Kid 'Maxim': Dennis sires little-lad book

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Brace yourself. Here comes boy Maxim.

Dennis Publishing, which brought the leading lad title to America, is planning an August test of a magazine with the working title K-Maxx!-as in, perhaps, Kid Maxim-that will hit newsstands in two U.S. markets. The magazine, an insider said, is spearheaded on the editorial side by Bill Schulz, features editor at Dennis' Stuff.

"A dumbed-down Maxim," was how one person familiar with the project assessed the tone of the title. "Maxim without the sex and violence, but with the same sort of humor." The name could change before the title hits newsstands.

An e-mail sent to Dennis employees last week asked staffers who had sons between the ages of 10 and 14 to bring them and their friends on a Saturday in June for an impromptu focus group related to K-Maxx!.

"There's a gaping hole for something aimed at 10-to-13-year-old boys," said Andy Clerkson, editorial director of Dennis Publishing, who confirmed the company is exploring the launch. "Something fun and cheeky, cool and useful. It would be about video games, paintball, anime, downloading, baseball, learning to play guitar and superheroes. It's for boys who see girls as telltales or silly sisters and think The Rock is an important actor.

"That's if we do it," he added. "Right now we're having fun testing."

In late April, Dennis Publishing Chairman Felix Dennis applied for two trademarks intended for "teen and pre-teen lifestyle" magazines. One was K-Maxx!. Dennis also applied for a trademark on the phrase "It's Bad-Really, Really Bad!," expected to be the slogan for the magazine.

The moves come as Dennis has quietly begun headhunting for candidates for the chief editor's job at Maxim, held by Keith Blanchard since 2000. The company has signaled its wishes to evolve the beer-and-babes title in some ways while not tampering with the brand. It might stress more practical service or otherwise beef up its widely imitated portfolio of quick-hit articles and images.

"We are trying to distance ourselves in the U.S. from what has been portrayed as the `lad' magazines," confirmed Mr. Blanchard, who declined to comment on other aspects of this story. "We feel like we're a mainstream magazine, and there's a certain extent to which content is beginning to reflect that position."

Maxim brought the U.K. "lad" formula to America in 1997 and became one of the decade's great media success stories, rapidly rising to its current 2.5-million-circulation level. At its peak, said an executive familiar with the financials, Maxim netted $50 million on revenue of around $145 million.

signs of strain

Yet there are some signs of strain. Maxim's newsstand sales topped out just shy of 1 million for the last half of 2000; between then and the last half of 2003, single-copy sales-the most profitable form of circulation-dropped 27% to 724,179. For the first four months of the year, ad pages are down 13.1% to 291.5. Any declines have broader implications for Dennis. Maxim is a tent-pole title for a company where smaller siblings Blender and The Week remain unprofitable. Stuff has also seen newsstand sales and ad pages slip this year.

A replacement was sought for Mr. Blanchard in 2002 as well, based on the expectation that he would take a broader role in developing Dennis brands. It's unclear if that scenario is repeating itself now. But Dennis has a history of continuing to employ editors who've fallen out of favor. In 2003, Stuff Editor Greg Gutfeld was ousted amid declining newsstand sales and after perpetrating a bizarre stunt in which he arranged for a group of midgets to disrupt a Magazine Publishers of America seminar on buzz. Mr. Gutfeld recently departed New York to take over the U.K. edition of Maxim.

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