More mugshots: Can 'Gotcha!' survive with 'Crime Times'?
What is it about mugshots that's so darn compelling? Some may call it schadenfreude, that hidden pleasure the misfortune of others, but for the publisher of the second mugshot mag to hit Central Virginia newsstands in less than six months, the money can't hurt.
In October, Media General, publisher of the Daily Progress and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, introduced Charlottesville and surrounding counties to Gotcha!, a weekly tabloid featuring recent arrestees and the crimes for which they're charged.
Like the competing Crime Times, which first hit stands in June and has been doing brisk business (with circulation ballooning from 6,000 a week in June to 25,000 a week this month), Gotcha! retails for $1. It's apparently a small price for the pleasure of seeing the smiling, frowning, grimacing– and even bloodied– visages of recent arrestees.
In its first week at the store, says Kim Brown, co-owner of Brown's convenience store on Avon Street, sales have been brisk. Of the 25 delivered, 12 had sold in the first 48 hours. And once people see what's inside, she notes, sales may increase.
"I swore I wasn't going to read it," she laughs, "but then I heard they had restaurant violations."
Unlike Crime Times, which restricts its content to mugshots by jurisdiction, with the alleged offender's name and offense, and which features photos of missing persons and information on unsolved crimes, Gotcha! provides health code violations, articles on recent arrests culled from the pages of the Daily Progress and the T-D, in addition to a wider array of mugshots.
For instance, the October 29 issue features a "Halloween" section of alleged offenders with unusual clothes or makeup, an "80s Hair" section dedicated to alleged offenders with sizable coiffures, and a center spread entitled "Bruisers," filled with photos of individuals whose arrests and/or alleged offenses left them bloodied and bandaged.
A March 2010 article on a Richmond business blog reveals other mugshot groupings that might eventually land in Central Virginia's Gotcha!: "Beauty and the Beast," featuring attractive arrestees juxtaposed against less fortunate counterparts, and "Bad News Beards," featuring, of course, arrestees with prodigious facial follicles.
Even if such features provide an additional chuckle for readers, it's not something Crime Times plans to emulate, says that magazine's owner, Brad McMurray.
"It's embarrassing enough to be in there," says McMurray, noting his belief that the snarky groupings consist primarily of mugshots from outside Central Virginia.
Also unlike Crime Times, Gotcha! seems to have launched with a beefy advertising presence, which may boost the bottom line. In the October 29 edition, attorneys, bail bondsmen, and a locksmith hock their wares.
McMurray, by contrast, says he's made little effort to sell ads in his publication, preferring, he says, to donate open space to missing persons cases, fugitives, and unsolved crimes. He's says he not worried about the big-company competition.
"We just worry about ourselves," says McMurray, noting that he's received requests to expand into the Richmond market– Gotcha!'s original territory– and has begun to do so. A planned expansion into Fairfax, however, was aborted after officials there demanded $2,500 a week for providing the mugshots.
So how's Gotcha! doing in Charlottesville? That's hard to say, given that no one at Media General seems eager to claim parentage of this new baby.
Progress publisher Lawrence McConnell did not return the Hook's call, and a Times-Dispatch exec claims ignorance of the new product.
"I don't know anything about it," says the market growth manager for the Times-Dispatch, Floyd Spencer, who directed a reporter to use the contact information inside the magazine. We tried that, but a phone message went unreturned, and an email was answered anonymously.
"Gotcha!’s goal is to deter crime in the communities it serves," writes the responder, who signs the email by the publication's name and did not respond to a further inquiry seeking his or her identity.
The magazine launched in Central Virginia on October 1, the emailer wrote, and already has editions in Richmond and Northern Virginia, with plans to expand further.
Special online-only editor's note posted several months after this story ran: Due to the high volume of calls we have received from frustrated readers unable to find contact information for Crime Times, here it is as retrieved from the pages of the magazine: firstname.lastname@example.org