Ocean Thrive

Call it what you will -- mindless fluff, starstruck drivel -- but Ocean Drive has perfected a formula that's the envy of the publishing world

Cash flow was tight in those early days, Powers says, and finances were often hand-to-mouth -- which led to recapitalization from three main investors: Manhattan marketing executive Michael Warren, notorious German playboy and real estate developer Thomas Kramer, and the late Derick Daniels, a former Miami Herald editor, Knight Ridder executive, and the late-Seventies president of Playboy largely credited with rescuing that magazine from impending bankruptcy, and then helping steer it into the cable TV and home-video fields that keep it afloat today.

Looking back on that founding crew, opinion is divided on apportioning credit for Ocean Drive's success. Certainly its timing was key, offering a promotional vehicle that mirrored South Beach's media-drenched rise through the Nineties as an international hot spot.

Talk to advertisers in New York, though, and it's the moxie of Jason Binn that often gets cited, a blend of tireless fixer hitched to a spirit of salesmanship that involved everything short of promising his first-born. "What Mr. Binn does is make life easier for the well-known," noted Andrew Goldman in a New York Observer profile. "Whenever a celebrity is feeling down, beating himself up, or needing to be surrounded by a battalion of very friendly six-foot-tall blondes, Mr. Binn, it seems, will be there. In a world of James Deans, someone's got to play the Sal Mineo part. "

These days Binn is rarely in Miami, devoting the bulk of his time to newer publishing ventures, such as New York's Gotham and Hamptons. Yet it's the lesser-known role of Derick Daniels that still intrigues. Powers is quick to credit Daniels with schooling him on the finer aspects of his nascent magazine's design, of seeing the publication as less a collection of articles than a new "mini movie" readers could envision themselves inside every month.

"Ocean Drive shall never have jump pages," he repeats, as if intoning a mantra drilled into him -- you'll never find yourself flipping from, say, page 70 to page 183 to continue reading a story. But it was in shaping Ocean Drive's overall aesthetic -- that secret editorial formula -- that Daniels seems to have left his biggest imprint. Although Daniels's Playboy of the Seventies found itself losing circulation to more explicit upstarts such as Hustler and Penthouse, Daniels always kept his magazine's own centerfolds surrounded by high-brow fare. And while Playboy's Norman Mailer pieces gave rise to the dubious claim of "only reading it for the articles," they also kept Playboy publicly acceptable to wealthier readers -- whatever their justification for subscribing -- as well as the luxury advertisers eager to reach them.

Much the same formulation propels Ocean Drive today as it sashays up to, but never crosses, the line of titillation. Binn told the New York Times that his magazine's guiding personality is sex, period. But unlike the fashion pieces in Loft, the most high-profile of its local competitors, in Ocean Drive you'll never see a woman's exposed nipple -- let alone the cover shot of MTV Latin America VJ Eglantina Zingg tied to a chair that graced Loft last year.

Of course, once inside Ocean Drive's hefty 442-page February issue, you'll have to slog through 133 pages of condo ads, many of which make it unclear whether you're being asked to buy a two-bedroom penthouse unit or the semiconscious woman photographed on its floor. And to arrive at its entertainingly snarky gossip columns, you'll have to avoid being distracted by the fashion spread of leggy Amazonian Bruna Magagna doing something atop the Dogma Grill's hot dog counter that borders on a health-code violation. But surely you're reading Ocean Drive for the articles, not the pictures.

"This is a coffee-table book," Powers says of Ocean Drive, one whose cover will always look at home atop an issue of Town and Country -- even if few of its audited 55,000 readers are actually paying for their copies.

"They made controlled circulation sexy," explains Samir Husni, a publishing industry analyst and chairman of the journalism department at the University of Missouri, referring to the bulk of Ocean Drive's targeted free distribution. "Controlled circulation in the good old days was for a specific audience. If you were a black chemical engineer, then you would get a copy of Black Chemical Engineer Monthly in the mail. What Ocean Drive said is, öIf you are somebody who "counts," if you are part of the cream of the crop, we are going to make sure that you see this magazine. And not only see this magazine, but also see yourself in this magazine.' So they had two strokes of the ego of the reader, and that's become just as attractive to advertisers. It's why you see so many imitators growing up like wild mushrooms."

"It's an ego trip," says Corey Augenstein of the motivation behind the current glut of Miami lifestyle magazines. And he should know. As publisher of the short-lived Collins Avenue, Augenstein produced his debut issue this past May. Then, having burned through what he estimates was $100,000 with virtually no ad sales, he pulled the plug.

"Everybody wants to be a player down here. You become the publisher of a magazine, you get into every party that exists in mankind," he recalls of his brief stint on the VIP list. "You'll meet women, men, whatever you're interested in. You'll rub elbows with celebrities, people will bend over backward to get written about. You can have a great life just by putting your name on a rag. That's why you see so many new magazines popping up every day."

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