Magazine Dreams

Will San Francisco finally get the city magazine it deserves?

Hartle says he'd rather 7x7 covered San Francisco's independently vibrant art, political, and gay communities (just to name a few) in the absence of what was an all-encompassing Internet mania.

"Why do you think I moved here? This is a great city, and the things that make it great are not going away even if the Internet economy does," he says, confident there will always be plenty of wealth in San Francisco -- both real and aspiring -- to cater to. "Besides, you don't have to be rich to read my magazine. Most people with lots of money don't have a lot of taste, anyway."

To be sure, 7x7 will court the wealthy reader -- and the upscale Union Square advertisers that appeal to them -- with lavishly photographed fashion spreads and home décor sections. It will have to do so: No expensive-to-print, glossy-paged magazine can survive without them. But thrown into the mix, Hartle promises, will be a steady diet of smartly written stories -- long, expository features on compelling, relevant topics and more digestible columns that satirize, critique, and investigate San Francisco life. He says the Sunday New York Times Magazine is his favorite read, and 7x7's biggest inspiration.

A.J. Garces
A.J. Garces

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"When we say "affluent' we also mean an affluence of culture," says Kerry McLaughlin, one of Hartle's Bay Area "insiders," who will serve as a senior editor. (McLaughlin earns "insider" status by virtue of the fact that her family is from San Francisco, and she hopes to cash in on the contacts she developed working for the failed Palm Pilot-like wireless city guide service Modo.) "While all our readers will not necessarily be wealthy, they will be savvy."

Indeed, Hartle says he subscribes to the decree Andy Warhol used upon founding Interview magazine: Cover only the elite and the underground. Ignore the middle, because the middle is boring and wants to be like the other two anyway.

"We want party pictures of San Francisco Opera openings next to the Money B show at the Oakland Coliseum, next to the Bruce Conner opening at the De Young," McLaughlin explains to the magazine's prospective contributors in an e-mail pitch. "Neither is more important; they all live here, they all get equal light."

Hartle's young editorial team -- he's the elder at 34 -- laments the lack of a true features publication for and about San Francisco. The daily newspapers do news. San Francisco magazine sticks mostly to service pieces (those ubiquitous "top 10" covers). And while the free weekly papers (like this one) devote some space to long-form features and personality-driven columns, much of their role is to run reviews, event listings, classifieds, and personal ads. Hartle's goal with 7x7 is to marry SF Weekly's front section -- the magazinelike content, sans listings and personals -- with San Francisco's high-quality glossy paper, which better showcases photography and design. "This is meant to be a reading magazine," Hartle says, "and something beautiful you want to leave on your coffee table."

Hartle looks around the SOMA cafe twice as he pulls out an advance copy of 7x7 -- just back from the printer -- from his black attaché case. For now, he carefully guards the prototype, though he will begin sending out multiple copies to civic leaders, community organizations, and potential advertisers by the end of the month to create appropriate buzz for the first issue planned for August. Bold photo spreads dominate the oversized, Life magazine-like pages. The look is clean and classic. There are fashion and food articles, and feature stories ranging from the untold saga of a Hillsborough heiress whose murder has gone unsolved for 60 years to a very 21st-century look at locals making online movies. In a profiles section, a Stanford professor claims to have solved California's power crisis and a SOMA nightclub owner settles old scores. The tag line on the cover reads, "San Francisco people, stories, and style."

Hartle flips through the pages quickly, not wanting too much specific information about his product to get out yet. "None of this is rocket science, I know, but if I reveal exactly what I'm doing it will be real easy for San Francisco magazine to say, "Oh, we can do that.' I mean, the special sauce is just ketchup and Thousand Island dressing, right?" Hartle says. "But I have to be careful, because there are major gaps in how people in this city are missing the market we're going after." Of course, San Francisco will see the prototype as soon as it is circulated among advertisers, so it's not much of a head start.

The best clues about what 7x7 will offer can be gleaned from what Hartle accomplished when he launched Detroit's Hour magazine. The Boston University marketing graduate grew up in a magazine family. His father managed the Detroit business office for Look magazine in the 1960s before joining Jann Wenner's start-up Rolling Stone to oversee Midwest ad sales (doing the same for all of Wenner's subsequent titles). By the time Men's Journal was launched in 1992, Hartle was working with his dad, learning the trade. In 1996, as his hometown's traditional city magazine was about to go under, the 29-year-old Hartle started his own publication in a market everyone said was dead. Using $75,000 from credit cards, he established Hour. He started small, offering the magazine for free and targeting the suburbs. He gave talented and aspiring -- but still cheap -- photographers, graphic designers, and writers the space to create what became widely regarded as a sublime product.

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