The great lad-mag cover-up

According to Media Guardian [free registration required], Tesco will move lad-mags such as Zoo and Nuts towards the top shelf, and position them in such a way that their covers are obscured. The move is because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between some lad-mags and pornographic magazines, and Tesco says it’s in response to customer complaints.

It’s an interesting development: Tesco isn’t censoring the magazines at all, but by changing their position on the newsstands and placing them in such a way that only the title of the magazine is visible, they could damage the magazines’ sales. Magazine covers are a key sales tactic, so much so that a duff cover can seriously damage the sales of that particular issue; the whole point of a cover is to jump out at you from the shelf and shout “buy me!”. Tesco is effectively saying to the publishers of these magazines, “if you want your titles to look like porn, we’ll treat them like porn.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether Tesco applies the same tactic to some of the more sexually oriented “grown up” men’s magazine covers, or whether it stops selling (or at least, stops displaying) the downmarket tabloids whose covers are just as sexual as the lad-mags.





0 responses to “The great lad-mag cover-up”

  1. gusto

    OK, it’s not censoring the magazines, but it is exerting some control over the covers now — it’s effectively saying to publishers “if you want your mags displayed with the full cover showing (and therefore to sell more) your covers have to fit our criteria.” The next step is demanding pre-approval of covers before even agreeing to carry the title.

  2. I agree, but it’s hardly wal-mart, is it? The lad-mag covers have been pushing it for a while, IMO.

  3. > The next step is demanding pre-approval of covers before even agreeing to carry the title.

    Slippery-slope arguments are usually nonsense, this one included. I don’t think for one minute that Tesco could be bothered, frankly. They’d have to hire a team to check numerous magazine covers pretty much constantly. Even if they did, it still wouldn’t be censorship, of course.

  4. gusto

    The idea of pre-approving covers was raised not so long ago, the argument being that shelf space is at a premium and retailers should have some say in the design of the covers so they weren’t left with shelf space that was underperforming.

    I’m not saying that it’s censorship, or that a retailer isn’t within their rights to decide what they want to stock, just that it’s a bit of a shift in power toward the retailer.

  5. gusto

    Oops – should have made clear: I’m not talking specifically about Tesco in the above post.

  6. Gusto’s right on this one – it’s something that supermarkets have certainly mooted, although I’m not sure offhand which ones. To be honest, though, I’m more worried about the possible changes to the national mag distribution setup. That’s really scary.

    I do think in the case of the lad-mags, though, they’ve brought it upon themselves. I sincerely hope their idiocy doesn’t spoil it for everyone else.

  7. gusto

    >I do think in the case of the lad-mags, though, they’ve brought it upon themselves.

    The upshot could be that editors are forced to think of more creative ways to sell their mags than to stick a pic of some semi-naked c-list celeb on the front. Or maybe not :)

  8. >a bit of a shift in power toward the retailer

    Didn’t think there was room to shift any more there: I mean, once you start charging for premium shelfspace and carry own brands with absolute impunity, realistically how much more power is there available?

  9. Blurb for discussion on Radio Scotland’s Twelve 2 Two today:

    MSPs in Scotland are calling for tougher legislation on lads’ mags. As part of the the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill they want to ban the sale of magazines and papers that publish indecent or titillating picture of 16 and 17 year old girls in Scotland.

    Should young women be allowed to pose topless at 16?

  10. Leaving aside the anti-porn arguments, if they’re over the age of consent then it’s not really the govt’s business, is it?

  11. Rob D

    I think its great. Gary’s hit the nail on the head when he says the covers have been pushing it. Even I snigger when i see whats on the covers from week to week it does take the mick. Honestly girls…us blokes arent really heartless, sex obsessed pigs. We do actually care about women a whole lot more than these mags make out we do. Im more likely to buy a magazine with a football star on the front or a juicy footy story to be honest. Seeing naked girls constantly can get boring you know unless its your girlfriend of course. Morally it defo aint right though so it can only be a good thing.

  12. I do think when you stop being single, you become embarrassed by the covers – even of more “grown up” mags. There’s definitely an element of not wanting people (particularly your partner) to think you’re a complete mouth-breather.

  13. Rob D

    Seriously though i do think women put up with a lot. If i saw pictures of blokes naked together everytime I went shopping I think i would puke there and then! I’d certainly not be comfortable with it. Peace out people.

  14. Just got an email. Doesn’t appear to be spam or malicious or anything. Not form anyone I know.

    No they should definately not be posing topless at 16!!! People can do what they want, i know its a free country, but sadly if young girls do pose topless, men and boys will always be perving over them its as simple as that!! So how do you stop the pervs… by taking away their toys…. BAN PAGE 3 COMPLETELY!! Morals still exist dont they?!?

    Miss B

  15. Hmmm, i’m not convinced. There are two arguments here: the general anti-exploitation of women argument, and the age argument. In the latter case if we have an age of consent, then I don’t see what effect an arbitrary, higher minimum age for titillating photos will have.

    In the case of “pervs”, Page 3 et al are a very small part of a much bigger problem: the overt sexualisation of young women, particularly teenage (underage) girls. I doubt banning page 3 would lessen the impact of all the other stuff.

  16. sara

    I am tired of trying to avert my childrens eyes from these magazine covers, which are, lets face it becomming increasingly violent and sado masochistic. It is not simply that these images are innocently sexy anymore, they are becomming more aggressive more humiliating and more demeaning. These magazine publishers are pushing it, greedily, with no regard for anything else but their profits, retailers are not responsibly positioning them. These magazines will cause a huge rethink into censorship codes if left to keep churning this stuff out, so I suggect if you value your freedom of choice you campaign to adopt some regulation of these magazines before all magazines come under a hard blanket of legislation, and your choice is taken away from you.

  17. Claire

    What is it about men and their obsession with these magazines and porn?! Ive been out with quite a few blokes in my time and out of 9 blokes that ive dated only one didnt have porn in his house or his room and do you know what..that was the biggest turn on ever!!! Im now still with him and have been for three years. Blokes who buy mags like these are obviously very sad and lonely, BUT if they didnt buy these mags they wouldnt be…trust me… im a women!!!

  18. sara

    I agree claire, men who use porn are such a turn off. seedy and slimy. It is sad to think that these men dont realise they would get real girls and some real sex if they ditched the smut.

  19. Jess Taylor

    Well said girls! Porn destroys lovelives! If our men do own porn then we clearly arent enough for them. Once i threatened a boyfriend that if he didnt get rid of his big busted babes id get some big dick dishes mags in… that seemed to do the trick! Cool website!

  20. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  21. Well, judging by the “readers’ girlfriends… in thongs!” pics on the cover, some seem to be doing alright…

    To settle the issue, I think we need some pics of Claire, sara and Jess Taylor.

  22. Thanks for an interesting post Gary.

    I’m currently heading a campaign to get ALL magazines which include explicit content wrapped in these ‘Modesty Covers’. It’s been an eye-opening process so far, inasmuch as seeing the response to such covers. It seems to be quite split overall, with few big stores making such a bold statement.

    Personally, I’ve been fighting with my local Co-Operative since 2008 about this issue, and they seem very reluctant to do anything about it.For the past year or so they are now even completely ignoring emails that I send to them. I guess, in a sense, this is what started the campaign off to begin with.

    Going forward, it will be interesting to see what other stores follow suit, if any…and what message this will give to the publishers of the Lads Mags.

  23. Gary

    Hi Mike, it’s nice to hear from you.

    It’s an interesting one – since I wrote this post I’ve become the father of a girl, so I’m even more appalled than I was then. Good luck with the campaign.

  24. Thanks for the quick reply!

    I guess, in a sense, I’ve become a very reluctant campaigner on the issue. If you feel like browsing, I have a Facebook Page set up:, I have an e-petition running:, and I’m pushing the hashtag #makemodestywrapslaw on Twitter.

    If you felt happy to do so, perhaps you could bounce these links around people you know…all interest would be appreciated!

    Thanks again Gary.