Nobody Wants to Buy Maxim: How the Lad Mags Met Their End

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There was a time when Maxim seemed unstoppable, with its alluring combination of not-quite-supermodels baring not-quite-everything and articles that often acted as advertisements for boxer briefs and hair gel. The magazine, founded in 1995 by Felix Dennis, promised “Sex Sports Beer Gadgets Clothes Fitness.” Readers bought into the premise, with circulation rising to 2.5 million a month, even as rivals like FHM, Complex and Details competed for the same male eyeballs.

And then came the Internet.

The digital revolution has upended all aspects of print media, but the turn has been especially brutal for lad mags. A Bloomberg report out on Tuesday indicated that the magazine, which is up for sale, is getting offers in the $20 million range – only a tenth of what its owners, Alpha Media Group, have been expecting. Back in 2007, Dennis sold the magazine, along with the publications Blender and Stuff, for $250 million. That’s money the likes of which won’t be seen again.

Granted, Maxim’s circulation of about 2 million is still impressive – but it does represent a drop of 20%. And it has cut back to only 10 print issues a year, from 12. That’s a better fate than FHM, which stopped American publication in 2006. Playboy, the granddaddy of lad mags, cut its circulation to 1.5 million during the Great Recession – from a high of 7 million in 1972.

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So, whoever does buy Maxim will be buying little more than a name – as well as an outdated form of entertainment. What made Maxim an enjoyable “read” was that it was raunchy but not pornographic, occupying a clever middle ground between $450 gloves in Esquire and naked women in Penthouse. You would not be embarrassed, necessarily, if your aunt found you reading a copy.

The web ruined this model by making porn virtually free and easily accessible, while also normalizing the viewing thereof, with 87% of men admitting to watching porn at least once a year, according to Men’s Health. That in turn obviated the need for Maxim, with its coy pictorials. At the same time, sites like BroBible could offer more edgy, current content than Maxim (or at least its print version) ever could. Once subversive, lad mags came to seem lead-footed by the mid aughts, not just down-market but something worse: old.

And a deeper change was afoot, too: Men actually began to think more deeply about what it meant to be men. Part of that was due to a decreased social tolerance for sexual aggression, combined with a growing recognition for how popular culture fosters the very same. Social tropes like the metrosexual – remember that? – were a tacit approval of homosexual style and a rejection of the beefcake machismo proffered by Maxim and its ilk. Meanwhile, sites like The Good Men Project, founded in 2009, have offered a rejoinder to Maxim, with men now writing about male issues beyond whether Bar Rafaeli is hotter than Irina Shayk.

True, plenty of casual misogyny still exists. And many men still want to look at salacious pictures of women. But as the plight of Maxim shows, they don’t want to do it in lad mags anymore. 

All images via Maxim.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.