Is there room for another gay title?

Refresh, aimed at the affluent gay market, will launch in October. But with the magazine sector struggling, will it follow Fable and Fluid? asks Sonoo Singh

The “pink pound” rolls into tills night after night in the clubs, bars and coffee shops of Soho, Brighton, Manchester and further afield. It buys designer clothes, new cars and exotic foreign holidays. One sector eager to benefit from the gay community’s spending power is publishing, which has been trying hard to keep up with the development of the gay scene.

Magazines such as Northern & Shell’s Attitude, Mollivres-Prowler’s Gay Times and free titles Boyz and Pink Paper – both published by Chronos – have existed for several years. But some recent media ventures in this market have failed. The latest to fold was Fable – a magazine published by Queercompany, the Internet portal aimed at the gay and lesbian market. Fable, which launched at the end of last year, closed after only two editions. Queercompany itself is now up for sale.

Undeterred by Fable’s failure, another publisher is set to enter the market. Contract publisher C&B Communications, which publishes the London City Airport magazine City to Cities, is launching Refresh in October. The magazine will target affluent, professional gay men.

However, media buyers are sceptical of both the timing of publication and the need for another gay title in the market.

Zenith Media press director Stuart Mays says: “At the moment, launching in the magazine sector is dangerous. Forget the pink pound, you need a big bag of green to back any magazine launch. Even with plenty of marketing support, titles such as Fable have shut down.”

Fable’s launch ads, created by Anti-Corp, carried straplines including, “No white wedding. Sorry mum” and ran in mainstream titles such as Metro and The Guardian. The magazine sat between mainstream fashion titles such as Harpers & Queen and Wallpaper, and boasted about attracting blue-chip advertisers such as Unilever, Dior and Budweiser.

One media buyer says that the problem with gay titles is that they tend to “ghettoise” the gay community, when in fact neither heteros

exuals nor gay people see any merit in categorising individuals on the basis of their sexual inclinations alone. He says: “In today’s complex world we all need to connect to multiple references in order to build a balanced sense of identity.”

Attitude editor Adam Mattera agrees. Mattera explains: “Attitude is a mainstream title that sits alongside Loaded and Men’s Health and so it appeals to readers with mainstream tastes. Gay titles are all about getting the right editorial balance and tone, which is why Fable might have failed. It made the conscious effort of doing away with any kind of sexual content – an important element of any gay title. Sexuality is an element, just like many others: culture, sports, taste in wine.”

In doing away with the sexual content, Fable may have been following a theory propounded by one buyer, who says that “major advertisers” feel uncomfortable advertising in gay magazines because of their high “adult” content. Mays, on the other hand, says that gay-themed magazines have no problems attracting big brands.

Attitude, which like the other gay titles does not use the Audit Bureau of Circulations, claims to have a monthly circulation of 75,000. It is celebrating its eighth birthday this year and has attracted advertising from blue-chip clients such as Mazda and Wilkinson Sword.

Refresh launch editor David Tickner is also pitching his title as a “mainstream” magazine. With an initial print run of 40,000, he hopes that Refresh will gain a presence not only in London but also in those regional pockets of the UK which have a high gay population. Tickner also harbours overseas ambitions.

He says: “There is never a ‘right time’ to launch a magazine. What the market requires at the moment is a brave move and we like to think we are filling a gaping hole in the gay sector. Refresh will target the affluent sector of gay society, which is looking for a fresh magazine.”

The magazine industry knows that gay individuals tend to have a relatively high disposable income, as they are unlikely to be supporting a family. The fact that large clients see the gay community as a valuable market is exemplified by Virgin Mobile, which sponsored London’s huge Mardi Gras festival in June.

However, Tristan Reid-Smith, the editor of popular gay free-sheet the Pink Paper, says: “I don’t dispute the fact that gay men have more disposable income than the rest of the population, but the term ‘pink pound’ has been over-exploited. Not all gay men are loaded and not all gay men will buy gay titles.”

The free-sheet ran into trouble two years ago, when it decided to relaunch itself as a newsstand magazine, priced at £1.80. The strategy proved to be a dismal failure and Chronos was forced to do a U-turn and start distributing the Pink Paper free of charge in gay bars and gyms. Chronos also launched a glossy monthly lifestyle title, Fluid, but this has since been shut down.

Whether Refresh goes the same way will depend on its the appeal of its content and positioning. Industry observers appear, on balance, optimistic and hope that advertisers will recognise a strong media vehicle that can sit happily alongside other lifestyle magazines.

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