We Bought Our First And Last Issue Of ‘Zoo Weekly’ Just To Give It The Finger
(So you didn't have to).
With its bold messages, dogged self-assurance, and uncanny ability to stick around despite the sincere wishes of all those around it, Zoo Weekly has truly been the Lynx Africa of the publishing world.
And this week, after announcing the magazine’s closure due to a catastrophic loss of readership, the editors have gone out in truly predictable style: dousing us with a full can, smugly smirking, and running into oblivion muttering about being big boys who nail hot chicks and sink tinnies score Xbox motocross footy guns tits.
This is the cover of the final issue, which hit shelves across the nation yesterday:
While this kind of stunt wouldn’t usually be worth paying attention to — it’s the same mag who ran a very dignified bikini-clad cover on Anzac Day, a Photoshopped picture of Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s face on a bikini-clad body (for which they were forced to apologise), and a competition to find “Australia’s hottest asylum seeker” — the knowledge that it is in fact the last outburst you’ll have to put up with lends it a strange kind of beauty.
For all its supposed confidence and strength, this is actually the perfect picture of failure.
RIP Lads Mags
Last year, when I spoke to Zoo Weekly‘s Australian publisher Brendon Hill, he insisted his magazine was on the up — an enduring platform that continued to resonate with “typical Aussie blokes”. “The Zoo Weekly brand is at record levels for brand interactions across its multiple platform,” he said. “It delivered more than 5.3 million brand interactions in the month of December 2013 across Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, website, tablet, oh and the print version.”
That hint of snark at the end was directed at the suggestion that the publication was in trouble. The 18 months prior to that interview had seen the magazine’s circulation drop by 34.87 percent, and when he finally called it quits this year the figures showed a further dip of at least another 30. But, that’s not entirely on Zoo. This is something which has plagued lad mags across the board.
In the past few years, similar titles like Ralph and FHM have called it quits in Australia, and the damage elsewhere has even led UK publications like The Telegraph and The Independent to decree the death of the genre altogether. Traditionally dependent on the sweaty loose change found in 14-year-old boys gym shorts, most lads mags haven’t found a way to compete in a digital market where kids can get bro jokes and boobs for free — but there are also a bunch of other factors at play. One being: shame.
Over the past few years especially, boycotts, campaigns, and changing social values have morphed the public perception of Zoo from cheeky larrikinism to potentially harmful idiocy. Calling the magazine out for its contribution to rape culture, a recent petition calling for a boycott from Australian supermarkets gained more than 38,000 signatures. Coles have since withdrawn the title and, though they claim the decision was sales-related, former FHM editor John Bastick claims this problem with public perception is equally as important.
“Zoo had innumerable opportunities to re-position itself in the market but for some reason it just got smuttier,” he told Media Watch last night. “It seemed to be a victim of a lack of planning. They were unable to get out of the sleazy, smutty thing and I’d say a lot of readers became embarrassed to be seen with it. Men’s magazines need coolness, cachet. Zoo didn’t have that.”
Alternatively, this is something market leader Playboy have done incredibly well. After suffering from similarly catastrophic drops in circulation and online readers, they decided to stop posting full nudity online. Their web traffic jumped from four million users per month to around 16, and started reaching a much younger demographic.
Today, they’ve decided to further that policy to the magazine itself. Though it will still definitely very much be full of near-naked women, Chief Content Officer Cory Jones told The New York Times the pictures will be “PG-13 and less produced”. Adopting a “cleaner, more modern style” and employing a “sex-positive female” to act as sex columnist, it’s all intended to downplay the porn (which their audience can get for free online), and foreground quality content.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Jones said. “12-year-old me is very disappointed in current me. But it’s the right thing to do.”
In distinct contrast to this, the editorial and artistic team at Zoo — who are legitimately named Shayne, Gav, Gavin, Nick, Jo, Tony — decided to throw a temper tantrum and paste a fuck you on their cover, because apparently this is all the fault of “the prudes”.
“[The cover is for] all the shouty killjoys who’ve spent years telling us — and you — that we’re horrible people because we like beautiful women and taking the piss out of just about anything,” Shayne wrote in a scathing editorial. “I started as editor in January 2013, and as you read this, I feel like the Tony Abbott of magazine publishing: a bloke who got a top job and fucked it up before so much as three years had gone by … Enjoy the last read, then have a beer for us. Make that 10 beers.”
Turns out you’ll really need them.
The rest of the edition includes the team lovingly recounting the time they offended Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly by asking if they’d “titty-bang Rosie O’Donnell for a case of beer”, reeling off all their most offensive jokes in a full spread (“Why do women wear make-up and perfume?” “Because they’re ugly and they stink.”), and boasting about the time they set a new world record of “lasting just 0.54 of a second” while donating sperm for a story.
Though they remain resolute in their fight against the #haters — “to all those fun-hating folks with a stick up their arse who thought we were a worse influence than meth, get yourselves a life” — they did also have a few apologies. One was for all the women whose photo-shoots never made it to print; another was to a model who was sent to the emergency department after drinking with them; and one was for that time they accidentally put a transgender woman on the cover. In that apology, they call her a “shim”.