Insiders Develop `Inside Edge'

IF all goes well, Aaron Shapiro and Jonathan Hsu won't have to look for jobs when they graduate from Harvard University next year. They've started a magazine aimed at the market they know best - young men age 18 to 24.

Inside Edge magazine debuts today on newsstands nationwide. It is being distributed by Warner Publisher Services, a division of Time Warner.

While watching football in January 1992, Messrs. Shapiro and Hsu realized that among the hundreds of magazine titles available, no one was writing for them. Where, they asked, could they find advice on how to waste one's summer, how to drop one's girlfriend, and other "important" issues?

"There was no magazine out there that we wanted to read," Shapiro says. "We thought: `Why not start a magazine?' "

"We're not some faceless, giant company with 50-year-olds trying to do focus groups to figure out what this age group is interested in," Shapiro adds. As Harvard juniors majoring in economics, "We are the consumer."

Shapiro and Hsu involved their friends in everything from layout to photography to writing the articles. Through an internship Shapiro had at Money Magazine last summer, he gained contacts at Time Warner. After listening to their pitch and seeing a 68-page prototype, Warner Publisher Services signed on. But a crucial hurdle remained: money.

"Having Warner Publisher Services behind us made that job a lot easier.... It gave us instant credibility," says Shapiro, the publisher and editorial director.

They sold 17 advertising pages for the first issue (to General Motors, Haagen Dazs, Honda, and others) and raised close to $1 million from investors. "It basically involved knocking on a lot of doors," Shapiro says. "None of our parents have anything to do with publishing."

In their first issue, Shapiro and Hsu include pictures of themselves so readers can see who is producing the magazine. Articles are signed with first names only: Doug writing on cars, Jon on sports, and Zach on running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

Subjects and style are aimed at the young college man: "It's very, very informal," Hsu says. It's also not family fare: Many articles deserve an "R" rating. Typical is a picture of four bikini-clad women with the caption: "The driving force behind Inside Edge." The author of the article, "My Trip on Acid," describes his hallucinations and the scary, long-term effects of his only experiment with the drug LSD. He concludes it is not worth the risks.

In the dormitory, the project has had a positive reception. "It started as this lark that everybody mocked," Shapiro says. Their friends find it "almost too impossible to believe" that this magazine will be distributed to retail outlets across the United States, Canada, Britain, and elsewhere.

Warner Publisher Services gets "a lot of pitches" each year from eager would-be magazine publishers, says Susan Pagells, the Warner account executive who is handling Inside Edge. Why did the company buy a pitch from two college students? "The main thing was the fact that they are their own market," Ms. Pagells says. "Most of the people who want to do magazines of this type have tended to be companies that have done it before.... Here were these two Harvard students; that made it sort of intriguing."

"This is much more than a full-time job," says Hsu, who is the editor in chief. "We wake up, go to the office, go to class from the office, and eat most of our meals at the office."

Inside Edge has a part-time staff of about 30 now, though that will become seven full-time paid positions during the summer.

"One of the great things about having students [at many colleges] in the area is that we have the best talent to choose from," Hsu says. "They have a lot of resources to offer us."

And they work cheap.

E don't have to pay anyone," Shapiro says. "Everyone uses this as an opportunity to get published in a national magazine. If we ever do make money, there is a profit-sharing plan and they get rewarded as well."

The magazine will start with a print run similar to Men's Journal, which was launched in 1992 and now has a circulation of 160,000.

Men's Journal took more than $3 million to get to this stage, Shapiro says. "We're doing it on a shoestring, and we're able to get away with it because we're not paying anyone, including ourselves."

Magazine industry experts estimate that between 80 and 90 percent of new titles fail within one to five years of their launches. Inside Edge's founders are assiduously courting young male readers and pushing hard to please advertisers.

The magazine, Shapiro and Hsu say, offers advertisers the inside track to young men in a receptive frame of mind. "Students are forming brand associations and patterns that are going to last a lifetime," Shapiro says. The buying power of the college-age population is a prime target for marketers. After all, he adds, "all kids do at college is basically spend their parents' money."

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