There was no space for Sport&Style

In this guest post, Sport & Style’s founding editor Nik Howe suggests that the magazine’s demise was inevitable.

Far be it from me to piss on the grave of Sport&Style, I am genuinely disappointed to have this Fairfax magazine insert depart the domestic media landscape, partly because it was the one Australian men’s magazine that didn’t reinforce a macho and sexiest attitude or have (male) tits on the cover, but mostly because of the talented staff that remained there after my departure and who continued to produce an excellent publication.  

But it didn’t bode well from the outset. In the month of our launch [March 2009], Arena – a 22-year-old British bastion of gentleman’s publishing – finally called it a day rather than die of old age and a month later, Maxim, a former employer of mine and one of the original purveyors of tits and arse, had gone as crude and rude as it could go.

I, too, was also starting to realise that the words sport and style were not happy bedfellows here in Australia. Yes, internationally, David Beckham advertised underpants and Roger Federer wore one of the world’s most expensive watches on his wrist, but Australia’s biggest sporting star, Ricky Ponting, endorsed motor oil and with nowhere near the same panache that Cristiano Ronaldo does for Castrol.

Here it was different. People who liked sport read the back pages of newspapers and those that liked style read GQ. The crossover was limited in a country with a small population. But, as an editorial team, we were up the proverbial creek without a paddle. High end men’s interest advertisers, the type Fairfax coveted to make this publication financially successful, dine out on cars, liquor, fashion, grooming and technology. They don’t advertise around sport. Yes, we could juggle the format, but only so much. Fairfax curiously licenced the title (from the French newspaper group L’Equipe) rather than gave birth to it, so not only was there a costly licence fee to pay at the end of each month but there were hefty editorial restrictions too. The not dissimilar in concept Observer Sport Monthly also went under in 2009 without that same quagmire to wade through.

But those complications, as well as the fact the magazine was launched with a full time staff of three and a marketing budget a journalist could have afforded, are not unlike the hurdles any newly launched magazine fronts up to (speaking from experience).

There are, however, lots of other reasons why the men’s magazine market is collapsing. They have become irrelevant. The audience is now so well served elsewhere, there isn’t any need to wait 30, or in some cases, 60 days for a publication that purports to be on the pulse, but realistically may have been produced 45 to 90 days in advance of a reader getting a copy.

The web, or if Wired magazine is to be believed the internet, has well and truly snatched the onus from print and demonstrates a broad understanding of what men want and in the way they want it. During the mid-nineties your average editorial synopsis for a bloke’s magazine would have read something like this: girls, gadgets, sport, cars, pop culture and jokes. They made you feel like you were part of a gang. Now, all that information and more is readily available at the touch of button and you can be the leader of your own gang and have as many factions as you like.

I grew up with magazines such as The Face and Esquire defining what I listened to, watched, read and wore. But unfortunately, the game is up for ink and print in its current state. There is an entire generation of people that have come of age in front of a web browser and seek that very same guidance and entertainment in different and disparate places.

Much to my sadness – I will always love magazines – I’ve become one of those exact people who finds it easier to pull everything I read online into a feed reader for free rather than pay $10 to peruse a magazine with content I read so long ago it’s no longer relevant.

The answer isn’t in the iPad either. Not only is the number of iPad owners in Australia smaller than the combined reach of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, but people aren’t buying iPads to read magazines, they’re reading magazines to test out their iPads. And the consensus so far is bad. Too many apps paying homage to their print heritage, leaving readers unsatisfied and out of pocket, publishers with little or no return on their huge investment and developers laughing all the way to the bank. Until publishers realise that content is king, not its format or how close you can zoom up on text, this experiment will continue to fail or be a missed opportunity to make something significant happen for an industry that so desperately needs its right now.

I do still believe, however, that for magazines to survive, they need to be more than just words and pictures on a static page. The(sydney)magazine has it right with the Top 100 and so too do GQ with the Man of the Year. But too many publishers show a lack of ambition and an inability to exploit the potential for the products they launch, instead solely using them as a vehicle to mine money from advertisers. Fairfax unfortunately launched Sport&Style for all the wrong reasons – because they thought there were dollars in the market not because readers were crying out for that type of content.

  • Nik Howe was the founding editor of Sport&Style and now combines his own solo projects with work he executes for clients online and offline.

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