Earlier this month, Bauer Australia confirmed it would be shutting down Zoo Weekly, due to rapidly declining sales.
This announcement came off the back of a petition organised by Australian student activist group Collective Shout, which collected 40,000 signatures calling for the magazine to be pulled off magazine shelves of supermarkets.
Australia-based Coles heeded these calls and obliged by pulling the mag, but Countdown didn’t do the same on this side of the ditch.
This led to requests from Family First NZ to have the magazine pulled off Countdown shelves. And the conservative lobby group enjoyed an inadvertent victory when Bauer determined the magazine was no longer profitable enough to publish.
Despite having nothing to do with the end of Zoo Weekly, Family First national director Bob McCoskrie released a statement welcoming the end of the magazine and claiming that it marked a shift in public sensibilities.
“Zoo follows the demise of Ralph and FHM Australia and suggests that society is becoming increasingly intolerant of the promotion of pornography and misogynistic messages in mainstream publications, and that’s a great development,” said McCoskrie.
This observation neatly sidesteps the overall decline of the print industry and the continued migration of audiences online. And while Family First was twerking* on the grave of the Zoo Weekly, digital iterations of lad mags were pulling in hundreds of thousands of Kiwi viewers.
NZ Blokes founder Jason Anderson says his site pulls in 200,000 to 300,000 unique visitors every month, which is roughly double last year’s numbers.
These numbers, when viewed against the recent discontinuation of Zoo Weekly (which saw its Australian circulation drop from 40,000 to 29,000 over the last year), indicates that the appetite for this type of content is stronger than ever.
“I guess in concept there is a space for things like Zoo,” says Anderson. “It’s good for a laugh and even some educational points, and this is quite similar to us, so it’s a shame [Zoo’s] gone. Perhaps it’s more the print format than the content/concept itself.”
This also applies internationally with Manchester-based publisher 65twenty pulling in millions of views every week through its channels The Lad Bible and Sport Bible.
The Lad Bible already has over ten million Facebook fans while The Sport Bible is sitting on over seven million—followings largely built on a strategy of sharing third-party content that appeals to bro culture.
65Twenty plays off the egos of its fans, calling on them to send in video clips, which are then distributed.
“Our community sends in over a 1,000 submissions a day in the hope of getting on The Lad Bible and being heroes in front of their mates, whether it is builders doing pranks on each other, a guy jumping through a wall pretending to be The Incredible Hulk, or Sunday League soccer players showing off their sporting skills — or lack of them,” The Lad Bible’s marketing director Mimi Turner told Digiday earlier this year.
Copyright issues set aside, 65twenty has built a formidable media empire on knowing exactly what the lad archetype is likely to share.
Series like ‘Cleavage Thursday,’ posts like ‘This guy came up with a brilliantly simple way to get girls’ numbers on Tinder’ and stories like ‘This woman sent a naked Snapchat to her boss by accident’ are all bouncing around The Lad Bible network but they could just as easily have been picked up by the editors of Zoo or FHM.
So effective have The Lad Bible and The Sport Bible been at driving audience numbers that Microsoft recently teamed up with 65Twenty to launch The Tech Bible, a similarly styled interface that focuses on tech-related stories.
In addition to this partnership, 65twenty is also investing in its own video content, creating an opportunity for brand partnerships.
While it doesn’t have the scale of The Lad Bible, NZ Blokes has also attracted the interest of brands operating in this market.
“In terms of advertisers, one way or another we have dealt with most major media houses,” says Anderson. “For everything from straight advertising, social reporting, reviews and social amplification, we are starting to be contacted directly by brands. As far as brands that have advertised with us, they are all the household bloke brands you would expect, booze, shavers, movies, tech, automotive, local apparel, etc. We also work along side social agencies like bloggersclub.com for the Lightbox launch and Young & Shand with Jim Beam for the 'Jacob’s Ghost' campaign.”
Anderson also says social platforms are playing a major role in driving engagement for NZ Blokes.
“Facebook is our most important and is a major focus,” he says. “We've found that our users prefer to interact on Facebook the most so have concentrated on developing this the most. Our most active post socially went gangbusters, reaching eight million people and getting shared over 400,000 times. You would think it was a Kanye West Post – it was a super-charged tractor. Yeeha!”
On the topic of viral bro posts, Facebook channel Cougar Boys recently reached over 1.2 million views with a video in which a range of Americans are asked questions relating to New Zealand.
This clip is the latest in a series of videos Cougar Boys have released, and those that came before clearly slot into the lad mag mold.
Cougar Boys is made up of Afamasaga, Shivneel Chauhan, Torrell Tafa & Uoka Falefa, who met while at Edgewater College in Pakuranga.
Tafa says all the contributors have full-time jobs and that they don’t make much from creating the videos.
“This is a side hobby and has always been,” he says. “We enjoy making people happy, and that in itself is enriching.”
Asked for his thoughts on the demise of Zoo Weekly, Tafa says that it will do little more than change his supermarket experience.
“Now I don't know what I'm going to look over at during that awkward silence between the shopkeeper and I when they're sorting my change.”
While a joke, this observation makes an important point about changes in the lad mag industry. The disappearance of the print editions of these magazines now simply means that store visitors—some of which are conservative—are no longer exposed to covers featuring scantily clad women (at least those that are aimed at men. There's still plenty of scantily clad women on the mass market women's titles).
But the misogyny that typifies these publications hasn’t disappeared; it’s just been shifted online, where it can hide behind recommendation algorithms (although in print in the UK, The Sun has continued with its Page 3 girls, despite recent speculation the feature was coming to an end).
With every like, share and comment we post to Facebook, the algorithm becomes better at determining what are our interests are and responds by feeding us information that lies within that framework. As a corollary, things that lie beyond our neatly defined likes are excluded from our feeds.
As Hive News founder Bernard Hickey recently told StopPress, the algorithm has become the new frontpage editor.
“In the olden days, you’d have the editor of a newspaper or a news bulletin who would second-guess what the audience wanted, and sometimes that was important, because that person had good judgement and good experience and understood who the audience was and could sometimes get ahead of audience by determining what they should read, and sometimes that meant that readers were surprised and challenged,” Hickey says.
“The advent of algorithmic newsfeeds creates filter bubbles that essentially destroy serendipity or the ability for a human to set the news agenda.”
Sometimes, Hickey says, reality and social media feeds are so far removed that people are left perplexed by news events.
“You end up with situations like election results where the reality punctures your filter bubble. And everyone goes, ‘I can’t believe that everyone voted for the other guy, because all the people I’ve been speaking to and all the news that I’ve read said the other guy was going to lose. How did that happen?’ Well, that’s because you’ve created a filter bubble that’s disconnected from reality.”
So when Family First’s McCoskrie observes that society is “becoming increasingly intolerant of the promotion of pornography and misogynistic messages in mainstream publications,” this is largely because mainstream to him has probably come to mean something very different to mainstream as understood and seen by teenage boys in New Zealand.
This is not to say that anything goes on the internet and that there’s nothing being done about it. Facebook and Twitter allow their followers to report offensive posts, and a recent Wired report told the story of how both companies rely on thousands of workers, mostly in the Philippines, to filter out the worst—pornography, gore, sexual solicitation, animal abuse and racism— that the internet community spews out daily.
However, Facebook and Twitter only comprise a small sliver of the big, nasty place called the internet. In reality, if someone has a taste for something vile they’ll have no difficulty finding it. They just won't find it on the supermarket shelves.
*StopPress does not actually believe anyone from Family First was twerking. If anything, it was more likely a traditional waltz.