Baltimore businessman gains rights to fitness magazine

Avent buys publication aimed at black women

September 09, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore businessman has bought the rights to publish fitness magazine Heart & Soul after Earl Graves, the renowned publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, passed on the deal.

Edwin V. Avent, part-owner of the small publishing and advertising firm Twenty First Century Group, said yesterday that he bought the 400,000-circulation magazine, which is aimed at African-American women, in bankruptcy proceedings for $60,000 plus $450,000 in assumed subscriber debt.

Avent said he plans to resume production of the magazine, which hasn't published since February, in the first quarter of next year.

Heart & Soul was started by Chicago marketer Reginald Ware in 1992 but saw its popularity soar when it was bought by Black Entertainment Television. In 2000, BET gave publishing control of Heart & Soul and three other magazines to Vanguard Media Inc. in New York, which also owned Honey and Savoy magazines. BET remained an investor. Vanguard, headed by publishing investor Keith Clinkscales, declared bankruptcy last November, surprising many in the industry.

Avent was featured in Heart & Soul in a 1996 article about the Umoja Sasa (Unity Now) condom, which he developed to sell to health departments and nonprofit organizations. The condom is packaged in a matchbook with the colors of the African-American flag: red, green and black.

"I had that edition framed and on the wall," he said. "It always stared me in my face."

When the magazine went to auction this summer, Graves outbid Avent. Graves bid $80,000, while Avent bid $79,500.

But Graves' company decided not to close on the deal, saying it veered too far from their publications' focus on business and financial matters. Avent was the second-highest bidder and next in line to buy the magazine.

Graves' company also said that it wasn't sure there was enough of an audience for the magazine, and that it worried attracting advertisers and subscribers would be difficult because the magazine hadn't published in several months.

"We weren't as comfortable or as confident that book filled a substantial void in the publishing marketplace at this time," said Derrick Godfrey, vice president of business development for Graves Ventures.

"He has a huge job ahead of him," Godfrey said of Avent.

Avent said he has seen interest from advertisers and readers.

"We talked to some of the advertisers who were glad to hear the magazine is coming back out," Avent said. "The ads had been growing in the magazine. The circulation had been growing."

He said he plans to extend coverage of the magazine to men's health issues as a way to boost subscriptions. He also said he hopes to revive a Heart & Soul television show that once aired on BET.

Avent said his background in publishing will help him in running the venture. While a student at Cornell University in the 1980s, he started Equity, a campus magazine for minorities. He was also an advertising sales manager at the Ithaca Times newspaper in New York and held various sales and marketing positions at Baltimore-based Career Communications, which publishes U.S. Black Engineer Magazine and Hispanic Engineer Magazine.

Avent will run the editorial side of the magazine from the offices of Twenty First Century Group on North Charles Street. He will keep sales offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

"When you look at our competition when it comes to health and fitness, you're looking at Men's Health, or Shape for women," Avent said. "There's not one that really targets the African-American market that talks about the minority health disparities."

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