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MEDIA MATTERS DAVID SHAW

Gamblers who like the odds among men's magazines

June 29, 2003|DAVID SHAW

The concept of no risk, no reward seems hot-wired into the DNA of many American men. Actually, I suspect that the courtship of risk -- or at least the willingness to undertake great risk in the pursuit of great reward -- is neither uniquely American nor uniquely masculine. But to hear Brett Garfinkel talk, the characteristic does reach its apotheosis in the American male, ages 25 to 44. And Garfinkel expects to get rich off it.

Garfinkel is the 31-year-old, Brooklyn-born son of an oral surgeon and a schoolteacher, and right now, he's crisscrossing the country raising money -- and courting advertisers and promotional partners -- for a new bimonthly magazine scheduled to debut next March.

The magazine will be called JAQK -- pronounced "Jack" but standing for jack, ace, queen, king -- and it will be a lifestyle magazine for high-income men, focusing almost entirely on risk and reward. Indeed, on the cover, right below the name of the magazine, will be the words "No Risk, No Reward," and stories in the first two sections of the magazine will appear under the rubric "Risk" and "Reward."

Gambling is one of the risks the magazine will cover most heavily. Hence its name.

"In a sense," Garfinkel says, "Las Vegas represents the heart and soul of what we want to do, in both risk and reward, and we hope to partner with a few hotels there and in Atlantic City in a couple of promotional ventures."

After all, Garfinkel notes with a gleam in his eye, "gambling is a $64-billion-a-year business in this country."

"But we won't be just a gambling magazine," he says. "We want to write about all kinds of risk -- about professional risk and emotional risk, about taking chances in every arena. Men are always talking about taking chances, about competing, about winning, about gambling in the broadest sense."

JAQK will not be about physical risk, though -- at least not about taking risks for the sheer adrenaline rush, for the thrill of living on the edge, close to danger. Skydiving, bungee-jumping and parasailing will find no place in JAQK.

"We're not interested in people who put their lives in peril for no real reason," says Mike Pesca, 31, the executive editor in charge of the Risk section of the magazine.

"We are interested in stories on CEOs and artists and actors and lawyers talking about 'my biggest gamble.' We are interested in people who take mental risks, psychological risks, financial risks -- in the stock market, at the gaming tables, in sports, in their jobs, in their relationships."

I like Pesca's approach. I have never understood people who jump out of airplanes or take recreational drugs or do anything else that's physically risky unless they absolutely have to do it to save someone's life.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure I'm JAQK's ideal reader, since I'm not a gambler in the traditional sense of the term, and Pesca figures that a third to a half of his section will deal with gambling in one way or another -- an A-to-Z guide on a particular competition, betting on golf, stories on the highest of the high rollers, an article on a neighborhood poker game, an explanation of how casinos are "laid out to suck you in."

And the rewards?

Easy, according to Garfinkel.

"The kind of reader we're talking about -- the people in our target age group who make more than $100,000 a year -- never talk about taking a big chance in a casino or in some venture capital investment just so they can put their winnings in the bank," he says.

"They want to use their winnings to take a great trip, buy a great gadget or a great bottle of wine, go to a great restaurant, buy a great car. That's what the Rewards section will cover."

The payoffs

The Rewards section of JAQK will also have its own executive editor, Scottish-born Jack Wright, 37, a man who took a risk himself, leaving a career in the magazine world to run a cabana bar at a New Jersey resort last summer.

"I guess I was doing the whole JAQK thing," he says, "and then Brett called me on my cell phone on the Jersey shore one night last summer while I was drinking and looking at the Atlantic, and he made this pitch, and I decided to take another risk."

Now Wright is determined that JAQK's rewards -- and, presumably, his own -- be "uncompromisingly high end.

"I can see us doing stories on traveling in the south of France on 5,000 euros a day," he says, "or taking a two-week trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway or visiting all the best martini bars in the world."

Wright realizes that the Rewards section of the magazine has more in common with existing men's magazines, from Playboy to Cigar Aficionado, than does the Risk section. But JAQK won't compete with several other men's magazines dangling what many consider the ultimate masculine reward -- sexy, scantily clad women.

"Our reader won't need us for that," Garfinkel says.

Still, there's something vaguely retro about the JAQK ethos.

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