The magazine industry, marketers and even culture watchers will be paying close attention this week as Conde Nast Publications bows Cargo, its shopping mag for men. They hope the magazine's fate will reveal whether there really is an avid audience of males as willing to read about shoes and grooming products as the women who've flocked to Cargo's sibling title Lucky.
"As a product, it looks good," said Steve Greenberger, senior VP-director of print, Zenith Media, New York. "I just want to know who it appeals to. I'd like to know more about those guys."
To succeed, Cargo has to find a midpoint between the shopping-averse guy's-guys and consummate clothes-shoppers. Michael Vadino, a 33-year-old art director in Manhattan who lands squarely in the latter camp, expressed disinterest with Cargo's modus operandi: "The whole point of my shopping is to find it before it's in a magazine."
"It's for a man who's already engaged [in shopping] but has questions and would like some sort of guidance," said Ariel Foxman, Cargo's 30-year-old editor, as he prepared to leaf through Cargo's debut issue for a visitor. Mr. Foxman, urban-cool in a zip-up sweater and jeans, side-stepped demographically defining his reader, although Publisher Alan Katz described him as "a guy, 25 to 45, who has money in his pocket and likes to buy things."
Cargo shares one key attribute with Lucky: Its execution of a tightly-defined concept is outstanding. Other than that, there's little common ground between the two. Cargo one-ups Lucky's stickers to flag must-have items by including a page of wallet-ready perforated cards with tips about featured items.
"A lot of other magazines, when they do shopping, they show everything out there," said Mr. Foxman, who said part of his job was "to narrow down your choices."
The contents of the first issue skew about 50% fashion and grooming, said Mr. Katz, but the magazine puts a sporty Lotus Elise on the cover and features an eight-page spread on digital video cameras. At best, the magazine deftly strikes a self-aware and self-mocking note exemplified by its front-of-the-book "Honey, Does This _____ Look Gay?"
"That's a real anxiety guys have," Mr. Foxman said, musing over this month's comparison of embroidered shirts, one of which is tagged "way gay."
Elsewhere the debut issue test-drives aged rums, a product that purports to stop beard growth, body-hair trimming services, and Tablet PCs. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" designer Thom Filicia remakes a living room, and Carter Oosterhouse from "Trading Spaces" weighs in on his favorite handyman tools. It also nods to the product-obsessives by telling readers where to get some toys not yet available in the U.S.
The debut issue of Cargo will run 97 ad pages in a 210-page issue. A one-time full-color ad page is $34,500. The initial rate base, the guaranteed circulation to advertisers, is 300,000, and Cargo will publish six times in 2004. It hits newsstands on March 5 in New York and Los Angeles, and nationally March 9.
But its performance will depend on how a broader men's audience, especially outside New York and Los Angeles, reacts to a new kind of magazine.
"It does sound interesting," said Michael Schneider, an Austin-based 27-year-old product marketing manager, who'd not heard of Cargo. "I'd probably thumb through it. I wouldn't know, just by hearing the concept, whether I'd buy it or take it home."
"Plain and simple: No," said Kevin Leech, a 33-year-old marketing manager in Vermont, when asked if he'd pick up Cargo. Asked why, Mr. Leech said, "Things are not quite as important up here."