An Idea that Heralded the Era of the “Niche” Magazine
Despite the predictions by many in the publishing industry that there was no place on the nation’s newsstands for highly themed special interest magazines, the title has enjoyed great success and popularity for 40- years…
Why not give it a go? Spawned by four Challenge editors enjoying tasty corned beef sandwiches at their favorite deli, Bob O’Hara’s idea of creating a sea-going version of Air Classics magazine generated considerable enthusiasm around the table. “After all,” chimed in Joe Mizrahi, “the bell bottom trousers set were just as nostalgic about the tin-cans, submarines and battleships they’d served on as the airdales were about their high-flying B-17s, P-51 Mustangs and Spitfires.” Munching his pickle-laced sandwich, Publisher Ed Schnepf joined in the chorus reminding the group that, in two year’s time, Air Classics had become the nation’s best-selling aviation history magazine despite the skepticism of many in the publishing industry.
Back in the mid-1960s, there was still the persistent belief that the nation’s newsstands were solely the purview of large mass circulation magazines such as Life, Sports Afield and Ladies Home Journal. Many industry pundits felt there were insufficient nationwide audiences to sustain magazines with appeal limited to smaller segments of the population. However, magazines like Air Classics had proven them very wrong. Although several aviation magazines were already being published, none exclusively catered to those interested in aviation history, especially military aviation which had become such a dominant factor in World War II, and which was then being written anew in the skies over Vietnam. Air Classics immediately caught the fancy of aero buffs worldwide, and confirmed it with its high levels of sales, wide use of editorial color features and astute focus on reader interests.
Ed Schnepf’s Challenge Publications, formed in 1963, was among the group of infant publishing enterprises which firmly believed a new day was dawning in periodical publishing; that the era of the “niche” or “special interest” magazine had arrived as mass circulation magazines were fast losing much of their traditional readership to television’s audiences.
Challenge took advantage of this emerging new marketplace by soon introducing a host of other popularly-themed “niche” magazines in the automotive, bicycling and hobby fields. “So, why not offer maritime and Naval enthusiasts a magazine like Air Classics entitled Sea Classics?” suggested editor Jerry von Aspe?
The publisher nodded agreement and, by the time the table was being cleared, the format had been established. Sea Classics would cover all eras and aspects of seafaring from the early adventures of “new world” explorers like Magellan, Henry Hudson, and Cortez to the gut-wrenching experiences of young sailors facing deadly kamikazes, to modern explorers like the crew of nuclear submarine USS Nautilus transiting arctic waters submerged. The magazine would focus on ships and the world of those who manned them in peace and war.
Schnepf suggested an interesting lead story might be the impending last voyage and upcoming arrival at Long Beach of the newly retired liner RMS Queen Mary which was slated to become a major west coast hotel/restaurant/museum attraction. Jerry Von Aspe agreed to go aboard the famed queen at Acapulco to write the story about riding her to her new home. Mizrahi took on the editorship of the new bi-monthly title as a collateral function to his chores helping O’Hara with Air Classics. To assure a nautical authenticity to a magazine about the sea, newly-discharged Navy yeoman Jim Sheetz was hired as associate editor. Within six-weeks time, the inaugural issue of Sea Classics hit the nation’s newsstands. Like they say in Hollywood, the rest is history. Happy Birthday Sea Classics! May you steam on forever – pleasing a devoted readership which many refused to believe existed!
Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Dec 2007
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