The fall of the laddie mag

Covers of "laddie" magazines Maxim, Gear and FHM.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: Chalk one up for the right to swear on television. A federal appeals court ruled today accidental expletives that find their way to air aren't necessarily punishable by the Federal Communications Commission. The judges didn't throw out the Commission's new indecency rules, did call them arbitrary and capricious though, and said they might not stand up to first amendment review in a lower court.

The first amendment also brought us the laddie mag phenomenon. Ten years ago, American consumers — male consumers, specifically — were the target of a British invasion. Maxim magazine came to our shores. Lingerie-clad babes on the cover and bawdy humor inside. And plenty of cash in the corporate till. Maxim and its imitators were phenomenally successful. Until they weren't. And now Maxim's up for sale.

Mediaweek's Lucia Moses has been covering the fall of the laddie mag, and what made them so popular to begin with.

LUCIA MOSES: Well, we tend to focus on the women in the bikinis. But I think a lot of the appeal of Maxim was the peer-to-peer tone. It was sort of your older brother, your fraternity brother, taking you under his arm and telling you how it was and giving you advice. And it was all done in a very humorous way, and that's something we hadn't had in mens' magazines at that point.

RYSSDAL: What happened to send these magazines into a decline?

MOSES: Well, I think a couple of things. I think a watershed moment was back in 2004, when we had the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. That kind of brought out a conservative feeling in this country. And it was around that time when Wal-Mart had pulled Maxim and its . . . and the other so-called laddie magazines from its shelves, just saying that it was just too much for their customers. They had gotten customers complaints of the racy nature of the content. So, you know, advertisers who had been kind of sitting on the fence at that point said, "You know what, this is just too racy for us."

RYSSDAL: So now, there's a private equity group that's making a bid for them. Do you think the publishers of Maxim are gonna get the price that they wanted, or that they could have had four, five, six years ago.

MOSES: You know, four or five years ago, this company was flying really high, and another publishing company that publishes celebrity tabloids supposedly made a run for the company and offered 'em a pretty nice price for it — somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million, I'm told. But the founder turned it down, he thought he could get more. Now, it's pretty telling how far this company has come and gone that the price tag being eyed for it now is less than half that.

RYSSDAL: So what do you think Quadrangle, this private equity group, might eventually do with these magazines?

MOSES: Well, there's some speculation that one of the three magazines called Stuff will fold. It was started to pre-empt one of Maxim's competitors. Now that that competitor is gone, it doesn't really have a reason for being anymore. So there's speculation that that might fold into one of the other magazines. And I expect Quadrangle, if they prevail, would make a big investment on the web. Perhaps they might buy other Internet sites that cater to young men. And heavy up in investment in the other areas where Maxim plays . . . like lounges, and there's a Vegas casino in the works, and a string of steak houses that are also in the works.

RYSSDAL: So the enterprise itself isn't gone, just the magazine, right?

MOSES: Right, right. Maxim is a healthy brand today. Its value is in its website and all these brand extensions that give advertisers a way to reach young men who are turned off by traditional advertising more and more. It lets them reach men where they play.

RYSSDAL: Last question before I let you go. If you got the editor-in-chief of, say, Esquire in a room, and asked him, "So, come on — are you glad that Maxim came, or would you rather just have had them not be there at all," what would he say?

MOSES: I honestly think he would say, "Maxim did a good thing for us." It got men reading magazines again. And it got advertisers thinking more positively of mens' magazines. It showed the world that, you know, indeed men can read magazines. And it forced them to define themselves a little bit better. Competition is good for everybody.

RYSSDAL: Lucia Moses is a senior editor at Mediaweek magazine. Ms. Moses, thanks a lot for your time.

MOSES: Glad to be here.

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