Publications Find Strength in Numbers

Times Staff Writer

Ronald Reagan did. But Bess Myerson didn't--because Ronald Reagan did.

The issue was whether former Miss America Myerson would endorse Commentary magazine in a 1979 ad that also pictured Reagan giving the nod to another journal, National Review.

She wouldn't, citing her distaste for Reagan, remembers Rob Sennott, founder and president of the Leadership Network, an advertising consortium that links together nine diverse--and often editorially contentious--small magazines. But, according to Sennott, this was an uncommon--and perhaps lucky--moment of discord in an 11-year-old arrangement that helps the New Republic, the New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, the Columbia Journalism Review, Across the Board, World Press Review and Technology Review--as well as Commentary and National Review--fight the economic wolf. (Myerson currently is on trial in New York on a highly publicized divorce-fixing charge. Reagan went on to be in the ad and the White House, a change of address that forced Sennott to drop him from the ad for propriety's sake.)

Now, in another rare moment of self-promotion, the Leadership Network is at it again, running ads in Forbes and the Economist that tout its high-brow, low-circulation offerings to executives and financial experts.

This time around another actor, Tom Selleck, is pictured cozying up to National Review. Selleck is right next to liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith who gives his blessing to the New York Review. Galbraith is rubbing shoulders with New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, a Democrat who touts the neo-liberal New Republic. Others lending their names include former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick for Commentary, futurist Alvin Toffler for World Press Review, ABC Television's Barbara Walters for Columbia Journalism Review, former Secretary of Commerce Peter G. Peterson for Foreign Affairs, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Lester Thurow for Technology Review and telephone company executive James E. Olson for Across the Board, a business magazine.

Obviously, some of these people are not celebrities, at least the kind who make the cover of the National Enquirer. But for these magazines, their readers, potential subscribers and advertisers, they are the equivalent of Madonna.

Each of these movers and shakers actually subscribes--and reads--the journal they endorse, Sennott said. This includes them in a rarefied group of 700,000 total subscribers to the magazines, a big enough number to make the periodicals more "palatable" demographically--and sometimes politically--to advertisers, Sennott said.

For instance, back in 1977 when the network consisted only of the liberal New Republic and the conservative National Review, it helped persuade advertisers that if they bought space in both they could avoid a perception of partisanship, he explained.

The network, said Sennot, gave advertisers "the best of the right and the left and threw in a 10% discount."

Furthermore, he said, media buyers who have a hard time justifying spending money in a magazine with under 100,000 circulation can more easily "rationalize" a purchase that includes nine magazines that reach an otherwise hard-to-reach group. Individually, the magazines are indeed small potatoes. Across the Board has 32,000 subscribers and World Press Review has 60,000. The two largest, the New York Review and National Review will have circulations of 125,000 and 145,000 by next year, Sennott said.

While the network cites the usual figures in its pitches--median income of subscribers is $58,560--it also shows what the magazines' readers don't do. Namely, more than 80% don't read Time or Newsweek, nearly 85% don't read the New Yorker, nearly 94% don't read Business Week and nearly 97% don't read Sports Illustrated, the Network claims.

This year, Sennott said, the Network will put about $3 million into the coffers of the magazines, a measly sum by some publishing standards but enough to make the difference between red and black ink for these journals founded to "make a point, not a profit."

William P. Rusher, publisher of National Review, praised the Network as "the best thing since sliced bread." He said it has "at least in part solved the problem of getting quality advertisements in small publications" and helped advertisers "avoid the curse of political bias."

The latter may sometimes be difficult. In its current issue National Review devotes its cover to the question, "What's so bad about being poor?" It is the kind of inquiry that seems calculated to incite liberal newsstand browsers to rip the magazine from the rack and stomp on it.

Another Network member, the New York Review, founded during the 1963 New York newspaper strike, proudly proclaims its 25th anniversary on the cover, a milestone that may surprise some who remember nearly 20 years ago when the magazine ran an infamous cover on how to make a Molotov cocktail.

At the quarter-century mark, the review seems fairly mild politically. There's a lead story by Joan Didion decrying the divorce of the political process from the everyday life of the country, a lament widely voiced in other publications this fall.

"The great arenas in which the (political) conventions were held became worlds all their own, constantly transmitting their own images back to themselves, connected by skywalks to interchangeable structures composed not of floors but of 'levels,' mysteriously separated by fountains and glass elevators and escalators that did not quite connect," Didion writes.

Back in the magazine mainstream, Business Week is issuing what it's calling a "stand-alone" 88-page supplement, "The 1988 Guide to Gift Giving," that will be mailed to 840,000 subscribers. Business Week says the supplement is meant to help executives avoid "gift disaster," as it's described in an essay by manners expert Letitia Baldrige.

"Nothing has contributed more to business' sometimes boorish image than gift-giving mistakes made during the holidays," chides Baldrige.

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