Hearst, others look to U.K. yet again, ponder potential of weeklies for men

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How many more ideas can magazine executives in the U.S. steal from their counterparts in the U.K.?

The short answer: many. The latest, brewing at Hearst under the stewardship of former Maxim Editor Keith Blanchard, is a weekly laddie-style title. In the U.K., the near-simultaneous launches of Time Inc.'s (via its British subsidiary IPC) single-entendred Nuts and Emap's Zoo proved instant and massive hits and breathed new life into a monthly-dominated laddie market in which sales had stagnated. In their most recent filings with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Nuts claimed circulation of 275,459 and Zoo claimed 240,215, making them bigger than all U.K. lad books save FHM; bear in mind the population of the U.K. is 58 million, or slightly more than one-fifth of the U.S.

Insiders say that Time Inc.'s top editorial executives, Editor In Chief Norman Pearlstine and Editorial Director John Huey, are high on Nuts as a product, but have been shy-thus far-about diving into launch mode with a U.S. version.


Mr. Huey and Mr. Pearlstine were unavailable for comment, said a spokeswoman in an e-mail. Mr. Blanchard did not return a call.

Among the stranger trends in magazine publishing, which continues to trail the comebacks of other media, are several companies' moves toward publishing weekly magazines expected to sell primarily on newsstands. One can blame Wenner Media's Us Weekly for the never-ending stream of celebrity weeklies. (Two launched last month-TV Guide's Inside TV and American Media's test of Celebrity Living.) But in March, Ad Age reported Hearst would launch Quick & Simple, a women's service weekly, later this year. And now, Mr. Blanchard in the early stages of developing a men's weekly as well. A Hearst spokeswoman declined to comment.

"The question becomes the economics of a weekly," said Peter Gardiner, chief media officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch. Driving on the other side of the road isn't the only thing the British do differently: The U.K. magazine model is heavily dependent on newsstand sales, and, magazine executives say, there are numerous places where the average bloke will pass by in the course of a day where he may pick up a magazine. In the U.S., the typical newsstand appears by a supermarket's cash registers. That real estate is heavily tilted toward women's magazines, in reflection of industry conventional wisdom that young men don't do groceries.

There's also economics. The influx of new weeklies has significantly pushed up the cost of acquiring such prime spots. Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, estimates such prices have tripled since Us Weekly launched in 2000; a full-fledged launch can cost up to $15 million just in terms of securing space. It's true that a newsstand-heavy model offers quick feedback as to whether or not a weekly magazine is succeeding. But, as Mr. Brownridge dryly notes, "you have a very quick indicator-after you pay the $15 million."

It's also uncertain how the British model could be tweaked for America. Soccer is a national obsession in the U.K. and is appropriately obsessively covered in the British men's weeklies. But fans in the U.S. approach sports with an intensely local bias.

One encouraging sign for Hearst: Media buyers aren't saying "no way." "A year or two years ago, I would have said, `No, it's got to be a monthly,"' said Steve Greenberger, Zenith Media's senior VP-director of print. "But a weekly publication may turn out to be a fun [magazine] that men will look for."


A mostly newsstand model lets publishers and advertisers know quickly whether or not the magazine is succeeding. But, as Wenner Media General Manger Kent Brownridge notes, that feedback only comes after a costly launch, up to $15 million.

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