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Gary Younge
Wal-Mart drops racy lads' mags

America's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, has dropped three bestselling lad magazines, Maxim, FHM and Stuff, because the words are too racy and the pictures too bawdy.

The company, which has been criticised by Christian groups in the past for some of the magazines it stocks, said it had decided to ban these three "after listening to our customers and associates."

"They write to us or contact us and tell us what they think and we listen," a spokeswoman said yesterday. "A number of them said they were uncomfortable with these products."

She refused to say what, in particular, makes them uncomfortable or how many had complained.

The company, which has special versions of albums made and covers redrawn to fit its moral code, dominates the market.

Dennis Publishing USA, which owns Maxim and Stuff, shrugged off the decision, saying Wal-Mart sold less than 3% of total news-stand sales.

"Like a lot of categories of magazines, we have our ups and downs with Wal-Mart, depending on what is in the issue," its president, Stephen Colvin, told the New York Times.

Wal-Mart's British subsidiary Asda will not follow suit. A spokesman said the three titles were among its biggest selling magazines.

"We will continue to sell them. They are our top selling men's magazines.

"Wal-Mart based their decision on customer feedback but, as far as we are concerned, our customers are happy with the content.

"Clearly we do not merchandise them next to children's magazines and they are sold in plastic wrappers. But they are very popular with our customers".

Last year Wal-Mart refused to stock an issue of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit special because it took exception to one photograph.

"Maybe they think Tyra Banks should have been wearing pink instead of black," Mr Colvin said.

"I don't think that these decisions are often rational ... For any men's magazine to put a woman on the cover seems a bit troubling to them."

One mutual funds management company, which will not invest in businesses "involved in practices contrary to Judeo-Christian principles", has been pressing Wal-Mart to remove women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour from the checkout line.

Arthur Ally, president of Timothy Plan, whose goal is "to recapture traditional values", said magazines like Maxim and FHM were even worse.

"It is soft-core pornography," he said. "It's very addictive and leads to harder stuff."

Mr Colvin's apparent indifference to the ban masks the fact that Wal-Mart's moral decisions matter, because it is such a giant among American retailers.

With 1.3 million workers, it is the world's biggest private employer, and the top seller in the US of DVDs, groceries, jewellery and photo processing.

With a computer network which rivals the Pentagon's, and contributing as much as 25% of US productivity gains in 1995-99, it wields an influence in the American economy not seen since Standard Oil in the 19th century.

Its arrival in any small town usually signals the end of all smaller outlets.

This, a spokeswoman for the most popular civil liberties advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union, said, imposed particular responsibilities on the company.

"It has literally the same practical effect in many communities as outright government censorship," Nadine Strossen, the ACLU president, said.

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