Evolving from a winter 2002 "100 Greatest Women in Rock" one-off, Women Who Rock was founded in response to a surge in the number of, well, women who rock. "The music business is still male-dominated, but the percentage of female artists has increased greatly," explains Cherry Lane Magazines senior vice president, group publisher Ross Garnick, a musician himself. "These artists are doing great things creatively and commercially. The demand was there."
Still, the first few years of the 21st century wasn't exactly a golden era for magazine launches, which presented Cherry Lane with a dilemma: sit on the idea and risk that somebody else would beat the company to newsstands, or dive in despite an unfavorable ad climate. Cherry Lane, a music licensing and publishing giant which counts Home Recording, Music Alive! and Guitar One among its other titles, decided to take the risk.
"We didn't have much money to promote it at first, but we got a little bit of press and lots of feedback from readers," Garnick recalls. "The response was enough to let us know that this idea had legs."
Editorially, Women Who Rock presents what one might expect from a music magazine: reviews, features, interviews and gear. But it boasts an aspirational tone that is relatively unique within the music niche. "I know it sounds cliché, but we're hoping it serves as a little bit of a tool of empowerment," Garnick says. Part of the mag's editorial mission, he adds, is to help women artists with a small following "get to the next level." Translated: more Neko Case and Sharin Foo, less Michelle Branch.
Overall distribution of Women Who Rock is around 150,000 copies, with about half sold on newsstands and at book chains and the other half given away in record stores and at events ("We're not wasting a lot of copies," Garnick promises). Given this limited reach, the biggest challenge facing Women in Rock is what he calls "cracking the Madison Avenue nut."
As much as the magazine heralds its demographically friendly readership - spend-happy women between 25 and 34, with an average household income around $50,000 - the Calvin Kleins and L'Oréals of the world aren't much for patronizing small special-interest titles. "[Big companies] tend to look for the numbers, so it's hard to get them to make the leap," Garnick concedes. "But music is such an effective marketing tool. It would be smart for them to get in on this in our infancy."
Garnick is hoping to grow awareness the magazine through a host of grassroots partnerships. The mag rode along for all 45 dates of the Vans Warped Tour this summer and is sponsoring a monthly series of concerts at New York's Cutting Room club. And despite the presence of "rock" in its moniker, the publication is co-sponsoring (with New York dance-music radio station WKTU) a female DJ competition in November.
"Things like this give us credibility, which is so important for a magazine like ours," Garnick says. "We're not a puff-piece magazine. There's nothing wrong with People - I'd love to do 1/100th of their numbers - but we're producing something more artistic."
Alas, street cred and integrity generally aren't high on marketers' checklists when deciding where to parcel out their ad dollars. While Garnick freely acknowledges this, he is still attempting to position Women Who Rock as a "credibility/positioning buy." Though the magazine boasts a distinctly different readership than titles like Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, Garnick hopes to entice the consumer advertisers that support them. He's made headway with consumer electronics companies (JVC) and the occasional fashion (Steve Madden shoes) and cosmetics (Tony & Tina) advertiser, but the reality is that many marketers aiming for the young-woman demographic aren't too eager to have their wares displayed next to ads for, say, the newest Line 6 amplifier.
"Is it frustrating? Yeah, of course it is," Garnick says. "When we get our foot in the door, people like what they see, I think. There's an education curve, just like with anything else that's relatively new."
Given that 40% of the mag's readers are active musicians and 30% have expressed a desire to get more involved, manufacturers of musical instruments will probably remain the publication's biggest ad supporter, with record labels close behind. Garnick's hit list for 2004 includes mass merchandisers (Target), automotive companies and makers of athletic footwear.