New music mag 'Blender' looks to cross genre lines

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Dennis Publishing this spring will launch a music magazine, Blender, and Dennis President Steve Colvin knows just what kind of cover subjects will make it fly off the newsstand.

"They're all going to be dead," Mr. Colvin joked, "and they all will have died in dire circumstances."

Newsstands later this year will get 400,000 copies of a music magazine that borrows its title from a briefly published Dennis CD-ROM product. Editor Andy Pemberton, formerly of Emap's European music magazine Q, and Publisher Malcolm Campbell, formerly of Spin, promise coverage of diverse mainstream artists from Radiohead to Sean "Puffy" Combs-and, unlike what Blender perceives as its main competitors, Spin and Wenner Media's Rolling Stone, little non-musical content.

Four Blenders are set to appear this year, with plans next year to go every other month and ultimately 10 times a year or monthly.

Ad side observers are guarded about Blender's prospects. In a highly fragmented music world, said Melissa Pordy, director of print at Zenith Media, New York, fans seek "really niche-specific [vehicles] to talk to them"-which is not the approach that the genre-blurring Blender promises.

Blender is plunging into a slowing category. Through November, according to Publishers Information Bureau, Spin's ad pages were up 3.7%, Source's were up 2.9%, Vibe's pages were down 0.5%, and Rolling Stone's were down 5.1%; at a time when the average magazine in that period posted a gain of 11.4%. (Vibe, Spin and Rolling Stone lost cigarette ads from Philip Morris USA in the last quarter of '00, but those titles had previously trailed industry performance.)

"It was sort of a down year for the music category," said Bob Miller, CEO of Spin's parent company Miller Publishing. "I don't think that is going to get any worse in 2001. On the other hand, I don't know that's going to dramatically turn around either."

Meanwhile Emap USA, which brought over its British lad's book FHM to compete with Maxim last year, has discussed launching an American version of Q, and has been a reported suitor of Spin and its urban sibling Vibe. (Mr. Miller and Spin President John Rollins declined comment on any sale prospects.)

"The men's and entertainment categories here are very exciting," said Tom Maloney, Emap's CEO. "Whether we go the Arena route"-remaking that title into a more upscale men's title-"the acquisition route, or the local launch route, we haven't decided."

Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, said Blender "will be taken seriously," but insisted that a magazine putting the art-pop likes of Radiohead on the cover-as Blender would like to-was not a direct competitor to Rolling Stone.

Mr. Pemberton said Blender will be "much more about servicing the reader" with "brilliant album reviews." Some leading American music magazines, he contends, only have "five to seven" reviews-which isn't true of Rolling Stone or Spin. He also promised a "playful" approach.

An extensive Web presence, Mr. Colvin said, may account for 15% of Blender's costs, though he was mum on the launch budget. A onetime full-color full-page ad will cost $18,750 in the launch issue; no rate base guarantee has been set.

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