`OK' flopping or flying, depending on who you ask

By Published on .

In the six weeks since OK invaded America, debating the magazine's health has become the new parlor game of the industry.

Maybe it's the name-OK-which practically begs to be recast as the question: Is OK OK? Or maybe it's the increasingly competitive and terribly crowded celebrity-weekly category that spurs the scrutiny. But whatever the reason, reports here and across the pond have included accounts with headlines like "OK faces Stateside struggle," reporting that the first two issues "are believed" to have sold about 130,000 copies, well under the magazine's guarantee to advertisers of 350,000 paying customers.

The skeptical coverage could affectthe magazine's ability to sell ads. "A press report is a press report, but it's got to be proven," said Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment at MediaVest. "Does it make us more suspicious? Absolutely."

Ad pages have dropped off since the debut. The first issue carried 19; issues five and six each carried 11.

Many advertisers are likely playing wait and see, said Michael Drexler, CEO, Optimedia International U.S. "The reaction has been sort of lukewarm," he said. "People probably want to see exactly how it develops before they make any extended commitments to it."

Advertisers will have a new face pitching them that future. OK Publisher Gabriel "Gaby" Fireman left last week-some say abruptly-his time as publisher having expired after just about three months.

"I was hired for launch," Mr. Firestone said in a phone interview from Europe, describing a three-month contract that had an option to run for a year. OK named his successor, Melanie Danks, group publisher at OK owner Northern & Shell in Britain, on Aug. 19. She starts today.

OK's publishers are not pleased but have tried to put the best face on the negative reports. "It's probably because we're pushing them where it hurts," said Christian Toksvig, CEO of OK in the U.S.

Positive spin

Mr. Toksvig disputed the unattributed sales figures that have emerged in press reports. "The 130,000 figure is a pile of poo," he said. "I would like to know how they know, because we don't know yet exactly how many copies we've sold of the first issue or any issue."

Sales projections are further complicated because OK does not have a track record here, which could be used to extrapolate total sales from fragmentary early information.

Mr. Toksvig did say that indications from Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart and the magazine's own store checks lead him to believe that the magazine is selling "well above" 350,000 copies.

As for the "loss of its first executive," Mr. Toksvig and Mr. Fireman both said that the publisher's short tenure was long-planned.

Some thought they saw signs of an abrupt exit in a trade ad for OK that urges advertisers to call Mr. Fireman, not Mr. Toksvig or Ms. Danks. "Just an oversight," Mr. Toksvig said.

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