AN EPIC MYSTERY: Any new company that comes along touting its revolutionary business model is regarded with a dose of skepticism. But Epic Media, which is staffing up in preparation for a pair of magazine launches later this year, appears to require more than the proverbial grain of salt, thanks to its founder’s questionable background.
Last fall, Epic announced its intention to launch two lifestyle magazines, called Everything for Men and Everything for Women, in the second quarter of 2006. The magazines will cover virtually all areas of modern life, offering “an overwhelming amount of meaningful content and no useless filler,” according to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in November. They will supposedly be accompanied by a Web portal, called Zooprize.com, a membership card good for numerous corporate discounts, and a reality TV series modeled on “The Apprentice.” To realize this vision, Epic founder and chairman Nicholas A. Czuczko recently made several key hires, including Nelson Anderson, formerly of V Life and Detour, as creative director of both titles, and Rob Hill, formerly of Giant and FHM, as editor in chief of Everything for Men. Hill, who was living in New York, moved to Los Angeles, where Epic is based, according to sources.
But an examination of Czuczko’s record casts doubt on his promises. Prior to entering the media business, he was involved with two technology ventures, neither of which appears ever to have gotten off the ground. He first announced plans for the Everything magazines in December 2003, claiming the debut issue would arrive in June 2004 and have a circulation of 1 million. Czuczko said he had $7 million worth of commitments from private investors to fund the launches, which were, however, indefinitely postponed.
By June 2005, when Epic stock became available for public trading, Czuczko had revised the magazines’ circulation guarantee to 500,000. By October, it had fallen again, to 250,000. An Epic spokeswoman said Monday the launches had been pushed back again, to the second half of the year. Meanwhile, Zooprize.com, which was supposed to launch in October, is still “under construction,” according to a message on the homepage. A magazine industry veteran who was briefed on Epic’s efforts said, “This is the flimsiest business plan I’ve ever heard.”
Does Epic have money to spend? According to its SEC filings, the company has essentially no assets and has been operating at a loss. In September, it said a “major investment fund” had signed a letter of intent pledging $6 million, but the money was never received.
Reached by phone Monday, Czuczko offered an explanation: “With regards to that financing company, we decided not to use them because they’re foreign money,” he said. “I’ve already put other investors in place.” Pressed for details, he said it was premature to discuss them, then hung up.
James M. Hollman, who is listed in filings as Epic’s treasurer and chief financial officer, said he had no knowledge of the company’s finances, having resigned in November. He declined further comment. Mark Janusz, a circulation consultant who worked for Czuczko in 2003, also declined to be interviewed, saying, “He’s a bulls–t artist and he doesn’t pay his bills. I have nothing to do with him.”
Whether or not Czuczko pays bills, he is, according to public records, a felon, having been convicted in February 1999 of conspiracy to commit theft. An administrator at the Oregon courthouse where Czuckzko was convicted said there is currently a warrant out for his arrest for violating his probation with a reckless driving charge.
Asked about his legal record, Czuczko said, “Give it a rest.” He then hung up again.
— Jeff Bercovici
WIN-TOUR OF DUTY: The defunct Radar magazine doesn’t seem like the most obvious place from which to be plucking Vogue staffers, but that’s precisely where Anna Wintour found her latest senior editor. The editor in chief of Vogue, who was oft-tweaked on the gossipy magazine’s Web site, has hired former Radar deputy editor Chris Knutsen. A Vogue spokesman said, “He will be editing political coverage, current events and keeping an eye open for book excerpts.” Knutsen, who previously worked at GQ, Riverhead Books and The New Yorker, also co-edited the book of essays, “Committed,” excerpted in Vogue last year. He will inherit at least one responsibility from Vogue-arts-editor-turned-Men’s-Vogue-editor in chief Jay Fielden: editing food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. Which, to be sure, is a job unto itself.
Between hiring people and going to the collections in London and Milan, Wintour’s been extra busy lately, but she still made time to give a speech Monday morning at a magazine and book industry retail conference in Orlando, Fla. Expounding on the art of maintaining “superbrands,” she offered the following advice: “Resist any cheapening of the brand, however popular and lucrative it might be in the short term.” Wintour punctuated the point with a jab at Vogue’s rival, Elle. “We were offered ‘Project Runway’ first, and we turned it down,” she said. “Vogue is not in the business of making entertainment out of the struggles of new designers. We’re in the business of nurturing the next generation of American talent.” Be that as it may, one imagines the folks at Elle aren’t feeling too much regret about their brand-cheapening involvement in the hit reality show.
— Sara James and J.B.