L.A.'s the Place to Launch Two New National Ventures

Gabree is a Los Angeles writer who has written and edited extensively for national magazines

Smart words follow money. The growing importance of Los Angeles as the nation's economic and cultural second city is generating interest from magazine publishers, two of whom are preparing new mass-market national periodicals for late spring and late summer debuts.

Among the already established L.A.-based journals, Spike and Feelings are expected to occupy a sort of media middle-class between Knapp Western's upper-crust Architectural Digest and Bon Appetit and Peterson Publishing's proletarian Motor Trend and Guns & Ammo.

Dr. David Viscott, who dispenses psychological advice afternoons on KABC, will introduce Feelings, a glossy self-help monthly expected to fall somewhere between Psychology Today and the more conscientious women's magazines. Gavin MacFadyen, a London-based American television journalist, will publish Spike, a muckraking satirical magazine inspired by the merciless British lampoon Private Eye.

Viscott, whose media empire already includes books, radio, television and greeting cards, said he wanted to locate Feelings in Los Angeles because the city "is in the forefront of individual freedom and personal expression. The supremacy of the East over the West has finally ended," he added. Feelings publisher is Nils A. Shapiro, the former publisher of Playgirl, who quit three years ago to found the 54 Corp., a magazine development company in Westwood. Because Feelings is "a quasi-medical journal," Shapiro said, the magazine will have "a strict advertising code," which will bar cigarette ads. "There can't be anything in there that will harm people," Shapiro said.

The first issue will ship in August with a $2 cover price and is expected to have a paid circulation of 250,000 copies.

Gavin MacFadyen, who spent 10 years at Granada Television's tough "The World in Action," a London program similar to CBS' "60 Minutes," and who more recently worked as a producer for Paramount in Los Angeles, said Spike will launch "a massive investigative assault on the political and corporate infrastructure . . . written by the best investigative reporters in the country."

MacFadyen contended Spike will differ from New York's Spy, another journal incited by Private Eye, by focusing on harder targets. "We'll look at police practices, corporate crime, the defense industry--we are very strong on financial investigations, with reporters in New York, Washington, Chicago and the South. For example, we have signed a leading architect in L.A. who promises he will name names of vile and unethical contractors and developers. We hope he will."

Peter Cooke, Private Eye's founder and Dudley Moore's partner years ago in "Beyond the Fringe," will be commanding officer of jokes and will come to Los Angeles each month. Among local talents joining Spike, the best known are stand-up comic Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist, and Harry Shearer, the former "Saturday Night Live" writer who hosts a weekly satirical radio show on KCRW.

MacFadyen expects the first issue of Spike to hit the stands in May.

Both publishers cite the advantages of operating from Los Angeles rather than New York. "Editorially, we think Los Angeles is a much more creative environment, especially for us," Shapiro said.

Added MacFadyen, "L.A. is the quintessential American city. It's where the action is."

The new spirit of independence in magazines and periodicals has been given a boost by the introduction of computer hardware and software collectively known as desktop publishing. By making the production of publications simpler, cheaper and less time-consuming, desktop publishing puts magazine and book publishing within the reach of almost anyone.

First to take advantage of the new technology was the computer industry itself, with such magazines as Publish! and Macintosh Today. Before long, publishers of newsletters joined in, intoxicated by the technology's capacity to set type in arbitrary shapes and deploy 100 different typefaces on a page. Now, with a new edition of PC industry leader Ventura Publishing becoming widely available and understood, desktop publishing is spawning more mainstream publications.

The latest example, from the community of politically active intellectuals in the Boston-Cambridge area, sums up the plus and minuses of the desktop approach. Zeta magazine, known familiarly as Z and not to be confused with the Z channel's program guide, is a monthly journal of opinion. Edited by writer-activists Michael Albert and Lydia Sargent, both veterans of Boston's progressive South End Press, Z defines itself as "an independent political magazine on political, cultural, social and economic life in the United States."

Jampacked with commentaries and reviews set in tiny type--this magazine is not going to be the most popular with people who need reading glasses--Z is like 12 issues of The Nation stapled together.

Almost more interesting than the new journal, though, is the manner by which it is produced. Demonstrating how easy and inexpensive it has become to establish and operate a magazine, Z's start-up costs were about $25,000, including design, equipment, office, editorial and business plans, promotional brochures, and mailings. The annual operating budget is about $230,000, and the break-even point for the first year is 30,000 subscriptions.

"We are shipping 168,000 copies of the January issue," Sargent said, "although we have only sold 6,000 subscriptions so far. Since we will not depend on paid advertising and you can't rely on newsstand sales, it is essential to get subscribers."

To operate successfully with a two-person staff, according to Sargent, "we contract with writers by the year, so we won't have to go chasing material each month." The editors use Ventura and a laser printer to do layout and paste-up. To further hold down costs, Z is printed on inexpensive newsprint; only the the cover is a lightweight coated stock. Although there are plenty of photographs and cartoons, the only color is on the cover.

Dominating the January issue is a long pessimistic piece on the Central American peace plan by Noam Chomsky of MIT. Among the better-known contributors, many of them academics, the find is Harvard professor Juliet Schor, who contributes a witty and comprehensible bimonthly column on economics. The magazine also seems to have discovered its own Thomas Nash in a Los Angeles-based political cartoonist, Matt Wuerker. Topics include Reagan and the media, movement politics, computers, rock and roller Steve Van Zandt and reviews of books on AIDS, Israeli foreign policy, and the '60s.

Z is available at the Midnight Special bookstore on the Santa Monica Mall. The cover price is $3 and yearly subscriptions are $24. (116 St. Botolph St., Boston, Mass., 02115-9979).

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