PARIS -- Topless women may be better known for their cancan at the Moulin Rouge, but the French press is embracing the female form for a new generation. The magazine Lui (Him) is hitting the newsstands, reviving the French pin-up of the 1960s. The revampedmagazine is the pet project of editor Frédéric Beigbeder who is targeting male readers by taking a more, well, hipster approach to the press by renewing a decrepit French brand for a new generation.
Popular in the '60s and '70s, the magazine became more akin to Playboy in the '80s after changing hands several times. Julian Millanvoye, an editor at Lui, said that the re-launch was a dream for Beigbeder that came true when the title went up for sale. Together they have redesigned and refocused the monthly for the modern man. During its heyday in the 1960s, however, the magazine was a breath of fresh air, exuding liberty and sexual discovery, something Millanvoye hopes to reestablish."Since we're in a crisis, why not try to redo something that worked and re-launch the old Lui," he said.
With increasing invasion by online media and declining subscriptions, big name magazines are finding it harder and harder to keep their heads away from the guillotine like Plages (ended in 2011 after 33 years), Alimentation (2012 after one issue), or Serge (2012 after two years).
While print media is shrinking, there are hopeful signs that the bloodletting is slowing. In 2012, print sales dropped another 3 percent, a bit less than the 4 percent they fell in 2011, according to a study by the French Ministry of Culture.
Such figures might explain why some editors are daring to launch new endeavors, including big-name titles from media empires like Condé Nast and Lagardère. The French branch of Condé Nast recently unveiled its version of Vanity Fair, while French giant Lagardère has transformed its online medical forum, Doctissimo (think French WebMD), into a print magazine in January. Even media group Marie Claire is hoping to produce a French Harper's Bazaar in the coming months.
Condé Nast general director Xavier Romatet said this sort of diversification is precisely what the market needs. He debuted Vanity Fair this year to an eager market. Hoping to sell around 85,000 copies per month, the magazine should turn a profit around 2016 after a 15 million euro investment. It's the most profitable Condé Nast title, with Italian and German versions firmly implanted, and follows the launch of French versions of existing Conde Nast titles such as GQ, which arrived in 2008, and Glamour, launched in 2005.
The Doctissimo site attracts nine million visitors per month, while the magazine sells around 100,000 copies monthly. According to Valerie Jeanne-Perrier, assistant professor at CELSA, the Sorbonne's journalism institute, this is a way for an otherwise unreliable website to legitimize its brand. Still, the specificity of all of these new magazines remains important in an economic context. "Advertisers can easily find niches here that are the most advantageous for them," she said.
In fact, the Ministry of Culture also reported that more specialized and free newspapers than ever have been available during the past 10 years. Add to this a similar report that almost twice as many new books were printed in 2011 as in 2001, and it's clear that the French aren't concerned about using up paper.
According to history professor at the Sorbonne, Patrick Eveno, magazines like Lui and Vanity Fair are still viable for selling print ads while also translating easily to tablets. Magazines, he said, are more deeply entrenched in the culture than in most Western societies where weekend supplements to major newspapers kept dailies afloat. In France, that wasn't the case in the '60s and '70s, as magazines replaced such supplements. "The French are more used to reading weekly and monthly publications than dailies," Eveno said, "and there are still opportunities out there."
And when it comes to magazines for men, opportunities still abound. Unlike its pornographic predecessor, the new Lui is about luxury and elegance, though it still features nude photos of women. Millanvoye said the caliber of photos would be nothing like before. "Today we are submerged in these kinds of images, so we are offering aestheticized photos that are more sober but more elegant," he said. Millanvoye described the magazine as less macho, ensuring that even women can read and appreciate its focus on elegance and lifestyle.
And this time, Lui has a whole online world to explore -- one already saturated with naked women. But Millanvoye assured that a digital strategy will soon be in place to link the magazine to the web without slapping print content online. "In the second edition, we'll talk about the behind the scenes online, like photo shoots. That's how the connection with the web and magazine should be created," he said.
For Millanvoye and his editors, the magazine's future might be uncertain, but he echoed Eveno's optimism in asserting that print publications are not dead. "We don't look too much at the numbers," he said, "because if we felt the need to bring back the magazine, we're hoping we're not the only ones."
Photos: Bryan Pirolli