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