Skating By

411VM succeeds where others have eaten it

Ten years and a guacamillion cable channels later, publishing a skateboarding magazine on video is still a bangin' idea. Not that it was bangin', precisely, when 411VM issued its first Skateboard Video Magazine in 1993. Then it was rad. Now it's at Best Buy.

"I'm not going to lie to you," says Brian Garofalow, the skinny, scruffy exec who started his massive collection of skate shoes when he worked at Etnies and now handles public relations for 411VM. "We're at Sam Goody and Tower and Amazon.com, too."

411VM is also newly moved in to 10,000 square feet of brand-new office space in Fountain Valley, where its 40 full-time employees slouch and stare into computer screens, clicking away amid the cool gray/black/blue hues of a decorating scheme that features a line of sleek, modern furniture.

"We're trying to make the place look more like us," says Garofalow, comparing one long, empty hallway with another that has been decked out with the framed covers of the 55 Skateboard Video Magazines that 411VM has produced during the past 10 years. "But lots of people notice our furniture, and that's cool because we definitely got a great deal on it."

Garofalow pauses just long enough to make you wonder.

"We bought it at the auction they had when Bluetorch went bankrupt," he says, smiling.

Bluetorch was the cable-TV skate/surf/snow/etc.-boarding media company that might have figured to put 411VM out of business. Go figure: Why should anybody buy videos or DVDs from 411VM every couple of months—at $16.95 and $19.95 a crack—while Bluetorch plays the same kind of extreme sports on Fox Sports Net for a few extra cents per day on the cable bill?

The moneybags-cum-moshers who bankrolled Bluetorch—remember Broadcom founders Henry Nicholas and Henry Samueli's Broadband Interactive Group?—may still be mumbling that question to themselves. Their BIG plans petered out in September 2001, when the Bluetorch empire crashed and burned after only two years, although the cable show remains on the air.

Why?

"Let's see how to word this," Garofalow begins, before having no trouble at all. "Skate culture is a video-watching culture."

Although so-called extreme sports have become pervasive on TV, adhering to a broadcast schedule is apparently too confining.

"Say a bunch of skaters are with their buddies, and they decide to go out skating," Garofalow suggests. "Most of the time, they're going to want to watch some videos before they go, to psyche up and stuff. They're not going to want to check the TV guide and wait for the show to come on. That's when they pop in one of our videos."

411VM says it sells between 30,000 and 50,000 copies of each issue of its Skateboard Video Magazine. "And the pass-along rate is enormous," Garofalow says. "When you figure the copies that skateboard shops play in their stories, the copies that are bootlegged, and the situations where one kid buys an issue and shares it with his friends—well, we figure we hit about 1 million kids per issue."

If Garofalow doesn't seem to sweat whatever revenue may be lost from that "pass-along rate," that may be because the advertisers who buy the 24 commercial spots in each issue count on it—and pay for it.

Meanwhile, 411VM has expanded its video magazines into snowboarding, surfing, bicycle motocross—and ON Video, a publication that tries to appeal to these sports' more mature enthusiasts by interspersing its outrageous music-video-style action clips with occasional in-depth profiles.

"At this point, we're releasing 30 titles a year," Garofalow reports. "We've got crews constantly filming all over the world, getting footage of contests, events, road trips, catching up with old skateboarders—the same stuff you'd find in a print magazine, except in our sports, video tells the story so much better than a sequence of photos."

Issue 56 will be in local skate shops this month. It will feature a day in the life of Kenny Anderson; a "roomies" story on Matt Pailes and Matt Rodriguez; an introduction to rookie Tom Krauser; and a road trip to Etnies Japan with Carlos de Andrade, Fabrizion Santos and Rob Gonzalez. But it won't be at Best Buy or other mainstream stores until May.

"We delay our releases to the big chains for four months to give the little neighborhood shops the chance to sell to the core market first," explains Garofalow. "And between 75 percent and 80 percent of our sales come during the first 45 days. By the time Best Buy gets its copies, we've sent two more issues to the specialty stores. They are the key to this sport and our industry. Anybody who is introduced to skating through a big store, anybody who really gets into it, is going to end up at the specialty store eventually."

 
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