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Regarding Media

It's Publish and Perish in L.A.

July 03, 2001|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She liquidated her retirement accounts, sold her condo and got rid of everything else she owned of value on EBay, but it wasn't enough to hold Glue together. Last month , Laurie Pike, the magazine's independent publisher, called it quits, and Glue joined a long list of other also-folded Los Angeles alternative magazines.

Pike's concept was simple and ambitious: publish a lifestyle magazine about Los Angeles east of La Brea Avenue that would prove there's more to the city than premieres and plastic surgery. And she ran a penny-wise operation--basing the magazine in her Koreatown apartment instead of renting office space, and steaming off uncanceled stamps to save on office supplies. She spent $300,000 of her own money to keep Glue going, but it fell apart before it earned a profit.

"I thought Glue would be so successful," said Pike, a high-energy 38-year-old with a retro fashion sensibility. She is not the first--nor likely the last--counterculture publisher to gamble everything and ultimately lose.

In the last five years, a number of other alternative L.A.-based magazines have also gone under, including Raygun, Bikini, Flipside, Grand Royal, Ben Is Dead, Option and UHF. Though each had an L.A. flavor, all were competing on a national level for readers and advertisers.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 19, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Flipside--An article in Southern California Living on July 3 included Flipside in a list of alternative L.A.-based magazines that have folded. Although Flipside has not published in 10 months and it is not known when the next issue will be printed, its publisher, Pat DiPuccio, says it has not gone out of business.

Increasingly, it seems, "to live and die in L.A." is a phrase applicable to the independent magazine scene. But, like lambs to the slaughter, there are always newcomers who think they have the right formula to make it work. In the last few years, several new L.A.-based magazines have been launched--Flaunt and Mean among them. Next year, L.A. Confidential will enter the fray.

But if history is any indication, it is unlikely they will live long and prosper. Most of them will have been driven out of business and off newsstand shelves through a lethal combination of any or all of the following: inadequate ad sales, editorial inexperience, media competition, poor visibility, novice writing, a lack of vision or--most commonly--insufficient funding.

It takes about $1million to launch and sustain an upstart magazine for its first year of business, according to Samir Husni, who heads the magazine program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Presuming a magazine even makes it through its first year, he said, it takes an average of four years for it to turn a profit.

And those who live by trends usually die by them.

Detour Stays on Track

Detour is the longest-running independent alternative magazine published in L.A. A thick glossy that is heavy on Hollywood and fashion, it has been in business 14 years. The magazine is owned by Detour Media--Andrew Left is president and CEO--and has a national circulation of 125,000.

Newer on the market are two magazines launched in November 1998: Flaunt, with a circulation of 90,000, was started by former Detour editor Luis Barajas; Mean, a bimonthly with a circulation of 65,000, is published and owned by Kashy Khaledi.

Also based in L.A. are a number of niche magazines that home in on very specific interests, including Giant Robot (about Asian American pop culture); Urb (a dance music and culture magazine with a July/August cover feature on "The War Against Ecstasy"); Alternative Press (specializing in alternative music); and others.

With the exception of niche publications, increasingly, the only thing that defines an "alternative" magazine is that it isn't printed by a major publishing house. Content that used to be considered alternative--sexual deviance, risque fashion, left-of-center bands--is being co-opted by bigger magazines--such as New York-based Maxim and Spin.

"In the last couple of years especially, a lot of the mainstream titles have begun to try to ape the look and attitude of the edgier independent magazines," said Detour editor-in-chief Andrew Berg.

Meanwhile, each magazine fights to be distinctive in readers' eyes.

The July "Cherry Issue" of Detour features actress Kirsten Dunst decked out in '80s chic. Inside are profiles of actors Tom Green and "The Center of the World" star Carla Gugino, as well as fashion photo spreads with Rose McGowan, Don Cheadle and Ted Demme. Though Detour considers itself an "alternative" magazine, the edgiest item in its 128 pages is a sex column on thong underwear.

In the July issue of Flaunt, Tim Roth in full "Planet of the Apes" face makeup growls from the cover, and inside a fashion spread features girl boxers.

Mean, though a little less predictable, also falls back on celebrity coverage. In its July game-show issue, "Jackass" Johnny Knoxville of MTV graces the cover. Inside are interviews with hosts from "The Price Is Right" (Bob Barker), "The Gong Show" (Chuck Barris) and "Blind Date" (Roger Lodge).

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