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Closeted No Longer : Magazines: Increasing ad revenues, mainstream media interest and attractive demographics have made an increasingly diverse gay press a vibrant market.


Spend some time browsing at your local newsstand, and you're likely to see gay magazines displayed not alongside pornography, but alongside men's magazines or the ethnic press. It's Playboy and Penthouse that now come in plastic envelopes, not their mainstream gay counterparts.

Glance at the covers, and you won't find the semi-nude hunk of the month, but female and male gay leaders in various fields--such as "gay super-model" Tim Boyce promoting Out magazine's current fall fashion issue and Gore Vidal, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, currently on the cover of the Advocate. Browse through the gay magazines, and you'll quickly find that the salacious ads for phone sex have been largely bumped in favor of classy pitches for airlines, computers and cars.

In short, and despite a conservative tide frequently hostile to gays, 1995 has been a banner year for a fast-growing, increasingly diverse national gay press. Paul Poux, vice president of the New York-based Mulryan/Nash advertising agency, said the 11 national gay magazines project $12.7 million in ad revenues in 1995, a 16% jump over the previous year, edging out the growth rate of the mainstream magazine market, and double that of the black and Latino print markets and of mainstream newspapers.

Paid circulation among gay magazines now tops 350,000, two-thirds of it going to the Advocate, Out and Genre. As recently as 1990, by contrast, the Advocate was virtually the only established national gay magazine on the market, with a circulation of 75,000.

Many liquor, airline, clothing, automotive and computer firms, which never dared advertise in the gay press, now run full-page ads, some specially tailored to this market. Saab and Saturn, for example, started advertising this year while Apple Computers began last year, Poux said.

Other national advertisers include Virgin Atlantic airlines; Chase, Chemical, and Citibank; Evian and Perrier; Days Inn and Holiday Inn hotels; MCI; Benson & Hedges cigarettes; American Express Travelers' Cheques; fashion companies from Benetton to Versace, and liquor companies from Absolut Vodka to Zima.

Typical of the new crop of gay-sensitive ads is one that shows a well-dressed man looking into the camera across a busy bar, and the caption, "When you get up the nerve to send him a drink, make sure it's a real drink. Dewar's."

The vibrant market put the 28-year-old Los Angeles-based bimonthly Advocate in the black last year for the first time ever, its editor says. Genre, too, reports that it's profitable. And while 3-year-old Out does not expect to break even for another two years, publisher Harry Taylor says revenues have shot up 70% this year, enough for the snazzy book to expand from publishing 10 issues this year to becoming a monthly in 1996.

In fact, the New York-based Out, a sort of gay Vanity Fair, recently surpassed the Advocate in circulation. Out's lengthier general interest pieces tend to be less politically pointed than the Advocate's, yet still cover topics such as "The Newt Era: Is It Good for the Gays?" and "Keanu Reeves Sets the Record . . . uh, Straight."

Editor Sarah Pettit, dismissing what seems to be a natural rivalry, said she does not see other gay magazines as Out's primary competition. "My question is not how are we doing vis-a-vis the Advocate," she said. "It's where are all the gay readers and why are they still not reading us?" Part of the answer may be inferred from the fact that 60% of Out's 100,000 subscribers request delivery in black plastic wrappers.

So promising has the market become that even though the existing national magazines are all privately held, the larger media conglomerates are sniffing around. Time Warner, for example, spent time and money developing a magazine to be called Tribe. Although that effort died on the drawing boards, "The way it traditionally works is that [mainstream publishers] will let magazines like us finesse the market over the next five years. Then, they'll come in and buy us," Pettit said.

All of this makes it harder to remember the hard times. When Jeff Yarbrough was named Advocate editor in 1991, he seemed to face two choices: Tread water and watch the publication slowly expire, or eliminate the classified sex ads, which made up 40% of ad revenues, and plunge more deeply into the red, gambling that in time the magazine could attract mainstream advertisers.

Yarbrough, formerly a reporter with People and for London's Sunday Times magazine, thought that the classifieds would forever get in the way of the Advocate's claims to serious journalism. So, he spun off the ads into a separate publication, the Advocate immediately shed a third of its heft, and rumors of its demise centered not on if, but when.

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