Gritty, Clubby Mags Cater to 20-Somethings

Young consumers look for publications that help them unscramble the '90s

MAGAZINES aimed at the 20-something crowd are coming of age.

Unlike the baby boomers of the '60s who claimed one major magazine - Rolling Stone - as their own, today's young generation samples a platter of smaller, more eclectic offerings.

On magazine racks today, between 30 and 35 publications are tailored to teenagers and 20-somethings, observes Samir Husni, an expert on magazines at the University of Mississippi.

The youth category began to open up in 1985 with the arrival of Spin, an alternative music magazine, Mr. Husni says.

``Spin successfully filled a void that Rolling Stone no longer filled,'' he says. ``It also helped the industry refocus on the younger generation and showed advertisers that there was a market.''

This newest throng of magazine consumers is aged 18 to 29, 46 million strong (two-thirds the size of the baby-boom generation), and more ethnically diverse than the United States population as a whole, according to a Roper report. Husni describes this crowd as ``in great need to unscramble the complications of the '90s.''

The most successful magazines ``talk their language and are bolder in content,'' he says. ``They aim to set the record straight, guiding and advising them about jobs, relationships, and music.''

What's on the racks?

In the music section, mingling with the top-selling Spin and Rolling Stone, one finds a scattering of magazines devoted to rap, hip hop, heavy metal, blues, jazz, folk, and ``renegade'' rock.

In the fashion-celebrity section, bigwigs Interview and Details share space with handfuls of smaller, grittier magazines. Among them: Skin and Ink (a magazine about tattoos), Graphic Violence (graffiti), Mondo (science-fiction, and computers), and Psychedelic Illuminations (drugs).

Off the racks, in the underground, live the tiniest, rawest, and (sometimes) most offensive periodicals: thousands of newsletterlike ``fanzines,'' on the rise since the mid-1980s. (A scant sampling: New Wave Wrestling, Soul Twinkie, The Prairie Rambler, Asian Trash Cinema.) Available by mail-order only, their addresses are compiled in Factsheet Five, which sits on mainstream magazine racks.

Michael Powers, a 20-something magazine employee at Tower Records in Boston, says the fanzine subcultures feed story ideas to mainstream magazines. ``But by the time a magazine gets to advertising,'' he says, ``they're not capturing anything fresh.'' Which periodicals does he fancy? Those that are ``raw'' and have ``an earnest voice,'' he says.

Brian Stonewell, director of Media Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., puts a sociological spin on the growth of these magazines:

``This generation is definitely drawn to a [dance] club mentality,'' he says. ``In the absence of a common culture, young people are looking to identify themselves with smaller groups.''

Three of the more successful 20-something magazines are reviewed on this page. Each escapes the tendencies of this new genre to wallow in adolescent angst and nihilism. Those reviewed display a mindful dose of awareness and concern for the world.

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