ACP sends FHM to the glue factory

For a time, it seemed as though men—and quite a few ladies—couldn’t get enough of FHM’s tall-tales, humour and glamour shots of well-endowed models. But ACP has made the decision to close the magazine after it lost almost half of its circulation in the last six months of 2011 in Australia. And, as of May, it will also be taken out of the market in New Zealand.  

The lad’s mag phenomenon was a global one and ACP’s sales manager Paul Gardiner remembers launching the title in New Zealand (he was ad manager when Fairfax was distributing it here prior to ACP buying EMAP and taking over), watching it go ballistic and selling around 30,000 copies of each issue. So it’s a sad day for him to see the title fold, but he says it simply isn’t a viable product any more and, with the global editorial network that publishers have to pay for based on circulation numbers, it’s too expensive to produce a New Zealand version.

“We’re always launching new titles into the market,” he says. “So you’ve got to be prepared to get rid of the titles that aren’t performing.”

Gardiner says there will be no job losses as a result of the decision.

Circulation isn’t calculated in New Zealand but readership is and according to Nielsen data it peaked in Q2 2010 at 132,000 and dropped to 100,000 in Q4 2011, a 24 percent decrease. In Australia, the Audit Bureau of Circulation numbers showed sales had almost halved to 26,026 in the last six months of 2011.

According to ACP’s website, it’s still “the world’s fastest growing men’s magazine, now published in 23 languages in 33 countries around the world”. So there’s obviously some life in the old dog yet. But the clock may be ticking for the lads mags in the major markets: FHM closed in America around two years ago.

As for why such a sharp drop occurred, he says the market has changed considerably since the magazine’s launch and there are now a lot more men’s offerings like Top Gear and GQ competing. And, holistically, it’s in line with the trend that shows special interest magazines performing better than general interest (ACP’s Ralph, which was launched in 1997 as a competitor to FHM before it acquired EMAP, also closed in mid 2010).

The younger generation’s media consumption has certainly changed and it’s fair to say young men aren’t big magazine buyers, especially given the availability of similar—and free—content online these days. But, interestingly, while the content was aimed at 18-25s, Gardiner says its readership was late 20s to late 30s.

He says it was all about reliving the glory days; about tapping into “the Peter Pan syndrome”. And, as a failed men’s magazine he worked on in the UK called Later showed, men wanted to escape reality, not be reminded of things like investments and nappy changing. They wanted stories about tanks, not seven seaters, he says.

But there are always winners in situations like this and it will no doubt be seen as good news for the local FHM-alike, M2, which has gone from 2,021 average net paid sales in 2005 to 7,397 in latest round and recently moved into the Australian market.

Here’s the official guff:

ACP Magazines today announced it will produce the final print edition of Australian men’s monthly magazine, FHM.

The May cover-date issue will be the last print edition while the website fhm.com.au will close when that issue goes off-sale on May 13th.

ACP Magazines is endeavouring to redeploy employees, some redundancies are expected in Australia, however in New Zealand there will be no redundancies.

“The decision to close a title is never an easy one and FHM is certainly no exception,” said Matt Stanton, CEO, ACP Magazines. “FHM is a terrific brand but, given the current market conditions, it has been difficult for ACP to make it a commercially viable proposition.”

Launched in Australia by EMAP in 1998, FHM was at the forefront of the ‘lads monthlies’ phenomenon that first exploded in the United Kingdom. Its main rival in Australia was RALPH, launched by ACP Magazines in 1997.

The two titles enjoyed impressive circulation and readership for several years until the arrival of new category entries – most notably the launch of Zoo as a weekly in 2006 which, along with cross- category men’s magazines such as Top Gear and Men’s Health, steadily eroded both FHM and RALPH’s share of the category.

After acquiring the licence to publish FHM through the acquisition of EMAP Australia in 2008, ACP Magazines refined and repositioned the title as a more upmarket offering – and with great success, as the title enjoyed record advertising revenue in its October and November issues that same year.

The shifting tastes of young male readers, and the global economic downturn, forced the closure of RALPH in June 2010, and while FHM battled on, it has struggled to hold its circulation.

Matt Stanton paid tribute to the FHM team for its ongoing commitment to the brand.

“The editorial and advertising teams have done a remarkable job putting out a product that is as good, if not better, than the issues produced during FHM’s glory days,” he said. “What’s more, they have done so in much tougher economic times and in the face of constant media speculation over the magazine’s future. They can all hold their heads high, in spite of their obvious and understandable disappointment.”

FHM – now owned by German company, Bauer Media Group – is published in 21 territories, including China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Romania and the United Kingdom.

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