Most of those reading existing titles do so only for a laugh... many, many more men don't read them at all," he says. ABC circulation figures also seem to prove that the bubble has burst on the lads' mags. IPC's Loaded, for example, sold an average of 384,351 a month in the first half of 1999 - down from 456,373 in the same period last year. Meanwhile, Esquire's monthly sales between January and June this year were 100,380 compared with 112,160 in 1998. Further proof came with the departure from GQ of Loaded's former editor James Brown. A subsequent shift away from Brownish laddism resulted in GQ monthly sales of 145,144 between January and June this year - up from 130,152.

Meanwhile, last spring, IPC brought out Later, a new title for post-Loaded lads. But Kennedy says he opened a bottle of champagne when he saw Later's first issue. "It so wasn't what I was trying to do," he explains. "Quest will provide intelligent, educational, well-written articles. There are no images of scantily clad women, or pictures of perfectly groomed men." The focus of the magazine will be "real-life issues in men's lives - not just fantasising about girls, driving fast cars and having a pint".

Existing titles have run out of things to say, he claims - citing a recent "special" detailing "50 things a man should know", including "How to make a photocopy of your arse". So the editorial mix of the first issue includes an interview with George Graham, an article about a female bouncer, a motoring column examining the practical benefits of new carsand how to define "success". There will be no fashion spreads, shopping columns or "girlie shots" in the title, which launches in February.

"There's a moral issue here. Many men drive themselves too hard because they assume it is expected. Our focus will be on whether they are really engaged, stimulated, happy in their lives. Men have had abattering on all fronts since the Sixties. This is about encouraging men to become more confident about being themselves," Kennedy believes.

With Blue Sky run as a "virtual" company - half a dozen staff will be based in Tunbridge Wells, with sales executives in London and contributors anywhere - Kennedy says overheads can be kept low.

If the worst comes to the worst, he adds, available funds will stretch to three issues with no advertising income - an unlikely scenario, he claims. And he is confident that at the relatively low cover price of pounds 2.25, sales will soon match the initial 50,000 print run.

Whether he can pull it off remains to be seen. The balancing act, as ever, will be staying true to the editorial philosophy while generating enough revenue to turn Quest into a viable long-term proposition.

"I'm sure some people will think I'm mad taking on the Goliaths in this way," he admits. "But there has to be a place for a magazine like this." And if there isn't? Well, he still has a few other ideas - including a new-look women's magazine.