Aggressively hip with its Internet-inspired graphics, business magazine Fast Company has nearly given whiplash to entrepreneurs who continue to do double takes over the 2-year-old publication.
"A person in a big company showed it to me on an airplane and he never got it back," Sheila Washington, head of the California Business Incubation Network, said, laughing.
Other small-business readers say they are mystified by the articles, advertising and design. They wonder what Fast Company is trying to do.
But pick up the thick, oversized magazine and focus on its liquor, car, clothing, camera and watch ads, and you'll understand what it's up to. It's selling entrepreneurship as an attitude, an ethos, a value--in short, a lifestyle.
The magazine has recognized that you don't have to own a business to be an entrepreneur. The rapid growth and strength of the small-business community has popularized entrepreneurial values and spawned the creation of "intrapreneurs" (corporate employees who operate with entrepreneurial values) and "propreneurs" (professionals who guide their careers by entrepreneurial values).
Meanwhile, with the prices of computers, faxes, printers and phone lines continuing to slide, more folks are working from home.
Magazine publishers have taken notice of the spread of entrepreneurial values and are scrambling to make the most of it by creating new publications or revamping older ones.
This month, Entrepreneur magazine is delivering 200,000 newsstand copies of its new magazine, Entrepreneur's Home Office. Business@Home, a regional business publication out of Portland, Ore., plans to expand nationally with a Web-site-only presence. Work at Home this year began publishing bimonthly out of San Diego, and Working at Home, a quarterly, was launched last fall by Success magazine.
Even 100-year-old Success is taking a stab at entrepreneurship as a lifestyle.
Next month, it departs from its formula of tips and business owner profiles to focus on the values and ethos of entrepreneurship. The magazine plans a face lift, with shorter stories to appeal to time-crunched small-business owners, more how-to information and, yup, lifestyle articles.
"My goal is to grow out of the business-to-business community into the consumer" market, Editor Steven Slon said. "I see entrepreneurship as a quality-of-life issue."
This courting of the small-business market follows the launch in the last five years of a variety of "controlled-circulation" or "membership-only" glossy magazines aimed at the small-business community. Wells Fargo came out with Business 94 (the title is updated every year), the National Federation of Independent Business created Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put out Nation's Business, the Edward Lowe Foundation began Entrepreneurial Edge, American Express launched Your Company, and Pacific Bell was a pioneer with its annual Small Business Success.
With all this focus on the small-business market, the question arises as to how well the small-business community is being served. Are these magazines more hype than help?
Although Fast Company has an urgency that makes it seem the magazine to read right now, in truth many of its articles are standard-issue motivational lectures tricked out in "Netspeak." As with other magazines, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between business equipment ads and articles, since both feature sleek photos, descriptions and price lists, but no real evaluation.
Fast Company--indeed, most business magazines--could also be faulted for presenting only the sunny side, often a predominantly white male sunny side. Missing in many magazines is in-depth examination of the issues and problems faced by small-business owners, such as lack of capital, discrimination against women and minorities, the difficulty of reviving low-income business neighborhoods, government regulations that trouble small-business owners, multilevel marketing scams that prey on gullible entrepreneurs, and disputes between franchisees and their corporate parents.
Still, the magazines may accurately reflect the unquenchable optimism of small-business owners, many of whom say they read the magazines for trends, tips and profiles.
Ask small-business owners what they're reading and they'll list publications that are not small-business-oriented, such as Business Week and Inc.; minority publications such as Black Enterprise and Hispanic Business; and others such as Home Office Computing and Working Woman. (For a chart of small-business reading and to log comments about your own reading list, please go to http://www.latimes.com/smallbiz.)
Also invaluable are various trade publications that zero in on specific industries. These smaller publications--with average circulations of 60,000 and names like Chain and Drug Store News; Drapers Record; Roofing, Cladding and Insulation; and Milling and Baking News--provide information and insights for both corporate executives and small-business owners.
"If you want to dig deep, you have to go to the trade publications," said Gordon Hughes, president of American Business Press, an association of business-to-business publications.
Finally, minority-owned small businesses that provide services and products to corporations and government have their own specialty magazine in Minority Business Entrepreneur, a 14-year-old magazine published out of Torrance with a circulation of 26,000.
"The universe of new business magazine start-ups is growing; it's been steady," said Jeanie Barnett, editor in chief of MBE. "But whether they last is the issue."
For more information on business magazines, see http://www.americanbusinesspress.com or http://www.bpai.com
Times staff writer Vicki Torres can be reached at (213) 237-6553 or at email@example.com