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HEALTHCARE FUELS MAGAZINE GROWTH MAINSTREAM ADVERTISERS LATCHING ON IN NUMBERS

By Published on .

The gay and lesbian magazine world, which saw a realm of new lifestyle titles last year, now appears to be filling in the niches with health-related titles, including POZ and the soon-to-launch AIDS Digest.

And as mainstream beverage, liquor, fashion and travel advertisers continue to move onto the pages of gay/lesbian publications, the category has even drawn the attention of media giant Time Warner.

The company is now mulling a proposal for a new high-end lifestyle magazine in the gay arena, to be called Tribe. A Time Warner spokesperson says no decisions have been made as yet.

But success isn't an overnight sensation, as the new owner of The Advocate, the oldest gay title in the country, can attest.

"The media have portrayed the gay and lesbian market as something that has exploded on the scene," says Sam Watters, president of Los Angeles-based Liberations Publications, Advocate's parent. "Realistically, we are only at the begining of something."

"Sometimes it can take a year or two before an advertiser will put his foot in the water," he says. "It's an education process."

Still, Mr. Watters says he's encouraged that the 26-year-old Advocate has gone from being "the only kid on the block to one of several" in the last three years.

The two latest entries aren't lifestyle driven such as Ten Percent or Genre, new magazines that launched in the last few years; nor are they business, news or politics driven in the same vein as The Advocate or Detour Publishing's Victory, the first national gay business publication.

Both POZ and the coming AIDS Digest are oriented around the healthcare concerns of the 1 million people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed as HIV-positive.

Can a magazine dedicated to a topic with no cure succeed? Mr. Watters has his doubts.

"You have to ask if people who are HIV-positive want to read about a topic that is so grim," he says.

Sean Strub, founder and publisher of POZ, responds: "If Mr. Watters thinks it's grim, it's because he hasn't read POZ. We're trying to change the way that people look at AIDS.

"The message that has been sent is that if you're HIV-positive it's time to start shutting things down. But I've been HIV-positive for 15 years," he says. "In that time, I've run for Congress, written a book and successfully produced a play. POZ is about life; it's about what people are doing."

These publications follow in the footsteps of Art & Understanding, an international art and literary journal devoted to the subject of AIDS that made its debut in 1991. Published as a non-profit with paid advertising, it's distributed by subscription and through bookstores.

David Waggoner, editor and founder of the publication, says it will be distributed at the International Conference on AIDS, sponsored this year by Japan and being held in Yokohama City.

Mr. Waggoner says he hopes to sign American Suzuki Motor Corp. to advertise in that issue.

POZ debuted in March with an April/May issue and sold out all 30,000 newsstand copies. (About 70,000 free copies were sent out on a controlled circulation basis.)

The press run for the second issue, due out this week, has been upped from 100,000 to 150,000 and POZ has just inked a distribution deal with a bookstore chain.

Advertisers in the second issue include Benetton and Perrier.

"Advertising has been slower than we expected," says Mr. Strub, "but newsstand sales have been terrific."

AIDS Digest is still in the planning stage, but it's attracting some heavyweight talent to its creation.

Magazine consultant Doug Johnston is the publications director for the magazine, due as a quarterly within a year. Lloyd Ziff, who recently redesigned Travel & Leisure, is the art director. Editor in Chief Steven Petrow's resume includes a stint as a reporter at Life, a senior editor at Longevity and most recently a contributing editor at Fitness.

"We want to be the one place where people turn to get info," says Mr. Petrow. "We're going to cover everything from science and medicine to politics and policy to ethics and the arts."

He says about 75% of each issue will be drawn from previously published articles, including those on the new on-line service AIDSNet.

The first issue is expected to solicit corporate sponsorship and circulation is set at 100,000, according to Mr. Johnston, who will seek limited display ads. So far, New York real estate investor Barry Levine has provided much of the seed money.

POZ and AIDS Digest expect to have a large gay readership but insist their aim is to span the entire HIV-positive population.

There's another trait that distinguishes these newest titles from other consumer books; the biggest hope of POZ and AIDS Digest is that they'll one day have a reason to go out of business.

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