'Gotham' publisher hits LA scene

NEW YORK — Jason Binn, publisher of the monthly mag Gotham, has a cherubic face that seems to pop up everywhere. But with the imminent launch of his latest monthly, Los Angeles Confidential, he’s flashing even more cheek.

After all, what recent title ever made it big in Hollywood? And in this bleak market?

“Los Angeles is a graveyard for new magazines,” says Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the U. of Mississippi who tracks startups. “Even a great magazine like Buzz couldn’t continue.”

Yet Binn isn’t daunted by the city’s rep as a mag-launch Death Star. “People told me the same thing when I went to Miami,” says the 34-year-old, referring to Ocean Drive, another society-photo-driven vehicle he co-founded in 1991. “We think this new magazine will be a successful, healthy book.”

Indeed, the prognosis for the new monthly seems good.

Binn says he has 35 advertisers skedded for the mag’s March debut, which will be Oscar-themed and feature articles about helmer Robert Altman and thesps Nicole Kidman and Sissy Spacek. Another issue will follow in September; a hard launch is planned for spring 2003.

Confidential will follow the Gotham formula: Sell cheap ads to high-end companies like Gucci and Giorgio Armani, whose presence in the pages boost the heft while the content is kept very light.

Unlike Confidential, the notorious Hollywood scandal sheet from the 1950s, Los Angeles Confidential will likely fetishize fame, not demystify it. Like its New York counterpart, Gotham, Binn’s new title is a buckraker, not a muckraker.

As far as content goes, Gotham serves up a lot of photographs of celebrities and sybarites with names vaguely familiar to those who read the New York Post’s gossipy Page Six. Articles spotlight new hotels abroad, shoes and eyeliner. There are a few profiles to lend some bite. It’s more substantial than the real simple Hamptons Magazine.

Like most local magazines, Gotham has no teeth. But that’s the genre. Or as Binn spins it, “We celebrate communities.”

Binn’s strategy seems to have paid off. The December/January issue of Gotham had 60 ad pages at a time when many mags are razor-thin. The number of ad pages at his weekly Hamptons Magazine — where Gotham Jitneys for the summer — has jumped from 90 to 200 in three years.

There’s no doubt that these photo-driven vehicles — laden with snaps of celebrities and distributed to hotels, bars and restaurants — have advertiser appeal.

“My advertisers buy into the access,” Binn says. “They buy into that world of movers and shakers. I call them ‘influencers.’ ”

Indeed, Binn’s titles seem to please the people with the wallets. Miramax remains an investor, as does Bear Stearns exec John Howard.

But Binn seems to generate a bipolar reaction in the magazine industry. While some think he’s a whiz and a new creative force in the field, others consider him a brash guy from Long Island who coddles Botoxed stars and peddles advertorial.

There’s an impresario vibe about Binn that gives him the retro feel of his magazine’s names. He’ll say things like “I make things happen.” General discussion doesn’t interest him, but bring up a subject like the editorial content of his titles, and he’s quick with a response.

“The tone is definitely light,” Binn says over breakfast.

“One is not going to look at the magazines for intellectual acuity,” says Eden Collinsworth, founding CEO of Buzz Magazine.

Still, Collinsworth, now an exec at Hearst, believes that Binn has a decent shot at success in L.A., especially with three big markets to offer to advertisers — regardless of his mag’s content.

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