Music Title Vet Takes Another Cut

Male music enthusiasts over the age of 30, a group largely abandoned by magazine publishers, will soon have a new title to call their own. Founding Vibe publisher John Rollins has set November 15 for the launch of Tracks, a publication aimed at sophisticated music fans weaned on a wide range of musical genres.

Rollins, who served also stints at Rolling Stone and Spin, plans to roll out the publication with an initial circulation of 100,000, with annual increases of 100,000 until it hits 500,000 in 2007. Tracks will be published on a quarterly basis until the second half of 2005, at which point it will shift to a bimonthly schedule; Rollins hopes to up the mag to 10 issues per year as soon as possible.

It's clear that Rollins and co. are targeting an underserved niche. The five largest music titles, in circulation if not in influence -Blender, Rolling Stone, Spin, The Source and Vibe - have minimal appeal to the audience that grew up with Creem and the pre-corporate Rolling Stone. He is quick to cite Recording Industry Association of America figures that the 30-plus demographic accounts for 56% of music purchasers in the U.S.

Indeed, Rollins doesn't consider any of the contemporary music titles as his main competition for readers and advertisers. "The music magazines, their editorial is focused on the music interests of the 15-to-29 audience," he explains. "Our competitors are special-interest publications that target a slightly older male audience. I consider the competition to be Inc. and Road & Track."

Rollins believes that Tracks will ultimately prove significantly more alluring to that audience and advertisers than these and similar titles. According to research conducted by parent company Good Music Media, when readers in Tracks' demographic sweet spot buy a magazine, they tend to purchase titles that are focused on a passion or pursuit outside the office and home. "We're looking at a college-educated, sophisticated music enthusiast who buys 10 or more CDs in a year," Rollins says. "That consumer is a superior consumer at the end of the day than the person who reads a golfing or automobile publication."

To that end, Rollins is targeting A-list advertisers in a range of categories, from music labels ("several have already sent in their checks," Rollins crows) to fashion brands (Nike, The Gap, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren). Automotive is also high on Rollins' wish list; he notes that Nissan is the top advertiser in the magazines he views as competitors.

As for the prospect of launching a high-profile title during uncertain economic times, Rollins remains undaunted. "The financing market is a nightmare - there is no venture left in 'venture capital,'" he jokes. "The dot-com folks who brought up knucklehead ideas in frothy times a few years ago, they messed it up for everybody."

But he and his partners - including editor-in-chief Alan Light and chief operating officer Dana Sacher, both of whom were pivotal members of Rollins' teams at Vibe and Spin - nonetheless believe that Tracks will buck the current economic trends. "You can't not do something if you believe in it as strongly as we do," Rollins says. "Despite the difficult times we're currently in, ultimately a business succeeds on strength of its concept and management team. You plant a seed in these difficult times and as the sun comes out - and it will one of these days - we'll be ready to grow."