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Magazine Has Found Its Niche : 1-Year-Old Publication Targets English-Speaking Latinos


ROWLAND HEIGHTS — Tiny Unidos magazine--circulation 10,000 and published out of a spare bedroom in Rowland Heights--celebrated its one-year anniversary in print last month.

Unidos is geared to English-speaking Latinos in Southern California, a group that publisher Alfred Sanchez believes is ignored by other Latino publications with what he perceives as East Coast slants.

For Sanchez, 50, who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and worked in sales at local newspapers, Unidos is his dream come true: a magazine that gives a voice to Los Angeles-area Latinos.

His dream venture turned the corner four months ago and began making a profit, despite an economy beset by recession woes. And plans for expansion are now in the works.

"At first we thought, 'How can we get something off the ground?' " he said. "Ad agencies are folding. Newspapers are folding. What are we doing?"

But what Sanchez and his partner, Russell Shawney, are doing, magazine industry experts say, is carving success out of a booming area called niche publishing.

"It's the biggest thing now," said Fred Herzog, executive vice president of the Chicago-based American Society of Association Publishers.

"With a circulation of 2,000 to 10,000, the profit is astronomical," he said. "It's so profitable, it's sinful."

The idea behind niche publishing is simple, Herzog said. Identify a specialized audience, send them a meaningful message and market mainly to them.

Samir Husni, publisher of a guide to new magazines, said the audiences have gotten narrower and narrower, yet niche magazines proliferate.

For example, Water Scooter and four other publications are written for jet ski devotees. Paintball Sports and three other magazines address the pastime of paint-ball gun warfare, Husni said.

Both experts say the phenomenon has been aided by personal computers that allow niche publishers to process words and images cheaply, lower overhead costs, and turn out a quality product with the help of computer-compatible typesetting equipment.

All this is news to the Unidos publishers.

"I've never heard of that term," Shawney said of niche publishing, "but I guess we're doing something right."

Brooklyn-born , the 35-year-old Shawney, a former advertising designer, teamed up with former Boyle Heights resident Sanchez six years ago to start a San Gabriel Valley-oriented monthly magazine.

Once that venture succeeded, the optimistic pair planned to launch a Latino magazine to tap into a market that was largely ignored. Instead, the San Gabriel Valley magazine flopped after only one issue in November, 1986, and they lost $40,000 of their own money.

But "the dream kept persisting," Sanchez said.

The two then switched immediately to the Latino magazine concept and sought help from the local Latin Business Assn.

"We took a different approach; we pre-sold it," Sanchez said.

With association contacts, they secured ads before the magazine even existed. They did not waste time creating a prototype but went immediately into publication with full-page ads from such companies as Miller Brewing Co., GTE, the Coca-Cola Co., the Industry Hills Sheraton hotel, Southern California Edison, Tortillas Guerrero and Arco.

Armed only with a personal computer, five paid staff members, Sanchez's contacts and Shawney's design skills, the two have spent another $50,000 on their new venture over the past year.

"We worked 28 hours a day, kind of keeping going and breaking even, and we finally started to see a little light at the end of the tunnel four months ago," Sanchez said.

Working out of spare rooms in their separate homes, the partners edit free-lance articles from Latino writers and design the 32-page magazine entirely on a computer screen. The data on the computer disk is then commercially processed into page negatives for printing plates.

"This is a guerrilla publishing operation but with a Madison Avenue look," Shawney said of the full-color, glossy-covered publication.

The magazine is geared toward the Latino business community and Latino professionals. Most of the issues are mailed to upper-income Latinos in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, Mission Viejo in Orange County, and San Diego, Sanchez said.

Although Unidos takes a booster approach in its profiles of Latino politicians, associations and business owners, Sanchez said the tone is dictated by the need to portray successful Latinos and provide a role model for Latino youths.

"I call them success stories, not puff pieces," Shawney said.

Latino businessman Richard S. Amador Sr., a past president of the Latin Business Assn., agrees with the publishers. Amador's company takes out ads in the magazine, and he was the subject of a recent article. But he said the Latino businesses' support of the magazine arises not out of desire for self-promotion but out of a need to support the Latino community in general.

Amador said he hands out copies of the magazine to his management staff to inspire them. He also believes that Anglos in mainstream companies read the publication to find out what is going on in the Latino business community.

After a year of publishing, the magazine has received inquiries from ad agencies now eager to place ads, Shawney said.

Investors have approached, seeking to put money into what they perceive as a successful operation, Sanchez said.

The pair hope to open a formal office soon and expand their market to the U.S. Southwest, Sanchez said.

"We really shocked a lot of people," he said. "But if you have a dream somewhere inside, it will come out."

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