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Singles unite! Mag targets the affluent

It took 18 years of marriage for David C. Wright to decide there was nothing wrong with being single.

Now this 65-year-old divorce is trying to help other unmarried people embrace their lifestyle and shed the stereotype that they’re lonely bachelors or cat-loving old maids.

A serial entrepreneur, Wright recently launched Singular, a Los Angeles magazine for singles that doles out advice, travel suggestions and profiles of unmarried people who travel to Tonga, collect vintage sex manuals and play polo when not performing acupuncture.

“We want people to not feel stigmatized,” said Wright, who has started eight businesses in the areas of wealth management, real estate and technology, but never before in media. “Whether it’s a chapter of your life or longer, it’s all right to be single.”

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Call it a reflection of our times -- or a response to them -- Wright’s new enterprise might strike a chord with the growing number of Americans who choose to marry later or not at all. About 42% of people over the age of 18 are single, according to the Census Bureau, and the proportion of one-person households increased to 26% in 2005 from 17% in 1970.

Los Angeles seems particularly ripe for a magazine aimed at the single community. More than half the adults living here are single, Wright said.

Of course, now is not an easy time to start a print publication, even an upscale one such as Singular. As advertisers retrench in an ailing economy, magazines across the country are cutting staff and pages. Some are even closing their doors.

In October alone, magazine giant Conde Nast announced it was reducing budgets across all of its titles and laying off employees at Portfolio and Men’s Vogue. Upscale magazines Radar and 02138 folded, and Hearst Corp. said it would close CosmoGirl magazine.

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Upscale magazines are reporting revenue figures that are down 10% from the previous year, and the slide will be worse next year, when advertisers rejigger their budgets, said Michael Kong, chief executive of Modern Luxury Media, whose publications include Angeleno, Manhattan and Dallas Interiors.

Industrywide, advertising revenue for the first nine months of 2008 fell 5%, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

Worse news lies ahead, according to Forrester Research. In an online survey, the firm found that 18% of U.S. consumers who subscribe to magazines plan to cut back their subscriptions in the coming year, said Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester media analyst.

Singular also is considered a controlled-circulation magazine because it is sent free of charge to people with a certain income and makes money from advertising rather than subscriptions. Those publications are having an especially tough time in the current climate, said Samir Husni, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi.

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Advertisers are skittish about whether people who receive magazines they didn’t sign up for actually read them or just toss them into the recycling bin, said Husni, who also created the MrMagazine.com industry website.

Wright, however, says Singular will attract advertisers because of its readers’ earning power. It is circulated only to those making $150,000 or more, about 70,000 people so far, and they are solely responsible for deciding how to spend their money.

Wright and his unmarried editorial director, Kim Calvert, said they have a source of funding with deep pockets -- Wright -- and produce the only magazine in the country targeted at the single audience.

They’ll need the funding. Husni said a new regional monthly magazine would cost about $1 million in its first year of publication and that most new magazines don’t break even for three to four years.

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Wright said $2 million was a more accurate price tag but that he expected to break even in six issues because “we’ve got a very unique concept.”

The magazine, which launched in September, comes at a time when the stigma around staying single is disappearing, said David Popenoe, director of the National Marriage Project.

“Times have changed,” said Ivy Lazar, 51, a Century City writer and Singular reader. “My friends who are married are jealous of me and my freedom.”

Some Smug Marrieds, as fictional character Bridget Jones calls them, didn’t get the memo. They still barrage singles with questions about why they haven’t married and suggestions about how to find a date, said Bella DePaulo, a social scientist and author of “Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.”

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Singular’s creators said the magazine was an outlet for people sick of hearing that they’re not complete until they’re married.

“We’re creating a community of people who want to have their best life now,” Calvert said from a plush red chair in the airy Westside living room that serves as the magazine’s headquarters. She lives upstairs, with her parrot and three cats.

Singles don’t want to read magazines about things to do with a significant other, Calvert said. Instead, Singular can show them that finding the perfect spouse isn’t always what it seems, help them determine whether an online dating profile is accurate and offer tips on surviving the holidays as a Singleton.

“All these other magazines talk about what you can do to attract men,” said Sheila Shaw, a 51-year old management consultant and Singular subscriber from Glendale. “This one says it’s OK to be single.”

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Still, a magazine with a targeted audience is better able to withstand advertising troubles. “Single” is a pretty broad demographic, Husni said. There are single people who are divorced and getting ready to retire, single people who go drinking in clubs every evening, single people whose passion is making bird cages out of Popsicle sticks.

“That’s going to be their most difficult thing -- finding the commonalities among single people aside from the fact that they’re single,” he said.

Most advertisers care only about one commonality -- sales. “They have a clientele that can afford what we offer,” said Jesse Peck, owner of Seaside Aviation, a flying school in Santa Monica. After paying about $3,000 for a full-page ad in Singular’s second issue, Peck said, he received a few calls from people who had seen it.

TriFit, a Santa Monica sports club, got three new members after it ran an ad. “The magazine targets a demographic that we like: the upper-middle class in Santa Monica,” said Todd Larlee, the gym’s manager.

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Wright said that at $9,000 for a full-page ad for national advertisers, Singular charged less than other upscale magazines. He and Calvert also launched a social networking website, singularcity.com, to engage readers more fully with one another and with the magazine, which should please advertisers.

On the social network, members have organized groups around such interests as wine tasting, fashion and dating as a single parent.

Still, the website highlights the strange paradox of gathering singles together. While Singular emphasizes the idea that romantic relationships are not essential for happiness, it also facilitates dating and meet-ups.

At a recent Singular party at a swanky bar in Century City, people milled with drinks in their hands, wearing name tags and flirting. Many of the unattached said they wouldn’t mind finding a mate at the event.

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A few matchmakers even crashed the party to find potential clients.

“Everybody wants love, attention and affection,” said one matchmaker, Dianne Bennett, who runs millionaires-matchmaker.com. “People do want relationships.”

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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