An Alternative Success Story p. 84

By: Tony Case Woodstock-era entrepreneur celebrates 25th anniversary of his biweekly, free-distribution entertainment tabloid sp.

AFTER 25 YEARS and 10,000 music, film, theater and restaurant reviews, publisher Richard Branciforte is ready to celebrate.
Fresh out of graduate school in April 1969, the Woodstock-era entrepreneur started Good Times, a biweekly entertainment tabloid distributed free at more than 400 retail outlets and college campuses throughout Long Island, N.Y.
Since then, the 20,000-circulation paper ? which bills itself as "America's oldest regional entertainment paper" ? has captured the attention of readers in their 20s and 30s, built a strong advertising base and introduced color in some editions.
Entertainment news has gained popularity through the years, but Branciforte remembers having the field practically to himself.
During the past three decades, magazines such as People and Entertainment Weekly, television programs such as Entertainment Tonight and the cable networks MTV and E! Entertainment Television found tremendous success.
Before their advent, competition came in the form of daily newspapers, which have stepped up their concentration on entertainment and the arts through the years. Many larger papers even devote entire pullout sections to these areas.
But Branciforte believes that Good Times and publications like it have an edge over the big guys, especially the dailies.
"Alternative papers across the country are very lucky because daily newspapers have never figured out how to put out entertainment papers," he said.
Entertainment coverage in his paper's chief competitor, Newsday, which is based in Melville and distributed throughout Long Island, remains largely Manhattan-oriented, Branciforte observed.
"One of the biggest complaints we get is that people don't want to read reviews of acts that have appeared or about things that are going on in Manhattan," he said.
"They want to know what's happening on Long Island."
Branciforte maintained that the newcomers, as well as other factors, forever have changed the face of entertainment journalism.
When Good Times first appeared, landing interviews with then-unknown performers such as Elton John or Bruce Springsteen was not so difficult, he said.
Today, media outlets fight to the death to get the next big star on their magazine cover or talk show.
Particularly annoying obstacles are the teams of publicists, managers and agents hired to protect their clients from the press.
Their outrageous demands regarding the portrayal of stars in stories and photos are well-documented. Some are known for recommending their favorite reporters and photographers; others insist on seeing stories before they are printed or aired.
Branciforte related, "In the old days, nobody was interested in doing an interview with anybody except a major, major act. Daily newspapers weren't interested in covering them, so we used to get called by everybody to do interviews and reviews."
The publisher said he always has followed the entertainment fields and has special interest in music and the recording industry. In college, he promoted concerts by such artists as Judy Collins and Jos? Feliciano.
For a long time, he had dreamed of introducing a publication along the lines of the New York weekly Village Voice ? which covers entertainment heavily but also reports on politics and other topics ? to communities east of the city, noting that the Voice has little circulation on Long Island.
He said that since he launched Good Times, 67 competitors have come and gone.
The paper continues to cover mostly up-and-coming acts, many of them local.
It also publishes an annual talent directory and sponsors a music festival and a conference for those wanting to learn about the music business.
An impressive list of entertainment journalists and recording industry executives have launched their careers at Good Times, Branciforte reported, mentioning a couple of the better-known alumni: Entertainment Tonight movie critic and historian Leonard Maltin and MTV news anchor Kurt Loder.
The paper currently employs 12 full-timers and about 40 free-lance writers and photographers.
Although Good Times is established, Branciforte said, he finds himself still "hammering away" to get new advertisers.
"You've got to call them up to remind them that you're there," he said. "Nothing is automatic."
Comedy and music clubs, movie theaters, restaurants, musical instrument shops and recording studios provide most of the paper's advertising.
Good Times has developed a special advertising partnership with local radio stations ? the stations buy ads in Good Times and the paper advertises on radio programs.
Branciforte has other irons in the fire. His Antiques & Collectibles, a 14-year-old Long Island arts review, has proven a "solid moneymaker," he said.
Recently, he started a business newsletter, the East Europe Report, for small and medium-sized U.S. businesses looking to invest in such spots as Hungary and Poland.
"Businesspeople there are looking for anything that has to do with American know-how," he said. "They're not looking for handouts ? they're looking for partners."
He may be busy with these other ventures, but Branciforte is not about to let the 25th anniversary of his prize publication, Good Times, pass without some hoopla. He is planning a party and a special 128-page issue in June to commemorate the achievement.
The newspaperman, who is the sole owner of the paper, also talked of possibly bringing in new investors and starting similar papers throughout the country.
"For years I said that 25 would be it ? but now that it's here, I want to expand," he said. "The real success stories in the newspaper business continue to be those of alternative weeklies."

"Alternative papers across the country are very lucky because daily newspapers have never figured out how to put out entertainment papers," he said.


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