Nike runs into mag publishing

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In an effort to radically expand the reach of an already ubiquitous brand, Nike is taking a further leap into custom publishing with a new title beginning this month called Much Respect.

Much Respect, from John Brown Publishing, a specialist based in London with offices in New York and San Francisco, will appear twice a year and will be available in Nike Town stores and by mail subscription, according to Andrew Hirsch, John Brown's CEO. The editor is Ekow Eshun, who is former editor of the popular British magazine Arena. Mr. Eshun also edits Hot Air, a custom-published travel magazine for Virgin Air published by John Brown, which also created Space for Ikea and Taste for Williams-Sonoma.

Although the cost of the custom title wasn't disclosed, Mr. Hirsch said by way of example that a "decent" quarterly magazine with about a 250,000 print run will set an advertiser back $2.5 million-about the cost of producing one Nike commercial.

Much Respect's primary purpose will be to promote brand Jordan. The first issue features articles about athletes and is generously larded with beauty shots of sneakers. "Much Respect" is also the title of a brand Jordan TV spot. "The magazine is aimed at young urban males," said Mr. Hirsch. "That is the brand Jordan customer."

This isn't Nike's first move into custom publishing, which the Magazine Publishers of America estimates at a $1.5 billion industry, growing at a 10% annual clip. About three months ago the athletic shoe marketer launched Goddess, a magazine from AOL Time Warner's Time Custom Publishing, which also created the now-defunct Joe for Starbucks. The quarterly Goddess is given out gratis at Nike stores and is being polybagged free with other Time magazines, such as Sports Illustrated for Women.

A popular medium in the U.K. and Europe, where it is called contract publishing, the custom publishing practice is treated with skepticism here. "They are essentially advertising, self-standing advertorial and they should be viewed as such," said Patricia Prijatel, emeritus professor of magazine journalism at Drake University. "No one should take them for real journalism. Readers are savvy. They know what it is. But the question is, how effective are these advertorials for advertisers when consumers look at them with a wary eye?"

Mr. Hirsch calls that a myth. "Would you be able to write an expose about the beauty industry for Vogue? I don't think so."

"It's not advertising, it is not an ad," said Cheryl McCants, a spokewoman for brand Jordan. "It's a consumer magazine. It contains stories that help our readers understand where we get our inspiration. It is additional insight into the brand."

Much Respect will not take outside advertising, which in many cases defrays the cost of the magazine for the sponsor.

Besides editorial resistance to such ventures, there also is some reluctance on the advertising side. "It is an interesting potential magazine exposure idea for advertisers, but there is a lot of risk," said Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Media, New York, which is jointly owned by Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis Groupe.

"It is very expensive to produce, distribute and sell magazines effectively... It is just as hard for an advertiser to launch a magazine as it is a publisher. It's not the fundamental business that advertisers are in," he added.

Mr. Hirsch counters that many advertising companies are investing in custom publishing ventures. The most prominent contract publisher in the U.K. is Redwood, owned by Omnicom Group, which puts out M&S Magazine for retailer Marks & Spencer and Volvo Magazine for Volvo AB, among others. WPP Group is on the verge of acquiring Forward Publications in the U.K. and recently announced a partnership with Forbes.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo

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