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Magazines put gloss on Aids

A NEW and, at first sight, unlikely niche has been identified in the American magazine market. The competition to exploit it promises to be fierce, writes David Usborne in San Francisco. This spring two glossy publications are being launched for readers who are HIV positive.

The first issue of Plus Voice includes an interview with President Clinton's Aids chief, Kristine Gebbie. In two weeks it will be joined by its rival, POZ. Both aspire to being full lifestyle magazines, with a mix of features, profiles and photographic essays as well as information useful to their readerships. POZ editor, Richard Perez- Feria, says his magazine 'will have in it elements that may come from Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair and The American Journal of Medicine'.

There does appear to be a waiting market. The US government estimates that there are 1 million HIV positive Americans who have not yet developed Aids.

Perez-Feria, however, hopes to reach an even wider audience. 'We are aiming it at all the people whose lives have somehow been affected by Aids. This means sisters, brothers and doctors, too.'

Meanwhile, the industry as a whole last year reported a surge in sales of gay-related books and magazines. Attracting advertisers may not be as difficult as might be imagined. POZ's first issue will include advertisements from fashion houses Benetton and Moschino. In addition, both magazines expect to carry many advertisements from pharmaceutical companies and financial firms offering to buy the life insurance policies of Aids sufferers for cash.

Plus Voice's first number also has ads for bottled water, gay holidays and, more poignantly, solid silver remembrance bracelets that can be engraved with the name of someone who has died of Aids.

Nor will it be lost on advertisers that gay readers - at whom both magazines seem principally to be aimed - have a generally high level of disposable income. It is also true that those diagnosed with HIV, and therefore facing a limited lifespan, may be more willing to spend their money.

'It may be morbid, but it is also true,' says Dave Ford, spokesman for the San Francisco Aids Foundation. 'When people are diagnosed, they often decide it's about time to do those things they thought they were going to do later in life, be it a Caribbean cruise or whatever, which have suddenly become more urgent.'