Media: Summer of love and magazine wars

So you thought Ibiza was all about sex, music and drugs? But beneath the hedonism a battle is being fought

The Balearics are pulsing to a new beat this summer: that of clashing sabres as UK clubbing magazines take their circulation battle away from the home turf to tough it out on the Mediterranean front.

Clubbing means big bucks these days, and the slogan on publishers' lips isn't exactly "Summer of Love". Rather, it is the more prosaic "brand awareness". With two million British party-animals hitting Ibiza over the 12-week season, there are serious numbers of loyalties to be won. So journalists and photographers from Emap's Mixmag, IPC's Muzik and the Ministry of Sound's Ministry magazine have this year joined DJ's seasoned Ibizan chronicler Ronnie Randell out in the world's clubbing mecca.

Here, all are producing free publications with the hope that once the fortnight's hangover subsides and the skin stops peeling it will be their title that the ardent clubber, with fond but fading memories of an Ibizan idyll, picks up in their high street WH Smith.

From the moment the holidaymakers arrive to the day they depart, they are assailed by the day-glo titles which jostle for space in the island's clubs, bars, shops and hotels.

According to Randell, editor of DJ Ibiza 99, there is no home-grown competition: "Nothing comes out of Ibiza itself. The island is so laid back they can't get it together." So it's a bun-fight for the UK invaders, not unlike the UK tabloid wars that have been played out on the Spanish costas over the past few years.

"There's certainly a lot of us out there. I think we've destroyed half the South American rainforests," laughs Scott Manson, editor of 18-month- old Ministry, the first publishing venture of Ministry of Sound, better known as a leading club promoter back in Britain.

Manson has reason to be cheerful: Ministry's first ABC figure showed the title registering more than 61,000 sales - not far off the 65,624 of 16-year-old Mixmag, which dropped nearly 30 per cent of its sales year- on-year in the same July-December 1998 period. He expects that next month's release of figures for the first half of 1999 will confirm the decline of Mixmag and the rise of Ministry.

"Everybody said Ministry of Sound wasn't a publisher and how dare you think you can produce a magazine. Now everybody is scratching their heads," he says, adding that the grapevine holds the tale of a bemused Emap Metro executive fingering a copy of Ministry in the boardroom and appealing: "Can anyone tell me why this is doing so well?"

Well, just in Ibizan terms, Ministry certainly has the most professional set-up. Its four-strong team is permanently based on the island (its rivals fly their staffers in as and when they are required), and, although they are younger than their counterparts on the other titles and are unlikely to pass up the chance to partake in the Ibizan lifestyle during their island sojourn, they are expected to be in their office at 10am every day. Unlike its rivals, the fortnightly Ministry in Ibiza is also printed in Spain. "We're kicking the arse out of everybody else on the island," gloats Manson.

Ministry has also taken the lion's share of billboard advertising in Ibiza - despite smart islanders having hiked the cost this year. Mixmag has responded by dispatching Mr Trippy the ice-cream van, hosted by in- house DJ Stan Farrow. The van, graced with a brilliant yellow Smiley, chimes a dance ditty as copies of the weekly Mixmag Out There are distributed. IPC's free offering, The Islander, a weekly collaboration between Muzik (trailing in the sales league at 43,000) and Loaded, and produced in association with HMV, is offering pounds 1-off vouchers for the August, September and October editions of its parent titles.

Ministry, Mixmag and Muzik all claim to have been the first to have thought of their summer Ibizan adventure. Which is somewhat irritating for Ronnie Randell. For the rest of the year he is the reviews editor of the more specialist magazine DJ (circulation 24,000) and has spent the past four summers out in Ibiza writing and photographing all the editorial for the monthly DJ Ibiza.

Back in London for a few days, nursing an injured elbow ("I was knocked over in a club"), he explains: "They're all playing this media game, pretending that another magazine hasn't existed for four years. And what's really, really boring is when you're at a club taking a picture and you find three other people behind you taking the same picture." According to this pioneer of the on-island freebie, the johnny-come-latelies may have more money, staff and bigger backers, but they are also "all a bit naive".

He complains that his rivals are pretty much of a muchness: they concentrate on the British scene in San Antonio, on the main clubs, on DJ gossip, on "shagging on the beach" and major on the puerile picture caption. He says his title looks at "genuine Ibizan culture". "Last Sunday, I was on the side of a mountain with mainly Spanish people at a three-day trance party. God it was awful, but the situation was unbelievable. There are so many other places and parties I go to beyond the main clubs."

Not so, says Neil Stevenson, editor of Mixmag. "You can go on about lost hippies in the north of the island, but not many people want to read about that. People want excitement. Clubbers are people who appreciate a degree of anarchy and humour. Most of them are recreational drug users, so you have to have fun with them. I can understand [DJ] being upset because they're the only ones who've been doing this for so long, but the fact is that they are a small player in the club magazine market and now they've been eclipsed."

The language used by Manson, Stevenson and Randell makes a bit of a mockery of Muzik editor Ben Turner's claim that "we all get on very well really". Though out in Ibiza himself, surveying the scene, even he admits: "This place has just become such big business."

Like his rivals, he says that putting out a free title doesn't directly make any money. It's about giving the core brand a higher profile and people a sample of what they can buy back home.

Maybe he has had a bad night, maybe the sun is too strong, but Turner is also the only one to add a down beat to this story. "Everyone is in competition in Ibiza, but I don't think you can achieve that much. After all, most of the clubbers are off their heads."

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