Men’s magazines, those paragons of partial nudity, racy articles and gadget porn, enjoyed something of a golden age in the 90s and early 00s, but it looks like their reign is officially over. It was recently announced that FHM and Zoo have been “suspended” by Bauer Media, and it is expected that physical and digital publication of both titles will cease permanently by the end of 2015.
Bauer states that “men’s media habits have continually moved towards mobile and social.” In this niche, as in so many others, traditional magazines have been unable to keep up with sites that offer the same thing as them, but for free.
“The lads’ mag market has been especially hard hit by new technology and changing habits due to the easy availability of nudity and pornography on the internet and the decline of the specific form of ‘lad culture’ that helped made the titles so successful,” says the Guardian’s Jasper Jackson. The first death knell came in 2009 with the closure of Arena and Maxim, then again in 2014 with the demise of Nuts. This year, Loaded underwent a digital rebranding and relaunch which eradicated all scantily clad models to focus on features.
But while men’s mags as we know them may be dead, lad culture is still very much alive, and so is the demand for saucy, bantz-laden content. And in this new space, meme machine The Lad Bible is the undisputed king. It is almost impossible nowadays to scroll through Facebook without seeing a Lad Bible post shared into your feed by a friend, colleague or relative. “We take the view that if something is funny, smart or distinctive enough to share with 80 friends, then 8 million people will also like it,” says Mimi Turner, The Lad Bible’s marketing director.
“Readers have not simply cancelled their FHM subscription and headed to The Lad Bible,” writes the Independent’s media editor Ian Burrell. “This is a new generation of lads.” With more than twice the Facebook following of any newspaper, The Lad Bible has built a loyal fan base among 18 to 24 year olds, and is about to broaden its audience even further with an iOS app.
Due to launch next month, the app will feature a higher volume of current affairs-related video and storytelling, echoing BuzzFeed’s transition from LOL factory to trustworthy news source. Some of the content on the app will also aim to address allegations of sexism which have been levelled against The Lad Bible; women make up 20 per cent of the site’s 18 to 24 year old audience, and even more among its 13 to 17 year old fans; a figure that is reflected in a number of planned features on female role models.
A purveyor of low-brow, junk-food social content might not seem like an obvious contender in the world of real-time news and journalism, but there are those who believe The Lad Bible’s unorthodox origins will prove to be a key ingredient in its future success. “Internet news is about moving fast, breaking things, and don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness,” says David Carr, strategy director at DigitasLBi. “Lad Bible has recognised there is more to lads than laddism, which is why it has broken out of its niche.”
According to Turner, a defining moment for The Lad Bible was the response by fans to stories posted in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, proof if needed that the site has evolved beyond its initial remit. “They came to us because they wanted a place to talk about it,” she says. “We’re not really a publishing business; we’re a community.”