Of course, MJ plays on one of the most crowded of periodical playing fields, thanks to Details, Esquire, FHM, GQ, Maxim, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, and dozens of others, including the many subcategories devoted to everything from sports to cars, sex to cigars. The target audience is "active men" with an interest in actually participating in sports and other adventurous activities, not just watching or reading about them.
No doubt all that stiff competition has contributed to the editorial and circulation challenges MJ has faced in recent years. Though Jann Wenner calls himself editor in chief, the New York Mets' bullpen has seen more stability than the editor's office. Yet despite the regime changes, MJ continues to hold its own. In fact, last week it ranked #1 on Amazon's Bestsellers in Magazines list -- and that's overall, not just in the men's sector.
Recent cover subjects have included Jack Nicholson, Lance Armstrong, Woody Harrelson, The Rock, Harrison Ford, and a lengthy tribute to Paul Newman. In other words, it's the men's magazine that does NOT feature beautiful young women on its cover, or even on the inside pages for that matter. Instead, there's valuable information, if you can imagine that.
In fact, there's a lot of really good info in MJ, from how to ecologically refit your house to how to prepare a killer shepherd's pie to how to dive the underwater ship and aircraft graveyard in the Bikini Atoll. And one aspect continually strikes you: This prose is not designed for armchair athletes, or armchair anythings. From the products MJ promotes to the medical advice it dishes out (should skiers strap their poles onto their wrists?), it's all about participation.
So of course the cover of the January issue promises plenty of "Gear, Tech & Toys" -- or "What Men Really Want for the Holidays." In fact, the magazine even has an entire section entitled "Gear," that catchall term that has become ubiquitous in men's periodicals. No less than 10 pages feature such gotta-haves as the "aluminum-and-polycarbonate" Alurunner sled; the Bushnell Backtrack GPS that fits on a keychain; and the Gravity Leather Wine Bottle Holder. As for those not hip to the benefits of polycarbonates, well, Maxim is featuring a lengthy photo spread of Hilary Duff this month.
But it's the "Arts & Culture" section that demonstrates Men's Journal is just that -- aimed at men, not boys over 21, or boys over 30 for that matter. There are lengthy reviews of obscure Western B-movie director Budd Boetticher's new box set and Barry Unsworth's new historical novel "Land of Marvels." And both reviews reference Hemingway, a name that's unlikely to be dropped alongside essays extolling the posterior of the Bond Girl du jour or the latest Xbox 360 accessory, content staples in most "men's" magazines these days.
Other features prove such gravitas is not a fluke, including the following:
MJ may be best known in some circles for its annual special themed issues, including The Best (dining, nightlife, the outdoors, vacation hotspots, etc.); The 50 Best Places to Live; and The Life List ("Things to do Before You Die"). But the mag may just be hiding its editorial light under a bushel. There's damn fine reporting and writing in these pages. Even for those who've never commanded an Alurunner sled.
Published by: Men's Journal LLC/Wenner Media