Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Online breaks down the boundaries

By Kate Bulkley

The Guardian

Monday February 12, 2007

The three-month-old, online-only lads weekly Monkey has surprised a lot of people in its short life, not least its editor-in-chief.

The free, 46-page e-zine that's taking on IPC's Nuts and Emap's Zoo, has already produced some startling numbers. According to sources, there are now over one million openings (or viewings) of the weekly online magazine each month; more than 16,000 per issue in ad revenue in the first nine issues; and, perhaps most stunning of all, 4,000 new readers signing up every day.

But editor-in-chief Ben Raworth was most surprised by Monkey's readers: 60% are from the ABC1 demographic group, with an average age of 27. Almost two-thirds are homeowners who appreciate a huge range of subjects rather than just "girls and gadgets".

"I was there at the beginning of the lads mag thing and it was exciting," says Raworth, who worked at both FHM and Loaded before joining Monkey owner Dennis Publishing as head of new product development in April last year.

"We'd put features on Hunter S Thompson into a big mix with pictures of girls and cars. Monkey feels more like that - a bit more eclectic in its tastes. We thought our readers were going to be 16-year-old schoolboys or city boys, but they are somewhere in the middle."

Among Raworth's surprises was that Monkey readers spend an average of 45 minutes with the e-zine and they read at home more than in the office.

"We can't get away with 30 pages of Michele Marsh. That's boring," he explains. "And because Monkey's online, we're competing with stuff that's right in front of them, from YouTube and lots of other places. We starting asking for user-generated content and the in-box is off the hook. We need someone to manage it!"

For Dennis Publishing, the e-zine is part of a new media push that started last year and will see the launch of at least two more e-zines by this year's end, as well as more websites and mobile applications. And it's a push that has already found favour with Dennis's feisty owner Felix Dennis because, according to Raworth, Monkey is the first Dennis title to hit its launch target ahead of schedule. But there are plenty of naysayers about e-zines and even about Monkey, and the loudest seem to be from large publishing rivals.

"The only reason Dennis launched Monkey is that they couldn't afford to launch a print weekly," says Neil Robinson, IPC Digital director. "The fact is they couldn't play and that's not really a way of tackling the market. I doubt that Monkey will be the thing that overtakes Nuts and Zoo." Robinson believes in a big online future for publishers but that the "magazine-y" feel and the idea of "pushing content" to readers "just doesn't work in a pull-environment like the web."

For Raworth, though, there are plenty of reasons why his new product is racing ahead. The e-zine format challenges traditional magazine design ideas and it is starting to work well with advertisers.

"Readers are beginning to perceive good ads as editorial," says Raworth. "So if it's a bloody good movie trailer, it works like editorial. The ads don't have to be intrusive like banner ads are on the web. They kind of blend in, and at 300 dpi it is a very rich place to put ads."

Monkey's five-strong editorial team produces 46 pages a week with only five pages of advertising. The e-zine format means the pages actually turn on-screen, and using the computer mouse you can zoom in on a particular picture. But the big difference is that the barrier between what is editorial and what is advertising is negligible.

"E-zines are changing the way we do editorial," Raworth adds. "I can think differently about headlines because I can make them pop up or make sound come out of them. In six months' time, what you see on the screen on Monkey will be completely different to what you see now. It's the nature of being on the web."


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