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ROLLING STONE TAPS FHM’S NEEDHAM

NEW YORK -- Rolling Stone named Ed Needham, editor in chief of beer and babes magazine FHM, as managing editor on Wednesday.<P>The appointment ends weeks of speculation about who would take the reigns of the magazine and replace Robert Love, who was...

NEW YORK — Rolling Stone named Ed Needham, editor in chief of beer and babes magazine FHM, as managing editor on Wednesday.

The appointment ends weeks of speculation about who would take the reigns of the magazine and replace Robert Love, who was asked to resign in April.

The move comes at a pivotal moment for Rolling Stone’s owner Jann Wenner, chairman of Wenner Media and the magazine’s editor in chief/publisher. Over the past few years, Rolling Stone has faced competition on all sides, as Vanity Fair continued to increase its market share and magazines like Maxim’s Blender and FHM emerged as a force to contend with.

While Rolling Stone’s ad pages were flat for the first half of the year, according to Media Industry Newsletter, its newsstand sales have been suffering. For the last six months of 2001, single-copy sales of Wenner’s flagship magazine were down 9.9 percent, with average sales on the biweekly at around 160,000, according to the publisher’s statement filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Maxim’s decline on the newsstand was larger than that — at 17 percent — but it sold an average of 825,000 copies on average, more than five times what Rolling Stone normally now sells. Rolling Stone is the second publication in Wenner’s empire undergoing a revamp. Us Weekly, its sister publication, is remaking itself under new editor Bonnie Fuller.

Needham’s appointment did little to dissuade industry speculation that Wenner would seek to revive Rolling Stone’s fortunes by taking it downmarket.

Not everyone was pleased with the idea, however. “Rolling Stone started out as an idealistic `lets change journalism’ sort of thing, and now it’s going to be following the herd with this cookie-cutter formula,” said one magazine editor.

“I think Rolling Stone has been less relevant with all the competition that has emerged,” said Blake Callaway, a media strategist at ad agency Kirschenbaum and Bond. “The magazine could use a fresh pair of eyes and a a fresh look, but I don’t see FHM as a leader even in the beer, babes and boobs world. The decision seems sort of derivative.”