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It's Crunch Time for a New Magazine With a Broad Spin

The fitness center chain has come out with a quirky periodical for the young and urbane.

January 23, 2002|LAUREN SANDLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Lose Weight: Watch TV" is not what you'd expect to find on the cover of a gym's own publication. But almost nothing in Crunch Magazine is.

The new 230-page glossy, published on behalf of the New York-based Crunch fitness empire (with outposts in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami), hit the company's upscale gyms last month, a first move in an attempt to transform the gym franchise into a media presence--television and radio shows are planned. The magazine, which was scheduled to make its nationwide debut this month, and its cover displaying Juliette Lewis in terrycloth short shorts will be on newsstands everywhere. It will be free to Crunch members and carry a newstand price of $4.99.

Crunch is no abs-obsessed, carb-fueled, spandex-suited magazine. In fact, you have to look twice before you notice that fitness has any role in the magazine at all. The publication is a mishmash of feature stories and columns (including an advice column called "Ask a Cabbie")."Spin" in the pages of Crunch refers to the new Strokes album, not a stationary cycling class. To be sure, practically the closest thing to jocks you'll find here are a throng of cricket players in Compton (called the Homies and the Popz--for real), and Team Cold Pint, a group of drinking buddies who decide to run a marathon ("Why I want to run the marathon: Because I was drunk when I was asked, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.")

As you may have gleaned, this is a magazine of irreverent lifestyle rather than fervent fitness. In Crunch magazine terms, this means it's the "magazine of acceptance," as its spine will tell you. Just what this means isn't entirely clear from its content. Like any other thick glossy, the models "accepted" for its fashion spreads are all suitably gaunt and gamine.

Crunch publisher Aaron Sigmond explains it this way: "Crunch fitness was founded on their slogan, which is 'no judgments.' We exploded that philosophy to define our book as the magazine of acceptance. We don't care if you're gay or straight or black or white or dropped in from Pluto just because you like the mocha Frappuccinos at the Starbucks on Madison on 46th Street." Our nation's founding principles: Liberty and lattes for all.

Editor Eddie Taylor cuts to the quick a little more readily. "This is not an all-encompassing, huggy, touchy-feely kind of concept. Listen, people like aspiration. People don't necessarily like to have their own lives reflected," he says. "If people don't give a staff about how they look, they wouldn't be joining a gym, now would they?" And with this new "magazine of acceptance," they can learn what sweat-proof foundation will keep their pores minimized through step class.

Included amid the scenester glitz are some remarkably cheeky and creative stories--cooking with Christopher Walken, a profile of a "flirting academy"--which certainly give the glossy newsstand set a run for its money. In fact, when in-the-know Fashion Wire Daily listed its "ins" and "outs" for 2002, Crunch was crowned "in," while Tina Brown's Talk was on the way out. Quite a pronouncement for a gym rag--and testament to how far outside the bounds of fitness custom publishing this magazine has pushed.

Which makes the magazine quite an oddity. Outside of tiny pieces and graphics the editors sneaked into corners of the magazine, there seems to be little relationship between the magazine and the fitness chain at all. To some readers, that's what makes it appealing. "I don't like fitness magazines, and I work out like a fiend," says Afarain Majidi, an out-of-work magazine editor and avid Crunch-goer. "I really like the magazine because it's such a mishmash of what you'd never expect."

This is just what Crunch's publishers are hoping for: a clear-cut demographic to whom they can target the 70-plus pages of advertising they've sold for the first issue. That's what makes this launch possible in the midst of the worst print advertising market since World War II. That's where the money is, says publisher Sigmond, who believes that even as magazines are folding all around him, "no matter how terrible the market, we'll never be without custom titles and magalogues--now more than ever." He says that it's far easier to pitch to a tightly targeted demographic, like the urbane and media-savvy young adults that fill Crunch's gyms every day. And beyond the Crunch membership, he says, there's a much larger version of that audience waiting to pick up the title at newsstands.

That targeting turns off Joe Epstein, a media strategic planner who works out at Crunch almost every day.

"I find it disingenuous. It's all an obvious marketing ploy. And because of that, I don't find any of it credible," he says. "I couldn't bear to read it, honestly."

The publishers of the magazine, which was originally planned as a biannual, are flirting with doubling it to a quarterly. Crunch has gotten advertisers and gym rats to accept it--now it's time for the public to make its own judgments.

"Our philosophy separates it from your usual newsstand lifestyle dreck and fitness fodder," says editor Taylor of the mammoth glossy. "And if people don't like the magazine, they can use it as an occasional table. How's that for acceptance?"

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