Lesbian Magazines Reinvent Themselves

Last year, long-running lesbian magazine Girlfriends ceased publication after more than a decade in print, but the closing of its pages did not necessarily indicate the death of the industry. “There have been enormous changes in the lesbian publishing industry,” said Heather Findlay, Girlfriends’ former editor-in-chief. “First of all, it is an industry right now.”

Many pioneering lesbian magazines rightly assumed they were targeting a closeted audience, and for women who came out before the emergence of the internet or The L Word, publications such as The Ladder, Curve and Girlfriends, among others, provided a place for community and self-reflection. These days, newer magazines such as Velvetpark and Jane and Jane, as well as regional publications such as Los Angeles ‘ Lesbian News and Florida’s She have contributed to a much more open environment for lesbians and bisexual women.

“Throughout the years, we noticed a distinct increase in the openness of Girlfriends’ readers to their sexuality,” said Findlay, who is also the president and editor-in-chief of H.A.F. Publishing. “We were not publishing to a closeted audience.”

Now, as fewer lesbians remain closeted, several publishers have launched magazines designed to target niches within the lesbian community, despite competition with the internet for readers and advertising dollars. Even travel and lifestyle company Olivia plans to jump into the fray with the relaunch of their website (Olivia.com) and a print magazine set to debut near the end of 2007.

Grace Moon, founder and editor-in-chief of Velvetpark, started the magazine in 2002 under the auspicious premise of “dyke culture in bloom.” A lesbian lifestyle magazine, Velvetpark purchased the subscriber list to Findlay’s Girlfriends and On Our Backs after they folded last year.

Though Moon had no experience in publishing or journalism when she began Velvetpark, she was motivated to create a magazine that was as inspired editorially as it was visually. With a background in fine art, she approached the task like a curator at an art exhibit and brought together “a bunch of creative thinkers and put them between two pieces of paper.” The editorial staff, a combination of “street smart and high art,” now includes a diverse group of photojournalists, novelists, poets and musicians.

After years of launching magazines for other people, Alison Zawacki and Debbie Wells finally decided it was time to start their own: Jane and Jane. Though they initially considered focusing on adventure, the idea evolved into a home and family magazine for lesbians because “with all of the attention given to domestic partnerships and all of our lesbian friends starting families with children, we saw a need for something that was not being filled.”

Jane and Jane covers a variety of topics, from parenting and relationships to financial planning and health, fine wine and cuisine. Zawacki and Wells believe they were able to launch their magazine in part because of the greater visibility of the lesbian community and because shows like The L Word created “a whole new awakening in our society with regards to the lesbian lifestyle.”

Trying to fill a niche market can be difficult. But Amy Errett, CEO of Olivia, agrees with Zawacki and Wells that many lesbians, especially older women, are looking for a magazine that caters to their specific interests.

What is missing from current lesbian media offerings, said Errett, are enough publications that provide “a well-rounded view of all aspects of women’s lives in all age groups.” Though their magazine is not expected until late 2007 or early 2008, Olivia will begin with a relaunch of a “fully integrated, lifestyle-oriented website.”

Findlay also sees “a definite trend away from using magazines as a political tool,” and a need for more articles that tackle socioeconomic issues. Because the lesbian publishing industry is so young, she said, it never had a chance to participate in the glory days when both circulation and advertising dollars were up.

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