Conde Nast hopes for 'Lucky' break with 'Domino'

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"We are not into making projects and sewing doilies," said Deborah Needleman, the editor in chief of Conde Nast Publications' forthcoming shelter launch Domino, while paging past a painless do-it-yourself project in the inaugural issue.

From the looks of it-no, they're not. Domino's aiming at a mass-market slice of the market by applying Lucky-esque (those shopping-friendly pages) and even Us Weekly-esque (those exuberant swooping arrows and chatty asides brightly inscribed onto magazine pages) touches to the shelter category. Judging by previous comments made by Conde Nast CEO Charles H. "Chuck" Townsend, some months ago, it may well be the last shopping title from Conde Nast.

"Our plan is to get to a million [in circulation] within six or seven years," said Publisher Beth Brenner. "I'd like to beat that in four." To do so, Domino will have to claw its way past a host of contenders in the latest rapidly crowding category. How crowded? There's the upmarket (Architectural Digest) and the middle-market (Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s Home); there's the smaller-scaled smart-set (industry-darling indies Dwell and ReadyMade). To name just a few more, there's Country Living, Country Home, Metropolitan Home, Traditional Home, Midwest Living, Budget Living, House Beautiful and House & Garden.

You get the idea. Still, Ms. Brenner and Ms. Needleman see a swelling, underserved sweet spot. "I felt there were all these home magazines," Ms. Needleman said. "All try to be practical, but they were created in another era, or seem slightly like [they're aimed at] my parents' generation." Ms. Brenner points to the data, contrasting the average age of most shelter titles (mid-to-late 40s) to what she says are the growing ranks of young homeowners: "Half of the first-time home-buyers in the country last year were under the age of 35."

FUNKY SHELTER

Domino's claim to its niche appears to have won at least some traction among marketers. "I like the concept. There is nothing else out there like it," said Brenda White, director-print investment, Chicago's Starcom USA, although she said she was curious to see readership data to see how old the reader truly is.

The debut issue, Ms. Brenner said, contains 106 ad pages. It hits newsstands in North Carolina-in time for the High Point home-furnishings show-in mid-April, with a national rollout following later in the month. Domino will publish five issues this year and 10 in '06. A one-time full-color ad page is $36,000. Rate base for the launch issue is 400,000, and around 150,000 copies will hit newsstands.

The layout owes a noticeable debt to Lucky. There's editor's-pick product pages, callouts to objects of "obsession" ("We Went Nuts For ...") and an ineffable funkiness overlaid upon shelter-mag motifs in the way.

Further into the first issue the shelter-title DNA takes over, with photo-heavy pieces on color palettes and tips on how to crack the to-the-trade-only nature of many design products. The most design-geek moment comes via a layout "translating" a model's outfit into a complete look for a room; the influence of its Conde Nast address most keenly felt in a layout showcasing designer-daughter Carolina Herrera Jr.'s apartment.

One aspect to watch, though: discordance in how some media buyers view the title. "I wouldn't think of it as a shelter magazine" buy, said one media buyer who requested anonymity. The reader is "more like the mind-set of someone who's young and looking to spend money."

`"Younger' is putting on it a value judgment I wouldn't make," said Beth Fidoten, senior VP-director of print services, Initiative Media, New York. "Until the research proves it differently, we would look at it [like its] demographics will be similar to other titles in the category."

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