Overreliance on ad revenue dooms Esquire Japan after 22-year run

by Kakumi Kobayashi

Kyodo News

Japan’s economic slide has dealt a serious blow to a bible for the nation’s wannabe gentlemen, as Esquire Japan Edition, one of the oldest overseas versions of the U.S. lifestyle magazine, has announced it will cease publication in May.

Esquire Japan was first released in April 1987 as a pioneering men’s lifestyle magazine at the height of the asset-inflated bubble economy. Esquire Japan has since printed features for men that current editors say focused on “the art of living,” including ways to enrich intelligence and cultural life as well as enjoy urban nightlife.

At first the magazine mainly covered topics linked to American culture. But since the mid-1990s, subjects grew closer to people’s real lives, covering housing, bars and design. It also tried to boost interest in Japanese literature.

The main problem affecting the 22-year-old magazine, which has a monthly circulation of 60,000, has been a sharp decline in advertising revenue amid the global financial crisis since the collapse last fall of Lehman Brothers Holdings.

Fumihiro Tomonaga, editor in chief of Esquire Japan, was downcast about the end of the magazine’s run but said he hopes the day will come when he will be able to publish a magazine with wider appeal.

The end of Esquire Japan has shocked people connected to the magazine and has also prompted many in the publishing industry to have second thoughts about relying on ad revenue rather than sales.

Veteran magazine editor Kiyoshi Nagasawa, 64, who served as Esquire Japan’s editor in chief in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was earlier involved in publishing the Japanese version of Playboy magazine, said, “We should take advantage of this opportunity to ponder what kind of magazine people really want to read.”

Nagasawa’s view is shared by many in the Japanese magazine industry.

According to a survey by Dentsu Inc., ad spending on magazines in 2008 fell 11.1 percent to ¥407.8 billion from a year earlier, continuing a trend for year-on-year decreases since the start of the decade.

The overall decline in ad revenue has even led traditional magazines to suspend publication since last year, including Playboy and Shufu no Tomo (Housewives’ Friends), a women’s magazine that was published for 91 years. Leading opinion magazines, both conservative and liberal, including Shokun, Gendai and Ronza, have also disappeared.

“Publishers should be more keen to know exactly how much they can earn by selling copies” in bookstores and online, Nagasawa said.

Looking back on Esquire Japan’s history, Tomonaga, 44, said he hopes people will remember that successive editors tried to show readers aged 35 to 40 the ideal model of a “gentleman” who not only dresses neatly but is intelligent.

Tomonaga expressed concern that younger men are less interested in becoming well-rounded. “Communication among them is active but it’s all in their closed networks,” he said.