DEVIL-MAY-CARE 'MAXIM' WOWS MALE READERS

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Tempers are running high in the increasingly cramped quarters shared by men's magazines.

For many years, three players -- Esquire, GQ and Playboy -- owned the category. In the last decade, Details, Men's Health and Men's Journal proved formidable competitors. More recently, P.O.V and Icon have entered the fray. Then, just last year, Spin founder Bob Guccione Jr. unveiled his long-awaited Gear.

But 1998 definitely belonged to Maxim.

President Stephen Colvin boasted in September that Maxim was poised to take on "old-timers" such as Esquire and GQ as he was announcing a plan to move the rate base to 650,000 by January.

"We came here to fill a void in the market and we have," Mr. Colvin stated at the time.

LEAVES OTHERS IN DUST

Since then, Dennis Publishing's British import has left the others in its dust. In the second half of this year, it will raise its rate base again to 950,000 -- up from 450,000 for the second half of 1998, a 111% increase. Not bad, considering the publication started in April 1997 with an initial circulation of 175,000. Already, Maxim's guaranteed reach beats that of old hands like Hearst Magazines' Esquire, Conde Nast Publications' GQ and Details, and Wenner Media's Men's Journal. (Maxim has a way to go before besting Playboy Enterprises' 3.3 million-circulation Playboy and Rodale Press' 1.6 million-circulation Men's Health.)

Meanwhile, Maxim's advertising picture also is rosy. It claims it carried 625 ad pages in the 10 issues it published last year, getting support from such clients as AT&T Corp., Gap, Sony Corp. of America and Ford Motor Co.

Rival editors, including GQ's Art Cooper, have openly criticized Maxim's T-and-A editorial formula.

At the same time, the more-established titles seem to be following Maxim's lead -- putting scantily clad females on their covers, targeting their editorial product to the basest of male desires. (A recent Esquire cover featured Pamela Anderson Lee wearing men's underwear, and touted that month's lead story, "Breasts!")

CONDE NAST APPROVES

While some may look down their noses at Maxim, apparently Conde Nast likes what the magazine's achieved. Last month, Details brought in Maxim Editor in Chief Mark Golin to replace Michael Caruso. Conde Nast Editorial Director James Truman (a Brit himself) reportedly was bowled-over by Maxim's stellar showing.

Mr. Golin had joined Maxim just a year earlier from Hearst's Cosmopolitan, where he was deputy to Editor in Chief Bonnie Fuller, now at Conde Nast's Glamour.

In other personnel changes, Men's Journal got a new editor in Terry McDonell, former editor of Esquire and Wenner Media's Rolling Stone. At GQ, Jack Laschever moved into the publisher's slot following Richard Beckman's promotion to publisher of Conde Nast's Vogue.

SHAKEOUT EXPECTED

Magazine industry watchers wonder whether the men's market -- like the women's category -- might be getting too crowded.

"We may start to see a shake-out in the category," predicts Roberta Garfinkle, senior VP-print director with McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York. "I never thought the category could well support all those titles."

Last year, most men's titles saw healthy increases in their ad pages over 1997. B.Y.O.B./Freedom's P.O.V. turned in a whopping 70% ad page growth for the year, selling 603 pages, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. GQ gained 11.2% to reach 2,035 pages, and Esquire's page levels soared 35.2% to 807.

Men's Journal scored a 19.6% increase, selling 983 ad pages, while Men's Health

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