Typically sold solely in their home markets, magazines such as Channel, Paper and Surface have embarked on ambitious attempts to gain national distribution. Several executives of these magazines contend the time is right to translate local popularity to a national audience, much as Interview did in the 1980s.
The expansion is fueled in part by the bustling economy, with its robust ad market. National advertisers now have money to spend in smaller titles that can lend cache to their brands.
"Our marketing strategy has been to develop a younger consumer base," said Meg Lynch, VP-advertising at Louis Vuitton USA. "We're reaching a different audience and it all rubs off-if I'm featured in [an indy] magazine my brand is perceived as being just as hip."
The belief that a magazine's attitude will rub off on advertisers is behind many of the national dreams of smaller titles. Miami-based Channel has developed its brand identity to attract a designer ad collection.
Starting with the September issue featuring actress Brooke Shields on the cover, Channel will expand to newsstands in Los Angeles, New York and other select markets.
A deal with Hearst Distribution Group will double current circulation to 120,000. A separate edition of Channel just for Los Angeles will debut in November, with actress Laura Dern on the cover. Channel Los Angeles is the first of a series of regional magazines planned for the brand, Publisher Richard Bronson said.
Standing above the relative newcomers is 15-year-old Paper, a monthly with New York roots that now distributes more than 64,000 copies nationally.
Paper debuted in 1984 as a b&w double-sided poster that folded into 16 pages. David Hershkovits and Kim Hastreiter, former editors of the Manhattan tabloid The SoHo Weekly News, founded the indy paper in an attempt to capture the undercurrent of fashion, art and attitude that existed in New York beyond the mainstream Manhattan culture.
Sharon Phair, Paper's associate publisher, said her publication has seen dramatic growth in national ad sales, with a 50% volume increase in 1998.
"We get a lot of stuff earlier because we've been around for 15 years," she said.
But that wasn't always the case.
"Since we're the little guy, we have to be out of the box" actively recruiting advertisers, Ms. Phair said. "Many of our advertisers use us to support their marketing in New York and California."
ATTRACTING AN INDY READER
Edgier editorial content and layouts have attracted a special type of indy reader.
For Louis Vuitton, which has advertised in such titles as Paper and Surface, it's proved to be a worthwhile venture, Ms. Lynch said.
"Since pricing is based on circulation, it gives me more liberties with regard to frequency, which means bigger spreads and getting the creme de la creme of the people we market to," she said. "It's a place we're going to stay."
Advertisers have more than just Paper and Channel to choose from these days. In 1996, San Francisco's Surface had a rate base of 30,000; today, the 6-year-old magazine is up to 105,000.
There's also Venus, a feminist fanzine founded in a Michigan State University dorm room five years ago by then-freshman Amy Schroeder. Circulation, which numbered just 500 two years ago, has soared to 15,000, Ms. Schroeder said.
Ms. Schroeder, now Venus' editor, moved to New York earlier this month and plans to begin distributing Venus nationally sometime this fall.
"My goal is to just break even," she said. "Most small businesses don't break even for five years [after going national]. There are some zines that maybe the editors were looking for something fun to do. That's important, but I have a passion."
WON'T BE EASY
It won't be easy, as several of her predecessors can attest.
Ellen Sugarman, president and owner of Big Top Publishing in San Francisco, has seen several magazines under her label fail in the past decade.
Among them was Hot Lava, a provocative counterculture lifestyle magazine that debuted in 1996. Pegged for national distribution, the magazine had an opportunity for a successful launch and a wide readership, but an investor pulled out when it became evident profits were not in immediate view.
"There are so many that fail," Ms. Sugarman said. "There are investors that want