on August 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Monthly publication Skirt speads out to new cities and a new projects

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ What’s in style this fall? Skirt!

Not skirts, Skirt!, a monthly magazine for women published by Augusta-based Morris Communications Co. The Charleston-born publication is spreading out to three new cities and a line of books in the next few months.

The expansion will push the free collection of poems, essays and ads to about 500,000 copies a month, 30,000 of which blanket Charleston, where Skirt! first hit the market 13 years ago.

And Skirt! will be on bookshelves in the next few days with its first title “Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips” by Kris Carr.

Not a bad result for a freelance writer’s $400 project.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Nikki Hardin, Skirt! founder and publisher.

Launched in 1994, Hardin’s creation found a fit in Charleston. Morris, which also owns 27 daily newspapers and some free periodicals, snapped it up for an undisclosed sum in late 2003 and has since spread the publication to seven other cities: Atlanta, Augusta, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., Columbia and Jacksonville, Fla., Knoxville, Tenn., and Savannah, Ga.

Skirt! will hit Houston next month and Memphis, Tenn., and Richmond, Va., in October.

“Things are going fantastic,” said Jim Currow, executive vice president of newspapers at Morris.

“I had no idea that this product was so powerful with women. It strikes a nerve. When we open in a market, it just flies off the shelves. I’ve been in this business 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Morris stitches up six of its Skirt! city editions in-house, while cutting licensing deals for the others and its three newest offerings to big media companies, such as Cox Enterprises and Media General.

Under those agreements, the partners pay Morris an undisclosed share of revenue in exchange for 10 years of editorial content, Web site management and “consultation,” which includes training employees in the Charleston headquarters or, as Hardin calls it, “skirtitizing them.”

Morris declined to detail revenue or profit, but Currow said the company is very pleased with its returns and with how Skirt! has turned the eyes of advertisers.

“Some of those people never advertise anywhere, but when they see a product like Skirt!, they want to be in there,” Currow said. “Everybody wants to reach this market. They want to reach women educated, affluent women and that’s who reads Skirt!”

Currow hopes to fit the magazine into another 20 to 25 markets next year, with Tampa, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., at the top of the list.

“Our goal, by the end of next year is to be coast to coast,” he explained.

The Skirt! model apparently works in bookstores too. The Globe Pequot Press, another unit of Morris Communications, is slipping into the brand with five Skirt! titles this year and plans for 10 more titles in 2008. “Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips” quickly sold out of its first print-run of 50,000 copies, according to Globe Pequot Publisher Scott Watrous.

“The brand was critical,” Watrous said. “We immediately had some credence with our customers namely bookstores and the consumer.”

That valuable “brand,” however, is coveted by competitors as well as consumers. Morris attorneys are scrapping with several alleged imitators and has been in a protracted court battle with Pink!, a monthly magazine distributed around Beaufort. The owner of Pink!, Hilton Head Island-based Millen Publishing Group, has denied and fought the allegations. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the dispute to trial by Feb. 4.

Currow said it has also been a challenge to maintain the Skirt! look and feel within the company. Morris has had to talk tough to keep some of its licensing partners from making changes.

Hardin also worries about her creation losing its edge, what she called its “shoot-from-the-hip” approach.

“You could kind of move faster a few years ago,” she said. “But we try to stay very entrepreneurial and kind of stay off of the grid, because that’s how it started.”

Meanwhile, Hardin is soaking up her success. For the next few weeks, she will be writing her own book and finding authors that fit with Skirt!, which is easier said than done.

“You do need to fill the machine, but it has to have the right voice,” Hardin said. “We’re not doing chick lit.”