Heads up, a new
title for dope smokers
that '70s icon, High Times
By Gabriel Spitzer
If itís possible to put a brand name on marijuana, one
magazine has done it. Just ask any stoner:
High Times, man.
For 25 years, High Times has been the flagship
publication for the estimated 20 to 30 million Americans who smoke pot.
But starting this week, High Times will be joined on the
stands by a new and sprightly competitor, Heads magazine. And as things
heat up in what can now be called the "dope magazine" category,
Heads will duke it out with High Times for a share of a readership that is
overwhelmingly young, male and with money to burn (pun intended).
Heads founder and editor Paul DeRienzo hopes to give
his magazine an activist flavor.
"We want to do more than just exploit this market,
we want to be part of the movement. That comes with a certain amount of
responsibility to inform, educate and enlighten our readers," he
DeRienzo, whose background includes 10 years of investigative
reporting in New York City and a weekly radio show on WBAI, New Yorkís
Pacifica affiliate, enlisted almost 40 contributors for his premiere issue.
The Heads staff, comprised for now of DeRienzo and
associate publisher Joel Gershon, takes a serious view of the marijuana
movement, even if it does give some people the giggles.
"Weíre dealing with more than just the pot
issue," says Gershon, who points to the rather diverse bunch of
advertisers onboard for the first issue.
Heads will carry ads in four major categories: vegetarian and
organic health products, hemp products, music advertisements and, of
course, plenty of marijuana paraphernalia. A full-page ad lists at $4,000.
"Itís kind of revolutionary to bridge these
different areas," Gershon remarks. "At High Times, it was really
all pot stuff. At Heads it has always been our intention to broaden our
With an initial run of 70,000, The first issue of Heads will
feature about 30 pages of advertising, dispersed among articles about
marijuana legalization, human rights, racial profiling and genetically
"We really want to appeal to progressive causes,"
Therein, says Gershon, lies the difference between Heads and
"High Times goes for the lowest common
denominator. They really cater to young stoner kids in the middle of
"We want to take these issues seriously and not
make a joke out of it," adds DeRienzo.
But the people at High Times arenít kidding around
"We are going out of our way to service the
counterculture in addition to providing news," says High Times
publisher Jim Ski.
Without a serious challenge to its reign, High Times
has grown into a formidable publication. Its readership is around 200,000,
about 90 percent of which buy off the newsstand.
"I think people have a tendency to be paranoid
about putting their names on a list," says Ski, explaining the low
Nevertheless, eyeballs are eyeballs, and High Times has
always managed to fill the book with willing--if unconventional--advertisers.
"Itís a very unusual place to sell ads,"
director of advertising Rick Cusick says dryly.
But High Times has proven to be quite an effective
"Weíre so targeted that many of our advertisers
see a quid-pro-quo return, and you donít get that elsewhere," says
Cusick. "Whereas in most magazines itís all about exposure and
brand-building, many of our advertisers see a direct, quantifiable
The magazine lists full-page ads at $6,670 and has
about a 50-50 mix of editorial and advertising pages.
"We target two kinds of advertisers," says Cusick.
"There are mainstream advertisers, and there are advertisers that
pertain particularly to marijuana culture."
This latter category includes an impressive variety of
pipes, bongs, urine test kits, marijuana seeds, special tupperware-type
containers for pot and elaborate smoking devices that can range up to
$1,000 in price.
"Iíve heard a lot of ridicule about these
things," Cusick admits. The urine test devices in particular have been the
subject of snickers, but Cusick isnít laughing.
"Unlike regular advertisingóweíre not selling
socks hereóthe end result is people staying out of jail, people keeping
their jobs, people keeping their families together."
High Times boasts a readership that is 78 percent male,
with a median age of 27.5. A full 83 percent of High Times readers are
As far as the competition goes, High Times isnít too
"I donít think anyone will give High Times a run
for its money," says Cusick.
About Heads in particular, he had this to say: "Speaking
as a businessman, I wish them well. As an activist, there can never be too
many voices. But as a competitor, they havenít got a chance."
Jim Ski perused the premier issue of Heads last week.
"Itís okay. Itís on nice paper," he says. "But it all
looks vaguely familiar. I saw pictures in there that have probably run in
High Times at some point."
Ski sees the competition as an opportunity to make High
"Historically itís been tough to find a
competitor to target against. This isnít a field that most people are
leaping into; I donít think we have to worry about Hearst or Conde Nast
jumping into the game. Competition is always fun."
"Of course weíll compete for advertisers,"
says Cusick. "But anybody can sell an ad once. The trick is to sell
For his part, Headsí DeRienzo doesnít exactly have his six-shooter
"I think thereís room for all of us," he
says. "Iím actually surprised there arenít more of us
Meanwhile, dope magazinesí readership isnít going
away any time soon.
"So many people smoke pot now," remarks DeRienzo.
"Cops smoke it. Judges smoke it. You can probably smell it coming
out of the DAís office."
-Gabriel Spitzer is a staff writer for Media Life.
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