NEW YORK — Pugnacious Stuff editor in chief Greg Gutfeld has recently affixed himself to the media radar screen by attacking GQ’s Art Cooper and The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta in his monthly editor’s letter. This kind of sparring seems in keeping with the official Dennis Publishing demeanor: earlier this summer, Maxim’s editor in chief Keith Blanchard gave a speech to the Columbia Journalism School entitled “How Maxim Saved Journalism.” And he was being serious.
While nursing a drink at the decidedly downbeat Howard Johnson’s on 46th Street during a recent night out, Gutfeld revealed the less-documented wrinkles behind Dennis Publishing’s glossy, self-celebratory surface. It turns out that Stuff, wedged between brand anchor Maxim and newborn Blender, is having a Jan Brady moment — constantly being overshadowed by Maxim, Maxim, Maxim. “There is a lot of competition within Dennis,” said Gutfeld. “I think the Maxim people are jealous of us because they know we’re a better read.”
Stuff’s circulation has boomed to the present 1.1 million from 250,000 in launch year 1998, yet it remains in full-blown identity crisis, trying to define itself independently from Maxim, whose rate base is 2.5 million, even while owing its success to the Maxim precedent. Through September, Stuff’s ad pages are up 16 percent to 546, according to Media Industry Newsletter. “The fact that we spun off from Maxim is both a blessing and a curse,” said Gutfeld. “We’re constantly being hit with this ‘beer and babes’ label, and that’s simply not what Stuff is about.” Rather than blanderizing its content, however, Stuff’s spiraling circulation has fostered a high-octane, inventive editorial that has overflowed the bounds of traditional fare and become its own quixotic, post-laddie vision.
Like all middle children, Gutfeld complains that lots of people don’t “get” his magazine — including, occasionally, Felix Dennis himself. “Felix appreciates subversiveness, but he doesn’t really get certain things we do, like why we devote the last page of every issue to a giant photo of a big stuffed animal or something,” said Gutfeld.
Explaining Stuff’s editorial to advertisers is, understandably, an ongoing challenge. One recent Stuff feature story, about a man’s ability to thrive even though he lost nearly his entire face to a strange bacteria, was a hit with readers, but advertisers didn’t agree. “VW thought it was in bad taste,” said Gutfeld. “But they hadn’t even read it.” (Stuff still hasn’t snagged VW, yet.)
Gutfeld’s recent attacks on other media figures have amplified his public profile, flying in the face of Dennis Publishing’s anticelebrity editor ethos. The ensuing media buzz hasn’t always been positive. Add to this a hard-partying lifestyle that’s in perfect sync with Stuff’s brand image, and you have a lot of people in media circles wondering aloud about Gutfeld’s shelf life at Stuff.
Gutfeld himself wonders how much longer his wild ride will last. “They just renewed my contract,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if, a year from now, I was out of here.”