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National Awards Give Saveur, Civilization a Shot at Longevity

May 02, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a new magazine, the hard road to profitability is marked by dozens of sales pitches to seen-it-all advertisers and a constant striving for circulation gains.

For the teams behind Saveur and Civilization, these start-up rigors should be eased now that the winning of National Magazine Awards has helped separate the publications from the pack.

Saveur, an upscale food magazine published by Meigher Communications, earned editorial honors last week for its lush photography and for a zesty package on the dishes and culture of Louisiana's Acadia region. Civilization, an accessible history and literary magazine published by L.O.C. Associates under an agreement with the Library of Congress, took the general-excellence award for publications in the 100,000-to-400,000 circulation range.

Both magazines were launched as bimonthlies in the fall of 1994 and now have circulations of more than 200,000. This is modest alongside the multimillion-copy outputs of Time and People, but impressive for two entrepreneurial publishing ventures that are operating in the giant shadows of Hearst Magazines and Conde Nast Publications and charging premium newsstand prices.

Saveur costs $5 a copy--a leap from the $2.95 price of Gourmet and Food & Wine--or $4 per issue by subscription. "We think it's a premium price for a premium product," said Joe G. Armstrong, an industry veteran who is the publishing director of Meigher Communications in New York. "If people are willing to pay $5, it means they're not getting this kind of product anywhere else and it shows that they're passionate about the subject and they connect with the way we're presenting it."

In the May / June issue, whose cover story celebrates clam chowder as it is prepared in the Yankee environs of Plymouth, Mass., advertisers wanting to make their own connection with Saveur's audience include Rolex, Jaguar and Chivas Regal.

Saveur and its sister publication, Garden Design, have generated a winning buzz for Meigher (pronounced Mear). The company, founded in 1993 by former Time Inc. executive S. Christopher Meigher III in a bid to reach maturing baby boomers, counts among its leading investors former Time Inc. chairman Andrew Heiskell, ex-Time President Nicholas J. Nicholas and the investment firm of Allen & Co., which recently put in $5.5 million.

Meigher plans to raise the circulation guaranteed to advertisers--Saveur's so-called rate base will jump to 300,000 in 1997, when the magazine also will start coming out eight times a year.

Civilization, whose "fine writing" and "graceful ability to connect the present and past" were praised by the award judges, costs $4.50 a copy for its high-tone mix of articles. The May / June issue includes an essay on the Poe-like darkness that infuses contemporary film and fiction, a portfolio of turn-of-the-century images taken by pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston and a cover story on the strides in athletic achievement over the history of the Olympic Games.

Editor Stephen G. Smith, who recently returned to the Washington editorial offices from a series of visits to West Coast ad agencies, said positive word-of-mouth about the magazine accounted for receptivity from the media buyers he met in Los Angeles and San Francisco. At the same time, Smith confessed, circulation (now around 230,000) would be closer to an internal goal of 500,000 in five years if direct-mail solicitations had been as successful as the magazine's initial test mailing.

The U. S. Postal Service recently estimated that American households in 1994 received a weekly average of 9.2 pieces of first-class mail, compared with 9.9 pieces of third-class mail. Ten percent of the latter came from publishers.

Given such obstacles, the National Magazine Award for excellence goes a long way to validate Civilization's editorial product among readers and ad agencies.

"We can't be like Hearst or Conde Nast and buy a full-page ad in the New York Times to proclaim our winning a National Magazine Award," Smith said. "But we can use the award to set us apart from other magazines."

*

I Spy a Foreword: Former CIA director William E. Colby, who was missing and presumed drowned earlier this week in waters near his Maryland retreat, supplied a foreword to a fascinating new reference book that presents the secrets and secret gadgets of the spy trade. "The Ultimate Spy Book," written by military historian H. Keith Melton and issued by DK Publishing Inc. in New York, shows wristwatch cameras, suitcase radio transmitters, listening devices and other hardware often depicted in Hollywood films.

Colby wrote: "Many of the items covered in this book evoke fond memories in one like myself, who first encountered them on missions behind enemy lines during World War II or during secret contacts with agents and clandestine allies during the Cold War."

*

Grant's Tome: Fans of Bob Grant must have rushed out to buy his new book after the conservative talk-show host was fired by New York's WABC-AM on April 17. Based on sales during the week ending April 20, "Let's Be Heard" (Pocket Books) will debut Sunday on the New York Times' national bestseller list at No. 15.

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Thursdays.

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