Out goes porn, in come 'lifestyle' mags: so what's the difference?

W H Smith barred one set of titillators only to have them replaced by another, writes Vanessa Thorpe
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The Independent Online
First, Britain's established soft-porn magazines were banished from the shelves of W H Smith. Now, as if that were not blow enough, the publishers of Mayfair, Penthouse and Men Only are seeing ranks of men's "lifestyle" titles move in on their territory.

Breasts and buttocks have become the essential sales tools for almost every men's glossy, as they become ever more crass and undemanding of the reader. The cover of the new issue of Arena has Liv Tyler, the teenage film star, clutching at her bare breasts. Alongside her, Pamela Anderson puckers up for the prospective readers of Esquire, while GQ promises a nude shot of Caprice Bourret, a Wonderbra model, next month. And that's just the cerebral end of the market.

Further along, in a less cultured zone, Maxim's cover girl for June is the scantily dressed "page-three girl" Kathy Lloyd. Xtreme displays a "beach babe" who "prefers it lying down". And while the front of the current edition of the jocular and highly successful IPC magazine Loaded is dominated by a picture of a large badger being ridden by a stand-up comedian, it also finds space to puff a comprehensively illustrated "appreciation of arses".

Carl Snitcher, the chief executive of Paul Raymond Publications, which owns Mayfair and Men Only, says the new magazines are no different from the older men's monthlies.

"Maybe what people should be considering is that a lot of these new titles really belong in the traditional place - on the top shelf," he said. "At least our magazines are honest, they are always on the top shelf. These others are getting people to buy them for the wrong reasons."

The editor of Esquire, Peter Howarth, is also uneasy about all the nudity, although his own magazine sometimes shares these trappings.

There is a game of pretend going on, he believes, to get men to part with their cash. He said: "Mr Snitcher is right to say that men's titles are not all being honest, but then he would say that. Men do feel a need to buy something that has some kind of news content and is not just a fashion or a sex title.

"It is embarrassing to admit to buying a top-shelf magazine and perhaps even more embarrassing to admit to buying a dedicated fashion or style magazine. So we are all engaged in this process of saying that we are news- or editorial-based."

This is just the way that the big soft-porn titles launched themselves in the US. Playboy's early editions coupled lifestyle pieces and work by distinguished writers with erotica, and some British publications copied the formula.

Liz Coldwell, editor of Forum, says of the mainstream lurch towards soft porn: "Putting these shots on the covers is an obvious way to attract the punters. Penthouse always found that sales soared whenever they had a naked celebrity on the front."

Mr Howarth recognises that the obsession with cover girls is giving the magazines a "sameness". He said: "The trouble is that the girl-on- the-cover syndrome is established as a bit of a convention. These days if you are a male reader and you want to find out whether a magazine is for you, it is difficult because the covers are all very similar.

"In the last 10 years most of these magazines have become weighted towards a younger reader. I am not frightened by all the sex, but I am frightened by the idea that this is all we want.

"Some might say that the trend goes beyond sex and is part of the 'dumbing down' of culture. This is really about how you must never acknowledge the fact that you are intelligent. You must talk about birds and football. But I am a grown-up and I would imagine there are quite a lot of people out there like me."

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