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“When we go to a party, it’s not about who we are. It’s about this fictional, glamorous side. We are inventing these lifestyles. If you’re not in the mood to play that game, you might as well stay home and read,” Zahm said, adding that he’s frustrated the press has characterized him, as a result of the extravagant lifestyle he chronicled quite intimately for two years on the blog Purple Diary, as a sex maniac.
“I like to flirt with women, I like to meet new people. This is a mirror of my life and the life of the people who work and are featured in the magazine,” said Zahm.
The blog was an experiment in showing all sides of his life, sans filter, and the initial effort was moderately successful. The diary continues today, but not in the same manner. “I was pushing the limits of what’s private and public, but it wasn’t for me,” he said. “It ended badly with my girlfriend and made me reevaluate the necessity of a certain privacy. I was lovesick for six months.”
But it wasn’t enough to turn him off the Web. In two weeks, he’ll dive a bit deeper online with the launch of a new Purple Web site, which will include the infamous Purple Diary and content from the magazine. Also in the works: an online boutique and television projects. Of all the upcoming work, the Web site presents the biggest dilemma, especially regarding his view of posting fashion to the Internet. “Yes, I’m concerned, but I’m participating in the fashion industry and at the same time refuse to participate,” he said.
Zahm’s business plan bares striking similarities to those of his friendly competitor across the pond — Brûlé, the Canadian-born, always-on-message magazine editor, who, surprisingly, said he still makes most of his revenue from Monocle. The magazine, vastly different from Purple, is a mix of global news and political coverage. There is also a Web site, TV programming on Bloomberg, a free weekly audio podcast on iTunes and five stand-alone Monocle stores in cities such as New York, Tokyo and London. “We started these four years ago, and Condé Nast is just doing it now,” boasts Brûlé. “Retail, I can imagine, is very cumbersome for big companies to get into, but for us it’s easy to say we’ll sign a lease and put in a competitive offer.”
Brûlé charges $110 for a yearly subscription to Monocle, which had a total circulation of 63,007 for the second half of last year. He said the company entered the black in 2010. “Print is still core to what we do,” he noted. “The Web is great, but advertisers are still really fighting to be on the outside back cover or opening spread.”
Having said that, he’s interested in forming a coalition of independent publishers to compare notes and address the problems they all have in common, such as distribution practices. He wants to reach out to Hack and the duo behind the men’s biannual Fantastic Man. “I’m impressed with what Brûlé has been able to accomplish,” said Jonkers from his office in Amsterdam. “He’s in between an independent publisher and Condé Nast.”
Jonkers said Fantastic Man, which began publishing in 2005, has a circulation of 82,000 and is profitable. “We just wanted to reinvent the men’s wear magazine and have something we liked to read,” he said. “Personal style is more important than the latest trends, so that’s what we started with. We deliberately started with a very thin magazine so people could carry it around — roll it up and read it on the train.”
The latest issue has Bryan Ferry on the cover, and contributors include Alix Browne, Glenn O’Brien, Juergen Teller and Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. “It’s quite hard to give a concept of the magazine. We just want it to be interesting to us and good,” explained Jonkers.
That phrase could have come from the mouth of any of the aforementioned publishers as they each plow their niches and take on side projects to keep their visions alive. Back at Zahm’s loft office near Union Square, he contemplates what sets Purple apart from the other titles. In between sips from a bottle of Corona, he tries to explain his magazine.
“It’s a bit more intimate and narcissistic and glamorous,” Zahm said — words that could be used to describe him. Then he added, “I think we are all doing what we think is right.”
And adapting as they go.