Publishing: What does your magazine say about you?

Are you a lady or a honey, a man or a fella? It depends on which glossy you read, discovers Francis Dickinson

Twice a year the magazine industry is forced to take a hard look at itself. The mirror is the sales figures tallied by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. It's a time for editors and publishers to look at the state they're in, to celebrate, get tearful or just chuck it all in.

Twice a year the magazine industry is forced to take a hard look at itself. The mirror is the sales figures tallied by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. It's a time for editors and publishers to look at the state they're in, to celebrate, get tearful or just chuck it all in.

For binge readers, it's a time to gather armfuls of men's and women's lifestyle magazines and spend two long days lost in a world of "high street honeys", footwear (a kind of female porn) and Brad Pitt's theories of the universe.

The lifestyle magazine world is going through interesting times. There has been a flurry of changes, with Company, Loaded and Maxim appointing new editors and FHM still looking for one. Marie Claire and Loaded have had summer re-launches while FHM has waited until September to show us what it's made of.

In the men's world the birth of two weekly magazines - Zoo and Nuts - has given the market its first big shake-up since the launch of the lads' mags 10 years ago. The two new publications offer an almost identical menu of sport, sex and stomach-churning grotesqueries such as a man with a crate of lager swinging from his penis.

The popularity of these magazines has outstripped expectations and hurt the sales of the top three monthlies. FHM is still doing best, with a net circulation per issue of 573,713, which is more than the combined sales of its two closest rivals - Loaded (circulation 235,140) and Maxim (circulation 227,017). Yet, together, they've lost more than 70,000 readers since last half, with Loaded losing the most, a whopping 10 per cent.

Two years ago, the teething Glamour magazine usurped Cosmopolitan as the best-selling women's title. Glamour is petite in size and thought, yet it has turned into a giant, with a 605,747 readership. It has forced magazines like Cosmopolitan to rethink and redesign. Cosmopolitan will now slide into your bag alongside Glamour. With a readership in itsearly twenties, Glamour also helped finish off a number of ailing late-teen mags such as 19 and J17.

The bomb that is Glamour has roused the women's market to action. Sales of other top titles are up; Cosmopolitan (from 460,655 last half to 465,477); Marie Claire (from 360,789 to 380,760); but Company has slipped (from 330,717 to 325,185).

Cosmopolitan has reduced its size and sexual obsession while still offering a passion package, including a "penis reader", a psychic who reads a penis like a palm. While Marie Claire has attempted to update its trademark features and fashion mix which, according to publisher Jackie Newcombe, "speaks to its readers' intelligence as well as sense of style".

Marie Claire's formula seems to be working. That, and the fact that it has reintroduced the cover gift. "I'd be lying if I said it didn't make a difference," Newcombe said. "Sadly it's a market that's driven by them."

In the men's world there was talk of going upmarket, leaving behind the false image of lads' mags readers as only interested in babes and booze. David Pullan, managing director of FHM Worldwide, said that after reader research it decided to make the magazine more "useful" and has added wall planners and the book of lists.

Despite these changes, FHM, Loaded and Maxim are at first glance like triplets that only their parents can tell apart. But closer examination shows up differences. FHM has 84 images of semi-naked women, whereas Loaded has 76, and Maxim 58.

In terms of language FHM readers are blokes. The women on its pages are ladies, minxes, honeys and girls. Loaded's world is full of fellas. The female of the species are ladies, girls and real women. Maxim, bizarrely, has chosen to assume that all its readers are ugly, but there is no value judgement attached to this. They are as entitled as the next guy to all the girls, pretty ladies, chicks and kinky minxes. As with women's mags, there is a sense with the men's market that the world is moving on while they don't seem to be. Sex and the City is over, the Gallaghers are no longer rock gods.

Two long days spent with Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Company, Marie Claire, FHM, Loaded and Maxim reveal the following: men and women are different. The only thing that they ever share is sex, which for no one is as good as it should be.

The men's magazines are all about the reader and his needs as a solo man. The women's magazines are all about the reader in terms of what might be required of her by someone else. The men's magazines have true-life stories about men who survived being a human cannonball. These men are heroes. The women's true stories are about those who survive breast cancer or abusive husbands. These women are victims.

Men's magazines assume that the reader is born perfect, but because life is a jungle and the reader is born to be king of it, it will show them some things - women, gadgets, a couple of great jackets - that they might want to claim.

Women's magazines assume that the reader is flawed, particularly in terms of their body. To find a man you must constantly improve and spend. Even those women who have attained perfection - that is celebrities - are savagely criticised if they wear orange, which by the time you read this will be last season's colour.

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