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California, 2 Other Magazines Folding; Victims of Slump

July 30, 1991|ALAN CITRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

California magazine, which chronicled everything from the rise and fall of a cosmic politician named Jerry Brown to the "Cosmic Code of Cuchi Cuchi" in its colorful but troublesome 15-year-history, announced Monday that it is ceasing publication.

Publisher Perry Grayson said in a brief statement that California had fallen victim to weak advertising revenues and the recession. He declined further comment, but people close to the magazine said the announcement had been feared for several weeks.

California magazine's circulation had slipped to 250,000 this year, after peaking at about 360,000 in 1987, according to Standard Rate & Data Service, a circulation auditing firm.

Consolidated Press Holdings of Australia, the magazine's owner, said Angeles and SF magazines, California's sister publications, would also fold after publishing the September issue. Staff members were informed of the decision Monday morning at a hastily called meeting at the company's Brentwood headquarters.

"People are kind of in shock," one editor said. "It's all very sad."

Joanne Jaffe, editor of Angeles, said she was especially surprised by the decision to fold all of the magazines, since Angeles, which covered local style trends, was doing fairly well.

"I felt Angeles was extremely viable," she said. "I'm shocked because it had so much life in it. It's tragic when something is that strong and well-loved to have it go under."

Consolidated had reportedly sought a buyer for California and the other two publications for several months. People close to the company said no one emerged.

Despite flashes of editorial brilliance and the input of a series of seasoned magazine publishers, California magazine never succeeded in finding its audience over the years.

Local advertisers turned a cold shoulder to the monthly in favor of more locally oriented publications. National advertising also dropped off after several local publications formed a consortium that offered special rates for national ad packages, sources said.

Another problem was the magazine's frustrating inability to tap into the state's diverse population. Columnist Joel Kotkin said California magazine's ever-changing management was unable to develop a formula with statewide appeal, despite countless format changes.

Geoff Miller, publisher of the ad-rich Los Angeles magazine, said California magazine's goals may have been too ambitious from the start. "To try to find a voice in the L.A. market alone is a tough proposition," he said. "When you try to talk to the entire state, it's almost impossible."

When New York editor Clay Felker created the magazine in 1976, naming it New West, the possibilities seemed endless. California was in the midst of a population boom and a pop cultural explosion, and Felker was riding high from his success at New York magazine.

In its maiden issue, New West pledged to defy the popular notion of California as a land of "fruit and nuts," saying, "The endless chatter about smog, and cars, and oddball cults and Western civilization swallowed by Cowboy vulgarity" was "30 years old and pickled in aspic."

Writers as diverse as Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Joe Eszterhas appeared in its pages, but the magazine remained in constant transition. Control passed from Felker to Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch in 1977. Three years later, it was sold to Mediatex Communications Corp., which published Texas Monthly, and was edited by William Broyles Jr. Mediatex changed the name from New West to California.

By 1983, however, Alan Bennett of Savvy and American Photographer magazines was at the helm. Ad revenues briefly surged under Bennett, according to Advertising Age magazine, before control of the magazines passed to Consolidated Press in 1990.

Broyles, who has since become a television producer, said the magazine's demise was not unexpected. "Fifteen years is a long life for a magazine in this day and age," he said. "I'm sorry to see a magazine die. I think California needs a general interest magazine like that. . . . But given the ad climate, I'm not really surprised."

California Magazine Average total paid circulation (in thousands) 1991: 250,569 Source: Standard Rates & Data Service

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