"A young Australian bloke wants a magazine lying around the house that doesn't upset his girlfriend."
David Naylor's simple truth may be the best explanation of the looming demise of the Australian men's magazine.
A veteran editor who served generations of Australian men on their sometimes solitary reading odyssey, Naylor watched them move from barbershop weeklies such as Australasian Post and Pix to the pretensions and soft porn of Playboy and then embrace the hardish porn of Penthouse, People and The Picture, before being force-fed an insipid British variation called the "lad's magazine".
The magazines' five-decade trajectory once saw more than 300,000 Australian men shell out money each week to look at pictures of naked or semi-naked women, read stories about UFOs and sharks or interviews with Erica Jong, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or Steve Jobs.
On Thursday, the latest issue of Zoo Weekly was offering stories about Emma Rose, an "Aussie stunner proves why she was too hot for The Bachelor", and a "shocking pic" of somebody with two right feet.
Audit Bureau of Circulations figures this week showed Zoo Weekly sales had plummeted from 47,000 to 32,000 copies over the past year. Surely the last days of the lad's magazine are near. Indeed, mag porn, both lite and heavy, has become so yesteryear that Zoo's publishers, Bauer Media, no longer bother listing the circulation of other laddish magazines, People and The Picture.
Bauer Media does however proudly list readership figures and claims The Picture internet "engagement" attracts 62 million, but the truth is the porn that was the staple of such magazines is now prevalent on the internet. It is a sort of laptop lap dance that is both free and, being on video, far more visceral.
David Naylor says the magazine genre's other staples, gossip and weird stories, are also instantly available on the internet, by the cubic tonne.
"The old magazines were quite clever and kind of celebrated a kind of Australia that you don't dare acknowledge these days," he says. "Now they're too formulaic and predictable so little wonder they no longer sell. And young Australian blokes were never 'lads' anyway."
When the barbershop weeklies gave ground to the more high-tone porn of Playboy and Penthouse in the 1970s, the Australian versions were edited by journalists with no experience in the skin trade. They included a former chief political correspondent of The Age, John Jost, News Limited elder statesman Mark Day and surf journalist Phil Jarratt.
Peter Olszewski, currently The Phnom Penh Post's Siem Reap bureau chief, edited Australian Playboy in the 1980s and believes the notorious "P magazines – Playboy, Penthouse, People, Picture et al" - were already passé by the time he signed on.
"This was actually before the full onslaught of the internet, and the 'tit mags', as they were also called, simply became unfashionable due to the much-vaunted sexual liberation and change of attitude that came with the changing times," Olszewski says.
"The magazine had already largely become an anachronism and it's true market was drooling US male undergraduates. And somehow in the 1990s when I worked at Playboy I realised what many men my age realised, that the magazine itself was, well, a little dated and daggy. But for me, it was still fun to work for."
Many of the monthly and weekly Australian men's magazines - including Pix, Australasian Post, Everybody's, Playboy, Ralph, FHM - rose and fell as fashion and social mores changed.
For years, Queensland's unique censorship laws kept the men's magazines extraordinarily profitable. Metres south of the Queensland border with NSW, the side streets of Tweed Heads were littered with shops selling pornography that attracted heavy patronage from visiting Queenslanders, mostly male. Some publishers put out special Queensland editions. Jarratt recalls flying to Brisbane to make contrite noises to censors to ensure follow-up issues would not also be banned.
Now writing books and running a surf industry business in Noosa Heads, Jarratt says he sometimes looks at old issues of Playboy and Penthouse that he worked on and can hardly believe his eyes.
"By today's standards, they're both fairly offensive," he says. "At the time, we thought there were lots of good articles."
David Naylor remembers concern at the endless rise in advertisements for video pornography and thinking the magazines risked becoming a turn-off for young men.
Now they are staying away in droves.
Amendment: The Picture was not published until 1989 but Olszewski was talking generally about the decline of the genre which he, and two other editors, said hit its big circulation figures in the 1980s.