Spy comes in from cold: less edge, more 'for real'

November 02, 1992|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- So, you say that Spy is passe. You say that the magazine has outlived its role as a satirical counterweight to the high-flying '80s. You say: Who cares anymore?

Ah, but the Spy that skewered the hip and powerful with a mean and gleeful blade was an insider's newsletter compared to the magazine of today.

Circulation, which was only around 45,000 amid the heat of five years ago, now exceeds 162,000. Newsstand sales, often a tidy measure of reader response, account for about 44 percent of the total.

And the magazine that was once so New York in its focus as to sometimes mystify even well-plugged New Yorkers has grown beyond its roots to draw significant circulation in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Indeed, on tomorrow's TV episode of "Going to Extremes," a Caribbean-island chieftain sports an Ice-T T-shirt, speaks passionately about Hollywood's greatest films -- and sits back with the September issue of Spy. (That would be the one with a paint-by-numbers Madonna on the cover.)

Nobody says that Spy is making money -- yet -- but neither does it appear that the once oh-so-hot book will soon die off like 7 Days and other must-reads of old. There are fewer ad pages in the 6-year-old publication, but the advertisers, cigarettes and liquors prominent among them, are paying much more than they did when it seemed that every other downtown boutique and restaurant had a page.

Serious journalistic pieces accompany the trademark pranks and the fearless dish from Hollywood written by "Celia Brady," a well-connected somebody whose identity is said to be known only by editor Kurt Andersen.

"Spy is now real," said its president and publisher, Gerald L. Taylor. "Back in 1989, 75 [percent] to 80 percent of circulation was from New York. Now, only about 25 percent comes from New York City and State.

"Back then, advertising came mainly from New York retailers. The magazine was so hip and so hot, but advertisers were in it for only a couple of thousand dollars a page.

"When the magazine went national, we became too expensive for many of them," Mr. Taylor said.

The current rate card calls for more than $10,000 a page.

At the same time, as Spy builds an out-of-town audience, it has purposely shed some of the bitchier New York elements that made hometown readers buy it in the first place, wincing as they laughed.

Noting the changes in the magazine, and in the times themselves, one ad executive offered the view that today's Spy is a weak imitation of the cutting-edge book that once had people talking

Still, Spy remains standing. It may never be one of the big magazines, but it has become a player in the media mainstream.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.