More glossies: <I>South Magazine</I> launches

First there was Albemarle magazine, covering the good life in one county. Then came Virginia Living, covering the good life all over the Commonwealth. Now, just a year after Virginia Living wowed readers with its full page glossy photos and ads comes South Magazine, covering the good life all over the south. But is there really enough good life to keep all these magazines alive?

Don Webster, a writer for such publications as Outside and National Geographic, says the going could be tough because starting a publication at any time is "a hard thing to do." While the south is flush with talented writers looking for an outlet, he says meeting the interests of the diverse readership can be difficult, if not downright impossible.

He should know. For three years, from 1986-89, he worked as an editor at Southern Magazine. When the money ran out, he says, backers didn't ante up.

Oxford American, the John Grisham-backed literary magazine, found itself in a similar situation this past summer. After a long financial struggle, the owner of the magazine, At Home Media Group, threw in the towel.

Despite such high profile failures, Albemarle Magazine editor Ruth Hart says she thinks South has a shot at success.

"There's plenty of room in the market for more than one title," she insists. But, she cautions, "It's a tough time to start a business."

Jane Alexander, South's editor, who founded the publication with her husband, Brent, says they are prepared to do business, even in rocky economic times.

"Lots of successful magazines have launched during tough times," she explains, citing People magazine's mid-'70s start. "You refine your concept and marketing plan, do harder work, and that makes your business plan that much better."

She says South's focus on people and popular culture sets it apart from niche publications like the Oxford American, and even the grand dame of southern magazines, Southern Living, which she describes as "a shelter publication," focusing primarily on homes and gardens.

Plus, she adds, there are signs that the economy is improving. "Retail ad sales are up in the second quarter," she says.

Though South won't be mass distributed in Virginia for some time perhaps even a few years Alexander says Charlottesville readers can check out the first issue, featuring famed chef Emeril Lagasse and his wife, Alden, on the cover, at Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble sometime in the near future.