Monday, September 04, 2006

health magazine: Refined lad’s mags


M EN’S magazines – there was a time when the term conjured up a couple of very different images, namely sports, cars or girls. Tips on grooming and fashion or even some advice on how to handle life’s big decisions would have meant sneaking a peek at your girlfriend’s magazine.

Well, that was then. These days, men are spoilt for choice when it comes to magazines. Just take a glance at the magazine shelf of any bookstore and you’ll find several men’s titles. .

“Trends are changing,” says Richard Augustin, editor of FHM Malaysia. “Men’s magazines are sprouting everywhere.”

Generally, men’s magazines tended to focus only on certain areas – cars, sports, gadgets, personality and girls. To gauge what and who’s trendy, guys had to look elsewhere. Ten years ago, GQ was probably the only trend guide men had. The number of foreign magazines in the market has since increased rapidly but they are no longer our only guide to what’s hot and what’s not.

Local versions of international titles like FHM and Men’s Health are quickly dominating newsstands alongside homegrown Malay magazines like Maskulin. Singaporean magazines are also making their presence felt with Malaysian editions of magazines like New Man and Men’s Folio. Recently, even women’s magazine Glam came out with a men’s issue, acknowledging the growing men’s market.

“We wanted to be at the forefront as Malaysian men were becoming more fashion- and style-savvy,” says Eddy Koh, Men’s Folio publisher, Eddy Koh, on the launching of Men’s Folio in 2003.

“The post-1970 generation grew up designer- and brand-conscious,” he adds.

Just take a look at the growing number of men’s standalone stores or dedicated men’s sections by international fashion brands, he says. That’s proof enough that Malaysian men are keen to know what’s the hottest and latest fashion, style and design trends – which is what Men’s Folio is all about.

The magazine is dedicated to fashion, style and design while exhibiting an appreciation for the finer things in life. It’s about catering to a lifestyle that encompasses travel, dining and what was traditionally considered women’s territory – the home.

“Men’s Folio is about refined understatement,” says Koh.

For more in-your-face stuff, there’s FHM. It’s less-than-modest pictorials and saucy interviews have made the magazine a popular choice among those aged between 18 and 25, an age group that comprises college students and young professionals.

The magazine thrives on controversy and locally, it has had its fair share of it. Remember Ning Baizura’s revelations in 2000? Nonetheless, FHM Malaysia is a lot more conservative compared to its counterparts.

“There are guidelines to follow in Malaysia,” says Augustin. “Countries like Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines are more open-minded so it is a challenge for us.”

Even the US edition, he says, is tamer that the British equivalent which features topless shots. FHM Malaysia however overcomes these challenges by playing up the writing, and keeping it funny and witty.

For Men’s Health magazine, it’s all about providing the reader with information that they can use.

“It’s a guide for the guy,” says its editor Eric Chan. “A magazine to live by which covers all bases.”

They thus aim to appeal to everyone. The average Men’s Health reader, however, will probably be someone aged between 25 and 35 – not necessarily a gym freak but someone who is conscious about self-improvement. The writing, however, isn’t instructive. Instead, it takes a “guy talking to another guy” approach.

Each magazine may have its respective niche but how do the publications ensure that their magazine is bought? The general perception is that men aren’t regular buyers of magazines.

“Women will always outstrip men when it comes to buying magazines,” concurs Koh.

Men’s Folio thus adopts a two-pronged approach. It is available on newsstands and is also free to customers at leading boutiques. This is to ensure that Men’s Folio reaches the hands of individuals with a high propensity to shop.

“I think guys have a fixed amount of money for magazines,” says Chan but he adds that Men’s Health caters to a niche audience. The approach to building a loyal following is by remaining true to its concept, providing only useful information to its reader.

But competition is becoming tougher. Recently, two magazines – V Mag and Chrome – ceased publication. Talk, however, is rife of others opening up. And the battle isn’t confined to just local magazines. Foreign lifestyle magazines as well as news and current affairs magazines also provide an alternative to the magazine buyer.

“Everyone is a competitor,” says Augustin.

Some magazines even have to compete with their foreign partners. Why buy Men’s Health Malaysia when you can pick up the Australian or British edition?

Making the content relevant is one way. Men’s Health, says Chan, localises its stories. So does Men’s Folio, which makes it different from its Singapore edition.

“The Malaysian edition contains news stories specific to Malaysia. These range from interviews with local personalities in the fashion and lifestyle industries making the news in Malaysia,” says Koh

“Readers can discover Malaysia’s hottest movers and shakers in our personality profile pages. These are people Malaysians want to know about, whom they will not hear about in foreign magazines,” he adds.

But when all the magazines are jostling for space on a shelf, how do you ensure that someone picks up your magazine instead of others? Well, the cover certainly plays a part.

For FHM, that comes in the form of a sultry female but is it a problem to get local celebs to pose? Apparently not.

“It’s a double-edged sword because FHM has over 30 editions which means that if you have been featured on the cover of FHM, there’s a possibility of being featured worldwide. Four or five girls have already been featured.”

If FHM goes for the bombshell, Men’s Health’s covers are aimed to connect with the average guy. Their magazine naturally features just guys on the cover. But they aren’t celebrity-driven.

“We portray the Men’s Health guy,” says Chan. “The guy on the cover has to look like someone you can chill out and have a beer with.”