By  on June 20, 2007

"Is Mika gay/Post-gay/Not gay?"

That cover line for Out magazine's July issue, referencing the Lebanese-born, British pop star, embodies the evolving sensibility of the title since its redesign, which bowed with November's edition. A sensibility, said editor in chief Aaron Hicklin, that is taking a broader point of view, reflecting a more sophisticated expression of sexuality and flashing a higher fashion profile.

"Mika makes very strong suggestions in his lyrics and comments that he's gay and we raise the question as to whether Mika is gay in the story," Hicklin related. The pop star's mode of expression is one Out's editor described as "prevalent among the younger generation — you can label me however you want; I won't label myself."

"Gay identity and culture are evolving, and we need to evolve with it," Hicklin added.

Instead of catering mostly to readers of niche gay titles, Out has been widening its lens to take in topics thought to be of interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender readers of mainstream magazines. Part of the effort is being manifested in Out's attempt to create a stronger fashion presence and in the launch of two blogs. A fashion blog, Stylelist, at blogs.out.com/style, went live online in April, and around six months ago, Popnography.com, a pop culture blog, made its debut.

"I felt we shouldn't be ghetto-izing ourselves with LGBT magazine readers and should appeal more to readers of magazines like GQ and Details," hence the gay-or-not cover line, for instance, a signature Details feature that at times has gotten the magazine into hot water. "One of the questions LGBT publications must deal with is what does being gay mean these days? Younger people don't identify themselves being gay as first and foremost who they are. It's a part of it," he continued. "So the magazine oughtn't be so strident in a gay voice and [ought to] express a broader palette of stories."

While the Mika story perhaps best exemplifies Out's changing sensibility, the editor in chief also cited a piece in the April issue about "Ugly Betty" and a July feature, "Celebrating the Great Gay Resort," as emblematic. The article about the ABC TV show offered a gay perspective on the mainstream world, for example, and the feature about gay resorts, whose base of visitors is aging, examined what the magazine sees as the diminishing role of such locales and the related issue of how gay men and lesbians define themselves today.Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank for sexual orientation law, noted that the question of what it means to be gay is one people are "starting to raise a lot more." This may be because people have been coming out at an earlier age, possibly "normalizing" what it means to be gay or making it easier to cope with challenges, she posited. Greater geographic diversity of the gay population and the presence of more, openly gay elected officials have been prompting the question, as well.

Out's emerging mind-set marks a departure for the title that once outed people who may not have wanted to proclaim their sexuality. "I don't think we have a role to out people. We have a role to engage in a conversation," Hicklin stated, characterizing the magazine's May article, "The Glass Closet," in that manner. "We're not a political bellwether, we're a cultural/social one."

Fashion coverage seldom dips below 12 to 16 pages an issue these days and occupied 39 pages in the March edition, one of its style showcases, along with June and September.

As for fashion advertising in the magazine this year, it has edged up about four pages to 46.7 pages through May 21, while total advertising in Out has fallen by 38 pages to 204, according to TNS Media Intelligence data furnished by Planet Out, sister company to Out parent LPI Media. The overall decline reflects a falloff in ads for pharmaceuticals, automotive vehicles and entertainment, said Bob Cohen, president of LPI Media.

In the first quarter, Out's advertising revenue rose 16 percent to $3.56 million from $3.06 million a year earlier, TNS reported.

Out's 140-page March issue, which included a 22-page feature entitled "Spring Fashion 2007," contained ads from 15 fashion advertisers, which ran on 26.3 pages. Seven of those advertisers had two-page spreads ahead of the table of contents: Gucci, Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, A|X Armani Exchange, DKNY, Marc Jacobs and David Yurman.

The March magazine took in ad revenue of $1.9 million, up 12 percent from the $1.7 million realized by the March 2006 issue, according to TNS. The growth came despite a 17 percent decline in ad pages to 60.24 from 72.84, based on Publishers Information Bureau data posted at the Magazine Publishers of America's Web site. Two increases in Out's rate base between mid-2006, when its circulation stood at 130,000, and this year, when it has been averaging 175,000, have lifted ad prices significantly, Cohen said. For example, a onetime, four-color, full-page ad now costs $27,740, up from $20,470 a year ago.By comparison, the 226 magazines tracked by the PIB saw ad revenue for their March editions rise by an average of 8.7 percent, while the average number of ad pages grew by 1.7 percent.

Asked to appraise the impact of Out's redesign — whose price tag Hicklin put at between $50,000 and $100,000 — the magazine's editor said it "still seems too early to measure the effects." But he added, "We probably hit an area of comfort in the March issue."

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