MAGAZINES: 'MIGHT' HAS FALLEN, BUT NOT WITHOUT LEAVING ITS MARK: THE STORY OF AN INDIE MAGAZINE THAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE MADE IT, BUT ALMOST COULD HAVE, THEN DIDN'T
Since it ceased publication in July, Might has been eulogized as a firecracker title that expired for being too smart, too irreverent and too pure at heart for this business.
Yet, while the magazine's inconvenient personality may have complicated its prospects, Might's overwhelming obstacle, aside from being a start-up, was that it barely had any cash to begin with.
Nevertheless, Might was surprisingly poised to break industry rules and make a small success of itself, had the right investor come through.
The first issue of Might arrived in the spring of 1994, the brainchild of three friends a year or two out of college-David Eggers, David Moodie and Marny Requa (who would become editor, executive editor and VP, respectively).
FOUNDED ON CREDIT CARDS
They founded the magazine on $10,000 in savings and credit card loans as an answer to Generation X hype, at a time when many such like-minded zines were starting up.
In its attitude, Mr. Eggers says, "we started out where [David Lauren's] Swing still is now."
The title evolved quickly, maintaining its fake table of contents but forgoing articles on environmental careers for more irony-rich fare. Might became the critically acclaimed, 30,000-circulation every-other-monthly that would generate industry buzz with such brilliant magazine-spoofing events as the October 1995 Might Sells-Out issue (which featured a Goldschlager ad on the cover, and article sponsorships by Tanqueray and Dewar's, for example), and the notorious May 1996 Adam-Rich-Is-Dead issue, a prank executed so flawlessly it turned chance readers into either mourners or subscribers.
CREATING A LIFESTYLE
Might's clever approach certainly owed much to the Spy of the '80s, though it opted for the "general interest/lifestyle," rather than "satirical," classification.
Says Associate Publisher Miles Hurwitz (a 43-year old publishing consultant who owns Media House in San Francisco and worked on commission with the Might team): "Might often gained attention for its funny stuff, but we were adamant about the fact that it was an intelligent magazine with a lot of humor."
Lengthy cultural critiques and sometimes poignant, personal ruminations-including the December 1995 cover story on AIDS and intimacy-also marked the characteristically bumpy Might terrain.
MEN MY MOTHER DATED
The dense blocks of critical journalism from acclaimed writers such as David Foster Wallace co-existed with such regular columns as "Gaywatch" and "Men My Mother Dated."
Michael Hirschorn, recently appointed editor in chief of Spin, found Might "devoted to a certain kind of truth-telling."
"It was the first magazine since Spy to do something both humorous and relevant," Mr. Hirschorn says, "and felt like an authentic expression of a sensibility of people in their 20s .*.*. All the other [twentysomething magazines] look like fakery when you look at Might."
Might made such an impression on Mr. Hirschorn that in June he snapped up Mr. Moodie to be Spin's features editor, as well as Might Senior Editor Zev Borow to be a contributing editor.
PICKING ON CONVENTIONS
Might Publisher Lance Crapo (pronounced Cray-po) says: "We poked fun at magazine conventions, but at the same time we didn't hold ourselves above ridicule, and that self-effacing sensibility resonated."
Mr. Crapo adds that boundary-breaking touches, including an invitation to take the staff to lunch, fostered "a certain intimacy."
"Every issue connected with the reader like a personal friend," agrees Samir Husni, who pens the annual "Guide to New Consumer Magazines" and is currently writing a book on how to launch one.
On the ad front, Might's unique bond with a famously slippery demo helped pull in accounts where numbers alone would have failed.
Eli Friedman, now a media planner at Odiorne, Wilde, Narraway & Partners, San Francisco, and who formerly worked on the Levi's Silvertab brand at Foote, Cone & Belding, says Might ranked high on their list.
HAD STREET CREDIBILITY
Part of Might's attractiveness, he says, was its "grass-roots following" and its ability to offer the advertiser "a lot of street credibility with people who are trendsetters and fashion pioneers, the people you want to reach."
Tammy Watson, director of advertising for Sub Pop records, says: "There was a certain cachet to being affiliated with something that smirky and wisecracking."
Mr. Crapo says some of Might's first advertisers were alcohol and record companies, "who seemed more inclined to take on a book earlier rather than later."
Ms. Requa notes that it was difficult for Might to instill confidence in its commercial viability, "when competing magazines were doing fashion and using other more blatant ways to pull in ads."
Tracy Cline, advertising manager for Vans shoes, another Might advertiser, says her brand sought to associate with the title's alternative culture but noted that Vans is now moving toward mainstream books.
With placements in unaudited start-ups, Ms. Cline says, "You're not sure what you're getting for the money or who the readers are," while with the established titles, "you get more bang for your buck."
Although the Might audience profile was clear and compelling to some, uncertainties such as Ms. Cline's were shared by established publishers and investors.
Hearst Magazines Enterprises President John Mack Carter, whom Might had contacted seeking funds in 1995 and whose written demurral it printed in the Sell-Out issue, says Might's readership struck him as "difficult to define, [suggesting] different things to different people."
LACKING THE CASH
Or, as he ventures, "twentysomething, without a great job-not a precise niche market."
In any case, Mr. Carter wasn't interested in taking on titles with less than 500,000 circulation potential.
Mr. Crapo saw Might's circulation eventually reaching 200,000, but the title first needed the money to print more copies, mount promotions and move to national-rather than regional-distribution.
Those funds still would not have covered salaries for the staff, who supported themselves through outside work until the end, a circumstance that contributed to Might's ultimate exhaustion at the close of its July 1997 issue.
ALWAYS A LONG SHOT
Spy, which peaked at 200,000 circulation in '93, had $1.5 million in capital when it launched in October 1986 and received another $1.5 million later on, says Kurt Andersen, one of its founders.
"Obviously, any weird little start-up is a long shot," Mr. Andersen says. He believes Might's troubles came from the age of its staff, a decade younger than Spy's founders, and its location.
"We could straddle that insider/outsider thing a little more," Mr. Andersen says. "That's hard if you're in San Francisco or if you're 26."
Mr. Hurwitz says he consistently ran up against "large publishing concerns and investment companies either failing to see, or unable to be convinced of, the solid growth potential of Might," but he thinks the magazine proved itself.
ESCAPED THE FORMULA
Editorially, however, "everything that we did right didn't count when it came time to get the money from investors, because we didn't fit into the formula."
While Might tried to round up $1.4 million, many advertisers that liked the title awaited its reaching 100,000 for it to be included in their media plans. Might suffered the waiting in negotiations for funds, Mr. Crapo says.
"We had a really good story to tell," he says, "but it may have been easier to get investors had we had more advertising. It would have been a smaller leap of faith."
Paul Tullis, one of the original Might staffers and now a free-lancer, blamed the lack of ad support.
BEWARE THE RETARDED KITTEN
"We had an obviously desirable demographic, and our readers trusted us," he says, adding that advertisers were "as averse to risk-taking as a retarded kitten."
The magazine courted investors far and wide, and talks this year with Wired went beyond most.
But most of those investors who considered it wanted to Might to be further along in its growth, and the right risk-taker never materialized.
Mr. Husni surmises that business plans aside, "the investors who are going to help, you sell on the love of the magazine. They get hooked on that concept."
He says people in the old guard, like John Mack Carter, were not going to be part of "the Might cult."
"It's one of those sad instances where all of the quality and craftsmanship and love was not enough . . It reminds you of the reality of the business," Mr. Husni says.
With Mr. Eggers now editor at large at Esquire, and two editors at Spin, clearly the little magazine was a career maker for its producers. When the magazine was still publishing, its sardonic features were ripped off by larger-circulation titles craving its hip sensibility.
Even in death, editors are grave-robbing. British magazine The Face recently lifted from the final issue a feature asking readers to match phrases with either Jesus Christ or Billy Joel. ("I came to cast fire upon the earth" was Jesus, "We didn't start the fire" was Billy Joel.)
"Most general interest/lifestyle magazines require a large universe of readers to be successful," Mr. Crapo says. "Might was written with a solar system in