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The Independent Online
Surely public disillusionment with the Government should have bolstered the sales of left-wing magazines? Actually, no. Titles such as New Statesman and Red Pepper enjoy only small readerships - 19,000 and 15,000, respectively - which makes the recent launches of two new political titles surprising.

Soundings launched late last month. Hot on the heels of Prospect, which appeared in late September promising "essays for a sceptical age", it is poised to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Marxism Today three years ago.

"There is a gap in current writing about politics and culture. The initiative has moved away from the right of centre but it has not been replaced with anything," says co-founder Stuart Hall, professor of sociology at the Open University.

Run on a tight budget, Soundings is not "just a Labour Party organ". Adopting an A5 format, it is more than Tribune. It aims for a non- sectarian blend of thinking. The first issue includes an essay by Hall on Tony Blair, Simon Edge on gay consumerism, and pieces on genetics and mountain-biking. The target audience? "A broadly intellectual public," says Hall.

Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper, agrees: "Soundings certainly seems more politically committed than Prospect. Soundings combines engagement and consciousness with a certain playfulness." Paul Henderson, deputy editor of New Statesman, describes Soundings' first issue as "very promising", but continues, "It has an Eighties feel - an enthusiasm for popular culture as if it's being discovered for the first time."

Prospect's editor, David Goodhart, describes Soundings as "very much for the political in-crowd". It is positioned alongside New Labour Review, targeting a relatively small group - "the strongly committed traditional socialists". Not exactly a large gap in the market - "but at that price [pounds 35 per year] you don't need many subscribers to be commercially viable".

Soundings will be published three times a year by Lawrence & Wishart. With an initial print run of 2,500 copies, 700 subscriptions have so far been sold. The rest are available from bookshops.

Glossy with a conscience

The actress Siobian Redmond adorns the cover of the women's monthly Atlanta, which launches tomorrow. No aspirational glamour shots here. Instead, Atlanta declares itself to be the antidote to women's glossy monthlies. Forget the familiar tips on how to please your man in bed, says Nikkie du Preez, the founder and editor. Atlanta will combine "bold reporting on sex, politics and culture" with "striking images and exciting design".

Atlanta mixes the worthier elements of Marie Claire with the style of Vanity Fair for "outward-looking women" aged 25 to 45. Voice is all: "We would go with a writer who's not completely polished if they write with passion," says du Preez, citing one piece that explores what it is like to wear a chastity belt.

That is not to say Atlanta is amateur. Using new and established writers - including the Independent's Andrew Marr - its subjects range from aid workers to women who buy sex. It is issue-based, not fashion and beauty-led. And it will maintain a strict 75:25 editorial ratio: "Women want amagazine where ads do not contradict editorial - such as a Kate Moss alongside an article saying, 'It's OK to be size 16'."

The magazine gives all profits to victims of war. Its publisher, the Atlanta Trust, is a registered charity with backing from celebrity donations to the GrandMet Trust, which pays for five full-time staff. Du Preez says: "With our charity backgrounds we are well trained in managing scarce resources. The publishing industry is used to waste - we're not."

Advance orders exceed 50,000. Small fry by Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire standards, whose monthly numbers are 456,131 and 455,109 respectively. But du Preez is confident that a circulation of 100,000 is "realistic".

Still, it will take more than low overheads to survive. According to Faith Carthy, press director at Zenith Media, the monthly glossies market is buoyant but fiercely competitive. Total sales are up 24 per cent. Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire dominate; their nearest rivals are 100,000 behind. Carthy says gaining a foothold will be tough: "A clear USP [unique selling point] is essential, as is strong backing. Without either, it would be extremely hard to make it work."

Fun and games

It started with Dungeons & Dragons. Now, the UK's 100,000 regular role-players have their own, late-teen aimed magazine, Arcane, launched by Future Publishing last month. Unlike existing titles, Arcane is neither imported from the United States nor published by a toy company manufacturing cult fantasy games. "We're independent, which makes us unique," says Steve Faragher, Arcane's editor.

The magazine offers features on board-games, traditional and futuristic role-playing and computer games - not so different from rival publications, the American import Dragon, the "house magazine" of TSR, the company behind Dungeon & Dragons, and White Dwarf, a British title published by Games Workshop. But Arcane's independent stance is likely to win readers, says Martin Croft, a freelance journalist and games enthusiast. He says it could succeed where others have failed: "In recent years, a number have gone bust. Those that have survived have had the backing of toy companies prepared to make a loss."

Good sports

Future has also launched First XV, a monthly rugby title edited by Stuart Barnes, the former England and British Lions fly-half-turned journalist. The publisher claims its title is "unafraid to tackle controversy". The first issue carries copy on Murdoch's Super League and a guide to rugby morals. Advertising includes Flowers Original and the Royal Marines.

Also joining the ranks is Emap Metro's Total Sport. The irreverent style and slick design echoes Empire, its sister movie title. Edited by Danny Kelly, the former Q editor, the December/January launch issue flaunts gossip, interviews - including Danny Baker on Paul Gascoigne - and the month in pictures. Total Sport scores a higher ad quota than First XV, ranging from IBM and Casio to Stella Artois and Walker's crisps.