Starting up a new singles tabloid in Southern California is almost as gutsy as opening a new chocolate factory in Hershey, Pa. But last month, ignoring all odds, Russ Salter dared to face off against the West Coast's matchmaking monopoly.
The long-established Singles Register has posed indomitable competition, but Salter feels that the market will bear his newly hatched Single Connections.
"We offer readers something different," Salter said. "The Singles Register has a good reputation, but it's a little square and set in its ways."
The Fullerton-based Single Connections, for instance, allows advertisers to publish photos of themselves--not allowed in its rival. And, barring blatant pornography, Salter said that he will take a slightly more relaxed approach in editing personal ads than does the puritan Singles Register.
"You don't want to lose your women readers with offensive language," said the 40-year-old entrepreneur. "But I don't plan to study each word for innuendo. My job is not to be a censor."
In the past, Salter, a home improvement contractor, has designed and distributed small newspapers for private organizations.
"A lot of people I know in the distribution business have told me that they are looking for another publication for their racks," he said. "A singles publication is not a difficult thing to put together, so I figured that with a little thought, I could get one off the ground.
"Most singles papers fail, due to high overhead and limited distribution," he said. "But I know how to put out a good paper with minimum expenses, and I understand distribution."
The singles aspect of the newspaper was, for the most part, a business decision. Salter, married and the father of two teen-agers, obviously did not derive his inspiration from his own status.
"I've just always been interested in getting people together," he said. "Until you do something like this, you don't realize how many people there are out there wanting to meet someone and get married."
Before the first publication, Salter passed out flyers throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties inviting singles to participate free of charge in his debut issue.
So far, of course, the Singles Register soundly beats Single Connections in circulation (200,000 contrasted with 20,000), size (40 pages versus 16) and number of personal ads (750 versus 300). But then, the elder paper has been around 19 years longer.
Vi Rogers founded the Singles Register in 1970, at a time when most "adult ad" tabloids talked dirty. "We came out with this strait-laced paper, devoid of sex, and everyone laughed at us," she recalled.
Over the years, the Norwalk-based publication has vigilantly maintained its "goody-goody" personality, banishing anything and everything that even hints of double entendre. An editorial in a recent issue listed newly forbidden adjectives: assertive, dominant, submissive and passive.
"Even words that we thought were perfectly acceptable to put into ads are now receiving responses that we find objectionable," the editorial states.
"We're so square that we don't even allow an advertiser to say that he has 'sexy brown eyes,' " Rogers said with a laugh.
Singles Register turns down photographs of advertisers, its publisher explained, because "people shouldn't base their choices on a photo."
"Photos lie," Rogers said. "Some people don't photograph well, and others photograph a lot better than they look in person. I see girls come in here who modeled for our cover, and I don't recognize them. Professional makeup and camera lighting can work miracles."
About those covers--why does a singles newspaper that prides itself in wholesomeness decorate its front page with voluptuous sexpots?
"Why does Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal put pretty women on their covers?" Rogers answered. "Cosmopolitan is a women's magazine, yet you don't see Tom Selleck on its cover. Pretty girls sell magazines and newspapers."
Salter practiced that same philosophy from issue one, which features on its cover a curvaceous woman in a low-cut dress. "Men will buy a publication with a woman on it, and women will buy a publication with a woman on it," he said.
As does the Singles Register, Single Connections will guard against advertisers seeking one-night stands. "If someone is only interested in sexual encounters, that's taboo," Salter said.
Single Connections will come out once a month, which Salter reasons will give ads a longer shelf life than those appearing in the twice-a-month Singles Register.
"There's no real value to coming out every two weeks," he said. "It takes at least a month for the responses to come in anyway."
A 40-word ad costs $20 in Single Connections, $25 in the Singles Register.
Rogers claims that "hundreds of success stories" have come out of advertising in the Singles Register: "Just about every day, someone calls us and says, 'I'm getting married to a person I met through your paper.' "
The biggest change that Rogers has witnessed during her publication's two decades of existence is a drop in advertisers' ages. "Nineteen years ago, most of our advertisers were over 45," she said. "Today, more and more people 35 and under are being drawn into personal ads.
"People have become disenchanted with the bar scene, and they are looking for committed relationships more than they were in the '70s. Advertising has become a socially acceptable method of looking for a mate."