Highly targeted interests drive magazine growth

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Escalating competition and segmentation among magazines for gays and lesbians are putting pressure on well-established titles and making long-term success tougher for start-ups.

The success of specific Web sites has only upped the ante, leaving gay and lesbian magazines no choice but to develop their own sites, enter into content-sharing deals with other sites or risk being swallowed by cash-rich dot-coms.

"The biggest growth in the gay magazine sector is from magazines targeting groups with special interests within the entire gay marketplace, and their success is cutting into the bottom lines of more general-focused gay magazines," says Todd Evans, president-CEO of Westfield, N.J.-based Rivendell Marketing Co., a gay media rep company currently representing 237 gay and lesbian magazines and newspapers.

DOUBLE-DIGIT GAIN

Mr. Evans says Rivendell research shows total spending in gay print media reached more than $155 million last year, a 29% increase from 1998.

But the fact remains that while specialized titles, such as Instinct, which takes a semi-risque, humorous approach to the gay male lifestyle, and Hero, which focuses on gay men in relationships, are growing, total ad spending in the gay print category is not increasing, say media buyers.

"We're not seeing more dollars spent by advertisers to reach gays and lesbians," says Dan Binder, VP-director of investment at Leo Group's Starcom Worldwide, Chicago. "Fragmentation continues to be a big theme in the gay print sector, like elsewhere in print."

The steep competition in the category has not deterred many publishers from launching new magazines or expanding their publishing schedules this year, however.

For instance, Hero will publish its first-ever wedding guide for gay men in August, which "is expected to be a sellout," says Paul Horne, Hero's editorial director.

The magazine has an advertising and content-sharing partnership with the online gay Web site Gay.com, which he says has helped boost its circulation. Hero's advertisers include such mainstream advertisers as United Airlines, Merck & Co., Prudential Securities and Kraft Foods.

Also, Empire, a free New York area glossy magazine targeting upscale gay men, launched this spring. Based on its positive reception, Empire expects to become a quarterly, says Matthew Bank, publisher of Two Queens, which has produced the free weekly New York newspaper HX since 1991.

Instinct, unaudited so far, is printing 60,000 copies each month, and advertising revenues have increased more than 25% over last year, says Publisher J.R. Pratts, who launched the magazine in late 1997 in Studio City, Calif.

"Everyone told us there was no room for more magazines, but we found a niche by being a little more fun, more risque. We're the Maxim of gay men's magazines," he says. Instinct will visit 23 cities this summer in a grass-roots subscription promotion, he adds.

Another newcomer is Alternative Family, an Oak Park, Ill.-based magazine that targets gay and lesbian parents and claims a 75% female readership. The unaudited magazine, which publishes every other month, refuses all alcohol and tobacco ads. Advertisers include Subaru of America; Mitchell Gold, a New York-based furniture company; and Working Assets Long Distance, says Publisher Paul Obis. The magazine claims 12,000 subscribers.

ATTRACTIVE DEMO

"There are between 2 [million] and 5 million gay parents in the U.S., and this number is expected to grow," Mr. Obis says. "Household income of readers is $92,000, which should be a sought-after market for advertisers."

Advertisers, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Co., AT&T Corp., Subaru and Olivia Travel, continue to be pillars for national gay magazines, while dot-com companies advertising gay-targeted Web sites are a growing ad category along with technology and men's fashion.

U.S. automotive advertisers, including General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., continue to be elusive for most national gay magazines.

"You'd think that women don't buy cars in America to talk to some of the U.S. car manufacturers," says Heather Findlay, publisher of one of the nation's two leading lesbian-targeted magazines -- Girlfriends, a San Francisco-based monthly. "Gay women are just as successful and loyal as gay men, but many advertisers have been slow to recognize their power."

FORMERLY CALLED `DENEUVE'

Advertising revenue at crosstown rival Curve (known as Deneuve until a lawsuit forced a name change in 1996) increased 18% last year, says Publisher Frances Stevens, citing "alcohol, travel and gay Web sites" as the biggest advertisers for the eight-times-a-year magazine. She says the magazine, which is unaudited, prints 75,000 copies with each press run.

"We see a lot of potential for more advertising and circulation as our brand becomes more widely known because we offer a tremendous value for advertisers and readers," Ms. Stevens says.

While gay magazines have mushroomed, several titles have folded over the last couple of years. Examples include B1G2, a monthly for gay African-Americans; the national monthly gay men's magazine Alex; San Francisco's gay men's entertainment-scene magazine Cream Puff, and HX for Her, Two Queens' attempt to create a free weekly for lesbians. The newspaper failed due to lack of interest from advertisers, despite a passionate following among readers, Mr. Bank says.

The fact that many of the newer gay magazines aren't audited rankles existing, audited publications. "A lot of these smaller magazines and start-ups don't really have the numbers they claim," says Doug Shingleton, associate publisher of New York-based Genre, a monthly launched in 1991 with a circulation of 43,713, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

GAY WEB SITES

Despite the fact that gay-targeted Web sites are indirectly creating more competition by vying for advertisers' gay media dollars, the growth of gay Web sites are proving to be a good thing for gay magazines, say publishers.

Most gay magazine publishers have established their own Web sites that serve as thriving channels for driving subscriptions and offering alternative content.

Earlier this year, PlanetOut acquired The Advocate and Out. Now, the ad sales forces of Advocate, with a circulation of 88,000 and a political and issue focus, and Out, with a circulation of 115,000 and an emphasis on lifestyle and travel, are approaching advertisers as "a consolidated force, rather than going up against each other," says Joe Landry, publisher of both magazines.

Ms. Findlay says she has received offers by more than one dot-com company to acquire Girlfriends, which claims an unaudited circulation of 32,000. The company prefers to remain independent, she says.

Similarly, Mr. Horne and his partner, Hero Publisher Sam Francis, say gay media companies have indicated they might want to acquire Hero, but the executives want "to remain independent for now.

"PlanetOut now owns the two largest gay magazines, and everyone's wondering if they're all going to cross-pollinate until they become a singular voice," Mr. Horne says. "It will be interesting to watch how [Out and Advocate] reinvent themselves under new management."

Free local and regional publications are thriving in many markets, partly due to support from national advertisers such as Miller and RJR.

In an effort to increase advertiser reach, 85,000-circ MetroSource, a New York-based quarterly distributed free in that city, last fall launched a $4.95 national version.

`QSF' EXPANDS

One example of the boom in regional publications is QSF, which started in 1995 as a San Francisco-based listings monthly. In the last year, the magazine has moved into gay bookstores in New York, Miami and Chicago. Publisher Don Tuthill attributes the magazine's success to high-quality content that interests people outside its home area.

The magazine's experience also suggests there is room for success for dual-gender gay magazines, since QSF provides a wide array of entertainment options. "We have about 23% women among our readers, and we think there's a lot of room to grow with them with a single product," Mr. Tuthill says.

This fall QSF plans to launch a travel magazine called Passport, and its Web site (qsanfrancisco.com) is thriving as an annex for more "perishable content," such as film and entertainment reviews, he says.

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