Media: Men's magazine performance a new manuscript for print

Media: A new manuscript for print
By Julia Low
Just three months after alternative men’s magazine Smith Journal was launched comes MANUSCRIPT hot on its  loafers. MANUSCRIPT is a new quarterly Australian publication that revolves around fashion, art, culture and design created for the growing generation of forward-thinking men. Helmed by author and journalist Mitchell Oakley Smith, MANUSCRIPT targets like-minded men who enjoy reading extensive profiles and visual essays on respected individuals in the industry.

“It seems that the magazines that do exist [in the Australian market] are extremely broad – encompassing every subject for every possible reader – and I wanted to create something that really honed in on what we know best,” Smith told GWAS.

“[You] won't find cars, food or alcohol in our title, nor do we objectify women. Beyond this, our content has international relevance, as we acknowledge the globalised society we live in, but there's a distinctly Australian twist to what we do: you can see it in the simplicity of the magazine's design and also in the tongue-in-cheek nature of the fashion pages, under the direction of Jolyon Mason.”

The sudden upsurge of alternative titles suggests that an increasing number of men are edging away from the typical lads’ mags and gaining a deeper interest in arts, culture, and lifestyle magazines. Recent magazine readership numbers have revealed that lads’ mags such as FHM, Zoo Weekly, People, and Picture are flailing.

According to the Roy Morgan September 2011 readership survey, men’s interest title readership has suffered a decline of 31% since October 2010, while men’s lifestyle titles have dropped 14.6%. However, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, and music mag Empire have all seen an increase in readership (52.7%, 1%, and 7% respectively).

Could these numbers be a reflection of men’s floundering interests in lads’ mags or are they just in search for more inspiring content, as Michael Pickering, editor of Men’s Style Australia, told The Sydney Morning Herald: “It's just magazine land reflecting society [and] men's greater interest in wider things like etiquette, society and finance [and wanting] a bit more depth than what they'll get with Zoo magazine.”

The managing director of Mag Nation, Ravi Pathare, too believes that the success of alternative titles isn’t due to men's growing interest in culture, arts, craft, and lifestyle; rather, it simply shows that, up until recently, these existing interests have been ignored.

“Most publications in the past have looked upon the male reader as a petrol head or a sports nut and dished out rehashed content issue after issue with an occasional half-decent article thrown in,” said Pathare. “Men have always been interested in culture, arts, craft, [and so on], but the industry had failed to recognise and address this need. Publications like Fantastic Man, Smith Journal, The Travel Almanac, and Carl’s Cars simply met the pent up demand and became overnight hits.”

If the success of Smith Journal’s inaugural issue is any indication, Pickering and Pathare are right. Since the launch three months ago, the magazine has almost sold out its first run of 20,000 copies. With a 16-page spread on typewriters, a feature on artist Troy Archer’s collection of treasures found while rummaging through rubbish, and a tribute to vintage cars, Smith Journal is a magazine that “smart, creative guys [can] peruse without shame, slap down on the coffee table, whack in their favourite old satchel or display proudly on the toilet reading rack.”

And, if typewriters aren’t all men’s cup of tea (ahem, jug of beer), then they always have the option of thumbing through Dumbo Feather, a magazine that appeals to men as well as women with its photographic storytelling and extended profiles on interesting figures involved in various areas such as science, politics, arts, and education. In the latest issue (Issue 29), Dumbo Feather talks to Alex Gibner, an American documentary film director and producer, and Paul Jennings, a renowned Australian writer whom the magazine simply dubs as “unreal”.

According to Pathare, other magazines that are currently popular among men include Monocle, The Economist, Fantastic Man, GQ, Apartamento, and Vanity Fair. Despite having different target markets and niches, these successful magazines have one thing in common: “[Content that is] informative and international in outlook,” said Pathare. “Vanity Fair is a case in point and also why Monocle is doing well. Content is now king and that's why Maxim and FHM are close to having a postmortem being performed on them.”

Since its inception four years ago, Monacle has grown steadily and now boasts of a global circulation of 150,000 a month, while the long-established Vanity Fair’s total circulation of paid subscriptions is 873,966. FHM's circulation pales in comparison as it struggles to maintain its circulation of 40,208.

With the diverse range of topics and stimulating reads, both the existing magazines and growing number of alternative titles are sure to satiate the appetite of creative thinkers, fashion-conscious folk, business moguls, and adventurous men.

“There's so much out there; men are spoilt for choice,” said Smith. “I think the future, as a result of the fragmentation of the media landscape with the rise of digital technology and the internet, lies in niche publishing—titles that serve a specific purpose, as opposed to covering all subjects, and as such are put together by people passionate about the content. The reader can sense this.”

As alternative titles continue to proliferate in the market, mainstream magazines may need to reassess their content strategies if they are to survive. Simultaneously, niche magazines will also need to maintain a strong enough following to ensure they are commercially viable. Nevertheless, with promising new titles such as Smith Journal and MANUSCRIPT continuing to emerge, there is no doubt that the future of niche magazines for men looks handsome.

See also:
Media: Could men's magazines have a new sheen?
Brains over porn @ SMH

Julia @ Girl With a Satchel