Readers still find magazines top choice for information

Cameron Woo and Claudia Kawczynska of Berkeley, Calif., are the proud owners of a 64-page quarterly magazine called Bark.

A literary publication for modern dog enthusiasts, Bark's national launch last year brought it to bookstore racks that also carry Vogue and Time. Its success -it now has a readership of 60,000-plus - represents what the magazine business has to offer today: opportunity.

"We instantly got a great response," says Mr. Woo of Bark, which is published out of a converted garage.

A healthy economy and the public's insatiable demand for information mean there's plenty of room for new publications - both those from big companies and those that hatch across kitchen tables.

As a result, newsstands are overflowing with newcomers like Code, a magazine for African-American men, Bride Again, for repeat brides, and Web-site spin-offs like eBay.

"Everyone says there is simply no end in sight," says Don Ranly, head of the magazine program at the University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school.

New launches were down overall in 1999, but debuts from publishers of all sizes for the first two months of 2000 are the highest in 15 years, according to Samir Husni, a professor at the University of Mississippi who tracks the industry. He says this year there will be a record number of new launches from major magazine companies in particular.

"If that is not an indication of the future of the magazine business, I don't know what will be," he says.

Consumer magazines have almost tripled in the last 20 years, jumping from 2,000 in 1980 to around 5,500 today, Professor Husni says.

The average US household reads about 4.9 magazines per month, according to research from the Magazine Publishers of America.

An MPA survey released last week shows that consumers feel magazines are tailored to their needs and provide more relevant information than the Internet or TV. It is the MPA's first measure of how magazines stack up to the Internet.

The digital world is driving some of the industry's new entries -the computer and Net make it easier to write, research, and produce a magazine. The Internet also offers publishers the option to translate their content into e-commerce and specialized Web publications, says Hugh Roome, executive vice president of Scholastic Inc.

Small publications in particular can benefit in a good economy from advertisers with more money to spend across a variety of media. Bark, for example, includes ads from Saab among its pages. Dollars spent on magazine advertising were up 12.8 percent in 1999 from the year before, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

Still, only about 15 percent of the 800 to 1,000 magazines launched each year survive, Husni says.

Consider the red hot men's market. While Maxim saw its circulation grow by 127 percent in the second half of 1999, according to this week's Adweek, three other men's titles have called it quits in the last few months -POV, Icon, and Bikini, all about two years old.

"There's always a shaking out in the magazine industry -a natural churn" that doesn't go away, says Tony Silber, editorial director of Folio, a magazine for magazine management.

In April, Hearst Magazines, one of the industries top three publishers, will debut O, The Oprah Magazine, from the ubiquitous Ms. Winfrey. Next week, they'll launch another title beginning with O - Offspring, a parenting spin-off from Smart Money. (Next week is also when US magazine moves from a monthly to a weekly.)

"The best ideas are reader-driven," says Hearst spokeswoman Debra Shriver. "If there is a strong readership for a particular magazine idea, then advertising and circulation will follow."

She says the company likes to use the word "test" rather than "launch" - "You have to put it out on newsstands; you have to see how readers react."

For smaller publishers, the Internet is proving to be an equalizer. Cheryl Woodard, author of "Starting and Running a successful Newsletter or Magazine" (Nolo), says it's become common to launch a Web site - something anyone can do - to generate subscriptions and then put a print magazine on newsstands (see page 16).

Thanks to the Net, it is both easier and quicker to launch a magazine today. Ms. Woodard recalls that when she got PC Magazine off the ground in the early 1980s, everything had to be done via FedEx. Now, much of the work can be outsourced and handled long distance on the Net.

She says that unlike larger companies, niche publishers aren't weighed down with overhead and splashy publicity costs. Bark's creators, for example, have found people willing to help them because they are passionate about dogs and want to contribute to a publication they see as worthwhile. While major publishers reportedly spend $50 million to $100 million to launch a title, Woo and his wife estimate they've spent about $50,000.

Woo says they publish Bark and its Web site on a shoestring, with "a few credit cards and a lot of goodwill and hard work." The optimistic couple realize the attrition rate is high, but, as Woo notes, "Not everything has to be put out by Fortune 500 companies."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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