'Brands like Loaded don't come round very often', agrees industry

IPC Media's pending sale of Loaded magazine to Vitality Publishing after 14 years is widely symbolic of the decline of the traditional lads' mag following the arrival of nimbler weekly and digital rivals.

Brands like Loaded don't come round very often', agrees industry
Brands like Loaded don't come round very often', agrees industry

James Brown, Loaded's founding editor, opined that the sale of Loaded could ultimately prove a good move for the magazine, with the title given a new impetus and direction while being able to cut some of its overheads.

"It always was an odd mix for the title to be at IPC," said Brown. "The one thing IPC did was provide Loaded with an opportunity, but it did not contribute to its creative success.

"There was a reluctance to develop it abroad or establish any of the spin-offs they could have done."

The 45-year-old Brown admitted it has been years since he bought a copy of the magazine but remembers its headline-grabbing glory days with fondness.

"It was like history had been re-written and the magazine had been turned into a pop star - it was just endless celebrities and parties."

The sale of Loaded comes amid a complete overhaul of IPC's portfolio, with the focus being placed firmly on its perceived core staple brands with multi-platform possibilities.

Arguably the review comes late in the day for IPC, with other rival consumer publishers having adapted to the new publishing environment earlier.

At its peak in 1998, Loaded consistently averaged monthly circulations of more than 450,000. Last week's ABC figures for the first half of 2010 show a title struggling to maintain 11% of that, with 53,000.ABC circulation: Loaded magazine

Kerin O’Connor, managing director of The Week and former international director at Maxim, said: "Vitality will obviously slay all they can out of it.

"But Loaded's demise is a great shame, men's brands like Loaded don't come around very often.

"Traditional publishers are having to increasingly revert to specialist titles to reach 18-25 year old males.

"[Dennis Publishing's digital men's brand] Monkey is doing very well for us. Its success has been due to it recognising the reality of how young guys want to consume their media in the 21st Century."

In April 2009, O'Connor's infamous boss, Felix Dennis, made the decision to close the print edition of Loaded's one-time fierce rival Maxim.

Talking to Media Week, he noted: "As soon as the weeklies Zoo and Nuts arrived [January 2004], that must sound alarm bells for a monthly.

"Not in the online arena, but for a monthly ink-on-paper magazine this must be a very serious sheet anchor to blue-water sailing."

In addition to Loaded's competition, its editorial focus has dramatically shifted since its inception too.

The cover stars in the early years were more likely to be muscians, footballers or actors, than gratuitous shots of the girl of the day.

Vanessa Clifford, head of press at WPP's Mindshare, said she was not surprised IPC were looking to offload the title, but wonders where it will go from here.

"I'm intrigued as to what someone would do with it," she said. "Loaded is a great brand and one we as an industry are all attached to as it was the original and first of its kind – it spawned a group of titles. Obviously it would be sad if it ceased to exist, but I think as a brand it perhaps has more resonance with us [the media industry] rather than consumers."

The strength of the brand will be put to the test if it leaves the UK's largest consumer magazine publisher.

Dominic McVey, owner of rival lads' mag Front, believes the only reason Loaded is able to get listed in most major retailers - despite its plummeting circulation - was due to the buying power provided by IPC. He warned: "I can't see a smaller publisher being able to do this."

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