(Part 4 in our ongoing series of interview excerpts, in which Dennis talks about starting and selling the American version of Maxim. And hints, perhaps, at the the downsides of having partners that want to sell. Previous excerpts can be found here, here and here; a column I wrote following this interview can be found here. All excerpts have been lightly edited.)
FD: (Maxim was) a magazine producing between thirty and forty million [dollars, on profit] in a year on its own. Not so shabby!
BW: Why did you think it would be successful in America? I can buy Playboy . . .
FD: Because we put the clothes back on them.
BW: What makes that work?
FD: Advertisers would advertise because you put the clothes back on them. Whatever Playboy is, it’s always been terribly earnest. Used to worship the idea that Norman Mailer is would write for it. Let’s get this clear. It worshipped the idea that Norman Mailer would write for it, and Tom Wolfe would write for it. You think Maim ever sat around tittering, considering whether we would ask Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write for us? No. We sat around thinking about “Office Sex: Your Desk Or Mine?”
I would say the first five years of producing Maxim, from 1997 to 2002, were probably the most hilarious years of magazine publishing I’ve ever been involved in. I had some wonderful excitements with many magazines. Maxim is only one of them. But just for pure idiocy and enjoyment?
I’m standing around with that dear lad who unfortunately died—the guy who said “Maxim readers, they dribble.” Standing around with [deceased GQ Editor In Chief] Art Cooper, who’s trying to have a serious conversation about Maxim and the future of men’s lifestyle magazines. I am saying Art, there aren’t no serious men’s lifestyle magazines. They’re all junk! All we are doing is stroking male egos in one way or another, son. We’re just stroking it in a different part and you’re stroking it in your part! Get! A! Life! You know? [laughs] ‘Get a life,’ and then the guy copies all our ideas and tries to do that in his mag—disbelief.
You can’t have more fun that this! Not legally.
BW: We’ll get to that later.
FD: No, we’re not going there.
BW: Given all that’s happened in media, did you sell Maxim at precisely the right time, or not?
FD: I have got no idea. I got out because my partners wanted to get out. And that is the naked truth, and I haven’t ever hidden that forom anybody. That does not mean my partners [note: he means Peter Godfrey and Bob Bartner, who each owned 12.5% of Dennis Publishing’s US operations. Dennis himself owned 75%.] were not right or that they were wrong. All it means is that if I’ve got a partner, I take my partner very, very, seriously. And I wouldn’t dream of wanting to block them. You know, I don’t know how many billions of dollars Peter Godfrey, Bob Bartner and I have been through. All I know is this: I owe them big time. Anything they want is what they get as far as I am concerned.
That is why, of course, I always kept a British company with tentacles that go through Europe, Australia, India, and many other parts of the world. Because in that business, I do not have to defer to my partners. It’s my business.