American Media revs up lad mag for cars

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american media is readying its gassed-up take on a car magazine, MPH, which hits newsstands next month. But perhaps it's best to let Editor in Chief Eddie Alterman describe it.

He and his staff of automotive-magazine vets kept "proposing stories to our former places of employment. And they weren't really fitting. Like, we wanted to do this thing about squirrels, and if they would ever evolve to avoid cars."

There is no squirrel-evolution feature in the November '04 debut issue of MPH. But alongside the car specs, shots and reviews, one finds a cheesecake shot of a "backseat Betty," identified as Moldavian postal-worker-cum-model "Anastasia," and a piece plumbing the phenomenon of Europe's "park-in/love-ins." (Which contains a sidebar that begins "Thanks to Italy's very liberal sex-in-cars policy ....")

second attempt

"The existing car magazines are sort of buyers' guides," said Mr. Alterman, 32, who was formerly a senior editor at Primedia's Automobile. "They do that to the exclusion of a lot of stuff happening in cars and car culture."

MPH-which the cover identifies as an acronym for "maximum performance and horsepower"-is the second attempt at an auto magazine for American Media. The first, Auto World Weekly, launched in 2000 and ceased publishing in 2003, all without ever making an impact on the market.

The aim, of course, is to try to bring in a younger reader than the broad automotive mainstays, such as Primedia's Motor Trend and Automobile; Hachette Filipacchi U.S.'s Road and Track and Car and Driver; and Crain Communciations' Auto Week.

"We saw the breakout of FHM and Maxim," said American Media Chairman-CEO David Pecker. MPH will go after a similar crowd as those publications, he said.

Rate base at launch is 100,000, and 300,000 copies of the debut issue will be distributed. A one-time full-color ad page costs $11,500. Mr. Pecker, who formerly oversaw car titles as the CEO of Hachette, said that the typical automotive title gets 80% of its ads from the car-related categories, but the long-term goal for MPH is to get 50% of ad volume from non-automotive sources. Mr. Pecker said that he thought MPH "should turn profitable" in 24 months.

MPH marks a slightly different tack for American Media, which has relaunched some of its existing titles to make them more closely resemble some of the magazine world's biggest recent hits. Men's Fitness now closely resembles Rodale's Men's Health. And in June 2003 Mr. Pecker poached Bonnie Fuller, who made Wenner Media's Us Weekly into a lite-celeb powerhouse, to take The Star into the glossy-celebrity world.

Despite its lifestyle tilt, MPH leaves one front open to competitors. Mr. Alterman said, in the event of poor reviews of new product-like the debut's pan of Ford's 2005 Mustang-MPH will allow the PR departments of car companies to craft rebuttals for print.

Such an approach may not sit well with the guardians of the traditional-if eroding-divide between advertising and editorial, but Mr. Alterman shrugged off concerns over such an approach.

"It provides both sides of the story to a readership very aware of the separation between what the PR flack says and what we say," he said.

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