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Jim Kaplan

The newspaper business can be tough, especially in a start-up situation. But Jim Kaplan has found success in the business in one small corner of the Valley. He started and now publishes the twice-weekly Studio City Sun and the Sherman Oaks Sun. “I started in 1982 in classified advertising, as the director at LA Weekly,” says Kaplan, who is 49 and lives in Studio City. “That was a fantastic time at the Weekly. We started out doing fifteen-hundred dollars a week in advertising, and when I left nine years later, we were doing sixty-five thousand a week.” Kaplan sees little irony in remembering his early years at the alternative, and generally liberal-leaning, LA Weekly as his first entrepreneurial experience. “I guess the only way our liberal qualities affected the way we did business is that while we were making all this money, we blew it like crazy,” he admits frankly. “But, we had such a good thing going that you couldn’t kill it with a stick.” That entrepreneurial spirit guided him to help drive ad revenues through the roof at LA Weekly and prompted him to make that publication only the second in the nation (after the Boston Phoenix) to launch a lucrative 900-number telephone dating service. However, Kaplan added a decidedly “L.A.” component to the formula. “It was a radio show called ‘Radio Match, with Dr. Susan Block,” he says. But all good things must end. After what he describes as a palace shakeup at the Weekly in 1991, Kaplan went to work for the rival alt-pub, New Times. “I went to work for the enemy,” says Kaplan. But the good times at the New Times were short lived. The New Times and LA Weekly agreed to sell competing publications for the rights of exclusivity in Los Angeles for the Weekly and Cleveland for the New Times, a deal that was later investigated and resulted in fines by both parties. Kaplan went through various gigs in ad sales. He changed jobs several times until, two and a half years ago; he made the decision to become an entrepreneur again. But this time it would be solo. “In 1998 I worked for community newspapers in the Silicon Valley,” said Kaplan. “I had fallen in love with community newspapers. Then, I found myself unemployed and unemployable after being asked to come back to the Weekly in August of 2001.” After 9/11 there was another changing of the guard at the LA Weekly, and Kaplan didn’t survive. Frustrated and disillusioned, Kaplan thought back to his days in Northern California working for a community newspaper. “I was happy then, and I wanted to do something here in Studio City,” Kaplan relates the story of his enterprise’s genesis with obvious sentimentality. “I don’t read alternative publications anymore. Now that I’m pushing 50, I’m more interested in what’s going on with land use in my neighborhood, and activities down the street, than I am with bars and clubs.” Apparently, so are readers of Studio City Sun and Sherman Oaks Sun newspapers. With circulations of 20,000 and 25,000, respectively, both Suns are making an impact on issues, events and people in both communities. But, he says, before his now fiercely loyal readers could make room in their hearts for their new hometown papers, they had to be created. First came the Studio City Sun. “I had a buddy, Bill Smith who was the art director at the Weekly, design a prototype,” says Kaplan. “I told him I wanted it to be clean, but traditional.” With his prototype in hand, Kaplan walked into businesses around town in search of advertisers. “That first issue paid for itself and put some cash into my pocket,” Kaplan recalls. Since that launch, Kaplan’s Studio City Sun LLC has grown to include a sister paper, the Sherman Oaks Sun. Both papers have made Kaplan’s corporation profitable, he claims. Revenues have grown from $167,000 in 2003 to, he reports, an expected $700,000-plus for 2005. He says local residents have taken “ownership” of his publication and are the reason for their success. “We heard that because our paper came out on the Friday before the event,” says Kaplan, “The Studio City Holiday Open House Parade probably doubled in attendance.” Kaplan’s publications are acting as the forum for debates on community policies. One such issue is a fight brewing about land owned by the South Valley’s long-established Weddington family, which recently closed out a 50-year lease. Opponents to the planned development of upscale senior housing are confronting the Weddingtons in the pages of Kaplan’s newspapers. “The parties are duking it out in the pages of the newspaper, because we give ink to both sides and let them have at it,” he says. Kaplan, a Valley native who graduated from Taft High School, plans to expand his publishing business possibly, he says, into Encino in the near future. But first, he expects to turn the hand-delivered newspapers into weekly publications.

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