MEDIA HEADLINER: Fable's man at the top gears up to fight for the pink pound - Jonathan Keane believes that gay mags must grow up, Matthew Cowen writes

"It's an ambitious move," Jona-than Keane admits, of his plans to

launch an independent fashion- led lifestyle magazine into the toughest

market conditions in recent memory.



Ambitious it certainly is. Add to that the fact that the magazine Keane

will edit is to launch under the bizarre, some might say dreadful, title

Fable and that it will be targeting a largely unproven sector and you

start to think suicidal might be a better word. It's a set of conditions

that, under normal circumstances, would have rival publishers gleefully

beginning the countdown to extinction - and Fable doesn't even hit the

newsstand until 12 October.



However, Fable is not a typical magazine. It is the latest brand

extension of Queercompany, which launched last November with a website,

a controversy-courting press and poster campaign and a stash of

Norwegian dough behind it. As such, it promises to deliver the kind of

precisely targeted ABC1 readership that publishers have been fantasising

about for the past few years.



"Many recent launches have been on a wing and a prayer," Keane says,

citing InStyle and Bare. "Publishers have been looking for new markets

that just don't exist and a lot of new titles have been left flailing

around. We are our readership and we're confident about who our market

is."



The "we" Keane refers to is Queercompany's core of "very creative gay

men and lesbians". He believes the independent operation is capable of

tapping into gay markets that the IPCs of this world have less of a feel

for.



His confidence is further boosted by the faith that Fable's timing is

just right.



"We're at a stage now where people are living their lives as a gay from

an early age," he says. "Now, for the first time, you have a 25- to

40-year-old gay population who know who they are."



He bemoans the fact that Northern & Shell's Attitude, where he worked as

deputy and features editor, and which figures on the CVs of several of

his staff, has not shown the same appetite for growing up. "As a

magazine it's done a lot of things but it's not been given the support

to develop," he says.



This development will include dispensing with the sex classified ads and

aiming at a more mainstream slot that extends beyond the traditional

boundaries of gay magazines.



The broad church aims of Fable result in an editorial mix that Keane

admits could be tricky to balance. The core fashion coverage will, he

concedes, put a very different twist on the implied heterosexual

storylines of conventional photo shoots. However, he says that

queercompany.com has paved the way for this with its own fashion

coverage, even encouraging advertisers such as Paul Smith to appear

online.



In moving into the mainstream, however, Fable could face the same

criticisms that have been levelled at its sister website. The former

Independent on Sunday editor Janet Street-Porter blasted the site for

providing gays with an exclusive media service that was simply a

watered-down version of "straight" news. Even PR successes such as the

Hyde Park billboard featuring two lesbians in bed were criticised for

titillating the mainstream rather than concentrating on communicating

with gays.



"If we appear mainstream, it's because the mainstream is interested in

us," Keane responds. "We haven't left anyone behind."



The loyalty of queercompany. com's online readers is a crucial point

because the success of Fable depends on persuading them to part with

£3.20 a month for a paper product. Fable represents one of the

first attempts to spin off a traditional media product from new-media

roots, with Queercompany claiming that a core online readership of

65,000 can translate to 50,000 from a print run of 80,000.



However, there are signs that these figures could be optimistic. The gay

website Rainbow Network claims three million monthly page impressions to

queercompany.com's 200,000, yet itself has only 70,000 signed-up

"members".



Such online data can, of course, be disputed. The true proof of Fable's

appeal will come if Queercompany does go more genuinely mainstream than

its predecessors and publish an ABC.



Advertisers looking for this lucrative market to truly come of age will

certainly be hoping that it does.



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