On 10, Aug 2007 | No Comments | In | By Mike
Magazines are flattering, sure, but they’ve also become a replacement to San Diego’s limited offering to alternative “infotainment” publications. They’re no longer the shiny, fun and fully disposable lumps of recycled trees, but rather they’ve become a new source for high ad revenue.
Approximately 300 magazines start up each year — on top of the 15,000-plus magazines that already exist across the country. Each has its own niche, including garden, home theater, cars, brides, fashion, music and gaming. Two of the more recent additions to permeate the local market include 944 San Diego and Imperfekshun magazine.
A lifestyle, fashion and entertainment monthly for the affluent society, 944 San Diego geared up for hyper-drive this year when it introduced its Los Angeles edition. Originally conceived in Arizona in 2001, the 944 brand has quadrupled in size. There’s also a 944 Phoenix and 944 Las Vegas. They, too, share much more than the magazine’s name, which was adopted from its first business address.
Because the magazines are broken into two main categories, national and local content, all four 944s publish the same feature and cover stories. Moreover, all four editions dedicate a huge portion of the magazine’s content to photo galleries of photogenic club frequenters, which are reminiscent of high school yearbook photo collages.
Ready To Fight
This winning combination has turned the magazine into an instant success, and 944 San Diego’s Carly Harrill, 24, director of public relations (and former managing editor), couldn’t be more thrilled.
“L.A. Confidential, L.A. Variety — these magazines have been around for 40 to 50 years, and we don’t care,” she said, noting that 944 has received harsh criticism from competitors and locals who complained about its materialistic values. “You can knock us down as much as you want, and we’ve seen it before.”
One abrasive cover story about 944 in CityBeat, which calls itself “San Diego’s Real Alternative Newsweekly,” also didn’t help. But, Harrill continued, “We’re not going to let anyone knock us down.
“It doesn’t matter what we’re getting into, we’re willing to fall. That’s what it takes. You’ve got to put yourself on the line and know that there is an opportunity for failure.”
A full-page ad for 944 San Diego, which is known for is pristine and crisp layout, now costs upward of $3,000 — that’s a fivefold increase from its 2003 debut. And advertisers aren’t shying away from continuing to throw in buckets of money into the glossy pages (nearly 100 out of about 190 pages per issue of them are ads). In fact, international advertisers such as Lamborghini, Budweiser and Tiffany & Co. are lining up to spotlight their products to the 21-plus-year-old readership.
And with increased revenue comes corporate backing and a bigger staff.
Revenue figures for Imperfekshun and 944 were not available by press time.
Comprising the estrogen-driven powerhouse are seven college-educated women ages 22 to 28. This high-caliber production, by comparison, puts Imperfekshun, the polar-opposite publication, almost to shame.
It could be described as a mutt, really, because it’s a community news-themed magazine that dabbles in the entertainment, military and automotive sector. Manned by only one chief person, Imperfekshun magazine is just what it implies. And its grass-roots publisher, Joseph Wallace, will point that right out to you. His job titles range from ad director, photo editor and content editor to occasional graphic designer and staff writer, when he isn’t moonlighting as the art director.
Looking To Dominate
“My first thought was doing something on a small scale for the city of San Diego — something newsworthy,” Wallace, 31, said. “Then I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to do this, I might as well dominate the market.’ ”
He did. When he started out in mid-December 2004, he was laying out a mere 16 pages at circulation of 2,000, with full-page ad rates in the hundreds. Now, his 90-plus-page monthly publication has jumped to a whopping 50,000 issues, bolstering its ad rate to $1,300 (mostly for national companies such as Boost Mobile LLC, a subsidiary of Sprint Nextel Corp. that offers communications products and services), while it’s anticipating a Los Angeles launch by this year’s end. Getting there was a lot tougher, though.
“I ordered six books off of Amazon.com, went to the library and checked out two how-to books on writing, and that was it,” Wallace recalled. “I spent December and January doing layout and it was kind of ewww. … It was garbage.”
Starting out a bimonthly magazine, he took some field data from blacks, whites, Mexicans and Asians to figure out who his publication would cater to.
“It pretty much led me to what I was thinking about doing,” he said. “They don’t have a publication out here that branches out to everybody, and everybody thought the same thing. So I thought, ‘Man, that’s what I’m gonna do. If everybody is thinking the same thing, and I’m thinking the same thing, then this is gonna work. And it’s been working.’ ”
Room For Improvement
The magazine covers street fairs and local concerts and provides military veterans with information on programs aimed at special job opportunities for them. It also features a collage of the “Car of the Month.” But while everything sounds dandy and delightful, Imperfekshun magazine still has some necessary tweaking to look forward to.
To start, its entire layout is composed in a photo editing software, not a page layout program. The result: The text looks heavily pixilated and some pictures look distorted. There isn’t much of a design, style sheet or template. There are punctuation mistakes and, sometimes, it lacks the credibility of a conventional news magazine with its FHM-like pinup girls.
Additionally, the staff on Imperfekshun’s masthead isn’t really real, because nobody is actually salaried besides Wallace. Most everyone is outsourced, including his cousin, who is his go-to man for second opinions on its content, and his mother, who handles most of the magazine’s accounting.
Still, Wallace managed to get his magazine on its own two feet, despite working the initial 18-hour shifts per day. And above all, he’s managed to ring a certain truth about San Diego sans all the glossiness of a 944 San Diego. That truth is, regardless of whether “you’re a multimillionaire, you want to know what’s happening in the streets, too.”
“I wanted the name to highlight what the magazine is about,” he said. “It’s different. People think of imperfection, and they think of things that are not right.
“In every issue, there’s a column that says what’s perfect about imperfection. And the purpose of that is, people think of perfection and they think of people in the gym all the time — females have to be a certain weight to be perfect, but it shouldn’t be like that. Perfection is what is in the viewers’ eyes. So right now, I’ve got the most perfect magazine out here, because perfection is what I create.”
Most magazines aren’t perfect, of course, and many others falter quickly. San Diego has seen its share of them.
If there was ever a racy magazine that covered local news and music, its name was Fahrenheit. Launched in 2003 by Adam Gnade, 29, who set out as a freelance writer straight from high school, the bimonthly publication covered the San Diego scene, ranging from music to film and literature. It included multiple movie screenings, art shows and band reviews and also carried the syndicated “Savage Love,” a controversial question-and-answer column that was doused in vulgarity and sexual verbosity — something very risqué for any national brand. But the magazine lasted just a little more than a year before it died.
“It was crazy and hectic and violent, but we had our share of good, wild times,” Gnade recalled. “It was kind of like being in a rock ’n’ roll band, with all the good parts and downsides that that entails. Since we didn’t have corporate backing or 10 billion dollars behind us, we had to do everything pretty DIY (do it yourself): going to bands and businesses and venues and talking to them in person, meeting and talking to readers — that sort of thing.
“We all had some kind of background in independent arts, so we used what we knew to help get people’s attention. As a result, we didn’t have a massive amount of readers, but the ones we did have were like family.”
The bankroll, or lack thereof, ultimately gave way to the magazine’s demise — something that another publication, MusicMatters, encountered as well.
Formerly SD MusicMatters, the publication dropped its local acronym in favor of a simpler name, MusicMatters. Its mission: shed light on the entire San Diego music scene, with genres stretching from electronic to world music. But after a disappointing one-year stint in print and no national ads, the monthly reverted to its roots in being an e-zine (online magazine).
Said Jen Hilbert, 23, founding editor, in a written statement: “Running MusicMatters Magazine was a fantastic experience. We were overwhelmed with all of the positive feedback we received. Unfortunately, your average advertiser is less interested in the content and more interested in the number of people who will potentially see their ad.”
Less interested? Perhaps. But if there’s something that 944 San Diego and Imperfekshun have to show for their financial success, it’s that big-name companies have found a new home in their glossy ad pages.
This story first appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune.