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Japan’s Rises as Men’s Influence

NEW YORK — It turns out that men like to get lucky, too.<br><br>When Condé Nast’s mall-in-magazine-form, Lucky, made its debut nearly three years ago, observers were quick to ascribe its existence, and then its success, to a...

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NEW YORK — It turns out that men like to get lucky, too.

This story first appeared in the February 21, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

When Condé Nast’s mall-in-magazine-form, Lucky, made its debut nearly three years ago, observers were quick to ascribe its existence, and then its success, to a female-specific yen for shopping. But a new crop of men’s fashion books are out to prove that they can borrow from fetishistic Japanese-style magazines just as well as Lucky’s editor Kim France can.

Marc Ecko’s Complex, Nylon’s toe-in-the-water Nylon For Guys, and a new, untitled project by former Source style editor “Hawaii” Mike Salman (yes, it is his actual name) are all taking their cues from the pure product spreads of Nippon glossies. With names like Relax, Smart and Brutus Casa, they’re muses to editors here who can’t even read them.

Not that they’re missing anything other than captions. Consider the shoe spreads. While Lucky famously had 11 pages’ worth in its first issue, it only took four pages for Men’s Non-No in Japan to show off 143 pairs of sneakers in its February issue, all of them shot in profile against a white background. A month later, American men found similar acreage given over to kick-arounds at Complex and Nylon for Guys.

Both titles, not to mention their future competition, are gambling that by promoting the product as the hero, they can revolutionize the fashion component of men’s magazines the same way the “laddie mags” stormed the traditional feature well. Buy they’ll need to do it fast, before Lucky’s France gets the free time and mandate to do it herself.

“I have a burning desire to do Lucky for Men,” she said. “I would love to see some version of it get launched, although, obviously, I have a day job and there are no plans to do it. But I think it’s an insanely brilliant idea…men want to be told exactly what to buy. Not all men are this way, but if a man can be told, ‘Here’s the shirt, here’s the store to buy it in, here’s how to wear it,’ you’ll attract a man who may not buy a GQ or a Maxim.”

France was a diligent student of Japanese magazines herself before the launch of Lucky, with the young women’s magazines Cutie and Olive being two of her favorites. Nylon founder Marvin Scott Jarrett said he’s been reading a stream of Japanese titles like Relax and Smart for 20 years, and he’s close to finalizing a deal to publish Nylon in Japan. Most of the magazines have tiny circulations, but are niched to the max.

“If you’re the rock ’n’ roll punk, being that to the best of your ability means knowing everything about the punk rock thing,” said Ben White, editor of Complex.

Why it’s taken Scott Jarrett, White, France and Salman, this long to copy and exploit the formula (or at least to admit that they do) is more of a mystery. Complex editor Ben White thinks the pay-to-play element of Japanese style magazines — in which advertising is tossed in favor for straight-up endorsement — held the idea back in the U.S. until recently. “Certainly, there’s a younger generation of editors and publishers willing to shake off some of the Western journalistic ideals,” he said. “I don’t think the notion of indexing products is selling out.” Complex, despite being owned by Ecko, is editorially independent, although Ecko’s retail resources have been marshalled to sell the magazine to his customers.

Lucky attracted end-of-the-world wailing from purists when it debuted, but now the only question swirling around it is “how big can it get?” It posted a 20.7 percent rise in newsstand sales in the last half of last year, and total circulation is above 800,000. The new men’s magazines exploring the niche are far smaller — Nylon For Guys isn’t a stand-alone title, but an outsert — and even their creators are doubtful they could attract a half million men who need to know which color of Nike’s Air Force One sneaker is in this month.

“Does it scale? That’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer,” said Deanna Brown, the former chief executive of Inside.com, who is currently consulting and raising money for Salman’s entry in the field.

Their magazine, which will aim for a smaller, more lucrative readership, has “a very specific and limited audience that could attract a much bigger audience in terms of influence, and that’s the gist of the business plan,” Brown said.

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