Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
In men's
magazines,
it's survival
of the fittest


February 10, 2000
By Franklin Harris

You can add another men's magazine to the growing funeral pyre. P.O.V. is no more.

Now, by "men's magazine" I don't mean something akin to "Playboy" or "Penthouse." I'm talking about the glut of PG-13-rated magazines that has swelled during the past couple of years. You know what I mean: Maxim, Details, Gear, Stuff and FHM.

P.O.V., which featured a mix of bikini-clad women and articles on getting ahead in business, all packaged under the motto of "Work Hard. Play Hard," isn't the first guy magazine to fold of late. It joins Bikini, Icon and Egg on the ash heap. (Egg?!?)

I was never a P.O.V. reader, but I'm sad to see it go. As a writer, I like to see magazines thrive - unless, of course, they're odious, pretentious drivel like Talk. Plus, P.O.V.'s parent company, Freedom Communications, has earned my respect with its fiercely independent and doggedly libertarian editorial stance.

In the publishing biz, blame for this mini-holocaust usually finds its way to one doorstep: Maxim's.

The unstoppable juggernaut of guy mags, Maxim boasts a circulation of between 1.1 and 1.6 million and legions of detractors, many of whom just happen to work for Maxim's competition.

In 1998, Art Cooper, editor in chief of GQ, called Maxim, "a magazine for men who not only move their lips when they read - they drool when they read," But that, of course, was before Cooper's bosses at Conde Nast ordered him to, shall we say, "Maximize" GQ.

The New York Times notes that GQ used to avoid women-only covers, running only one a year from 1989 to 1994, three in each of 1997 and 1998 and two in 1999.

And the tally for 2000 to date? Two. Not bad for it being only February.

Conde Nast has also tried to sex-up its other guy magazine, Details, even going so far as to bring in Mark Golin as editor in chief.

Golin, by the way, is the former editor of - wait for it - Maxim.

So far, however, the changes at Details have backfired. The Times reports that newsstand sales for Golin's first four issues were down compared to the year before.

There may be a lesson in this: If you're going to try to beat Maxim at its own game, you can't do a half-wit job of it.

Every issue of Maxim sums up its contents in a banner across the top of its cover: "Sex, Sports, Beer, Gadgets, Clothes, Fitness." (The last two are important only as they relate to the first.) And let's face it, that just about covers what we men think about when we're left to our own devices.

That is why P.O.V.'s "Work Hard. Play Hard" formula flopped. We'll combine play with work whenever we get the chance, but combining work with play defeats the point. Among us 18-to-35-year-olds, work is just something we do so we can afford to pay for sex, sports, beer, gadgets, clothes and fitness.

(And before you write me nasty letters, I don't mean "pay for sex" as in prostitution. Get your head out of the gutter. I'm just saying girlfriends are expensive, as every guy can attest.)

Details still tries to be respectable, which is beside the point as far as most men are concerned.

In fact, until it started trying to compete with Maxim, I wasn't even sure Details was targeted at men. What kind of men's magazine is it that is more likely to have Christian Slater on its cover than Alyssa Milano?

I'll tell you what kind: A men's magazine read by women.

Women read the old Details to get ideas on how to "improve" their boyfriends and husbands.

The new Details, which more or less caters to men as we are, does women no good at all.

Meanwhile, men had just as soon stick with Maxim.

This month, for instance, while Details features Leonardo DiCaprio's skinny French co-star in "The Beach" as its cover girl, Maxim gives its readers the latest Guess Girl, Kim Smith, washed up on a beach and almost falling out of her bikini. It's no contest.

(In case you were wondering where the "pulp culture" part of this column is, this month's Maxim also features a nifty article on the 50 best B movies of all time.)

Yes, when it comes down to it, men and women are different. Period. It's evolution in action. And it's why, in the guy-magazine business, it's survival of the fittest.

Pulp Magazines

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