Not so much of a bang as a whimper greeted Bauer’s announcement this week that it is folding the whiskery old Grandaddy of men’s style magazines, Arena, after two decades.
The amazing thing is it lasted so long. This is a sector euthanized by the increasing apathy of both readers and advertisers. The unseemly scramble downmarket by publishers keen to ensure their male readers get the requisite ration of tits and bums merely underlines how desperate and intellectually bankrupt they have become.
Of course, dignifying a basic human urge with a cerebral top-dressing is as old as, well, Penthouse and Playboy. It was the penetrating articles you always wanted to talk about if you got caught reading one, not the pictures. Yeah, yeah.
Then along came the publisher of Vogue, Condé Nast, and gave birth to the chic porn lad’s mag sector with a revitalised version of moribund Gentleman’s Quarterly. Arena’s mortifying role was to play mid-wife.
The fact that GQ was neither gentlemanly nor quarterly should not detain us; it certainly didn’t detain Condé Nast, nor the enthusiastic male audience which took it up – not to mention its successively smuttier counterparts such as Esquire and later FHM, Loaded and Men’s Health. Along the road there were momentary segmental diversions, such as the short-lived Jack – for older men. Inevitably the path led downhill with increasing momentum: near the bottom we meet the men’s weeklies, Nuts and Zoo. Even these are now failing. Increasingly forlorn efforts to turn them into online earners have been met with indifference by an audience that’s currently more interested in freesheets such as Shortlist and Sport.
So what do men want? God knows; publishers certainly don’t.