Bye bye cover babes: Stuff bids farewell to ‘lad mag’ imagery

Stuff April cover

Stuff April cover

In a victory for common sense, Stuff — one of the world’s largest tech magazine franchises — is ditching the models that have graced its covers since day one and will instead use gadgets (you know, the stuff it actually writes about) to attract readers.

The move, which was first announced by Stuff UK last week, is being matched by its subsidiaries around the globe.

Among those markets is South Africa, where editor and publisher Toby Shapshak called the use of cover models “out-dated” and “no longer in sync with the magazine nor the publishing environment. The magazine itself is more than just about gadgets; while our readership has evolved to include a significant percentage of female readers”.

Stuff UK’s editor-in-chief Will Findlater told The Guardian that the reason the magazine had included cover models in the first place was because it launched at the height of the so-called “lad-mag” era and felt like it had to use them in order to compete in the market.

Over the years however, the complaints about the models have grown consistently. That’s hardly surprising, especially when you consider the magazine’s growing female readership (in the UK, it sits at around 40%).

“Really, the only thing that people have ever consistently complained about to me has been the model, so I’m relieved that’s in the past,” Shapshak says.

While Shapshak expressed fears that “South African consumers have become accustomed to seeing a woman on the front cover and will fail to recognise the magazine on the newsstands”, trials in the UK have suggested the opposite to be true.

There, around 20% of the magazine’s print-run in April, May and June, were given over to “non-girl” covers. Sales of these editions, reports The Guardian, outstripped those of traditional covers.

“While the decision to drop the cover girls from Stuff is based on what our audience have told us through focus groups and cover trials, there is no question that it feels like the right decision to make,” said Stuff publishing director Rachael Prasher. “At the industry level, we see this as a big step forward for men’s lifestyle magazines.”

It’s a pretty simple decision that makes a lot of business sense. Why potentially alienate half your audience, especially in a market in as perilous a state as magazines are. It’s also clear, with the closure of FHM South Africa, that the “lad mag” market isn’t in the best of states and, gender issues aside, no longer makes sense as a business model to follow.

While the decision may not seem all massively significant, it’s important in that it’s one less space where women can be objectified by men in the tech world. Who knows what victories will come next? Maybe a few years down the line, plausible female game characters will no longer be as rare as an honest merchant banker.

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