In the process of looking for places to pitch stories to I recently made a quick survey of ‘Men’s magazines’. What I found failed to meet my already low expectations.
In short, these magazines encourage you to get drunk, be distracted by the unimportant, and become indebted in service to a lifestyle glamorized by a few token male celebrities.
I was already sort of aware of how bad the kinds of magazines you can buy at the airport or the grocery store are. After spending a couple of minutes scanning their websites, I saw nothing to change my opinion. Magazines like Esquire , Mens Journal, Maxim et al. are basically hollow editorial skeletons draped in the thinnest pretext of content in order to deliver advertising to their ever diminishing readership. I was just surprised by how blatant and unimaginatively they go about this.
Even a mag like Outside, which for some reason possessed for me a more elevated reputation, is roughly fifty percent content and fifty percent advertising disguised as such. A cursory glance at their homepage includes articles with the following titles: “Our Favorite Pair of Do-Anything Mens Shorts” and “The New Land Rover Defender Will Not Be Like the Old One.” Such writing hardly inspires me to get out and experience the thrill, glory, and adventure of the outdoors. I mean, I’m not asking for Joseph Conrad here, just something more than an infinitely scrolling nightmare of overpriced gadgets and celebrity-endorsed spirits.
You could swap the names of any of these magazines and be unable to tell the difference. They’re pretty much all the same–with small adjustments made to tone and content to appeal to their micro-niche. This homogeneity makes sense considering they’re all owned by a handful of large corporate media conglomerates. Mens Journal is owned by American Media Active Lifestyle group, which also owns Surfer Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Snowboarder Magazine, and a handful of others. Esquire is owned by Hearst Communications, the sprawling media conglomerate founded by the twentieth century newspaper tycoon. The companies holdings also include Men’s Health and twenty eight other magazines targeting a variety of demographics, not to mention vast holdings of websites, television channels, radio stations, newspapers, and companies in the business information section.
Given the obvious greed of the anachronistic cultural artifacts known as magazines its no surprise they’re undergoing extinction. The solution to this problem seems obvious. Advertisers have always been these magazine’s true customers, but the health of that relationship is itself contingent on the health of the publication’s readership. I’m not a publishing CEO, but I doubt companies will pay for ads no one reads. It stands to reason that a magazine’s readership and revenue are directly correlated. Given this fact it would seem to behoove these magazines to write about things men are actually interested in.
It’s not like there’s a dearth of currently interesting topics surrounding men and masculinity. Record high drug abuse rates, mental health problems, and a male suicide epidemic are a few off the cuff examples. With such important issues to discuss I thought maybe I would see evidence of an effort by these mags to empathize with their readers. After all, it wouldn’t serve to fail to engage with anything remotely meaningful to your sole demographic, would it? If its content is any indication, the average men’s magazine seems to think so. Its content is a regurgitated mash-up of cocktail recipes, celebrity gossip, concept car commercials, and luxury watch roundups. When they do put out a larger narrative piece, it’s usually a celebrity profile marketing the release of the subject’s latest Hollywood release. In short, these magazines encourage you to get drunk, be distracted by the unimportant, and become indebted in service to a lifestyle glamorized by a few token male celebrities.
One might answer that should the editors of these magazines decide to address real issues affecting their readership and possible solutions, it would likely anger a small but vocal minority who label any opinion deviating from the prevailing narrative as sexist, misogynist, and homophobic. The truth is that these large corporate conglomerates are not being held for ransom by a vocal minority, it’s they who are actually pushing the agenda.
This fact could explain why these magazines seem to be contradicting the primary imperative for any company in a capitalistic ecosystem: to generate profit. It’s common knowledge that many of these magazines are struggling to survive financially, and many have gone under. Now defunct FHM is just one example. Maxim, which follows the same ‘lad mag’ template, is also struggling, and seems to solely exist as a vanity project for an aging Iranian playboy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the increasing insolvency of these magazines, while tied to a larger trend of all legacy media which failed to adequately prepare for and adapt to the disruption caused by the internet, is equally caused by their unimaginative, irrelevant, and overly commercialized editorial content. They failed to account for the changes in distribution and content delivery provided by the internet, sure, but more importantly they’ve lost touch with what matters to their readership (if they ever understood it to begin with).
Fortunately, there’s a growing number of independent content creators creating art that doesn’t suck. If you’re hungry for content that kindles your curiosity and sense of adventure, check out this list of great content for men.