Does ShortList closure sound the death knell for men's print magazines?

ShortList is the latest men's title to announce a print closure. Is the future for men's lifestyle magazines doomed?

ShortList, considered a breakthrough in its targeting of men after its launch in 2007 with an ad-funded model, was a world away from lads' mags such as Nuts, Zoo, FHM and Loaded, and it provided a progressive stance that its audience had been calling out for. But just three years after the cruder titles dropped their print versions, ShortList has followed suit.

It’s a tough market for the few men’s magazines that are left. The most recent ABC data shows a 7% decline in actively purchased figures for the first six months of the year among the three paid-for men’s lifestyle titles that it tracks – Hearst UK’s Men’s Health and Esquire, and Condé Nast’s GQ.

The market isn’t exactly buoyant in the women’s market, either – ABC figures for the same period painted a similar picture, with a 7.8% decline in actively purchased titles. But Shortlist Media’s rebrand to focus on Stylist, its free title aimed at a female audience, begs the question: is the future for men’s lifestyle magazines doomed?

Nick Sargent

Publishing director, British GQ

No – print will always have an important role. I believe the key to success is ensuring relevant and engaging GQ content is delivered to audiences wherever they would like to interact with it; be it print, digital and events. GQ celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and still maintains our position as the leading and longest-standing men’s magazine in the marketplace.

In 2018, we celebrated our 21st and most successful GQ Men of the Year Awards in association with Hugo Boss, honouring the Prince of Wales along with many other global names.

We have also seen revenue and profitability grow across the entire portfolio with digital, events and GQ Style. GQ print has attracted numerous new advertising partners in 2018, including Gillette for our inaugural GQ State of Man survey and event which explored modern masculinity in 2018.

Martin Robinson

Editor and founder, The Book of Man; former editor, ShortList

Undeniably. And we have to seriously ask how this has happened when the women’s print market is still relatively viable in the digital world. I think men’s mags have been too slow to react to a changing world; while women’s mags adapted to more self-aware, informed, activist readers, men’s titles stayed rooted in the past.

This has been due to a lack of support and investment within publishing houses, fuelled by conventional industry wisdom about men – they don’t read/don’t care/are stupid – which left the doomed mags feeling anachronistic and makes new launches impossible. It’s a tragedy. I’d love to bring The Book of Man to print.

Sue Todd

Chief executive, Magnetic

Absolutely not, and the reason is simple: men are still reading magazines. Pamco data tells us that more than two-thirds of male magazine readers believe that print magazines offer them something they can’t get elsewhere. And it’s this demand for highly trusted, curated, quality content that is still satisfied by print, as well as being increasingly served in other ways. Publishers are connecting with their audiences across multiple platforms to meet the evolving ways in which people are consuming content and print continues to play a key role in this mix.

Neil Boorman

Content director, Wieden & Kennedy London

We’re post-Weinstein, mid-#MeToo and men of all shapes and sizes are asking themselves where on Earth their masculinity fits in. Do they need a magazine that takes the temperature of the moment and reboots men for a completely new age? Absolutely. Do they need a freesheet with bite-sized lists of Christmas cufflinks and Michael McIntyre gags? Absolutely not. Someone – anyone – hand out a magazine that gives a meaningful role for men’s opinions, personalities and products and I’ll not only take it, I might even pay for it.

Kevin McNair

Board marketing director, KP Snacks

I don’t think it could be the death of men’s print magazines. "Print" is the key thing here – is it the death of great content that is aimed at men that is relevant and in the right medium? Definitely not. There are some great examples of publishers out there providing great content to men, but things have moved on and ShortList failed to do that.

Dominic Williams

Executive director, advertising, Mail Metro Media

I would say that the men's market has changed over the last 10 years as men's media consumptions have changed. ShortList exploded into the market at the right time and it was a great adventure to work with, respect and admire. Now they are taking another journey and with Ella [Dolphin, chief executive of the renamed Stylist Group] at the helm, all will be fine. The men's market has been very tough for a number of years, but it's still surprised me that it shut. There is life left in print with the right content, but you definitely need a digital element.

Fernando Desouches

Managing director of New Macho, BBD Perfect Storm

Advertisers targeting young men tend to see print ads in men’s magazines as low-reach and low-impact media. So, for men's magazines to survive, publishers need to build a business model that is based on adding value for their advertisers and charging for it. They can't just rely on their print versions to build their own brands but should create a more holistic ecosystem. I think that publications need to learn from influencers, by producing their own differentiated strong brands that stand for something adding equity to the brands they communicate. I think magazines like GQ or Monocle, for example, understand this. GQ positions itself as a leader in men’s lifestyle and fashion, and it does not just rely on the magazine – it does events (GQ Man of the Year), has strong social presence, partnerships, video content etc. Monocle positions itself as an expert in global affairs and style. Among other things, it has radio, a strong online presence and even a shop in Marylebone. Print magazines for men can survive, but when the print magazine is just one of the ways to connect with the audience.

Alex Bilmes

Editor-in-chief, Esquire

The closure of ShortList is by no means the end of men's magazines. It is, however, the beginning of the end for a particular kind of general interest men's magazine – one that tries to be all things to all men. If print magazines are to survive, they need to become more themselves, not less. They need to be "printier". They need to be more beautiful, more collectable, more special, more tactile, bigger, cleverer, more sophisticated, deeper, more substantial. And, crucially, they need to specialise, not generalise. They need to find a niche, their area of true expertise, where their brand has real equity (in the case of Esquire, it's men's style and luxury) and then they need to make the very best content on that topic that is available anywhere.

It needs to be content that works better in print than online: sumptuous fashion shoots, lavish photo essays, long, involving piece of literary journalism by acclaimed writers… That way, they can find a committed audience with a genuine desire for the content they offer, as well as commercial partners who will pay to reach that audience.

This is why we announced last week that we are relaunching Esquire in the new year. It will be a beautiful, collectable, substantial style and luxury magazine for men who really care about aesthetics, about art and culture and design and clothes. We will be a specialist title. That is the future of men's magazines. It's a bright future. You'll need sunglasses to look at it.

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