Death of the lad mags? Loaded magazine bids farewell

The decline in readership of lads’ mags was sudden but not inexplicable

Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994

When Nuts magazine closed its doors and starred out a “barely legal” 19-year-old’s nipples for the last time in 2014, few of us were surprised. The lads’ mag, with its barely literate commentary on fit babes, hadn’t exactly made for inspired reading – and didn’t pretend to be anything more than a glossy masturbatory aid.

Now, hot on its heels, Loaded magazine has folded. Nobody dropped their sandwich in shock when the news was confirmed today.

The decline in readership of lads’ mags, those publications which focused mainly on topless girls and other assorted “lad culture” paraphernaleia (shiny cars, football, the gym and comedians who specialise in toilet humour), was sudden but not inexplicable. It’s almost as though it was directly connected to the widespread availability of the internet, and with it, online porn. Almost. But of course, we’ll never know for sure.

Either way, it was clear that after a short-lived heyday, these magazines were failing to captivate their audience. I’d hazard an educated guess that the target demographic wandered off to Google their Ferraris, watch their comedy heroes on YouTube and get their kicks on one of the many amateur porn websites powered by exhibitionists and so-called “webcam models”.

James Brown, former editor of Loaded

The case of Loaded is slightly more complicated, as it always prided itself on being more upmarket than its gonadally titled counterpart.

Although good-looking women remained central to the Loaded appeal, the 1994-born magazine took its lead from Playboy and tried to incorporate interviews and features that would make the publication seem a little less seedy.

While no one was pretending that the content it offered was particularly highbrow, Loaded was the cocky student using outdated chat-up lines at a house party to Nuts’ dirty old man still living in his parents’ basement.

Black-and-white artfully arranged portraits of men considered “top lads” by the editorial team were more common than in other lads’ mag rivals. The latest, and last, issue featured Noel Gallagher in pride of place, advertising an interview inside where a (female) reporter interviewed the star using questions written by Irvine Welsh.

Campaigns to obscure the covers of lads’ mags in the name of feminism hit the industry hard in the past couple of years, especially when big retailers like the Co-op got on board, but that’s not what killed off Loaded and Nuts. Both represent an ideology which has become markedly unpopular. “Laddishness” is dying out; the whole concept has become desperately uncool. Even mainstream online porn has been shifting to focus on shared pleasure rather than straightforward female objectification.

Being a nineties “lad” depended on insecure gender rules which are now routinely challenged, and traditional ideas that are no longer in vogue. So I’m sorry to see the writers for Loaded lose their jobs today, but let’s face it: it was only ever a matter of time.

Holly Baxter is co-founder of ‘Vagenda’ magazine and author of ‘The Vagenda’

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