In November 2004, a new women’s magazine was launched. It may have passed you by, such was the nature of its content. ‘Scarlet’ used the tagline, “For women who get it”. If you’re thinking, “Never heard of it,” you weren’t alone. Unfortunately, Scarlet went into administration earlier this year.
To be blunt, Scarlet was a magazine about sex. Well, “sex and lifestyle.” If your lifestyle happens to mean having lots of sex I suppose. It claimed to empower women to lead healthier sex lives through “frank informative features that talk to the readers the way women talk to each other when men aren’t around.” I’ve never been one for discussing my sex life with friends, not very Sex & The City of me I know, but I know plenty of women who do. In which case, its demise begs the question: What went wrong?
Are women just not ready for a magazine that is so blatant? Are the majority of women just not confident enough to buy a copy along with their groceries, or are we happy to read about sex only if it’s dressed up within the safe and glossy confines of the pages of Cosmo?
I bought a copy of Scarlet last year. Not in a seedy back street of Soho, but in my local WH Smith. Smith’s were one of only a handful of distributors of this niche magazine and if I’m honest, I didn’t think it was that good. It had Jordan on the front cover for a start – they couldn’t have picked a more clichéd ‘sexy celebrity’ – and I found a lot of the editorial somewhat trite.
But I loved the concept! It wasn’t a top shelf magazine. It didn’t look like just another ‘dirty mag.’ Scarlet was saying it’s OK for women to be interested in sex, to be open about enjoying it, to want to learn more. You could buy a copy alongside your envelopes, pencil case and Chunky Kit-Kat!
It vowed not to be clichéd (picture of Jordan aside.) They promised not to mention that dirtiest word of all – ‘diet’ and said they would be anything but Heat-esque in their approach. Unfortunately, their desire to be different didn’t stretch to using different body shapes for their models. One step at a time I suppose.
But Scarlet had a major problem that ultimately led to its downfall. Distribution. Most newsagents were nervous of circulating a magazine that was so ‘in-your-face’ about sex. Interesting, considering the copious amounts of ‘lads mags’ that seem to occupy half the shelves. Was there really such a big difference between Scarlet and Loaded?
Inside the magazine was a sealed section called ‘Cliterature.’ Not a fan of the pun-tastic title, but the erotic fiction was always great. I admit to dabbling in writing my own erotic fiction in the past (guilty secret alert!) and so I was keen to see if it hit the spot! Interestingly, Wikipedia’s comment about this feature was that, “Scarlet was attempting to promote safe sex through eroticising condom use.” Doesn’t sound very sexy to me! Come to think of it, I don’t even remember condoms being mentioned but perhaps that means the Scarlet writers did their job well!
But the stories were the best part of the magazine. The writers had attempted to at least create some type of storyline, instead of Mr X slammed his Y in Mrs Z. I can’t get all graphic on you but I’m sure you get my point. I had been looking for a middle ground between Mills and Boon and Ben Dover. Scarlet got closer to that than anyone else I’ve found.
The Editors were trying to create an intelligent magazine and, in this day and age, to continue to produce a magazine for six years, however small the distribution, was a coup in itself.
The UK especially, is awash with indistinguishable magazines that dabble with the premise of women’s sexuality in the 21st Century, but they often fall short. Scarlet offered something different and its failure doesn’t necessarily mean women didn’t/don’t want that type of magazine. Moreover, perhaps it is just symptomatic of the hardships small, independent magazine face, now more than ever.
I still believe there is a place in the market for a magazine like Scarlet. But would anyone be brave enough to take the challenge on again?