The last 60 days has been tough for men’s magazines, perhaps the toughest in decades. First, in November, Condé Nast announced that Details was shutting down, to be rolled into GQ as a style-oriented website.
Then, last month, David Granger was ousted from Esquire after a 19-year run that saw him win multiple National Magazine Awards and rise to be pretty much universally viewed as one of the dozen or so most innovative editors in the business.
Most recently, the wobbly Maxim, which was acquired by Biglari Holdings in 2014, lost its publisher, the widely respected industry veteran Kevin Martinez, who appeared to be succeeding.
That came just months after owner Sardar Biglari fired his editor, Kate Lanphear, whom he’d hired just a year earlier from the New York Times’ T magazine.
And all of this isn’t even to mention the major change at Playboy, which announced it will stop publishing nude photos in its magazine this spring.
So what’s going on? Back in the day, you had the “beer-and-babes” revolution of Maxim and Stuff and FHM and a host of others. And you had the magazines that appealed to men from the waist up, to paraphrase an old quote from Granger.
Now, you have decline. Check out the numbers. Just 11 years ago, five men’s magazines—Esquire, Maxim, Details, GQ and Men’s Health—had a combined paid circulation of 6.1 million, with 1.4 million of that on the newsstand. Last year, those same magazines, including the now-departed Details, had a combined circulation of 5.6 million, and a whopping newsstand decline to 540,000 total. And they added a total of 314,000 units of verified circulation, which means copies distributed to certain public places for free.
The newsstand number here is most telling. It’s a direct measure of “wantedness,” people going to the store and ponying up the $6.00 or so for an issue.
I remember when the “lad” magazines—including Maxim—became big in the late nineties, and Felix Dennis launched Stuff and Maxim in the U.S. Maxim was selling more than 800,000 monthly copies on the newsstand. It was a legitimate phenomenon, and Dennis was a pioneer. Mass-market men’s magazines never really worked before that, with the exception of Playboy.
So now, maybe, as Maxim limps along, Esquire enters a new era, and Playboy makes the inevitable acknowledgement that what it offered can’t match what’s available online, we’ve gone back to the days when mass-circulation men’s magazines were a rarity.