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SOUTHLAND BUSINESS

Strikes at Stereotypes

February 22, 1987|CARRIE BROWN

It was the media portrayal of Asians as "cheap hoods, drug addicts or humble, submissive people" that persuaded Tom Kagy, a Los Angeles lawyer of Korean descent, to take matters into his own hands. The result, AsiAm magazine, applauds Asian-Americans, who Kagy says have been stereotyped for too long.

AsiAm promotes Asian-Americans as a group with a high level of education and disposable income, and thus, as a lucrative market for advertisers. For example, they will pass up cheaper items for more expensive and prestigious brands, the magazine says, boasting that "Asian-Americans can single-handedly make a luxury item successful."

With Shi Kim, whom he later married, Kagy, 31, launched the magazine in 1985 with financing from his law practice. The magazine made its debut in December, and the 80-page March issue is just about to be released. The magazine is distributed nationally and in Canada, but AsiAm's circulation is concentrated in Southern California because of the significant Asian population here. Kagy said 25% of newsstand sales and a portion of overall subscriptions are from non-Asians.

Kagy said it's too early to estimate the current circulation but predicts it will reach 100,000 by late fall and is hoping for 1 million in 3 1/2 years.

But Wesley J. Johnston, a marketing professor at USC, believes that the magazine might have a problem trying to appeal to Asian-Americans as one group.

"It's hard to think of Asian-Americans as being similar," Johnston said. "Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and Filipinos . . . they're all very distinct groups culturally. Demographically, they're similar (in terms of) income, orientation toward education, brand consciousness and work ethic. . . . I think it can be successful, but I think it will be a problem in appealing to what I see as very distinct ethnic groups."

Kevin McAuliffe, on leave from his job as circulation manager for Fortune magazine in Hong Kong to obtain an MBA from USC, said Asians are a fast-growing group and a logical target for advertisers, but ethnocentrism could be a hindrance to AsiAm.

"I think you could have a black ethnic magazine and do well, but . . . very few people would identify themselves as Asian-American first," McAuliffe said. "I think initially they would identify themselves as Korean- or Japanese-American."

Kagy got the idea for AsiAm magazine several years ago during a break at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school. He wrote an article for Newsweek magazine called "Stop Stereotyping Me," which prompted more than 300 letters from readers. "The response I got made me realize how important the media was. From then on I saw how important it was for Asians to create their own media for a positive self-image," Kagy said.

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