2011 May 16

Unsung Heroes of the Newsstand, Vol. 4: Rocky Rakovic, Inked

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(NEW YORK) We're back with the fourth edition of Unsung Heroes as we take a momentary hiatus from our usual fash-centric Daily dish. This week, we've got our sight set on one of GQ's unlikeliest competitors--Inked Magazine. You've seen this glossy on newsstands at Barnes & Noble, Duane Reade, and airport hubs from New York to Cali. It's not just an authority on tattoos; it's a lifestyle magazine covering everything from the top-notch beauty products to the downturn of Detroit. The Daily sits down with Inked EIC Rocky Rakovic to see what this niche mag is really all about. MARIA DENARDO 

How did you get this gig?
I started at Playboy in the New York office. When this opportunity was presented, I jumped on board. I’m still writing for Playboy; I work on Hef’s Pages and a lot of the insider stuff.

What’s your relationship like with Hugh Hefner?
It’s really fun, but he’s meticulous. A lot of people think he’s just a figurehead, but he’s on the ball. He called me last night to change “a” to “the” in an article. I actually just got my invite for his wedding in the mail, so I’ll be out there in a month.

What are your responsibilities at Inked?
I do the work of six editors at other men’s magazines. I edit all the copy and oversee the material in the magazine. I do my own PR and wrangle celebs for the cover.

Who’s your typical reader?
We’re 60:40 men to women, so everything is skewed toward men. As People is to doctor’s offices, we are to tattoo shops. Our pass-along rate is about eight people per copy. If you’re in the tattoo world and you don’t read Inked, you’re not really in the tattoo community.

What’s your circulation?

Who are your competitors?
In our category, a lot of people would say Skin and Ink and other tattoo magazines, but we’re far and above them in terms of circulation, pages, and advertisers. We see ourselves in the same ilk as Details or GQ.

How is your staff set up?
We're very small. It’s basically three guys in hooded sweatshirts. We have a lot of freelancers for photography and writing. We're not stodgy--it's cocktail hour in about 15 minutes.

How do you nab celebs?
We don’t have to lie, cheat, or steal to get them in. Sometimes they come to us; sometimes we reach out to them. Everyone who is in the magazine is there because they wanted to be. Right now, one of the things we’re doing is having celebrities write for us. Dead Mouse just wrote an article on why cats are better than dogs. Cisco Adler has Lakers’ season tickets next to Jack Nicholson so he wrote about the similarities between basketball and hip hop.

How do you choose your cover subjects?
I see Inked as a men’s magazine covering people who have tattoos. So when I came on board, I mandated that only women could be on the cover. Sex sells, and you don’t see Playboy or Maxim putting men on the cover. It’s tough for us, because not only do you have to find a beautiful girl, but she’s got to have great art.

What was at the top of your to-do list when you joined Inked?
I've only been here a year, but I think my stink is all over it. I wanted more narrative non-fiction. For our auto issue, I spent a night working with the Detroit police department in the really bad sections, trying to monitor how the recession of the car industry was affecting the town. For profiles, we’ve had Kid Cudi go consignment shopping in the Village. You don’t want to read 37 stories on why someone got a tattoo. 

How important is social media?
It's a big part of the Inked family. We have over 80,000 Facebook followers, and we listen to their feedback. On Facebook, we kept hearing that our readers wanted more pictures, so we created a quarterly lookbook of tattoos called Freshly Inked. It's just our favorite artists and a ton of new tattoo pictures. We also have Inked Girls, which comes out six times a year. It's a spin on Playboy's special edition featuring beautiful tattooed women.

How much time do you spend in tattoo parlors?
Our guys hang out in tattoo shops all the time. We just spent a week in the Wooster Street Social Club where they’re currently filming New York Ink, the spin-off of Miami Ink. Ami James, the original Miami Ink tattoo guy, wants to get the high-end art crowd to appreciate tattoo art. Tattoo shop are a lot like barber shops were in the '50s. Guys in the community come to hang out, grab a cocktail, and shoot the shit.

What do you think about reality tattoo shows?
We're cool with it. We're very much entrenched in that world, and we're actually in talks with two networks for Project Runway, Top Chef-style competition shows. The winner would get a feature in Inked. Tattoo artists have a love-hate relationship with the shows. Tattooing started as an underground artform. It was illegal in New York just ten years ago. Back then, it was a close community. You didn't share much, and you had to know the right people to get in. Now that it's gone mainstream, there are soccor moms in Ohio getting tramp stamps. It's sort of opened up to a wider circle of people, but some don't feel it's the right type of people.

Does tattoo art go through trends?
Absolutely—the only problem is it’s permanent. So, the tribal tattoos or the bumper stickers might not be in vogue anymore, but people still have it on their bodies. On the West Coast, they’re really into religious iconography, like Michelangelo paintings. In New York City, they’re really into Japanese work.

Do you cover tattoo removal?
Within the culture, the thought is, you get something and you shouldn't change it. It's not respected to alter or change a tattoo. We did run a feature on Ryan Phillipe changing his tattoo once, but we got a lot of angry letters from people who thought he wasn't being true to himself.

Do you have tattoos?
No! I get offered free ink all the time, though. I think I was brought in as an outsider to make it more mainstream. Tattoos were brought up in the interview, but that didn’t deter them from hiring me. The reason I don’t have them is because I have a fear of commitment. It makes me a good magazine editor because I fall in love and crush on new things every month.

Are you the first EIC of Inked without tattoos?
For sure.

Is it a prerequisite for your staff to have ink?
No, but we have a lot of people who are certainly entrenched in the tattoo world. My star writer is a lawyer by day and a tattoo writer by night. She’s got these beautiful, amazing tattoos.

Can you have too many tattoos?
Yes, we think so. If 72 percent or more of your body is tattooed, we think there’s something going on there—more than just an appreciation of art.

What magazines do you read for inspiration?
Typical men's magazines like Maxim, Playboy, and GQ. Women's magazines have great ideas that can be spun in a masculine way. I read everything I can get my hands on from Seventeen to Elle.

Do you read Vogue?
No, sorry.

What do you think of Anna Wintour?
I have no opinion on her. Who's the second in command? Grace Coddington? She looked cool. I'd share a salad with her.

What photographers do you work with?
Pretty big ones for a small-budget magazine. We had Terry Richardson on our last fashion issue. Patrick Hoelick shot Kat Von D. We’ve had Patrick McBride, Warwick Saint, Cass Bird, Frank W. Ockenfels III…We give photographers interesting subjects they wouldn’t normally get and give them the freedom to do what they like within our parameters.

Do you have an iPad app?
We almost have one ready. We can be downloaded through Zinio right now. For an iPhone app, we launched a tattoo shop locator that allows you to pinpoint your location and find a good tattoo shop in whichever city you find yourself in when you feel like getting inked.

Has the economy affected your magazine in the last couple years?
No, our circulation has actually gone up. We were printing 91,000 copies going into the recession. Now we're printing 149,000. We're killing it on the newsstands. We have four foreign editions. Last month, Inked France had Marc Jacobs on the cover.

What can we look forward to in the future?
My favorite, most important thing is the music tour we're starting this summer starring The Damned Things--this metal super group. They'll be doing a major 16 to 20 city tour under the Inked banner. We also just partnered with Sullen, a West Coast tattoo clothing line. Every issue, they're going to pick an artist to custom design a t-shirt for our readers.

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