I wasn't sure whether to be bummed or happy when I saw the stats earlier this year that the two best-known magazines for gay readers, The Advocate and Out, had suffered big drops in both advertising and readership.
Yet could the magazines, which for years have taken the pulse of the gay community, be somehow missing the mark? Are their long-time LGBT readers looking elsewhere for their news and entertainment?
But since I tend to be a glass-half-full type, I also wondered if, just maybe, there's not all that much need for gay specialty magazines anymore. Maybe their former readers have been sufficiently assimilated into the mainstream that they no longer need a gay-specific publication.
That thought vaporized, however, when I reviewed the current 40th anniversary issue of The Advocate. I happened to glance at the subscription card, which read: "To ensure privacy, issues are enclosed in gray plastic wrappers." So much for assimilation.
The issue itself was a mixed bag. You'd think that, in a "Collector's Edition" landmark issue, every sentence would sing. But among the gems were some real duds.
"Out with the Mayors," a one-page piece upfront, nearly bored me to tears. Four of the five mayors must have delegated the task to interns, because the blurbs giving reasons why their respective cities were LGBT-friendly read like bad (really bad) cliché-driven press releases. God bless Mark Funkhouser of Kansas City, whose response actually had some personality and seemed sincere.
A much better use of politically oriented space was the profile of six trailblazers who ran as openly gay candidates and won. This was the first piece under the broader heading of "Great American Lives." Also included were engaging profiles of New Yorker cartoonist William Haefeli and Terri O'Connell, a woman who was previously the male race car driver J.T. Hayes.
The 40th anniversary-oriented pieces were also hit and miss. Three pages of letters from high-profile people, both gay and straight, congratulating the magazine on the landmark, got redundant pretty quickly. Couldn't some of them have taken out an ad or something? You need the ad pages, remember?
The "Cover to Cover" piece was fun to look through. It was interesting to see the covers grouped by subject, such as "Coming Out" and "Politics," rather than simply chronologically. And the "40 Heroes" cover story was nicely put together. Ellen Degeneres, voted No. 1 hero by readers, got the most space, which she deserved. The piece flows nicely and each profile was succinct. The bottom of each page had a fun "Fab 5" list pulled from surveys on Advocate.com such as top five TV shows, musicians, women, movies, "hunks," albums, scandals, etc.
The issue heralds a bolder logo and, according to a press release from the publishing group, "a stronger overall emphasis on design." Individual tables of contents appear at the top of each section, "creating a clearly defined architecture and easier reader navigation." (Yes, they are helpful.) The opening pages to each section showcase "richer graphic treatments to images and fonts." (If you say so. They don't look that much different to me.)
Back to those drops in advertising and readership: During the first six months of 2007, TheAdvocate's ad pages plummeted 41.9%, to 251, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. These disappointing results follow a rough 2006, when The Advocate's total ad pages fell 17.1% compared to 2005. The mag could be losing ground to local newspapers and resource guides, as well as other national magazines like Genre and Instinct, which tend to be somewhat racier.
I asked my best friend Steve, who also happened to be "maid of honor" at my wedding, if he still subscribed to The Advocate. His parents bought him a subscription for the first five years after he came out. Always a rabid reader, Steve's answer surprised me. It turns out he had unsubscribed from ALL print magazines (gasp!) and instead gets his news online. He reminded me that gays and lesbians were early users of online media, including social network-style sites on the Internet.
Mother Earth thanks you for saving pulp, Steve, but those of us affiliated with print publications were hoping not to hear that pronouncement quite so soon in the 21st century. Online gay-friendly journalism is here, it's queer, and, ominously for The Advocate, reader-consumers are getting used to it.