Broaden your Scope

Neil Bierbaum

SCOPE is to become a general interest men’s magazine minus the girlie photographs—entering a domain so far occupied exclusively by the small but growing men’s lifestyle magazine Directions (formerly bigblue).

A major repositioning of Scope is expected following a decision by the board of Republican Press to stop trying to compete with the more hard-core publications emanating from the Hustler stable.

Scope has suffered a fall in circulation from a high last year of 169 052 for July-December 94 to 102 697 for the first six months of this year. According to an internal proposal which is not final but an “evolutionary working document”, the aim is to “shed the image of a sensationalist fortnightly flesh magazine and to turn the title into an upbeat publication for discerning South African males who do not need a regular dose of mammaries and/or female genitalia to make it through the week”.

The target market of the repositioned magazine is given as “A, B and aspirational C-income earners between 24 and 45. The initial target circulation is 80 000 and is expected to rise to 120 000 after one year.”

The reasons the document gives for the change, written in the inimitable style of editor David Mullany, are that “it is time for the magazine to grow up ...
and to address itself not merely to schoolboys and middle-aged voyeurs, but to the as-yet untapped body of discerning South African males who are desperate for something decent to read”.

The document acknowledges that this would appeal to a relatively small portion of the South African male population, at the “upper” end, but stresses that with the right marketing procedures and content the potential readership could “attract significant numbers of readers from the middle orders as well”.

It states that “because of years of international ostracism, social and cultural stagnation and the particular nature of the South African male psyche, the great bulk of the male reading market still tends to inhabit the lower, unsophisticated end of the spectrum.”

The document points out that existing male magazines in South Africa account for “little more than 350 000 regular purchasers a month—a mere fraction of the market potential”. Playboy and Penthouse “have failed dismally to live up to their full editorial potential and remain steadfastly irrelevant to the typical South African reader”.

It acknowledges that Scope carries “such a weight of negative perception that it would probably take a R50- million advertising campaign to alter the dogged boobs n bums image.

The proposed solution is to change the editorial mix to one covering women (from an editorial rather than pictorial viewpoint), sex (ditto), sport, fashion, adventure, travel, music and movies, and technology and gadgets. It would avoid starving street urchins and Bosnian refugee scenes, rather taking a “feel good” approach.

Although Mullany’s document fails to acknowledge it, there is one South African general interest men’s magazine that does not use naked women as a selling point: Directions. Since its reformulation two years ago from an aquasport magazine, this glossy title, with barely any marketing support, increased its circulation from 8 800 to 18 131 for July-December 1994. This growth proves that the title has been insulated from the vicissitudes that Scope and the other less virulent flesh magazines have suffered at the hands of harder-core titles.

Advertising revenue for bigblue/Directions’Directions has increased by 140 percent in that time and the last three issues have all exceeded 120 pages.

Directions publisher Andrew Honey says that the name change became necessary when research revealed a dichotomy between the editorial focus and the connotations implied by the original name. Research showed that 80 percent of people who did not know of the magazine associated the title with a watersports and the other 20 percent thought it was a porn publication. The title Directions, he feels, gives the feeling of “fashions, trends, of a number of options for the reader”.

“We have pioneered the field for other titles to come in,” says Honey. He believes that it is only in the last year or two that South African men have become aware of their grooming and have shed their shorts and slops without fearing that it is a foppish thing to do.

Honey feels that the “girlie magazines are facing the dilemma of losing advertisers if they become more hard- core or losing readers if they take a softer line”. Clearly the Republican Press directors realise that unless they are as hard core as Hustler there’s no alternative but to shed the “skinpix” completely.

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