The past decade alone has brought into the field Rodale Press' powerhouse Men's Health, Wenner Media's Men's Journal and Conde Nast Publications' Details. The past two years have added others, including B.Y.O.B./Freedom Ventures' P.O.V., Dennis Publishing's Maxim and David Getson's Icon.
The newest entry is Gear, from Spin founder Bob Guccione Jr. The first issue, on newsstands now, features an ironic twist: an interview with the man who helped invent the modern men's magazine, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
As a result of the launches, a field that once was too sparse is now in serious danger of becoming overcrowded. That has intensified the fight for both readers and advertisers.
"It's getting a little too populated. Men are by far the hardest to reach in print," said Jessica Pell, media supervisor, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York. "It makes GQ, Esquire and Details all work harder."
It also makes the men's category more like the women's, where crowded newsstands have knocked some magazines out of business and forced others to offer deep discounts to prop up ad pages.
"The women's category always had to work harder because there were so many titles, but now the same is true for the men's," said Ms. Pell. "They are all changing their sales approach to take the new guys into account and are fighting harder for the business."
Kim Vernon, VP-advertising and marketing for Prada, agrees the men's field is overpopulated.
"For an upscale designer-branded company like ours, it doesn't serve us to use them all, or even half of them," she said. Prada currently runs ads in Esquire, Details, GQ and Men's Journal. It also bought into the Gear launch.
The influx of new titles has caused the vanguard to adjust.
Both Esquire-the title most troubled by the category changes-and Men's Journal have tapped category veterans as new editors in the past year: David Granger moved from the No. 2 editorial slot at GQ to the top spot at Esquire, while onetime Esquire Editor Terry McDonell took over Jann Wenner's Men's Journal.
Men's Journal is reaping the benefits of Mr. McDonell's sharpened editorial focus and a change in trim size that allows it to gain more and better display space on newsstands, said VP-Publisher Kevin O'Malley.
Newsstand sales increased 33.3% for the first half of the year, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. And advertisers have responded, with ad pages up 16.7% in the first half, to 438.28, according to Publishers Information Bureau.
TOO LITTLE TOO LATE?
Esquire under Mr. Granger has improved editorially, but some still believe it may be too little too late.
"Obviously, the ad sales increase is a reflection of the industry's endorsement of David," said Ms. Vernon. "However, they still have a lot of work to do in generating continued interest from the advertising community to be competitive within the category."
Melissa Pordy, senior VP-print director at Zenith Media, New York, said the title has "definitely rebounded-the editor's touch is coming through." She's now considering Esquire for some liquor clients.
"What David would say is Esquire is edited for what a man wants to know, and we give him substance, style and service," said Valerie Salembier, publisher of the Hearst Magazines monthly. "It's clear editorial positioning, and it's working."
Ad pages for Esquire are up 33.6% in the first half, according to PIB, but the total count remains somewhat anemic at 377.29 pages.
SOLID GAIN AT `GQ'
GQ, by comparison, ran 1,015.34 pages in the period, a solid gain of 23.6% off an already healthy base. Newly installed Publisher Jack Laschever credits the selling abilities of his predecessor, Richard "Mad Dog" Beckman, but also the magazine's power to deliver readers into retail stores.
"It is really a very well-oiled marketing machine for our advertisers," Mr. Laschever said.
Esquire's circulation increased 2.2% in the first half to 672,073, while GQ's rose 1.7% to 700,244.
Whereas Esquire has long been seen as GQ's closest competitor, that position may now belong to Rodale's fast-growing Men's Health. That magazine's 300-page anniversary issue, dated Sept. 10, includes a 60-page "Men's Health Guide
to Style" that marks a clear step into GQ's territory. Editor in Chief Michael Lafavore said the "Guide to Style" will be a twice-yearly feature for fall and spring.
"We're not trying to be GQ," said Jeffrey Morgan, VP-worldwide publisher, Men's Health. "The kind of editorial we do is completely different. It's not fashion as much as it's service and practical."
That formula is still winning with readers, with newsstand sales up 19.9% in the first half to 385,227, and subscriptions up 1.5% to 1,202,346. On the ad front, Men's Health ad pages dipped a slight 1.6% to 406.9 in the first half.
The newcomers are mostly aimed at men 18 to 34, a niche long occupied by GQ's younger brother, Details. Publisher Linda Mason is positioning Details as the "culture fusion" title, the one able to chronicle the intersection of music, fashion, sports and entertainment.
Part of Editor in Chief Michael Caruso's mandate has been to increase circulation, and adding sports to the mix was intended to broaden the title's appeal.
For January 1999, Details will increase its rate base from 475,000 to 500,000.
Cheeky upstart Maxim, not ready to release its first audited ABC numbers until mid-September, has raised its rate base to 450,000 for the second half of this year, and has already announced plans to move to a rate base of 650,000 in January.
President Stephen Colvin said Maxim is poised to overtake "old-timers" such as Esquire and GQ.
"We came here to fill a void in the market and we have," he said.
Maxim's point of difference: a tongue-in-cheek focus on such "guy" things as babes, beer and sports.
`GEAR' EYES `DETAILS'
Marc Weinhouse, ad director for Gear, said Details is the closest in the category to the audience his new book is looking to reach, the 21-to-34-year-old man. The September/October launch issue has a rate-base guarantee of 200,000.
Like most of the men's category newcomers, Mr. Weinhouse clearly has his eye on the current champion, GQ. His unspoken competitive swipe comes through in a description of his title.
"Gear is not a how-to guide to tying shoes or putting a tie on," he said. "Our reader knows how to do that."