Is mags’ lad fad winding down?

Maxim's subs, newstand sales down; FHM, GQ, Esquire see jump

NEW YORK — GQ editor Art Cooper is heading for the door after 20 years, and his editing philosophy looks likely to follow him.

But as traditional mens titles like GQ and Playboy retool to rival so-called lad-mags like Maxim, Stuff and FHM, some mag men wonder if they’re drinking tainted brewskis.

Figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation tell a surprising story about lad-mags and their supposedly embattled forefathers.

Maxim is slightly down in subscriptions and newsstand sales for the second half of 2002 vs. the same period of 2001. Stuff’s subs are up 20%, but its single-copy sales have dropped by almost the same amount. Only FHM can party hearty, with a 40% uptick in subs and a 10% jump on the newsstand.

GQ and Esquire, interestingly, have seen respectable upticks in subscriptions and newsstand sales in the same span. Subs at Hearst title Esquire are up 12% and single-copy sales are up 17%. Conde Nast’s GQ is up 6% in both categories.

So maybe the lad-mag craze has peaked, and maybe GQ parent Conde Nast should think twice about hiring hot-blooded laddie-mag men.

“This is the last icon of men’s magazines,” says U. of Mississippi journalism prof Samir Husni. “Playboy is redesigning and will take the Maxim route. So is GQ. They are both Maxim-izing.”

Indeed, Cooper’s possible successors at GQ — David Zinczenko of Men’s Health or British GQ editor Dylan Jones — are more likely to offer quick tips on goosing your mojo than a 6,000-word piece in a Hollywood issue.

But the push to pander to younger male readers has even rival editors anxious — and wondering if the redesigns will help or hurt the stalwart mags.

“I worry that the magazine industry underestimates the intelligence of men and their ability to form an emotional attachment to a story,” says Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger, who once was a top editor at GQ.

“The challenge of any magazine is to aggregate a big audience,” he says. “But do you want to dumb it down to reach a broader base?”

Still, the laddie titles continue to enjoy advantages in single-copy sales. Figures like FHM’s 400,000 single-stand sales vs. GQ’s 200,000 turned heads at Conde Nast.

And hooking new readers is what it’s all about, say lad-mag editors.

“These people are not as interested in their readers as they are other editors,” says Stuff editor-in-chief Greg Gutfeld of his mainstream rivals. “There’s a lot of resentment from these people because we are actually read.”

But Robert Wallace, who took the helm at the Wenner adventure mag Men’s Journal last summer, has a more tempered view.

“I think laddie books are positive. They got guys subscribing to the magazine experience,” says Wallace.

“But later those readers will leave those mags. I don’t want to be a laddie book. I want my magazine to be the next step.”

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