MAXIM’S MARCH MAKEOVER: Maxim was one of the inventors of the Nineties lad mag phenomenon, combining the scatalogical and satiric with scantily clad babes in suggestive poses. But these are the Aughts, and times have changed. Now Maxim has gone modest. And it’s hoping the new cover up will kickstart a magazine that was on literal life support two years ago.
From a dimly lit conference room in the magazine’s Midtown office, new editor in chief Kate Lanphear, who took the helm in September after serving as style director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, thumbed through the pages of her first issue, which hits newsstands today. The March issue features a tight close up of Candice Swanepoel, who looks desirously at the lens of Gilles Bensimon. (No cleavage is visible).
Lanphear’s fashion cred, which includes having worked for a handful of high-end fashion titles such as Elle and the Australian editions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, affords her the ability to recruit big talent like Bensimon, but even she knows that editing and transforming a men’s magazine is a whole other endeavor — especially one as challenged as the lad mags.
When asked about the direction of the magazine, Lanphear, in an all-black uniform consisting of a blazer, heels and industrial looking yet sharp accessories, shifted a bit uneasily in her chair as she tucked her white blonde fringe behind her ear.
“This was not the most revolutionary idea, but I wanted to build issues around themes, visceral themes, and maybe one single word,” she said. “I chose ‘raw’ for the first one because it felt like a powerful word. It’s also a vulnerable word — something not yet fully formed, kind of at its simplest. Kind of like how I’m feeling now, how we’re feeling.”
Lanphear explained that she wants Maxim to be about storytelling — a far cry from the magazine’s roots as a ‘read on the toilet’ type title — but that’s the approach that has been taking shape even before the editor was tapped to helm the magazine.
In 2014, Maxim was bought out by Biglari Holdings Inc. for about $12 million in a distressed asset buy from Cerberus and others. In February 2014, Sardar Biglari, the Iranian-born mogul who runs Steak ’n Shake Company and is owner of Biglari Holdings, took over the title and poached former Details publisher Kevin Martinez in July.
Since then, Maxim has slowly begun transforming into a more polished product. Advertisers in the March issue range from Prada and Armani to Newport cigarettes and Skoal. For March, Maxim added 30 ad pages versus the same month last year, but there’s still work to be done.
According to the Alliance for Audited Media, Maxim’s total paid and verified circulation for the first half of 2014 totaled a little more than 2 million, with single-copy sales hitting 99,632. Drilling down over the six months, total paid and verified circulation remained somewhat stable, but single-copy sales fluctuated from 79,482 in March to 135,880 in June. In 2013, circulation was about 2 million, with newsstand sales hitting 137,687.
According to Lanphear, the team is “experimenting” with covers and features. For March, she’s added several “gear pages,” namely stories focusing on cool gadgets like industrial-strength flashlights. There’s also a short essay devoted to the best drink, which is a riff on the Food Network’s show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
She also added style coverage, arts and culture stories, features on rock bands, a war hero and Neil Strauss, the original pick-up artist, as well as a black and white photo essay on Eastern European fighters with an intro by Mike Tyson.
“I have to wake up an hour earlier every day just to get up to speed on sports,” Lanphear said, admitting that she’s skipping much of fashion week in New York to work on upcoming issues and the magazine’s Web site.
When asked if anything has surprised her about being an editor in chief, Lanphear laughed.
“What hasn’t surprised me? I have a newfound appreciation for all the incredible editors I’ve worked for,” she said before reaching the back page, and the one detail that will be her signature to the magazine.
“We end with a crossword,” the editor said with a smile. “Who doesn’t like a crossword?”