By  on September 16, 2005

NEW YORK — What is it about selling ad pages that just brings out the worst in people?

Earlier this year, when a catty sell sheet pitting sibling Advance Publications titles GQ and Details against each other surfaced, veterans of the publishing business were split on its significance. Some thought it smacked of the so-called gladiator days of publishing, the bloody battles of the late Nineties and early Naughts when publishers routinely slugged below their competitors' belts.

Others in the industry felt that, on the contrary, today's climate is as brutal as ever — although several in this camp did concede the new sell sheet was hardly as "creative" as the tactics used by a previous generation of publishers.

Creative? No. Efficient? Yes. "GQ resonates with more readers, and speaks with relevance, authority and youthfulness," the sheet reads, while stats highlight GQ's median cover age: as of April, 26.5,which is five-and-a-half years younger than the median for Details' cover subjects. A few glowing quotes about GQ positioned next to this comment from Peter Carlson in the Washington Post's "Magazine Reader" column: "The dumbest magazine story of the year appeared in the always moronic Details." (For the curious, Carlson was referring to Details' missive "The Nightmare of the Office Bowel Movement.")

The sheet certainly makes its point, namely that GQ is a bigger and better vehicle for certain advertisers to reach a certain type of guy — so who cares if a sister title is bruised in the process? Still, stacked against the legendary derring-dos of Ron Galotti, Richard Beckman and the Florio brothers, the sell sheet seems, well, downright cordial.

No one embodies that earlier generation of publishers better than Galotti, the former publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Talk and GQ, who, depending on the year, was alternately the most feared, revered or reviled publisher in the business. When Galotti was running the ill-fated Talk, in order to sell more ad pages, he had Louis Vuitton trash cans made and filled them with copies of competitors' magazines — mostly The New Yorker and Vanity Fair — before sending them to advertisers.

"I literally said, ‘I've taken the liberty of helping you with your buying plans,'" Galotti recollected. "In the old days, we played it more like gladiators. It was a blood sport."

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