Is There a Maxim Effect? Men's Magazine Covers "Sexed-Up" for Sales
Jacqueline Lambiase and Tom Reichert
The authors thank Alan Albarran at the University of North Texas; Beth
Clark and Lei Zhang, graduates of the UNT Mayborn Graduate Institute of
Journalism; and Fei Xue, a doctoral student at the University of Alabama,
for their assistance with this project. Jacqueline Lambiase received
support for this study from a research grant at the University of North Texas.
Jacqueline J. Lambiase (Ph.D., University of Texas at Arlington, 1997) is
Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Mayborn Graduate
Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas, and Tom Reichert
(Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1997) is Assistant Professor in the
Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama.
Correspondence should be directed to the first author at the UNT Department
of Journalism, P.O. Box 311460, Denton, TX 76203; 940.565.2205 (office);
940.565.2370 (fax); [log in to unmask]
Is There a Maxim Effect? Men's Magazine Covers "Sexed-Up" for Sales
Since its 1997 American debut, Maxim magazine has featured a scantily
dressed woman on its cover every month and circulation has skyrocketed to
2.6 million readers. The popular press has charged Maxim with changing the
men's magazine landscape, noting that GQ, Esquire, Details, and even
Rolling Stone have hurried to mimic the newcomer. Through cover content
analysis of GQ, Details, Esquire, and Rolling Stone from 1995 through 2000
and of Maxim from 1997 through 2000, this study addresses the perceived
"Maxim effect" to determine what changes other men's magazines made during
Maxim's meteoric rise in circulation. Results reveal that significant
change occurred at these other men's magazines, more subtle than
exclusively using women on covers as Maxim does, but using women more often
and in more sexualized ways.
Is There a Maxim Effect? Men's Magazine Covers "Sexed-Up" for Sales
Anyone who has read one or two issues of Maxim magazine could easily
describe its typical cover: one part image of a vaguely familiar B-list
actress, sexually dressed and posed; and one part text, both sensational
and salacious. This formula has proven to be attention-getting, and not
just for the magazine's 2.6 million subscribers who mostly include the
coveted demographic of men ages 18-34. Dozens of articles have focused on
Maxim as a catalyst for sexualizing the men's magazine landscape, causing
long-time men's lifestyle magazines such as Esquire and GQ (Gentlemen's
Quarterly) to try its recipe for "celebrity plus sex equals more readers."
But has Maxim's success in the United States been accompanied by changes in
existing men's magazines, or is this simply the perception of media pundits?
This project seeks to verify or disprove this perception through content
analysis of men's magazines before and after Maxim, which debuted in spring
1997. In addition to Maxim, covers from Details, Esquire, GQ, and Rolling
Stone are studied from 1995 through 2000. By analyzing all images of women
and men, including their dress, poses and other variables, this study seeks
to trace whether these other magazine's followed Maxim's successful
formula. In addition, this study will add to extremely limited research on
magazine covers and their role in marketing and branding their publications
overall (Johnson, 2002).
Maxim & Men's Magazines
Press coverage of Maxim's quick circulation increases and burgeoning
advertising lineage, even despite a poor economy after 2000, has been
frequent and usually either is admiring or disparaging. Two events at other
men's magazines since Maxim's debut in 1997 have garnered more than the
usual amount of media speculation about Maxim's impact on its competitors.
The first significant event was the reinvention of Details in 2000, after a
failed attempt to refashion itself as a Maxim clone by hiring away Maxim's
own editor. More recently, the hiring of a new editor at Rolling Stone in
summer 2002 garnered widespread press coverage and popular expressions of
angst. Together, these two occurrences triggered much speculation about the
nature of Maxim's influence on the men's magazine oeuvre.
Before either event, however, Maxim had a fast start and stellar
performance in a crowded men's magazine market. After its launch in spring
1997 by U.K.-based Dennis Publishing as an American clone of a successful
British version, Maxim grew to 2.5 million American subscribers by the
second half of 2000, which was more than a 47% increase over the second
half circulation of 1999, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures
(Fine, 2001). Its single copy sales rose 22% for the same time
period. Maxim's increase is especially notable when viewed in comparison
to circulation at that time for the other men's magazine. Each had been
battling to maintain circulations between 400,000 and 900,000 subscribers:
Details (446,000), Esquire (679,000), GQ (899,000), and Rolling Stone (1.25
million), according to the audit bureau (Fine, 2001).
As Maxim attracted attention not only from millions of subscribers, it also
garnered attention from mainstream media. In February 1999, three of the
magazines in this study—Maxim, Details, and Esquire—used scantily dressed
women on their covers, prompting a Newsweek writer to observe that "[m]en's
magazine today practically have to come in a plain brown wrapper" (Turner,
1999, p. 52). Much of the speculation at that time and since has focused on
changes on the covers of Rolling Stone, GQ, Details, and Esquire,
supposedly brought about by Maxim's influence (Bounds, 1999; Germillion,
1997; Handy, 1999; Jacobson, 2002; Mnookin, 2001; Munk, 2001; Sullivan,
2000; Turner, 1999; Walker & Golden, 2001; Warner, 1997). Many of these
articles and others featured sources who discussed the competition among
men's magazines in terms of tension between long-form and short-form
journalism, between content and a form that is visually stimulating
(Jacobson, 2002; Mnookin, 2001; Loeb, 2000; "Thriving market," 2002; Wells,
2002). Almost all of these articles mentioned the idea that sex was selling
Maxim and that other men's magazines were marketing themselves using
sexualized women on their covers and in their content.
When Details first seemed to jump on the Maxim bandwagon, media observers
noticed. One Time analyst wrote:
Now all the fellows are slapping cleavage on their covers—in homage, it
would appear, to Maxim. Whereas Details used to feature the stubbly likes
of Stephen Dorff, the current number is graced by Elizabeth Hurley, touched
up in such an unsubtle way that her breasts fairly leap off the page; it's
as if they were eyeballs in a Tex Avery cartoon, ogling
themselves. (Handy, 1999, p. 75)
AdWeek in 1999 named Maxim's Mark Golin as Magazine Editor of the Year
(Newman, 1999), and that same year Golin became editor-in-chief of Details.
Maxim's official statement about the loss of its editor to Details bragged
"that Maxim's success is driving its competitors to copy it .... Details
has attempted to be a Maxim clone" (Bounds, 1999). Once at Details, Golin
tried Maxim's formula, but lost that job in spring 2000 when Details
changed formats again. In a discussion about Details' transformation from a
Maxim wannabe to a men's fashion magazine in 2000, media observers labeled
Maxim's success as "adolescent hyperactivity that currently dominates
newsstands" (Walker & Golden, 2001, p. SR59). Although Details promised in
early 2001 to provide more substance and "less bare breasts" (Walker &
Golden, 2001, p. SR58), the magazine was criticized later that year for a
cover story on Puff Daddy, who is shown inside with a topless model
The second news-making event occurred in summer 2002, when Rolling Stone
hired a new editor, Ed Needham. He had in 2000 started an American version
of FHM (For Him Magazine), itself a clone of Maxim. Press accounts depicted
the editor change at Rolling Stone as an attempt "to save the aging rock
bible, famed for its long, in-depth articles, from the onslaught of a
brash, new brand of magazine, filled with short articles, bright graphics
and a humorous, 'beer-and-babes' attitude" (Jacobson, 15 July 2002, p. B6).
Yet prior to Needham's arrival, Rolling Stone had often used sexually
charged covers based on the work of photographer Annie Leibovitz and
others, who have convinced music, television, and film stars such as David
Cassidy, John and Yoko Ono, Brooke Shields and Lisa Bonet to appear nude or
nearly nude on its covers. More recently, Rolling Stone's cover in 1999 of
first-timer Britney Spears became the magazine's biggest seller of that
year, with 233,637 copies sold at the newsstand ("The Best and Worst,"
1999), and she has appeared on the cover a half dozen times since then.
Research focusing on magazine covers alone is extremely limited and
isolated within academic disciplines (Johnson, 2002). Historically,
"playful women" were featured on mainstream magazine covers to gain the
attention of upwardly mobile men in the first half of the 20th century,
when play was seen as "sin—whether in the form of alcohol or illicit sex"
(Kitch, 2001, p. 58). A study of covers in the latter part of the 20th
century found that strategies had changed little for mainstream,
middle-class magazines over the century. Of 123 covers on 21 men's and
women's magazines from 1996, 94% of women's magazines featured a thin
female model or celebrity on their covers, with only 3% featuring male
models or celebrities on covers (Malkin et al., 1999). For men's magazines
in this study, women appeared on half the covers and men on 28% of covers,
with the authors concluding that "visual images on both men's and women's
magazine covers tend to portray what women should look like and what men
should look for. There is minimal focus on the male body" (Malkin, Wornian,
& Chrisler, 1999, p. 654).
Another study (Brinkley & Fowler, 2001) reviewed 392 covers of American
women's and men's magazines from 1995-2000, coding for the sexual
explicitness of the cover subject's dress and for words used in cover text.
The study found that covers tended to feature more women than men, that
women dressed more explicitly than men, and that more text messages on
women's magazines focused on self improvement than did text on men's
magazine covers. Overall, these findings match industry views that
fashion-beauty-lifestyle magazines for women in the 1990s competed by
featuring sexy celebrities on their covers and by using more "candid"
language there, and that men's magazines were starting to borrow this same
cover formula (Span, 1998, p. 1D-2D).
Maxim and other "lad mags" such as FHM and Stuff may seem to be descended
most directly from their same-name predecessor publications in the United
Kingdom. An argument could be made, however, that all these so-called "lad
mags" copied their cover formulas from women's fashion-beauty-lifestyle
magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour and perhaps even from soft
pornographic publications such as Playboy, which uses a brown wrapper. One
North American grocery-story chain now uses brown wrappers to cover
Cosmopolitan, which laid down a formula for attracting readers and
attention with sexually suggestive women's bodies on its covers ("Women's
magazines," 2000). That sexy cover models sell magazines is taken for
granted by some in industry circles. Maxim has achieved success because it
has "devoted its covers to B-list female celebs, with an accent on cleavage
and come-hither looks . . . and fashion spreads with lots of buxom models
as set dressing" (Germillion, 1997, p. 28). Indeed, one study that assessed
the effects of sexy cover content (Reichert, in press) found that sexual
attractiveness of the cover model, and the subsequent sexual arousal it
generated, were related to interest in the magazine.
As such, the mantra that "sex sells" seems to carry currency in the current
men's magazine market and beyond. In fact, former Maxim and Details editor
Golin has said he relies on the same formula wherever he works in the
industry, whether at Cosmopolitan, Maxim, or Prevention magazine (M82).
After Golin's firing, new designers for Details said they didn't want "the
guilty—and lusty—pleasure of the lads magazines in general, and Maxim in
particular" (Walker & Golden, 2001, p. SR58). Overall, industry experts
seem to agree that the "cover of any successful magazine is a shrewd
advertisement for what lies inside" (Handy, 1999, p. 75).
In sum, whereas there are few academic studies of magazine covers, industry
experts and the popular press offer clues about the cover's importance to
branding and sales success, especially newsstand sales. Empirical research
on magazine covers, such as this present study, can shed light on shifts
among competitors in how they use covers to brand and to sell their
publications. This study may also point to how magazines respond to
competition in the monopolistic-competitive economic model, in which a
publisher is engaged in producing a magazine that is slightly different
from competing magazines but targeting the same market or demographic.
Based on past magazine-cover research and information gleaned from media
reports about Maxim and its perceived effect on men's magazines, the
following research questions were posed for study of covers of Maxim, GQ,
Esquire, Details, and Rolling Stone. Specifically, this study sought to
determine if, over time (from 1995 through 2000), the covers of these
magazines came to mirror the sexualized Maxim formula characterized by
women displayed in revealing attire and poses.
RQ1: From 1995-2000, the period including Maxim's debut in 1997, did the
covers of men's magazines become similar to Maxim as asserted by the
Further questions were considered to determine the type or degree of
change, if change did occur on non-Maxim covers:
RQ2: Did men's magazine covers follow Maxim's formula before Maxim's debut
(January 1995 to April 1997) compared to after (May 1997 to December 2000)?
RQ3: Are there differences in the way women and men were portrayed on the
covers of men's magazines in terms of pose, body view, attire, and sexual
Sample Selection. All covers of Details, Esquire, GQ, and Rolling Stone
from January 1995 through 2000 were included in the sample (n = 359). All
are published monthly, except for Rolling Stone, which is published every
other week; in Spring/Summer 2000, Details ceased publication for several
months when it changed formats. All issues of Maxim were coded, from spring
1997 through 2000, including joint July/August issues in its first two
years (n = 36). The total sample consisted of 395 covers (N = 395).
These magazines were selected based on their inclusion in popular press
reports about Maxim and based on circulation and gender readership
categories. All were well-established magazines published primarily for men
before the advent of Maxim; Rolling Stone doesn't fit the general interest
category as do the others, and yet it was constantly perceived by the press
as a competitor for Maxim-like readership.
Variables. Variables were selected to represent common elements on Maxim
covers, namely cover models. These variables included gender and number of
cover models, as well as how the models were portrayed (pose, camera shot,
amount and style of clothing, and sexual tone). The coders first noted
whether a cover contained a primary subject or subjects, and coding
continued if a cover featured at least one female or one male subject. The
model or most prominent model was coded as female(s), male(s), heterosexual
couple, many models, or no model. Overall, most covers with people on them
(98%) featured only 1 model (81%).
How the cover models were portrayed was assessed with four variables. Two
variables provided an indication of the model's positioning: pose and body
view. Pose consisted of whether the model was standing, sitting, or
reclining, with a "face only" view coded as standing. Body view represented
how much of the model's body was shown, ordered from "body" shots
(full-body and three-quarter shots) to "head and torso" shots to "face"
shots (head and shoulder, and head shots).
Sexuality was assessed with two variables. One involved dress: the amount
and style of clothing worn by the model. Each female or male cover subject
was classified into one of four categories for dress: demure, suggestive,
partially clad, or nude. This variable was based on work by Soley and Reid
(1988), with demure defined as "everyday dress" such as walking shorts but
not short-shorts or underwear. Suggestive dress was defined as clothing
that partially exposed the upper body, such as muscle shirts or unbuttoned
shirts, and included very short shorts. Cover subjects were considered
partially clad if they were shown in underwear or swim suits. If the
suggestion of nudity was present (a cover subject holds a surfboard in
front of his genitals) or subjects were nude but in silhouette, subjects
were coded as nude.
The last variable required coders to make a subjective judgment about
whether the cover model could be considered by buyers as being "sexy," with
choices of "no," "somewhat," and "yes." Judgment was based on a gestalt
reading of the cover that included dress, eye contact, facial expression,
posture, and other factors. For the purpose of analysis, the categories
"somewhat" and "yes" were combined to indicate the cover model was sexually
Coding Procedure and Reliability. Each issue was coded by two trained,
graduate-student coders, both women, who worked independently. Training
consisted of providing each coder with the content categories and of
practice sessions using and discussing the categories. After coding, all
discrepancies were discussed by the coders until agreement was reached.
Intercoder agreement showed acceptable reliabilities for all of the
variables coded in the covers: gender of cover person (.97), number of
persons on the cover (.99), pose (.92), body view (.86), dress (.88), and
sexual tone (.71).
The first research question (RQ1) sought to assess the men's magazine cover
landscape before and after Maxim's debut in 1997. This analysis included
all magazines in the study (Details, Esquire, GQ, Maxim, and Rolling Stone)
with only female(s) or male(s) on the cover (91% of all covers). Overall,
there were several significant changes (all tests were chi-square with
alpha level set at .05). For one, there was a relationship between
cover-model gender and year, ?2 (5, N=361) = 20.87, p<.001, F=.24. Over
time, women were more likely to appear on magazine covers than men (see
Table 1). For example, men occupied 75% of covers in 1996 compared to only
44% in 2000.
[Insert Table 1 about here]
Second, there was no change between cover-models' pose and time, ?2 (10,
N=361) = 15.83, p>.10, F=.21. For example, there was no change in the
proportion of models shown sitting, reclining, or standing from 1995 to
2000. There were, however, significant relationships between time and how
the models were portrayed (body view, clothing, sexual tone). The view of
the model was significantly related to year, ?2 (10, N=361) = 45.36,
p<.001, F=.35: Covers emphasizing "body" and "head and torso" shots
increased from 70% in 1995 to 94% in 2000. Similarly, cover models were
more likely to be sexually dressed over time, ?2 (15, N=361) = 43.89,
p<.001, F=.35, with 32% appearing suggestively dressed, partially-clad, or
nude in 1995 compared to 67% in 2000. Last, cover models were more likely
to be portrayed sexually over time, ?2 (5, N=361) = 33.03, p<.001, F=.30.
The second research question (RQ2) sought to more closely examine the
nature of magazine covers before and after Maxim's debut (see Table
2). This was done by removing Maxim covers from the analysis. Details,
Esquire, GQ, and Rolling Stone issues published through April 1997 (Before)
were compared to issues published from May 1997 through 2000 (After).
Overall, the findings were similar to those for RQ1: Women were more likely
to appear on covers after Maxim's debut, ?2 (1, N=325) = 9.39, p<.01,
F=.17; there was no change in cover-models' pose, ?2 (2, N=325) = 1.0,
p>.05; but there were significant relationships for how much of the
cover-person's body was revealed, ?2 (2, N=325) = 7.11, p<.05, F=.15;
clothing worn by cover models, ?2 (3, N=325) = 12.20, p<.01, F=.19; and
sexual portrayal, ?2 (1, N=325) = 12.69, p<.001, F=.20. The findings
suggest that after Maxim was published women were more likely to appear on
covers, and that more of their body was shown, they wore less clothing, and
they were portrayed sexually.
[Insert Table 2 about here]
The remaining research question (RQ3) sought to more closely assess
portrayal differences between women and men who appeared on men's magazine
covers (excluding Maxim). Despite no differences in the two previous
analyses, cover-model pose was significant between women and men, ?2 (2,
N=325) = 14.97, p<.001, F=.22. Thirty-one percent of women were shown
sitting or reclining compared to 14% of men. Similarly, most women were
shown in "head and torso" or "full body" shots than men, ?2 (2, N=325) =
49.83, p<.001, F=.39. The analysis revealed that 96% of women were shot in
this way compared to 64% of men. Even more significant, women were much
more likely to be dressed sexually (93%) than men (16%), ?2 (3, N=325) =
185.29, p<.001, F=.76. Last, there was a significant relationship between
sexual portrayal and gender, ?2 (1, N=325) = 177.58, p<.001, F=.74. Again,
close to 96% of women were shot in a sexual manner compared to 20% of men.
These findings and their implications are discussed in more detail in the
A primary purpose of this study was to assess changes in the covers of
men's magazines and Rolling Stone from 1995 through 2000. Overall, we found
several striking differences. The first research question (RQ1) sought to
determine if the magazines examined in this study adopted the Maxim cover
formula by featuring women in sexually constructed ways (pose, body view,
clothing, and sexual tone). The results suggest that overall, the formula
was steadily adopted over time. In an almost perfect upward trend, images
of women on covers increased from 25% to 56% from 1995 to 2000 (see Table
1). Demure dress for all cover subjects on all magazines dropped from 68%
to 33% during those years, and emphasis on the body of cover subjects
increased. Body shots increased from 46% to 69% over the five-year period,
and head shots decreased from 30% to 6%. Because this analysis included
Maxim, there is some bias in the direction of change. At the very least,
however, this analysis provides an overview of the shift in positioning of
men's magazines as a whole in a monopolistic-competitive environment, in
which each magazine is vying for a similar audience while trying to brand
itself as slightly different and better than its competitors. An
examination of non-Maxim covers provides, perhaps, a less-biased
perspective from which to answer the remaining research questions.
The second research question (RQ2) sought to determine if there was a
difference between the covers of Details, Esquire, GQ, and Rolling Stone
"before" and "after" Maxim's debut. Results suggest that—similar to the
results for RQ1—these magazines adopted a Maxim-style format, at least in
terms of sexually constructed cover persons (see Table 2). For example,
women were much more likely to appear on magazine covers before Maxim's
introduction (28%) than after (45%). Although "pose" was similar both
before and after—most persons were shown standing—body view, lack of
clothing, and sexual tone increased after Maxim's debut. For instance, 32%
of covers contained "headshots" beforehand, compared to only 19% afterward.
Perhaps in association with the use of women on covers, the four magazines
used more sex-tinged images overall, since coders responded to the images
as being sexy 37% of the time before Maxim and 57% of the time after.
A closer look at gender differences was illuminated by the third research
question (RQ3) which sought to distinguish the nature of portrayal between
women and men on covers. The analysis revealed several striking
differences. In the overall sample of the four magazines, 84% of men who
appeared on the covers were dressed demurely, with only 7% of women dressed
demurely. In essence, 54% of women on covers were partially-clad (37%;
bikinis, lingerie) or nude (17%) in the style of Maxim itself. It is
important to reiterate that during the study period, not one Maxim cover
featured a demurely dressed woman. In addition, not only were women wearing
less than men, but their bodies were emphasized more than men's bodies:
Across the 1995-2000 time span for the four magazines, just 4% of female
cover subjects were emphasized for their faces or head, with the remaining
96% of depictions of women's head and torso or body. For men, the highest
view category was head, with 36% of all depictions. Body shots for men
accounted for 30% and head and torso for 33% of all depictions for the four
magazines. Given the nature of these findings, it is not surprising that
almost all women on these magazine covers (96%) were sexy compared to men
Taken as a whole, these findings are consistent with related research. For
example, Brinkley and Fowler's (2001) analysis of men's and women's
magazine covers in the latter half of the 1990s also revealed that more
women appear on covers than men, and that women are dressed more
explicitly. This pattern was certainly evident in the present research. Our
findings are somewhat inconsistent with those of a study that examined 1996
covers (Malkin et al., 1999). In that study, women were present in half of
men's magazine covers, with men appearing 28% of covers. In our 1996
sample, two-thirds of covers featured only men (see Table 1). The
discrepancy could be explained by sample selection. In the present
research, leading men's general-interest magazines were selected in
addition to Rolling Stone. Our findings were similar, however, in that when
males appeared on covers, there was minimal focus on the bodies compared to
Implications. Overall, the study provides a window for viewing changes at
competing magazines when a new competitor not only enters the market, but
also is seen as dominating that market. In several press accounts about
Maxim's success, the editors of Esquire, GQ, Details, and Rolling Stone
deny they are trying to be like Maxim (Jacobson, 2002; Walker & Golden,
2001). Yet Details' hiring of a Maxim editor and Rolling Stone's hiring of
an FHM editor belie this stance. In fact, Details' failure as a Maxim clone
demonstrates that adopting the cover and editorial formula of a more
successful competitor isn't easy. In the 1980s, a People magazine managing
editor created the cover formula of "young is better than old; pretty is
better than ugly; rich is better than poor," yet he now says these rules
may not apply because "the newsstand has become too complicated and
saturated with personalities" (Hagan, 2002). This more complex environment
is also recognized by those who have worked closely with the Maxim. When
former editor Golin was asked about dropping circulations in the U.K. and
his future predictions for similar U.S. publications, he responded, "I
think it's going to get to the point where the word sex or sexiest on a
cover makes your eyes glaze over" ("The joy of sex," March 6, 2000, p. M82).
A close analysis of circulation figures and reader responses may contain
lessons on the result of adopting a competitor's cover formula. Of the
magazines included in this study, none experienced significant circulation
growth except Maxim, though their covers adopted the Maxim formula. In the
case of Details, a magazine that radically embraced Maxim's look,
publishers temporarily ceased publication in the face of rapid circulation
declines. It could be that established readers objected to the change and
cancelled while new readers, lured by provocative covers, were disappointed
by the lack of corresponding content (e.g., layouts, pictorials, sex
advice). On the other hand, Maxim clones such as FHM and Stuff—magazines
replete with pictorials and sex-tinged editorial content—experienced rapid
circulation gains (Fine, 2001). One lesson for magazine positioning may be
that publishers cannot use covers inconsistent with a magazine's
established identity and expect to compete with a new magazine true to that
The rise in macho culture may also explain Maxim's success and its
competitors' changing strategies. Even though a GQ art director once
criticized Maxim as serving "men who not only move their lips but drool
when they read" (Foege, 2002), Maxim has relished its macho status as a
"safe place for guys to be guys" (Blanchard, March 1998, p. 14). Joining
Maxim in the macho culture trend are television shows such as "The Man
Show," sports talk radio that resembles locker-room conversation, as well
as movies and music ("Macho culture," 2000). Men's magazine covers simply
may be one effect of macho culture's reach and influence, but Maxim's
publisher objects to charges that the magazine appeals to "the lower common
denominator. I say we aim for the largest. We're trying to create
entertainment value. Make it short. Make it funny" (Germillion, 1997, p.
28). Golin says the magazine is "like your best buddy that your wife or
girlfriends hates. But she can't actually scream at a magazine, so you're
safe" (Newman, 1999, p. 46). It's important to remember, however, that this
"funny" and "safe" environment also works to construct and constrict its
audience, that "[m]edia industries and patriarchal differentiations work
hand in hand to keep gender in line" (Steinman, 1992, p. 203). Part of the
cultural work performed by Maxim's covers and similar publications is the
hardening of categories, the sanctioning of the male/female binary as true
Limitations and Directions for Future Research. The purpose of this study
was not to demonstrate that Maxim was a causal factor in changes occurring
at four other men's magazines. Indeed, that task is impossible since
complex economic factors, cultural trends, and editorial personalities join
together to affect any single magazine's purpose and branding strategy.
Instead, this study sought to trace changes at Details, Esquire, GQ, and
Rolling Stone during the rise of Maxim, which surely can be said to have
exerted some influence in editorial decisions made in the men's magazine
market from 1997 to 2000, however ambiguous and indirect. Although many
popular magazines in that market were analyzed, this study obviously didn't
include all of them, and so results may be generalized only to those
magazines in the study. Furthermore, the sexual tone of a cover was a
subjective judgment by coders, unlike the other categories used in this
content analysis. Although this judgment was based on a gestalt reading,
some interpretation was necessary.
Future research might include a correlation analysis of men's magazine
covers and newsstand sales, to help provide a link between editorial
decisions about covers and the results of those decisions. A future
qualitative study could connect the cover strategies used by Playboy
magazine in its heyday with Maxim's more recent strategy, with the aim of
discerning similarities and differences in their approaches and audiences.
Comparison and contrast studies could also be conducted between men's and
women's magazines and the ways they may influence each other. Another study
could survey long-time readers of established men's magazines and their
observations and opinions about changes.
When a competitor storms a well-established men's magazine market, changes
occur and the popular press takes notice—especially when the changes are
salacious. In the case of Maxim's debut and spectacular increase in
circulation, speculation ran high that the "lad mag" had transformed the
market. This study confirms that while changes did occur, these were
different from the "cloning" claims made by observers, more subtle than
simply copying the formula, but profound nonetheless. The results of this
study show that, as a whole, men's magazine covers became more sexualized
from 1995 to 2000. Much of the sexual nature can be attributed to the
increased presence of women on covers, from 25% in 1995 to 56% in 2000,
women whose bodies were invariably characterized by revealing poses and
clothing. Overall, this study found that basic format changes on covers of
Maxim's competitors occurred after that magazine's debut and success.
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Magazine Covers: Men's Magazines and Rolling Stone 1995-2000
Head & Torso
Note: Magazines include Details, Esquire, GQ, Maxim, and Rolling Stone.
Only covers with females or males were included in the Table (N = 361; 91%
of all covers).
*Chi-square, p < .001
Magazine Covers: Men's Magazines and Rolling Stone (Excluding Maxim)
Head & Torso
Note: Magazines include Details, Esquire, GQ, and Rolling Stone (Maxim was
excluded). Only covers with females or males were included in the Table (N