Heat magazine has its Ratner moment – because of the race to the bottom driven by Express group

A long time ago I worked on Business magazine, where Jeff Ferry – then one of the newshounds – was doing a piece about Gerald Ratner, of Ratner the jewellers fame. At the time, everyone was mystified by how well they did. One day Ferry came back to tell us of his progress. “He was saying to me, you wonder how we make profit? It’s because these things are crap!” We laughed at the idiocy of the guy and his customers. Great copy for the piece, we thought.

A month or two later, Ratner made the same comments – except to an audience at the Institute of Directors, with a host of national newspaper journalists listening. Within days, the brand was toast.

Now Heat magazine may have done much the same. Its centrefold of stickers included a really distasteful one about Jordan’s son Harvey – who is blind and autistic with a disorder which renders him clinically obese. (Read this Guardian piece from the mother of a disabled child for her reaction:

As the mother of a profoundly disabled, somewhat “funny looking” child myself, the sticker reduced me to tears. It played directly to some of my darkest fears for my son – that he will grow up to be lonely, an outcast and the butt of cruel jokes.

(Yeah, I know that feeling. It’s receding, but it lingers.)

But what drove Heat to such a massive misjudgement? This is a magazine that used to know its readers, and when I used to pick it up, the feeling I got was that it didn’t think its readers were cruel. But this was cruel; heartless; thoughtless. It lacked compassion.

So what’s happened to Heat? Competition. The explosion of dire celeb mags out of organisations like the Express group, which are cruel, competing with each other to be the most crummy and snide; that’s what’s happened. It’s a race to the bottom and Heat has found itself caught up. There’s now no saving this sector: it’s going to implode.

My wife – a former media correspondent on The Independent, let’s not forget – points out that precisely the same happened in the lads mag market. When Loaded started, it was witty and original. Then other mags piled in, and finally Nuts and Zoo joined, and that was it. Bye-bye quality, hello tits and trash.

Loaded now is a shabby shadow of its former self – as are those mags’ circulation figures, which in February this year had fallen 14% year-on-year; by August Loaded was down 40% and Nuts 10%.

So, crow over the coming demise of the celeb mags. We’ve been here before. The key question now: what’s the next super-niche?

(And isn’t it impressive that I found a pic of Jordan with all her clothes on?)

4 Comments

  1. I don’t really have anything to add. Just wanted to say “superb post”.

  2. Is the demise in the Lads Mags not in large part due to the fact you can get all of their content from the internet and by the time the mags hit the shelf the stories are ‘old news’? They need to work out how to monetize their electronic distribution to have a long term future.

  3. Charles

    Monday 3 December 2007 at 3:51 pm

    @Lucy: no, not all of lads’ mags content is online. (I’d have thought.) And their demise hasn’t been driven by t’internet; there’s been porn aplenty there for ages. It’s the explosion of magazines, leading inevitably to competition, leading to a race to the bottom (in both senses, I guess). Quality suffers, cost is king.

    The lads’ mags don’t have a long-term future as a separate niche. A few will survive in the long term, but I don’t think they’ll ever be as big again. Something else – some new niche – will expand instead, while celeb mags (which is where we started) decline.

  4. For the future of the lads mag, look online..Monkey mag seems to be doing rather well there – apart from anything else I suspect there is far greater revenue potential if you can offer video ads instead of print…be interesting to see if that survives while Nuts /Zoo / Front / Loaded dies off…