Men's glossies put Cosmo in slow lane

With sales of over 500,000, FHM has overtaken the most popular women's title
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A milestone will be passed today in the magazine world when a men's magazine overtakes the best-selling women's glossy Cosmopolitan for the first time.

FHM, the glossy lads' magazine, will announce that it is selling over half a million copies an issue. Meanwhile Cosmopolitan and its rival Marie Claire are expected by the publishing industry to announce that their sales have dropped slightly, leaving them selling around 450,000 copies per issue.

Also likely to be up and gunning for the women's magazines is Loaded, the lads' magazine which started the men's publishing revolution.

Only three years ago FHM was a sleepy men's fashion magazine selling less than 80,000 copies. But taking its lead from Loaded, which mixed humour with plenty of scantily-clad women, FHM re-invented itself as a magazine for the New Lad era.

The success of Loaded and FHM inspired a host of imitators including the straightforward such as Maxim to specialist titles like Eat Soup and Men's Health which all added flesh and irreverence to their editorial mix.

Ten years ago the men's magazine sector did not exist. When GQ and Esquire were imported from America in the late Eighties they struggled to sell over 50,000 copies. Publishing industry wisdom then was that men would only buy magazines if they were about fishing or cars.

Now these magazines are big business. The last issue of FHM sold close to 600,000 copies, bringing EMAP pounds 1.6m in cover price revenue for just one issue. In addition to this FHM made pounds 4m in advertising in 1996 and is estimated to top pounds 6m this year. The seven magazines in the men's glossy market are likely to be worth over pounds 80m this year.

The lads' magazines, with their reliance on near-naked women and obsessional coverage of sex, have been blamed for wiping out the sales of top-shelf pornographic magazines. Earlier this year WH Smith pulled soft-porn titles from its shelves because they were no longer selling.

Magazine editors believe men's magazines are outpacing women's titles because they have taken risks and invested in innovative journalism: "Women's magazine are stuffed with people who grew up with women's magazines," said Richard Benson, editor of The Face, Britain's first style magazine for men and women. "But it is only when you are pushing against the boundaries of a format that you produce good things and if you're steeped in it you're not pushing against it.

"Loaded gave a forum to writers from the music press who had been putting out intelligent, funny journalism for years. They helped reinvent the form. Women's magazines think and act in cliche."

Gill Hudson, who edits Maxim, believes women's magazines are failing because they are not using humour the way the men's magazines do.

The men credited with the lads' mag phenomenon - James Brown at Loaded and Mike Soutar at FHM - this year left their creations. James Brown has been charged by Conde Nast with making GQ a Loaded for men in their Thirties and Mr Soutar has moved to the radio station Kiss FM.

Some industry experts believe that they may have left because they know their 100 per cent per annum sales rises cannot continue, and that they decided to get out while they were at the top.

"The magazine that comes to mind is Viz," said Richard Britton, press buying director at media agency CIA Medianetwork.

"It was a men's publishing phenomenon too. Its sales rose really steeply and really fast in the Eighties. And they've been dropping off ever since."

Leading article, page 13

Sex and drugs and boys' own adventure stories

The cover lines on the pastiche we have constructed above may look ridiculous, but they tell the tale of how the new generation of magazines appeal to young men.

How to pull a feminist: Many of these magazines' use the same style as women's magazines to cover a subject. And the subject is usually sex. Sex in hotel rooms; sex when you're drunk; sex with your best friend's girlfriend. All firmly tongue-in-cheek.

Voluptuous in the Valleys: There is always a report of a hack's adventures, whether it is sampling the nightlife of Cardiff or swimming with sharks. But their machismo is always undercut by humour.

Lounge Lizard: All the magazines include spreads on clothes and gadgets. Whether they are really for readers or to encourage advertisers is debatable. Loaded and FHM are for men in the early 20s; their readers need to be told what is cool.

Buttocks for the beach: Health and fitness magazines are doing surprisingly well - most publishers thought the idea was too vain and American for British men. But the magazines are careful not set aspirations too high.

Relationships, relationships... but are they enough?

Some of the cover lines on women's magazines are beyond satirising, but each one of ours above represents the tried and tested ingredients.

Astro Adultery: Combining sex with horoscopes is the apotheosis of the women's magazine. Cosmo led the way and magazines are always about relationships, relationships and relationships. Adultery features because of the vicarious thrill; astrology because their fatalist philosophy appeals to those without power in society.

Black is the new white: Fashion magazines supposedly keep you abreast of trends. In fact they ensure the obsolescence of your wardrobe and encourage advertisers.

The tying game: Anecdotal stories of an anonymous love life - usually "Caroline, 23, who works in publishing..." - and first person confessionals help to add more relationship fodder to the mix while getting some fairly explicit sex into the magazine.

Tweezer terror: It is easy to criticise them for thriving on sensationalist health scares. But if women's magazines don't campaign for better breast cancer screening, no one will.