Last month, two events occurred, which are seemingly unconnected but I believe could herald a significant change to how naturism is looked upon by naturists and non-naturists alike, and both relate to the venerable magazine, H&E Naturist.
The first event concerns the redesign of the magazine itself, instigated by its editor, Sam Hawcroft; it is however, not without controversy. Sam writes in her editorial for the January edition: “We are currently trialling a different approach to the photographs in H&E, and I appreciate it may sound mad – even offensive to some – for a naturist magazine not to have fully nude pictures in it….” What heresy is this? I hear you say. For as long as many of us remember, certainly since the 1960s the magazine has been in the forefront of naturism in the general public’s mind because of its decision to run photographs of men and women completely nude. They were – and still are – barred from doing so on the front cover by the Obscene Publications Act of various dates, but inside it was a different matter entirely. Curious schoolboys would pull down a copy from their local newsagents’ shelves for their first look at a naked woman; strangely no one seems to think that curious schoolgirls would do the same to cast their eyes on a naked man? Before that fateful decision, the pictures would be much more circumspect, as illustrated by the look back into the archives feature in last month’s issue. People wore bikinis or swimwear, or had their pubic areas airbrushed out. At the time, it was considered in naturist circles to be dishonest, if the naked body was not offensive in reality why should a picture of one be otherwise?
It is perhaps remarkable to think that it was as long ago as 1997 that the retail arm of WH Smith and Sons decided to remove four of the leading soft-porn magazines from their shelves, because they claimed, they simply weren’t selling. Ruth Corbett, the then editor of For Women magazine (one of those removed) told The Independent, that this decision ‘will not put much of a dent in sales’ quoted to be around 60,000 copies per month.
Another casualty of this decision was, of course, H&E selling far fewer copies.
However, despite the decision to remove the soft porn magazines from their high street stores, they were not removed from the 100 or so concessions WH Smith ran in railway stations and airports. Nor did its wholesale arm stop distributing roughly 80 similar titles to the 26,000 independent retailers it supplied at the time. Hypocrites cried the pornographers and anti-porn lobbyists at the same time.
Another blow to H&E’s circulation happened a year earlier. Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, a long time clean-up campaigner assisted a newsagent in her constituency to challenge the policy of wholesalers, like Smith’s, who insisted that newsagents took whatever magazines they supplied, even if they preferred not to. Following the successful campaign newsagents could opt out of stocking pornographic magazines, which because of its unashamed nudity included H&E.
By the time WH Smith retail had taken its decision to stop carrying soft porn magazines, H&E had another competitor, the lad-mag. In the UK market at least, these did not even carry pictures of naked or topless women but still appealed to its intended market with short articles and pictures of women who were scantily clad or with obviously naked breasts covered. Although the latest circulation figures released in August 2011 by ABC has shown a fall in circulation for the lad-mag, we are still talking over 200,000 copies per month for Men’s Health and just over 54,000 per week for Zoo, just to give the two examples.
The other event also appeared in last month’s issue of H&E Naturist, the first look at the results from the Ipsos-Mori survey commissioned by British Naturism. I won’t recant the results in detail, you can read them yourselves, but according to this latest survey six per cent of the population, or 3.7 million people, call themselves either a naturist or nudist. If that is so then there must be a considerable market for H&E Naturist to tap into, not to mention British Naturism and the Naturist Action Group. It is accessing that market that is the problem.
It is perhaps ironic that by going back to an earlier era and sanitizing the pictures that appear within its pages, H&E Naturist is actually securing its future. Sam Hawcroft in her editorial added, “Our friends across the pond, NUSA SUN, reach a large nudist community in Florida – and, more to the point, a wide range of advertisers – precisely because of this [sanitized] approach.” As much as we like to talk about circulation that is only half the story, for it is advertising that contributes to the bulk of a magazine’s income but what brings the advertisers are readers. To succeed in the future it must access the 3.7 million people calling themselves nudist or naturist or whatever and the most efficient way to do that with a printed product is the local magazine seller. If that means using circumspect pictures in the magazine then I believe they are right to do so. True, the market they are entering is crowded and difficult, and they still need to tell people that they are there. It won’t be easy, by any means, but when has anything that has been worth doing ever been.
I wish Sam and everyone at H&E Naturist good luck for the challenges ahead and I hope very much that they succeed.