Read on: New glossy lures Southerners

A Mississippi husband and wife are hoping to carve out a niche in the Southern magazine market.

Brent and Jane Alexander have planned a small-scale launch of a popular culture magazine named South with the goal of expanding to a regional publication for affluent couples across the Southeast.

The first issue of South, featuring celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and his family on the cover, leans heavily toward people profiles with a sprinkling of travel and food pieces.

"We call it a popular culture magazine for Southerners, and its content is generally directed toward people reading about other people, events, things that shape our lives,'' says Jane Alexander, a former editor of Mississippi Magazine.

A total of 70,000 copies were printed for the September-October premier issue: 55,000 have been mailed as free copies to targeted readers in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Another 15,000 will go on sale September 23 for $5.95 each at Books A Million stores.

The launch of South comes at a time when magazine circulation is trying to recover from hitting a decade low in 2002. But magazine advertising revenue is growing: For the first seven months of 2003, ad revenue rose 9.6 percent over the same period last year.

Brent Alexander, owner of a public relations and lobbying firm, said he and his wife– to minimize risk– decided not to charge for the first three issues mailed to potential readers so that they could guarantee advertisers a built-in audience. The target: homes with an income level of $100,000 and up.

The couple said they will later try to convert households who receive the free issues to paid subscribers.

"This allows us to launch with less money upfront because advertisers are spending money to reach your target audience and it allows you to predict your revenue and expenses,'' Brent Alexander says.

The couple spent $300,000 for the startup. They planned an initial printing of 50,000, but sold enough advertising to justify printing 70,000 copies.

The Alexanders' business plan calls for a circulation of 250,000 within five years, with separate editions for each of 13 Southeastern states.

"The beauty of their plan is they're starting small and they know exactly what they want to be,'' says Samir Husni, a journalist professor at the University of Mississippi, and a magazine industry expert who served as a consultant for the launch of South magazine.

Another magazine that started in Mississippi, the Oxford American, ceased publication in July for the second time in less than a year as it struggled to attract advertising. Started in 1992 in Oxford by Marc Smirnoff and later supported by novelist John Grisham, the Southern literary magazine won critical acclaim but never attracted enough advertising dollars. The magazine never attracted more than 43,000 paid subscribers. Interest and newsstand sales– but not advertising– would jump each year for its annual music issue with accompanying CD.

At Home Media Group became majority owners of Oxford American last year, moved its offices to Little Rock, and then halted publication after the July-August issue.

"We're looking for new investors,'' said Paul Reyes, Oxford American's senior editor and, with Smirnoff, the last paid staff member left.