Originally Published October 14, 1996
Bob Guccione Jr. has come a long way in 11 years as editor and publisher of Spin magazine. A decade ago, he oversaw every word, every photo before it saw print, spending more time as editor than publisher.
“Today,” he says, “I’m in the happy position of being a publisher who reads the magazine when it is published.” And, he adds, “It’s somewhat humbling that the magazine gets better the less I have to do with it.”
To put Spin‘s history in perspective, consider the hoots of laughter when another famous Junior, John Kennedy, announced his plans to publish George magazine a year ago. (More about that below.) Guccione Jr., 41, despite being the son of Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione, met the same kind of skepticism. His route was made harder by having his father as his primary backer, a relationship which soured when Guccione Sr. pulled the plug after less than two years.
But Guccione Jr. recruited independent backers and kept Spin alive, scratching out a slim existence in the shadow of Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone. While Rolling Stone clung to rockers loved by baby boomers, Spin established its niche with new music, alternative bands, gothic, rap and jazz (a nod to Guccione Jr.’s personal tastes) artists. When the rock ‘n’ roll world became inverted a few years ago, pushing alternative bands such as Nirvana into the mainstream, Spin was ahead of the curve. Its editors were already dancing to the beat of the coming revolution.
Being prepared for the future has its rewards today: circulation topped 500,000 for the first time last year, advertising sales are booming, Advertising Age named it one of 1995’s top five magazines and Spin became America’s music magazine of record, pushing Rolling Stone even further toward movies, TV and half-naked celebrity photos. And P.S.: Spin turned a profit for the first time in 1995.
“Our audience knew we were important way back,” Guccione Jr. says. “Nirvana changed everything. Rock ‘n’ roll followed Nirvana; it was a course we were already on. The marketing industry was late to the table because it wasn’t something they understood. Three years ago, they became very interested in our audience.”
Making it on his own has exacted a heavy personal price; Guccione Jr. and Guccione Sr. haven’t spoken since their split almost a decade ago. How does it feel to be on the rise while your father’s magazine is perceived to be in decline?
“I will not be looking at my old man on the way down,” Guccione Jr. insists. “None of my feeling good is tied to whether Penthouse has good or bad fortune. I love my father and I want well for him. I remember 20 years ago hearing that the Walt Disney Corporation was on the way down. And Time Warner. Reports of their deaths were premature. Now, could Penthouse use some new blood? Probably.”
Guccione Jr. actually has kinder words for his father than he does for that other Junior publisher, John Kennedy, and his product, George magazine.
“After the magazine came out, I rolled my eyes,” Guccione Jr. says. “The magazine is toothless, deadly dull. It’s a nice, comfy, People magazine type where everybody is cuddled and cute. At the end of the day, magazines can only justify their existence if they have strong opinions and bravery. It comes down to who has the courage to say something worthwhile.”
In that declaration, Guccione Jr. describes at least two men in the magazine world: himself and his father. While Guccione Sr. has railed against government cover-ups of everything from the Kennedy assassination to alien encounters, his son has made AIDS education and exploration his monthly crusade — distributing free condoms in one memorable issue.
“We had the temerity to say that the medical community didn’t know everything they claimed to know,” Guccione Jr. says. “Back then, we weren’t all wearing red ribbons.”
And it wasn’t always a popular stance even within the halls of Spin.
“After the first issue, my then editor took up a petition that said, ‘We don’t want to run this column,’ ” the publisher recalls. “I said, ‘Then you don’t have to stay here.’ I said if this magazine doesn’t have enough substance to write about something other than music, I don’t want any part of it.”
From that vantage point, Guccione Jr. was particularly disappointed in Kennedy Jr. because one of George‘s editors previously worked at Spin. And he’s not impressed by the fast start George had with major advertisers, either.
“John Kennedy’s handshake is worth two ad pages,” Guccione Jr. says. “You shake his hand, you buy two pages. But after that, the ad exec has to worry about his job.”
But enough about someone else’s magazine. Guccione Jr. is too busy expanding his own operation. The Spin Radio Network feeds daily news, rare musical clips and interviews to 45 stations nationwide, while 75 stations carry the monthly artist interviews and performance that characterize “Spin Sessions.” A syndicated TV show based on the magazine is in the works, as is Spin Records.
On the print side, Guccione Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps with plans for expanding his magazine base. In addition to producing more special editions of Spin itself, he’s negotiating to publish an American version of the Italian young men’s magazine, Max.
But while Spin has a thriving kiosk on America Online, SpinOnline, Guccione Jr. isn’t sure about the merits of launching a Web site.
“I don’t see how we can make money doing it; I’m not going to do it out of vanity, just to say we have a site,” he says. “My staff came to me with a proposal to do it and said, ‘We’ll only lose half a million dollars!’ I said, ‘What’s the good news?’ They said, ‘Other people are losing $3- to $4-million!’ To me, it’s lemming-like.”
Finally, now that JFK Jr. is married, does that make Bob Guccione Jr. America’s most eligible bachelor?
“Now that he’s gone, maybe,” Guccione Jr. says, laughing. “It may be my one fleeting moment to be most eligible anything, so I’ll take it.”
Bob Guccione, Jr. Wikipedia