Wal-Mart has taken the controversial step of banning three men’s magazines from its US stores because customers disapprove of their content.

The titles in question all originate from the libidinous British Isles: Maxim and Stuff (both owned by Dennis Publishing USA), and FHM (published by UK group Emap). All three ‘lads’ mags’ contain racy material and pictures of women in various states of undress – but all three take care not to be classed as technically pornographic.

Wal-Mart, which has in the past been criticised by Christian groups for the magazines it sells, revealed the decision to remove the titles from its stands was made after “listening to our customers and associates … on at least one of those magazines, they weren't pleased with the offering.”

The supermarket giant has grown into the nation’s largest retailer of magazines, accounting for around 15% of all single-copy sales. Some publishing executives fear such a position will effectively make Wal-Mart America’s arbiter of taste.

Indeed, the firm has taken similar steps before, having stopped sales of CDs bearing parental advisory labels about explicit lyrics.

The banning of FHM is a blow to Emap, which had been hoping to use the title as a bridgehead for fresh expansion in the US market [WAMN: 07-Apr-03].

The publisher argues there are double standards at work. “FHM never publishes full frontal nudity and never will,” it declared. “[It] is far more consistent in its adherence to this policy than Details, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and many women's fashion magazine's, which publish bare breasts under the guise of art.”

Dennis seemed less concerned, arguing that Wal-Mart accounts for under 3% of newsstand sales.

Meanwhile, the Magazine Publishers of America decided to sit firmly on the fence. “The MPA believes in the right to freely disseminate legally protected material,” the trade group declared. “It also believes that, in this free society, consumers should have the freedom to decide for themselves what they want to purchase. The MPA is aware that some parties may not be comfortable with this position, and respect their right to disagree.”

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff