"This weird disembodied voice on the phone said, `If there was a job in America, would you come?' " he recalls. "They didn't say who they were or what it was for or what it was about. And I said, `Yeah, I would.' I didn't tell anybody about it, but in my heart of hearts I thought something was going to happen."
That something was a job as first editor in chief of Blender, Dennis Publishing's music title and Advertising Age's Launch of the Year. This sibling to bawdy brothers Maxim and Stuff was on the to-do list of Dennis' music-obsessed management for years, and who were eager to throw stones at the traditional music magazine formula.
"In recent times the music press has failed the listening public," says Lance Ford, exec VP at Dennis and general manager of Blender. "[Blender is] our proverbial field of dreams. A lot of us here [had] bands. We've traded in our dreams for suits."
One of the first hires was selecting Malcolm Campbell as publisher. "There was really no vibrancy at any of the music magazines in terms of circulation," says Mr. Campbell, a former Spin publisher . "There was this huge incoming category user, Gen Y, and where were they going for their music information?"
That notion resonates even in Wenner Media's hallways, with Chairman Jann Wenner acknowledging Blender as a reason for Rolling Stone's redesign.
Another refugee from Spin is Blender's editor, Craig Marks. "There was a thirst for a new magazine as long as it was one that was going to write about all different kinds of music and not be a specialist, and also one that was going to be different from the ones that existed here in America," he says.
The magazine is not Dennis' first Blender. The company launched a pop culture CD-ROM zine by that name in 1995. It was shelved two years later, after publishing 10 editions, due to distribution problems. As for reviving Blender as a magazine title, "We chose Blender because Cuisinart seemed awkward, " Mr. Ford cracks, then explains it reflects the different types of music.
Carol Sneyd, VP, Warner Advertising Group, part of AOL Time Warner's Warner Music Group, says: "We couldn't see how the idea [behind Blender] would work because it was so broad. But it works."
Blender's formula is based on British music titles including, of course, Mr. Pemberton's Q. Each issue of Blender features interviews driven by reader questions, quirky photo captions, a dissection of one of "The Greatest Songs Ever!" and an extensive review section that bumps Def Leppard up against DJ Jazzy Jeff (it's an alphabetical thing).
"With the short attention span of today's media consumers, they hit just the right chord. I think the formula's right," says Mike McHale, group media director at Publicis Groupe's Optimedia International, New York.
"I bet ... if [Dennis] had known what we were going to go through in the last 18 months, they still [would have launched] but there would have been a whole lot of analysis and hand wringing and that sort of thing going on," Mr. Campbell says. "But God love `em ... they stuck with it, and in spite of everything that's happened, we've pulled this thing off."
Blender launched in May 2001 with a rate base of 250,000. The rate base jumped by 40% to 350,000 in November 2001 and will climb by more than 17% to 410,000 next January. Blender will be audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations sometime during the first half of 2003. As per the company's that's-the-way-they-do-it-in-Britain strategy, the emphasis is on newsstand sales; the current breakdown is 70% newsstand and 30% subscription.
Adwise, Blender's four 2001 issues included 213.64 pages. The projection for 2002's eight issues is 503.53 pages, and for 2003's 10 issues, the company is projecting 700 pages.
The editorial team looks like, well, like a music magazine editorial team. You know these guys. You sat around with them in college, smoked cigarettes and debated everything from best breakfast cereal to greatest album of all time.
Blender staffers are smart, snarky and comfortable one-upping each other with funnies. (During a yearend-issue discussion: "Best Osbourne?" "Sharon!" "Joan!") They're also on a mission to serve their audience, a Napster-trained readership more interested in particular songs than entire albums.
"You want to be a buddy, a slightly wise but funny buddy," Mr. Marks says. "You don't want to [say] `We saw the Stones back in '73, and that's when music used to be good.' That's the worst trap you can fall into."
Dennis Publishing inspires a new British invasion with Blender. The music magazine harmonizes with the Napster generation that's more into individual songs than albums, and wants coverage of all types of tunes.