As a slim monthly volume, The Erotic Review was ideal for slipping between the covers of more respectable reading material on tedious train rides through the shires. But after 15 years of providing titillation for libidinous Bufton Tuftons, featuring articles about spanking and "charity sex", the upmarket porn mag is ditching its print version to go online.
Readers have been falling off steadily in recent years but are now so few that the cost of printing has become untenable, says its founding editor, Jamie Maclean. "The problem is our readership is down to about 10,000. With so small a circulation you can't attract enough advertising. It's a vicious circle."
The new issue, out on Wednesday, will appear as an "e-zine" only. The change is bound to disappoint some loyal readers, who only last year were treated to a relaunch after the business was bought for £10,000 by journalist turned producer Kate Copstick.
"The Erotic Review has to be about two things – great writing, which is witty, funny, intelligent, knowledgeable – and sex," she said at the time. Under Ms Copstick, the magazine hit the newsstands for the first time, having previously been subscription only. But it failed to arouse sufficient interest.
Cynics may raise an eyebrow at the magazine's prospects on the internet. "We're well aware there is a lot of competition," Mr Maclean says, "but we provide sex with humour." According to Ms Copstick, the magazine is far more about good writing than about pornography. It is about "sex – not love, not relationships. It's for people who have a genuine, visceral appreciation of sex qua sex".
Founded in 1995 as a newsletter for the Erotic Print Society, it shot to prominence two years later when Rowan Pelling, a former columnist on The Independent on Sunday, became editor. Under Pelling it was transformed from an A4 quarterly newsletter to a glossy monthly, gaining a string of high-profile contributors including Auberon Waugh, DBC Pierre, Sarah Waters and Kathy Lette.
Circulation peaked at 30,000, and Pelling staged a management buy-out in 2001. She later sold it to publishing tycoon Felix Dennis, and the editorial offices were moved from London to Surrey, where it shared with top-shelf magazine Penthouse. But sales plummeted and, after another change of owner, it was bought back by the Erotic Print Society in 2007.
Although initially it will retain a monthly cycle, there are plans to explore ER's online potential, says Maclean. "We're even thinking of Erotic Review TV," he says, but details of what exactly the viewer might expect remain hazy: "We'll have interviews, perhaps an erotic spectacle?" Plans for an iPad app remain a long way off, but could one day prove popular for those long, boring train journeys.