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Readers can't be too rich for the Robb Report

Acton-based magazine gives the wealthy what they want

ACTON -- The Robb Report is a thick, glossy national magazine for those with annual incomes of more than $1 million who are interested in learning about and perhaps purchasing the highest-quality luxury items. The magazine's more than 100,000 readers are treated to content that is the stuff of middle class folks' dreams: yachts, private jets, sports cars, motorcycles, exotic vacations, and the finest wines, watches, jewelry, and cigars.

But most members of the Robb Report's editorial staff work in a small office building in Acton, a town where most residents do not fit the profile of the magazine's readers. The median annual household income in Acton in 1999 was $91,624, according to US Census figures, less than 10 percent of that earned by Robb Report readers. The magazine has offices in Acton for historic rather than demographic reasons.

The magazine evolved from an unofficial newsletter for Rolls Royce owners started in 1976 in Atlanta by Robert White. ''At the time, there were no magazines that focused on wealth. He tapped into a niche," said Lincoln Jackson, who works in Acton and is vice president of Northeast operations for CurtCo Robb Media LLC, the magazine's current owner. In the 1980s, White sold the magazine to Samuel J. Phillips, an Acton businessman who moved the Robb Report offices to One Acton Place, where the editorial offices remain today.

This month, the magazine's 20th annual Ultimate Gift Guide issue is being sold for the newsstand price of $9.99; an annual subscription to the Robb Report costs $65. The gift guide's cover photo is of a Porsche Carrera GT, a 612-horsepower car that serves as the centerpiece of a $490,000 gift package, which also includes on-track instruction from champion driver Hurley Haywood at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

Among the 21 lavishly photographed and richly described gifts in the magazine, there is also a 22,000-square-foot Spanish hacienda in Montecito, Calif., for $40 million and a 150-foot Italian-made yacht that can carry 10 passengers and a crew of eight, for $22.7 million.

"It's supposed to be fun; it's supposed to be over the top. It's a lot of fun to put together," Robb Report editor Larry Bean said of the annual gift guide in a recent interview in the magazine's office just off Main Street near Acton Center.

While readers have actually purchased some of the extravagant items presented in previous gift guides -- although often to be kept rather than given -- the most expensive item in this year's guide ''might be a little excessive" to attract a buyer, Bean acknowledged. The gift is dubbed the Spruce Creek Fly-in, and it's a 15,000-square-foot home and two hangars filled with six aircraft in Spruce Creek, Fla., all for $45.7 million.

Despite changes in the ownership of the magazine over the years, its editorial operations have remained in Acton in order to retain the staff.

After Phillips died in 1985, a dispute arose between his widow, who served as publisher for a time, and his five children, who took over the magazine in the late 1980s, according to Jackson. The children ran the magazine until 1999, when one of them, Daniel Phillips, formed Luxury Media Corp., bought the other siblings out, and ''brought the magazine to the next level," Jackson said.

Among the changes Luxury Media made was creating a separately bound Robb Report supplement, titled Showcase, and moving the private home and car sale listings to the new magazine, which was packaged together with the Robb Report.

In June 2001, Luxury Media sold Robb Report and Showcase to CurtCo Robb Media LLC, formed by publisher William Curtis's CurtCo Media Group LLC and TD Capital Communication Partners, the private equity arm of TD Securities. Curtis is chairman and chief executive officer of Curtco Robb Media.

''Bill Curtis always loved the magazine and loved what it represented," Jackson said. ''When he learned it was for sale, he was very excited at the possibility of owning it. He lives in a spectacular beach house in Malibu and is an appreciator of fine things. He truly represents the lifestyle of a Robb Report reader."

The company has offices in Malibu, Calif., and New York, but has retained the Acton location. ''I think Bill would love us all to move to Malibu," Jackson said. ''He was not obligated to keep the office here, but elected to, because of the editorial and sales and support staff here, all very valuable people."

Curtis is making the Robb Report the keystone in a growing publication family for the luxury lifestyle market. The company bought Worth magazine, stopped publication briefly, and rebranded and relaunched it this month as Robb Report Worth, which will provide money management information to readers in the same income bracket that the Robb Report serves.

Showcase has been revamped and renamed The Robb Report Collection, which is distributed with the Robb Report. Six issues each year focus on autos, while alternating editions highlight real estate and home design. There is also now another magazine, Robb Report Home Entertainment and Design, which is distributed and sold separately.

Profit and advertising revenue figures could not be obtained from the privately held company. However, according to Jackson, circulation is increasing and advertising is strong and growing.

Sally Heaney can be reached at heaney@globe.com.

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