Drawing a Line



Only in a spot as provincial and hidebound as the greater Philadelphia area could a spat erupt between two magazines over the simple fact that they have remarkably similar titles. But that's what's happened between Main Line Today and its newest competitor, Mainline magazine. And according to Monica Yant Kinney's column in the March 11 Philadelphia Inquirer, the case has made its way to a federal courtroom.

As Kinney writes, "The western suburbs are home to more than 250,000 rich people to suck up to, but one 'glossy lifestyle magazine' thinks that two publications celebrating what it calls the 'affluent, influential people who love to indulge' are too many.

"The lawsuit alleges unfair competition and trademark dilution, which is a Philadelphia lawyerly way of Main Line Today's saying, 'We were first, and the Main Line is only big enough for one of us.' "

But as Kinney's column points out, competition is the lifeblood of any business, especially journalism (isn't it clear in this one-newspaper town what a lack of someone to fight with does to a publication). Readers can discriminate between like-sounding magazines.

As Kinney notes, "At Borders in Wynnewood, I spy Men's Health, Men's Exercise, Men's Fitness, Men's Journal and Men's Vogue all on the same shelf.

"Nearby, I browse Surf, Surfer and Surfing. Bitch magazine is for feminists, and Witch is for pagans. Somehow, readers figure it out."

What may be a much bigger problem that appears to have gone unspoken in the lawsuit is that Mainline magazine may just be doing a better job than Main Line Today has ever done in its decade-long existence.

These are lifestyle magazines, for heaven's sake! You don't expect them to be filled with long, complex analyses of the central issues of our time. Short, sweet and good-looking would appear to be the code words for getting the job done here, and Mainline is just far more savvy, clearly, right out of the gate.

The cover alone beats Main Line Today without even breaking a sweat. MLT's most recent cover story deals with what is called the "Condo Boom," and the editors have illustrated it with a rather flat picture of an entryway of one such condo that they think is indicative of that boom. Not the most alluring of concepts — and hardly very alluringly designed.

Mainline, on the other hand, has clearly gone all out on its March/April facade. The paper stock is quality-grade, ensuring a fine reproduction for their art — a shot of a woman in a low-cut blue-and-white gown-like dress set among plush greenery. Nothing revolutionary or daring, but definitely classy.

Most of the layouts look good — clean and well-thought-out. But keep in mind, we're not talking about Commentary here. The articles are about "The Nanny Wars" and "35 Must-Haves" for spring. Magazines like these try to match how their readers see themselves. With that in mind, it seems Mainline has nowhere to go but up. 



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