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Lads Magazines: End of an Era

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Lads' magazines have officially met their maker. With the death of Loaded in March this year, the monthly publication whose once alluring combination of not-quite-supermodels showing more skin than clothes featuring articles about cars, boxer briefs and hair gel have lost their allure altogether. Instead it finds itself buried in the same graveyard as other lads' publications Nuts, Arena and Maxim.

Founded in 1994 by Felix Dennis, Loaded promised readers “Sex Sports Beer Gadgets Clothes Fitness.” And true to its promise, the magazine saw 2.5 million readers every month, even as rivals like FHM, Nuts, Zoo and Details competed for the same readership.

The digital revolution has upended all aspects of print media, especially fashion and lifestyle magazines, but none of them have had their genre rebuked as much as lads' mags. Loaded pioneered the format as an antidote to the effeminacy and sophistication of the so-called “new man” and the designer lifestyle lifestyle favoured by glossies GQ, Esquire and Arena, it aimed for brashness and white-knuckle irreverence. The clue was in the word “lad”. Its first cover star was actor Gary Oldman, although quickly the buxom ladies and semi-clad models fronted its covers.

Loaded saw its circulation drop from 2.5m readers to 35k

With the April 2015 issue as it final, Loaded enjoyed a publishing run of 21 years, but it was no longer a money making business. Being under the constant eye of pressure groups and watchdogs, who deemed it anti-women the last decade saw readership dwindling to just 35 thousand per month in end. It is safe to say the format long outlived its glory years.

The vilification of lads’ mags illustrates that there is more going on than market-driven debasement and digital advancements. The wider social context matters too – especially to advertisers. But it is not necessarily a simple question of protecting brands from sordid associations. As one advertiser of men’s cosmetic told the Financial Times, the number of breasts displayed in a lads’ mag does not matter per se; what matters is the mindset of the reader flicking through it. If they feel ashamed, they will be less open to marketing.

Feminist groups have long called for a ban on lads' publications, citing them misogynistic and pornographic. The pressure group UK Feminista, launched ‘Lose The Lads Mags’ campaign, saying they portrayed women as dehumanised sex objects. By selling them in everyday spaces, shops like Tesco normalised the idea that it’s acceptable to treat women this way. When the supermarkets banned the publications from its shelves it greatly affected circulation.

While the majority will not be sad to see the collapse of the lads' magazine format, they were a unique British genre, marking the end of an era where cocky tongue-in-cheek publications catered to perhaps a stereotype of masculine identity, but did so unapologetically and with humour.

Sex sells as a common denominator with most men's magazines - even a quick browse on the current GQ website the header "The Hottest Women of the Week," stands out. There is, however, a difference when one packages itself as a go to publication for sophisticated style and culture or one that which prides itself on tongue in cheek brashness. And nowadays the Internet is the go to medium for buxom ladies.

Images: Lads' Magazines
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