Razor Nicking At The Competition

by , May 27, 2003, 12:00 AM
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If you want to rile Razor publisher Richard Botto, you need do little more than ask how he feels about his three-year-old publication being grouped with Maxim, FHM and other lad magazines.

"I don't see it," he says. "Mostly I look at the laddie books and think 'this is what we don't want to do.'" At the same time, however, Botto doesn't exactly come across as a seersucker-wearing member of the old guard. "I'd love to get Jack Daniels in our book, because Lord knows I'm a big fan," he says with a laugh.

Founded in 2000, Razor attempts to traverse the territory between lad mag and what Botto calls "the other end of the spectrum - you know, GQ and Esquire and their $3,000 suits." It is that niche in which Razor sees a wealth of opportunity. "There's no middle ground for the 20-something past his frat-house years but not yet at the point where he's going to be buying those suits," Ratto continues. "We embrace success and independence in a way that is, hopefully, mature and thoughtful. When you're 19 years old, maybe you need an article on '20 ways to bring a woman to orgasm.' But when you get towards the end of your 20s, hopefully you're a little beyond that."

While it might pain Botto to hear it, on the surface there doesn't seem to be that much of a difference between Razor and the lad mags or GQ. It boasts many of the men's mag staples - wine, women and song - and a comparably smart design. But Razor's stories tend to delve far deeper, especially in breadth and complexity of subject matter. When, for example, was the last time a magazine targeting men in their 20s and 30s printed a six-page spread on John McCain that liberally quoted Robert Louis Stevenson (the poet, not the skateboarder)? Similarly, Razor's covers feature less skin and a decidedly different type of woman - think Curb Your Enthusiasm's Cheryl Hines or Alanis Morissette rather than J-Lo or a WB starlet.

"We don't buy into the prevailing thought that men are mental midgets who are incapable of reading a 5,000-word article," Botto says. "People buy magazines to be entertained, and I'm not saying that other men's magazines aren't entertaining. But I think there's a place in the market for a magazine that aims substantially higher."

He clearly has a point when he says that the men's magazine category is in a state of flux. Gear and Ramp have met the same fate as the thin tie, while recent editorial changes at Playboy and GQ have lead many observers to predict a dumbing down of each title's content.

Botto notes another recent story about Razor, in which the author had six of her peers examine several men's magazines and identify choose the one they would want their boyfriend or husband to read. Not surprisingly (since it is, of course, Botto relating the anecdote), Razor came out on top. Of course, the fact that the magazine may appeal to women isn't necessarily something that should be trumpeted to advertisers seeking to reach free-spending, post-college men. But Botto dismisses such concerns and notes that Razor has jumped its circulation from 170,000 to 350,000 in the last year; he hopes to be in the 400,000 range by the outset of 2004.

While advertisers have responded to a certain extent - Razor's May and June issues both pass the "thump" test at 132 pages - it's clear that the magazine hasn't yet caught on with the big-name mainstays of most men's publications. For example, male-enhancement product suppliers outnumber automobile manufacturers in Razor's pages. "Like any other publication, we're always looking to bring in the best and the biggest," Botto says. The magazine has made a concerted effort to appeal to fashion advertisers and has autos and the high-end alcohol segment in its crosshairs. He scoffs at the suggestion that the mag's way-off-Broadway location - its two offices are in Scottsdale, Ariz. and Toronto - has any effect on relationships with advertisers: "That's ridiculous. It's a virtual world."

In the months ahead, Botto hopes to tackle the two-pronged challenge of upgrading the mag's advertiser support without compromising its editorial vision. "You learn from the people who are doing it right, like Atlantic Monthly or Vanity Fair," he says. Boosting brand awareness is also near the top of his to-do list: "We truly believe that Razor is the definitive men's magazine for our time, just like GQ was 20 years ago and Playboy was 20 years before that."

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