How King Magazine Lost Its Crown

August 9, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

KING magazine was a much beloved iconic title. Representative of the high life aspired to by many young black men, it was considered the GQ of the hip-hop set. Even though some considered it merely a “booty magazine” due to the scantily clad women that always graced its covers, in truth the makers of KING attempted to make the publication intelligent and fun. This was (and still is) a mix rarely concocted in media for black men, who many stereotype as only being interested in big behinds — not stimulating their minds. KING was successful at doing both, flourishing in its niche to reach a circulation of over 271,000 in its heyday. It’s demise in 2009 saw the end of a rare cultural moment that united quality and popularity in a black-run entity.

BlackVoices.com has chronicled the rise and fall of the only black lad mag of quality in an in depth article. On the business end, the reasons for the folding of KING are stark and grim:

In its first four years, KING‘s circulation more than doubled, from 132,851 a year after it launched to 271,298 in 2005, making it one of the fastest-growing magazines in America at the time, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which tracks magazine sales. Then as the economy worsened, things fell apart.

[…]

The liquor, rims and clothing advertisers that the magazine leaned on so heavily were hit especially hard during the recession. And former employees of KING and Harris Publications said there was reluctance and sometimes “laziness” on the part of the sales team, who never committed to courting more lasting, higher-end advertisers. But at the same time, more traditional advertisers were wary of the saucy content or of targeting the black male market at all.

Former KING editors also describe an environment within Harris Publications that sought to push the magazine away from its content complexity. KING’s directors combined that fun barber shop vibe with a classy approach to presenting pictures of beautiful women. Even during the height of KING’s reign, Harris would have preferred that the creators up the ratio of cheaper booty-baring images over well-curated articles. It is possible that the expense of paying talented writers and photographers was deemed superfluous by Harris Publications as profits thinned during the recession.

After KING folded in 2009 due to economic pressures, it resurfaced in 2010 as Women of KING, taking advantage of the brand name editors had built up to focus exclusively on presenting near-naked girls. Harris Publications got its wish. The hip-hop community lost an important expressive outlet.

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