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Originally published February 19, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified February 19, 2012 at 11:32 PM

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Publishers' emails: What 2 city magazines say about each other

Month after month, Seattle Magazine and Seattle Met battle it out, offering like content and sometimes similar covers. Asked to size up the competition, the publishers took off the gloves.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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At the checkout stand, month in and month out, our two city magazines battle each other.

Seattle Magazine vs. Seattle Met: Top Reasons Why They Hate Each Other!

OK, maybe "hate" is a little strong. "Miffed" might be more appropriate, but that's not a teaser headline to keep you reading, is it?

This story started innocuously enough, with the editors for each publication keeping their comments nice.

Then the publishers got involved — and, well, read the emails yourself.

The story originally was to be about the kind of coincidence that can make magazine editors wince as they try to separate themselves from competitors; after months of planning, you end up using the same cover photo as your rival.

That's what happened this month when Seattle Magazine and Seattle Met had special issues commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair.

Digging up archival photos, their respective art directors separately found a compelling image in the photo archives of Seattle's Museum of History & Industry.

It showed a young woman named Shirley Farnham taking a photo in 1962 of the Space Needle looming above her.

"I was drawn to this image ... because of its simplicity and how it puts you in a familiar spot. I also like that you could basically recreate it today if you visit the Seattle Center," says Andre Mora, Seattle Met's design director.

Actually, Seattle Met published four different covers for that issue, a different World's Fair historical photo on each.

But it was the two covers with the same photos that were noticed.

In The Stranger's news blog, called Slog, writer Brendan Kiley posted both covers, so they flashed back and forth, with the headline, "Now More Indistinguishable Than Ever!"

The label comes from those who peruse both city magazines and can't help noticing that both are heavy on "service journalism," with lots of "best of" lists.

Both magazines, for example, offer their own lists of Top Doctors, Best Restaurants and Best Burgers.

A commenter on that Slog posting helpfully explained how the two city magazines were actually different:

"Seattle Magazine: For Redmond parents researching dentists and schools for their kids, and who rarely cross the bridge.

"Seattle Met: For Belltown/Cap Hill residents aspiring to be the above, but looking for a new bar to ruin in the meantime."

Rachel Hart, editor of Seattle Magazine, says about The Stranger's posting, "They like to poke the hornets' nest. We take it as a compliment if The Stranger pokes fun at you."

Hart, and Katherine Koberg, editor of Seattle Met, both said when asked about the other's magazine that they don't pay that much attention.

It was when the publishers got involved that things took a sharp turn and the niceties evaporated.

It started with questions about circulation figures, an important statistic when it comes to selling ads.

Both publications say their paid circulation is in the 33,000 to 36,000 range, with about three-fifths as subscriptions.

In addition, both magazines pump up circulation figures by giving away thousands of free copies, mostly at high-end hotel rooms, but also at doctors' offices and special events.

And it would not be an understatement that both publications criticize each other's figures and how each publication interprets them.

Email vs. email

It was in responding to a question from this reporter about circulation numbers that John Kueber, chief operating officer, Seattle at Tiger Oaks Publications, owner of Seattle Magazine, also wrote, "one of the maddening things about the magazine situation in our city is the consistent pattern of imitation. As we both know, 'Scooping' one another is fair game and part of our business (i.e. Met moving their Space Needle issue up a month to match ours), but it gets a little old. We do series of food truck events ('Mobile Chowdown') ... they follow up 6 months later with an imitation. We put a 'Love and Sex' cover on our media kit in Fall 2010 for Feb 2011, lo and behold, Seattle Met does the same (non traditional) cover in Feb 2011.

"Again, we recognize it's part of the business (and there's the old saying of the sincerest form of flattery), but we live in an incredibly dynamic city. There's plenty of room for innovation and great stories to cover. If Met wants to be so young, so hip — then they should be original!"

The "young and hip" reference was to how Seattle Met touts its readership's median age as 40. In its media kit, Seattle Magazine says its readership's average age is 51.

Kueber's email resulted in this email response to the reporter from Nicole Vogel, founder and president of SagaCity Media, which owns Seattle Met:

"I feel like I'm having a Stephen Colbert moment. Does John Kueber think his magazine owns the rights to coverage of love and Valentine's Day in February? I'll call Hallmark. Or the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair? I'll alert all other media outlets.

"All joking aside, Seattle Met's reader is 15 years younger than Seattle Mag's, as a result we have no interest in looking to their editorial direction for 'inspiration.' As for the circulation, I'm confident that our media kit reflects the truth; Kueber's on the other hand, more like truthiness.

"I also find it funny that he would accuse anyone of 'imitation.' As you can see from the attached images, imitation appears to be a big part of their strategy."

Vogel's email contained an attachment showing covers from other city magazines, alongside very similar covers then by Seattle Magazine.

One example showed the June 2003 issue of New York magazine with a cover story on "Best Doctors." The visual was a person's hand in a cast, thumb sticking up, and stuff scribbled on the cast.

In July 2010, Seattle Magazine ran its "Top Docs" issue, the visual on the cover showing a person's hand in a cast, thumb sticking up, and stuff scribbled on the cast.

Round two

Seattle Met's Vogel's email then resulted in this response from Kueber:

"We could all play the game of who is influenced by what from a 'design' standpoint (isn't every form of media guilty of this?). She is missing the point.

"There have been instances where there is some similarity in design with some other city publications, but my point remains that we continue to work in the spirit of innovative 'ideas, topics and events' in tandem with the usual topics (best restaurants) of city magazines. I can't say the same for them.

"I guess I challenge Seattle Met to find an example of Seattle Magazine imitating Seattle Met on an original 'idea.' A font on a single issue of 'Comfort Food' four years after the fact, doesn't really fall into the category of imitation."

To this, Vogel responded, "I was up half the night feeling deeply offended and thought I should respond once more to accurately reflect both our staff's feelings and my support and belief in them. This is what I came up with:

"The work that Katherine Koberg and her editorial and design teams put into the sweeping coverage of our city through Seattle Met is a real and true contribution. They work tirelessly at it. To insinuate that this hard working group of people is being repetitive and only copying ideas is simply wrong and insulting."

Let's just wrap this story up.

You know, maybe that teaser, "Top Reasons Why They Hate Each Other!" wasn't an exaggeration.

Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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