‘Gear’ shift planned; big drive set for fall

Move due to bad economy, sinking circulation

Gear is shifting into neutral. This year’s first issue of Bob Guccione Jr.’s men’s magazine will also be its last — at least in its current form as something slightly more clothed than Guccione pere’s Penthouse. A refashioned Gear will return to newsstands in September.

Reason for the pause is the crummy economy, sinking circulation and Guccione’s wish to follow in Details’ footsteps.

Three years ago Details, then owned by Conde Nast and facing an identity crisis, stopped production and went back to the drawing board. The retooled Details, now part of Fairchild Publications, has met with much acclaim.

“The timing is due to the economy, but it’s something I wanted to do creatively, anyway,” Guccione said of the suspension of Gear, his follow-up project to Spin, which he similarly founded and edited. “We could keep muddling along, but it would be damaging.”

Circulation in reverse

Gear’s circulation dipped in 2002 to about 510,000 from 520,000. However, newsstand sales and ad revenue were on the increase. Last year the mag’s ad dollars spiked 59% from 2001 to $18.3 million. For the same period newsstand sales increased 24% to about 42,000.

Yet numbers don’t change Guccione’s desire to steer Gear away from the so-called lad mags, a genre in which it is typically lumped.

“I don’t do laddies well, because that’s not who I am. We’re not competing with them,” Guccione said, alluding to magazines like Maxim, Stuff and FHM, which have cornered that market by dutifully serving up babes in cut-off shorts and locker room laughs.

Despite protests of being above the fray, past issues of Gear have included a round-up of the hottest movie scenes (“9½ Weeks” and “Body Heat” were among the contenders), an interview with Hugh Hefner and a spread on “hot female violinists.”

Almost ‘intellectual’

The new Gear will have “less pretty models” and be more “serious,” one source said. Something almost “intellectual.” Vanity Fair beware.

As for editorial changes, “Some staff is going and some is staying.” Executive editor Luke Barr and publisher Teresa Kendregan, who was brought aboard in January, are among those who will keep their jobs.

Film and TV projects remain on the table, despite the editorial lull. Gear Films is working with New Line Cinema in an arrangement similar to Miramax’s former deal with Talk, in which magazine stories are mined for film ideas. And Guccione and ad agency J. Walter Thompson are still in production on “Conversations,” a show in which Guccione will moderate talk between musicians. The publisher said he is also close to a network deal to launch “Gear TV,” which he would not comment on except to say that he personally would not be on the air. “I’m far too old,” the 47-year-old laughed. “In the music business, I can get away with it, but not on this kind of TV.”

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