Living's large: Does it threaten Albemarle?

As Virginia Living gears up to release its fifth issue in August, Albemarle magazine is pounding away on its 95th. Albemarle clearly has seniority in the regional publication biz, but could it be threatened by the new kid in town?

John-Lawrence Smith, publisher of Virginia Living, says his magazine continues to sell out throughout Charlottesville and Albemarle. Barnes & Noble, in particular, he says, runs out early. And his goals are lofty.

"I want to be putting out 100,000 copies in two years," he says. The current print number for the nearly year-old glossy stands at 50,000.

Ruth Hart, Albemarle editor for the past two years, says that while the two publications may compete, "There's plenty of room in the market for more than one title."

But she acknowledges that Virginia Living is coming on strong.

"There must be some pretty deep pockets," she says.

At 114 color-packed pages bursting with ads, Virginia Living doesn't appear to need anyone's pockets for support. But Hart cautions that longevity counts for a lot and the two pubs have different focuses, she says.

"We do longer features," says Albemarle's Hart, while Virginia Living focuses heavily on "shorter and pithier" articles.

Hart also takes heart in her magazine's "loyal readership and strong advertising base." In a show of strength, the magazine is hosting the International Regional Magazine Association convention August 22-28 at Wintergreen. Hart says 125 people from all over the world will converge on the Nelson County resort. Virginia Living, however, will not be among the guests.

"They're not members of the organization yet," Hart explains. "You usually have to be around for a year."

Even without such membership, media watchers are taking note of the newcomer's ascent. Eric Allen, publisher of several central Virginia publications including Central Virginia Senior Life (formerly More! Monthly), says Virginia Living is "pretty fancy," but he worries that trying to appeal to the entire state may be tough.

"There are so many diverse areas," he says. "It's hard to be all things to all people."

That's why he doesn't think Virginia Living poses a threat to Albemarle's advertising dollars. "Builders and local shops won't fork out the big bucks for a statewide publication," he says, though he believes bed and breakfasts and other tourist-geared businesses may.

Like Virginia Living, Albemarle is "very nice looking," Allen says. But he considers it "kind of a puff piece." He says Albemarle was more interesting in years past, but the current preponderance of "recipes, home decorating tips, and pictures of pretty houses," caused him to cancel his subscription.

"If I were a woman in my 60s," says Allen, "I'd probably love it."

Whatever happens in the competitive landscape, Allen believes both magazines have their work cut out for them.

"Regional publications are tough to make a go of," he says, "because they're neither fish nor fowl."

Read more on: albemarle