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Regarding Media

Can Boys' Teen Magazine Keep Pace With the Girls'?

September 05, 2000|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MH-18, a new general-interest magazine for teenage boys that recently hit newsstands, claims to be like a big brother--but smarter. That contention may actually be accurate, since not every older sibling knows how to tune a guitar with a telephone, unhook a woman's bra with one hand, make a safe out of a tennis ball and survive a bear attack.

That's just a smidgen of the "tons of useful stuff for teenage guys" that is touted on the cover of this advice-oriented magazine for 13- to 18-year-olds. A spinoff of Men's Health, the highly successful fitness magazine with an average reader age of 36, MH-18 is sprinkled with workout tips and profiles of extreme sports enthusiasts. Its premiere issue includes an informative report on teenage steroid use and an interview with champion pro wrestler the Rock.

It also features romantic advice columns and articles on how to "get the girl" and kiss her "how she wants to be kissed"--presumably so she'll stick around. A beautifully bronzed and perfectly proportioned boy with a six-pack stomach graces the cover of the premiere issue and gives readers a goal to work toward--the perfect body--like a Cosmo for kids with whiskers.

Publishers of teen girl magazines have made a mint with this formula for decades, but will cloning it for the hard-to-reach boy market work the same magic?

"There's nothing out there for teenage guys right now," said Jeff Csatari, editor of the bimonthly, who came to MH-18 from Men's Journal. Young men are interested in three things, he said. "They're looking for information on how to improve their lives--in school, on the basketball team and with girls. And we've got the formula that's going to work."

Lynn Ponton, author of "The Sex Lives of Teenagers" (Dutton), thinks magazines like MH-18 are great tools for kids to learn about sexual etiquette. "Boys and girls are struggling to know what the rules are," she said. "[Teen mags] help them learn about different things that adults don't talk about, one of them being sex."

But she is also concerned that they place too much emphasis on physical beauty and the products that are marketed to help them attain an ideal. "No teen thinks their body's normal," said the psychology professor at UC San Francisco. "It will be important to watch the boys' magazines because the girls' magazines have had such a crucial role in shaping negative body image."

MH-18 is hoping to tap into the market of 12.1 million teenage males in the country, some of whom are currently reading men's publications like Sports Illustrated and Maxim, or niche titles like Stance (a skateboarding magazine with an emphasis on music, girls and gadgets published by Tribune), Big Brother (an L.A. publication for more prankster-oriented skateboarders) and video game mags.

The print run for MH-18's debut issue is 350,000, but Csatari said its growth potential exceeds that of Men's Health. Published by Rodale in Emmaus, Pa., which also puts out Backpacker and Runner's World, Men's Health has a circulation of 1.6 million.

That's well below the 2.4- and 2.2-million circulations of Seventeen and Teen, the two bestselling monthly girl mags. Teen girl titles blossomed in the '50s and have been such a success that there are now dozens to choose from. That trend is likely to continue as the teen population swells, to an estimated 34 million by 2010, according to American Demographics.

Teen People, launched two years ago by Time Inc., has so far been the most successful publication to reach both female and male teens. Roughly 15% of its 1.3 million readers are boys, according to the publisher Anne Zehren. The magazine emphasizes celebrities (recent cover subjects: Eminem and Sarah Michelle Gellar) but also regularly features stories directed at guys and profiles of altruistic young boys.

Whether MH-18 is able to carve out a new niche will soon be seen. It is not, however, the first to attempt it. Boys' Life, published in Texas by the Boy Scouts of America since 1911, has a circulation of 1.3 million, but its readership is unclear because the magazine is a giveaway to club members. With features on how to make a turtle-shaped paperweight and pitch a tent, its editorial slant seems a tad outdated for today's culturally savvy teens.

Boys' Life is a little too "squeaky clean," according to Mark Lewman, who launched the short-lived, sporadically published but influential Dirt magazine with a couple friends in 1990. Like MH-18, The L.A.-based Dirt included a vast instructional section that taught readers how to chest-slide down an escalator railing and jump off buildings into dumpsters.

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