Regional magazines are consumer publishing’s hottest category. It’s also the category most likely to be a victim of its own success as the number of magazines serving the same market grow to ridiculous proportions.

Atlanta, with more than 14 different local magazines, including a recent influx of three separate "lifestyle" titles, may be the best example of a category gone out of control. Atlanta also showcases the showdown (which is being repeated across the country) between "traditional regionals";general interest, list-oriented, paid circulation;versus "the new regionals";upscale, visual-dependent, controlled circulation.

The appeal is understandable: Atlanta boasts a strong economy, a booming housing market and a young population that recently broke into the ranks of the 10 largest U.S. cities. However, in the last year alone, three regional "luxe" publishers;Paper City, Modern Luxury and Ocean Drive;have all targeted Atlanta, joining an already crowded magazine field that ranges from free weekly Atlanta Now to 45-year-old, 68,177-circ Atlanta Magazine, published by heavyweight Emmis Communications.

According to Nielsen Monitor Plus, media advertising in Atlanta was $1.31 billion in 2004, with local magazines taking the smallest piece at $15 million combined. If Atlanta Magazine is an "eight-figure" operation as it claims, that doesn’t leave much room for the rest of the regional titles. "It’s ridiculous," says Atlanta Magazine publisher Sean McGinnis. "Can all these magazines survive? The short answer is no. This will be a war of attrition and if we have this same conversation two years from now, the landscape will look very different."

While Gina Wright, founder of The Leader Publishing Group, publisher of Atlanta Woman, thinks the Atlanta magazine market is worth four or five times what Nielsen reports, she agrees the market has hit critical mass. "Ten years ago there were very few magazines serving Atlanta," she says. "The late nineties offered a different opportunity for launching a magazine. The barriers to entry today are much more difficult;advertisers are more skeptical, readers are more skeptical, there are only so many advertisers to go around. Whereas you could have launched something 10 years ago without a lot of naysayers, today it’s much more difficult."

New Style Versus Old Style

Ocean Drive publisher Jerry Powers thinks that cutting his teeth in hyper-competitive Miami and a belief that his company can execute on the luxe model better than his competitors will work in Atlanta. "When we went into Miami 14 years ago there was one city magazine;South Florida;focused on the typical lists; best chefs, best schools etc.," says Powers. "We came in focused on fashion and lifestyle. Within four years, South Florida, which had been around for 30 years, went out of business."

Ocean Drive will launch Atlanta’s Peach in March. The magazine will publish four issues this year with a goal of $800,000 to $1 million in revenue per issue. Initial circulation will be 50,000 with 7,000 distributed on newsstands and in airports, limited distribution in other markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but mostly controlled with copies going into retail outlets, hotels and mailed direct to high-end home owners.

Same Advertisers, Different Ads

While his Las Vegas title is generating about $8 million per year, Powers thinks Atlanta’s Peach could be bigger than that. "When I look at all the magazines there;Atlanta, Paper City, Jezebel, Seasons;we see them all as the old city magazine concept," he adds. "The one magazine we think is viable and that we’re not going to compete with is Atlanta Magazine, which focuses on suburbs, private schools, kids, babies. If Bloomingdale’s did an ad for a new launch with Armani, they’d go with us. If they do an ad for a white sale, they’d go with Atlanta Magazine. We’ll go after the same clients but a different part of the business."

However, McGinnis, who bristles at the description of Atlanta Magazine as a suburban-focused magazine, says the new luxe titles will cancel each other out. "These new publications are all operating under the same model," he adds. "They’re alike in content and heavy on party pictures. Look at 10 to 12 back issues of Paper City;you see the same 100 VIPs over and over. Now multiply that by two."

Content will be the difference for McGinnis. "All too often, city magazines are accused of doing too many lists, and yes, we do our share of those, but we provide substance. Distribution does not equate to readership," he says. "Every time one of these new magazines comes in you see a quote from the publisher saying, ムThere is a tremendous void for this type of magazine. We will be the definitive fashion-style publication.’ None of them are coming into town and saying, ムWe intend on investing in and being the authoritative editorial service in Atlanta.’ They’re saying, ‘Our paper is going to be heavier, we’ll be a coffee table book, and we’ll have lots and lots of pictures.’"

Family-run quarterlies such as Season will have a hard time competing with the deep pockets and monthly frequencies of Modern Luxury and Ocean Drive once their magazines are established. "Most of these books may be able to sustain through strong economic conditions," says McGinnis. "But in the first economic blip that we see, or God forbid an economic recession of any kind, that’s really where you’re going to see the impact." | | | | | | |

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