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LONDON — Their pages offer everything from close-ups of bloody women wrestlers and topless babes sunning in the Canary Islands to images of humping elephants. Columns are called Romp Watch and Rude Archive and captions feature puns like “womb raider.”

No, they’re not tacky tabloids or monthly lad mags — but they may well be the next great success story in British publishing.

This story first appeared in the February 6, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

London publishers IPC Media Ltd. and Emap are both hoping they’ll strike newsstand gold with their new hybrids combining weekly celebrity magazine with downmarket tabloid and the monthly lad’s glossy.

Late last month, IPC, a division of Time Inc., launched Nuts — the tamer of the two titles — and Emap unveiled Zoo Weekly, which reaches new lows in news coverage. Both magazines are hoping to create the same steam as the women’s celebrity weeklies Heat, Closer and Now — and grab a share of the 2.4 million celebrity weekly readership.

Both Nuts and Zoo have a cover price of 1.20 pounds ($2.20), one-third the price of a men’s monthly, and three times the price of a tabloid like The Sun. The publishers have each invested 8 million pounds ($15 million) in their launches, and are shooting for a weekly circulation of 150,000 to 200,000. Both titles are born of intensive market research on men roughly between the ages of 16 and 40. Both offer lots of pictures, bits of news, a smattering of feature stories — and a lot of flesh.

Nuts, edited by Phil Hilton, former editor of Men’s Health and Later, offers up such fare as a photo of a 1,000-pound python, feature stories on the virtue of sky marshals and the world’s biggest trucks and 10 weird things you never knew about Colonel Gaddafi’s security, including the fact that he employs elite female bodyguards who sport nail polish with their AK-47s.

Nuts is the biggest IPC launch of all time, and the first one undertaken under new owners Time Inc. “This magazine is designed to decay,” said Mike Soutar, editorial director of IPC. “It’s meant to be read in a couple of hours, give tons of value for money, be passed on to a friend — or left on the tube when you’re finished with it.”

It isn’t about dumbing down, said Soutar. “We are dealing with a generation of men who are viewers — not readers. We can either ignore that, or work with it. What we’re trying to achieve is a perfect balance between giving readers things they can inhale — like fast hits of fun and entertainment — and something they can sink their teeth into.”

Soutar said Nuts readers are the same men who read tabloids like The Daily Mail and The Sun, but who don’t have the time — or the stomach — for the average monthly lad mag. “I’m 37 years old with a wife and two kids. I don’t want a bunch of lads’ mags lying around the house. Nuts is the kind of magazine you’d be proud to consume publicly.”

Depending upon where you are. A two-page spread of naked women — naked except for strategically placed body paint — and photographs of a man with a knife protruding from his head (he said he felt fine) might not fly on the tube.

And with headlines like “Pee kept me warm,” a photo of the world’s largest hemorrhoid and one of a bungee jumper soiling himself during his descent, Zoo offers up even grosser fare.

“We’re not trying to be The Economist,” said Andrew Bloch, the joint managing director of Frank PR, which represents Zoo Weekly. “Blokes today are looking for a condensed, easy-to-read format and stories they can laugh about at the pub with their mates. We don’t see it as toilet humor.”

The latest issue features a photo homage to Angelina Jolie’s breasts and butt, a man with a pneumatic drill caught in his neck — he lived! — and a one-eyed goat born in South Africa — he died! The magazine is edited by Paul Merrill, former editor of Chat, the downmarket weekly for women that features real-life stories and crossword puzzles.

Merrill courted controversy in the very first issue with a quiz asking readers if their doctor happened to be Dr. Harold Shipman — the U. K.’s most notorious serial killer, who took his own life earlier in the month. The families of Shipman’s victims publicly expressed their outrage, and Merrill apologized.

Industry observers say the jury is out on whether the new launches will shake up the lagging men’s magazine sector and repeat the success of the women’s celebrity weeklies. Their shock factor isn’t exactly new, either — Bizarre and Viz have reliably grossed out U. K. readers with puerile humor for years, but not with the circulations being sought by Nuts and Zoo.

And clearly things have come a long way (or sunk really far) in the U.K. Or perhaps it’s simply that some publishers have become so desperate they will attempt anything to boost their businesses. This isn’t the first time Emap has tried a weekly magazine for men — Heat launched as a title aimed mainly at men but reversed its slant toward women when it faltered out of the gate. Meanwhile, the British now appear unshockable. British GQ once dispatched an editor, James Brown, after he listed Erwin Rommel as one of the best-dressed men in history — a viewpoint that would be almost boring to Zoo.

“The men’s monthly magazine sector has been struggling, and the launches of celebrity weeklies like Heat have been very successful. Downmarket tabloids like the Daily Star are doing well, too, so I can understand why IPC and Emap have launched these magazines,” said Charles Ross, of the London-based media consultancy Ocean.

“But the question is, can they pull of the right sort of content — on a weekly basis — in order to drive circulation and advertising? If they do, they will create a market for themselves.”

Soutar said he sees the launch of Nuts as the best way of reinvigorating the men’s magazine market. The future, though, is a big question mark. “We have nothing to benchmark Nuts against anywhere in the world. Ten years ago, the perceived wisdom was that monthly glossies were only for women — and then look what happened.”

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