The new issue of aRUDE, an outsized independent style and culture magazine, is offering something new for its cover price of $9.95: empty pages. It’s a “vanity issue dedicated to Paris Hilton,” said its Nigerian-born editor and publisher, Iké Udé. Save for a Mondrian-inspired centerfold collage of the socialite herself, the issue contains only page after page of empty space, punctuated with questions to the reader. “Is she a genius because she works smart and not necessarily hard?” “Aren’t you jealous of her?” “Who should she marry?” Readers are instructed to fill in the blank space with their answers, artwork and any shout-outs to or about Ms. Hilton, then to return this material in the envelopes provided to aRUDE’s headquarters on 17th Street in Chelsea, where the content will be scanned and re-edited into a “real” magazine, to be re-issued in late summer.
“We want to democratize the editorial contribution in a magazine framework, where it’s open to readers to become creators,” said the Nigerian-born Mr. Udé, whose contributors include the professional dandy and partygoer Patrick McDonald, F.I.T. professor Valerie Steele and reedy Russian model Larissa Kulikova. “It’s kind of like”—you know what’s coming—“a blog in print, in a way.”
Just what is the deal with those expensive downtown glossies like aRUDE, euphemistically referred to as the “style press”?
“It’s a term that came out of France, where magazines that were high-end boutique magazines would be called la presse de style,” said David Renard, author of the recently released book The Last Magazine (Universe), in which he argues that the survival of the magazine-publishing industry at large lies in innovations made by the independents. “But instead of just being style as in fashion, style in essence means more design, in a sense, or trendy or cool.”
Lafayette Smoke Shop, located at the corner of Lafayette and Spring, is a hotbed of the pricey publications. “All tourists; many, many tourists” is how the store’s manager described his clientele—along with the moneyed Soho residents who need to fill coffee-table space, of course.
“I bought one called SOON, in Chinese, French and in English—$70 cover price!” said Samir Husni, chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi and author of the annual Samir Husni’s Guide to New Magazines, now in its 22nd year. “You can tell that those boutique magazines are done for the people within the industry, rather than the people outside the industry. It’s a celebration of our inner circle. Most of them you can find in New York, but the minute you reach Des Moines, they’re gone!”
But most of the style press is sustained not by newsstand sales but from ads taken out by—and sometimes custom-designed by—high-end fashion houses, retailers and other luxury brands. “There’s no way they can make money without advertising,” Mr. Renard said. “They’d have to be selling at $20, $30 a piece—sometimes that’s impossible! They want to keep the American concept of low prices.”
To get the most desirable advertisers, editors have to woo first-rate style mavens, photographers and graphic designers—usually friends or friends of friends—to contribute work for free. (“Diane”—as in von Furstenberg—“will always take out an ad with us,” Mr. Udé said.) Then they have to get the finished product into the right hands. “In New York, with the right wholesaler for New York City, you can make 500 copies look like you are everywhere. Everywhere!” Mr. Renard said. “To whom? To the advertisers and to the tribe that you’re trying to attract, let’s say the downtown ‘cool set.’ Only 500 copies—that’s 30 stores.”
Most of the magazines are primarily visual, repositories for art photography. One exception is 032c, published by partners Jörg Koch and Sandra von Mayer-Myrtenhain out of Berlin; the latest issue, which will retail for $20.99, arrives in New York at the end of May and contains lengthy essays on contemporary art and politics. “Readers are editors, artists, gallerists, architects, students at Columbia and N.Y.U., and, of course, fashion people—designers, P.R., photographers, stylists,” Mr. Koch said of his shiny export.
Trace ($5.99) is one title that has extended its brand beyond print. In 2003, the magazine started Trace TV, a cable-television channel in France, which is now available in the U.S. on the Dish Network. In Trace’s editorial offices on Broome Street, editors converse in a kind of lingua universale, lapsing from English into French and occasionally Spanish, with intermittent exclamations in other tongues. Editor in chief Claude Grunitzky, 36, the son of a West African diplomat who himself speaks six languages, founded the magazine in 1996 in modest digs in London. Over the next 10 years, he relocated the operation to downtown Manhattan and morphed into a kind of style-press mogul. The magazine is now published in three separate editions—American, British and French—with each distributed to appropriate linguistic markets worldwide. Mr. Grunitzky calls himself a “cross-cultural guru.”
“When you look at these ‘style press,’ what they give us is the cornerstone from which we can build the future for print,” Mr. Husni grandly claimed. “Because those magazines cannot exist or have the impact that they have if they existed in any other medium – not online, not on TV.”
At any rate, Mr. Udé eagerly awaits the results of his little editorial experiment. “It’s not easy to do this,” he said. “But thank God it’s not easy! If it would be easy, then every Dick and Harry would be doing it.”
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