A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — Only in New York.
In a city that is seemingly oblivious to signs of a national economic downturn, where the tourist trade is booming and hip hotels, restaurants and stores continue to open at a break-neck pace, the local publishing market is heating up as well, with two new launches geared toward the more glamorous side of town — its parties, personalities and all.
Talk about your crowded fields: They join a roster of New York-oriented publications that have come onto the scene in the past six years, including Manhattan File, Time Out New York, City, Avenue and Quest, as well as the city’s more venerable titles, New York and The New Yorker.
Some of the big players in the magazine business consider the launches a sign that the industry may be healthier than is generally reported, especially in terms of newsstand sales and ad fallout from dot-com drop-outs. But they’re also skeptical of the chances for the startups, particularly considering their specific focus on New York — possibly the most jaded and cynical marketplace in the world.
Gotham, which launches on Feb. 21, is coming from the team that launched the wildly successful Ocean Drive in Miami and took Hamptons magazine to new heights with a formula of exhaustive party coverage, lighthearted celebrity Q-and-A’s and features on the local “It” people and places. Manhattan Style follows a similar formula and raced into the Manhattan market ahead of Gotham by breaking its first issue in November.
“I’m waiting with open arms to see Gotham, but Manhattan Style fell flat a bit with its desire to be the first one in,” said David Lipman, chairman of ad agency Lipman Richmond Green.
“It didn’t take the time to study New York enough,” he said. “To take a formula of a medium from outside of New York and apply it to New York will never work. It’s such a sophisticated, jaded market.”
David Heller, vice president and media director of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, cautioned that the more sober economy in which these magazines are launching could play a role in their ultimate success.
“Last year’s economy fed the environment high-society magazines thrive in — money, excess and partying,” he said. “That’s not to say they won’t succeed, but their success will come from the quality of the read and not simply as a by-product of irrational exuberance.”
Competitors are certainly watching as well, and while they’re not exactly sweating it out, many are quick to offer a cutting comment or two about the wannabes.
Caroline Miller, editor in chief of New York magazine, said, “To penetrate the clutter in New York, it isn’t like the beach house in the Hamptons. I think they’ll find this a lot more daunting.”
Cyndi Stivers, president and editor in chief of Time Out New York, dismissed the new players as “browsing magazines,” and Cristina Greeven, publisher and editor in chief of Manhattan File, pointed to the competition between the publishers of the new books as “more about an ego thing than a desire to do something great for New York City.”
A magazine rivalry that began in the Hamptons between the publishers of New York’s latest entries — Jason Binn of Gotham and Joe DeCristofaro of Manhattan Style — has been the subject of numerous reports as they bring their respective titles to the city, each looking to target a finite number of wealthy and hip New Yorkers that are interested in reading about themselves. Binn is perhaps his own best illustration of what these readers should be — a Seventh Avenue garmento turned into a self-made publishing wiz, whose liberal history of publishing pictures of himself in his magazines, with regular appearances at parties in Ocean Drive and Hamptons, has also fueled his reputation for self-promotion.
But it’s exactly this type of narcissism, a common character trait among Manhattanites, that may give the new titles a fighting chance at grabbing influential readers and ad dollars.
“I think there are enough people in New York who party and dress well and go to ‘in’ places and want to see their pictures in magazines to make the concept work,” said magazine consultant Martin S. Walker. “Lots of photos of people partying sort of feeds on itself, as these lawyers and investment bankers will get the magazine to look for their picture or their friends’ pictures and then become the target audience that the advertisers want to reach,” he said.
Lipman added that the luxury retail boom in New York, with new designer stores on Madison and Fifth Avenues, in SoHo, the Meatpacking District and in Chelsea, creates a potential market for the new magazines, especially if they target the luxury category and are presented professionally.
“We’re very cautious about these new magazines,” Lipman said. “We’re looking at them with big eyes and big expectations on one hand, but with cynicism and skepticism on the other.”
David Verklin, chief executive officer for ad agency Carat North America, suggested that not all of the titles will be successful, but added that, “The thing that seems to define the success of a New York magazine is finding the right balance between a New York focus and national quality and sensibilities. You’ve got to have Town & Country style and New York magazine insider specificity.”
In the weeks leading up to the Gotham launch, this is something of which Binn and Joseph Steuer, who was most recently executive editor of Interview for eight months before becoming the title’s editor in chief in November, are clear about.
Gotham promises more interviews, a mix of celebrity and society, and, of course, party pictures.
“I think that celebrity glamour and luxury are more attractive to people than crime or dirt or rape and murder,” said Steuer.
“We’re showing a particular area of New York, a specific world that’s not all-inclusive,” he said. “I’m not out here to write about the underbelly of New York. That’s not the formula of this magazine.”
Binn’s magazines are known to be aggressive advertising vehicles, carrying more ad pages than editorial. Ocean Drive, a weekly that runs with 200 to 400 pages, is 60 percent advertising and is estimated to have annual sales of $10 million, while Hamptons, with about 220 pages during its seasonal weekly printing and a circulation of 36,000, is 55 percent advertising. Gotham, which is planned to have nine monthly issues in its first year, is also expected to carry 55 percent in advertising pages. The launch was also promoted throughout the summer at high-profile events in the Hamptons, with T-shirts tucked into bags at Ted Fields’ Fourth of July Party and Puff Daddy’s White Party.
Through its Hamptons readers, Binn culled a database of 30,000 New York residents who will receive Gotham through its controlled circulation, which will also deliver the magazine to elite buildings picked by zip code and 55 of the city’s top hotels. Gotham claims to have more than $7 million in advertising commitments, including placements from Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Cartier, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Raymond Weil. Kelly Bensimon, who is fashion director of Hamptons, will also have that title at Gotham, and online columnists Horacio Silva and Ben Widdicombe of Hint Magazine would update their “Chic Happens” column into a monthly feature for the magazine.
“People, for whatever reason, always pick up a magazine and look at the party pictures,” Steuer said. “They want to see who’s in it, if they’re in it and why they’re not in it if they’re not. But I would like to make them different by also having some party writing. I do think people like reading about parties.”
“It’s going to be a smart book,” Binn added. “Not just fluff.”
Binn, a 32-year-old native New Yorker who once worked on Seventh Avenue at the Warren Group dress house, launched the Ocean Drive concept eight years ago, and took over Hamptons magazine in 1998. While turning those titles into successful vehicles, he’s also developed relations with New York advertisers and a reputation for his connections and ability to forge them, often making the rounds at parties and securing introductions to celebrities or facilitating entry for friends of the magazines into exclusive events or restaurants.
During a breakfast interview at the Regency Hotel, Binn displayed his connections, stopping by Alec Baldwin’s table and talking up the actor about the script of his upcoming project, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” He’s not the only one with connections — during an interview with City publisher John McDonald at his restaurant, Canteen, Mel Gibson arrived with an entourage for dinner.
Such is the decadence of this city, apparently something of which New Yorkers can’t get enough. Much as media, through conglomerates like Disney and AOL Time Warner, have become intertwined with the worlds of fashion, entertainment and film, publishing has becoming an integral part of the nightlife mix at restaurants and clubs.
McDonald, a 32-year-old entrepreneur who holds a stake in the SoHo lounge MercBar in addition to Canteen, launched City NY magazine two years ago as a bi-monthly title covering New York lifestyle and culture. With its January issue, themed around travel, McDonald redesigned the cover and logo, dropping the NY suffix.
Its circulation, which is entirely through subscription and newsstand sales, has grown from 30,000 to 60,000 with national distribution, featuring advertisers such as Gucci, Christian Dior, Evian, J. Lindenberg and Mumm. About 75 percent of its readers reside in the greater New York area. McDonald said he expects to break even next year.
Through his experience in the nightlife scene, McDonald has tapped celebrities as contributors to the magazine. In its latest issue, actor Billy Zane wrote and photographed a feature on Buenos Aires and celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten created a column called “Fast Food” that tells readers how to concoct such exotic dishes as whipped chocolate creme quickly at home.
Just as some of these titles are being imported to New York, publishers are also taking their formats on the road. Manhattan File launched a Vegas File in Las Vegas in February in a deal with the Bellagio resort, featuring editorials on the retailers and restaurants there.
“When we started Manhattan File six years ago, there was no Time Out, and no one above 14th Street had heard of Paper,” Greeven said. “I wanted something that appealed to a sensibility rather than a location, that appealed to someone fashion-forward, savvy and cynical, like typical New Yorkers are.”
The magazine has grown from an entirely controlled circulation to include under 10,000 subscriptions of its 100,000 copies, with recent specialized issues such as its annual, buzz-generating “100 most-wanted bachelors list.” Greeven has recently brought over Steve Baron from Out as associate publisher and Ray Rogers, who was Interview’s long-time music editor, as executive editor to pump up the substantive elements of the book.
“I’m not about hype,” Greeven said. “I want it to grow based on the readership loving it. We’re really the only one with a sense of humor. We’re funny and we’re fashion-forward, without trying to be a fashion magazine. We’re like ‘Sex and the City’ in print form.”
Time Out has grown substantially since launching a New York edition, with steady newsstand sales and a 133 percent increase in subscriptions over the past three years, according to its filings with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The magazine broke even in its fourth year and became profitable in its fifth, Stivers said.
Its niche is to provide comprehensive listings on the New York scene from the perspective of Generation X.
“It’s service with a spin, news you can use,” Stivers said. “We’ve gotten stronger and stronger at that. At the beginning, our primary competition was the Village Voice, but when that went to controlled circulation, then people began comparing us to New York.”
Time Out New York reported total circulation of 102,513 for the first six months of 2000, including 20,054 single-copy sales. Single-copy sales declined 13.2 percent from the year-ago period, according to Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Under new publisher David Kahn, The New Yorker keeps forging ahead. Last year ad pages were up 16 percent to 2,400 — a 10-year high. According to ABC, for the first half of 2000, total circulation was 843,000, up 1.3 percent, and newsstand sales were flat at 44,000.
“The vital signs of the magazine are stronger than ever,” said Kahn. “Flying against some economic headwinds, I think we’re making a lot of progress. For 75 years, we have faced down worthy competitors. Given the strong fundamentals, we are focused on the vitality of The New Yorker, not the competition.”
As for New York, which went through a redesign in the fall with expanded restaurant and “Cue” listings, Miller said the magazine is “fine, as big as it’s ever been.” While New York has not been immune to the difficult newsstand sales environment in publishing, since that represents 10 percent of its circulation, the effects have not been severe.
According to ABC, New York magazine reported a total circulation of 432,332 for the first half of 2000, including 28,068 in weekly average newsstand sales. Newsstand sales were down 15.3 percent from the year-ago period.
The magazine’s fall stand-alone shopping guide also scored with advertisers and readers and will be expanded to two issues this year, with 1,500 listings up from 1,000, in addition to the launch of a stand-alone restaurant guide.
“These new books are completely different than New York magazine,” Miller said. “New York’s mission is to provide great journalism and great service for New Yorkers. You can’t do that on a monthly. It’s an intense place and the information is moving very quickly.”