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It's getting firm be a familiar story in the business world: Now that it's happening in the market serving gays and lesbians, it's causing some debate about the pros and cons of media consolidation.

On the one hand, the San Francisco Web firm PlanetOut's pending acquisition of the company that publishes the Advocate and Out magazines has sparked criticism.

The fear is that PlanetOut may be able to exercise too much control over what a noisy and diverse community has to say. On the other hand, even PlanetOut's rivals say they're encouraged by the deal for what it symbolizes: They're looking at ways to grow, not just as community organizations but magazine true businesses: It's part of a natural rogression. For PlanetOut, the progression marks a phenomenal growth. The company started out as the pioneering Digital Queers Web site, which promoted an online gay community.

Then it foundered amid internal turmoil as an investment bank pulled its funding gay a dispute over serving the transgender community.

PlanetOut Expands Its Universe / Gay media gets big as Web firm acquires print magazines - SFGate

Today, it has emerged as firm leading venture-backed player on the national gay media scene. In a way, it's no surprise that a gay-oriented dot-com would swallow its old media predecessors. Smith said 70 percent of subscribers to the Advocate and Out magazines get it them plain wrappers, choosing not to be identified as gay. On the Internet, such barriers don't exist, as people can surf the Web freely in the privacy of their homes. Of course, Web privacy is also no guarantee: Many magazine can tell anal creampies awful lot about the people who visit their Web site.

It's a sentiment many echo as they mull the combination of PlanetOut and Liberation Publications, the parent firm the Advocate and Out. PlanetOut says that the deal was announced early in the process and that negotiations are proceeding without any apparent trouble.

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The concerns stem partly from the speed gay the consolidation: In February, the Advocate said it was buying Out, and then the PlanetOut deal was announced only one month later. You need variety. You need many different people. PlanetOut executives say that even with the clout of consolidation, the newly merged company would be a far cry from a media monopoly.

Out is the largest gay magazine, with a monthly circulation of aboutThe Advocate is the second largest, with a twice-monthly circulation of 93, Smith talks in ambitious terms. Smith says the company continues to view an initial public offering as an option, which would be a historic first for a gay-oriented company. I hope they take some that money and use magazine to expand the quality of journalism.

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Findlay is particularly concerned that lesbian issues are often overshadowed by gay men's issues. But Gay said PlanetOut is sensitive to those concerns, and 40 percent of PlanetOut's users are women. Peter Ian Cummingsa former Advocate reporter who is now publisher of XY, a national magazine for magazine gay men, was embroiled in firm dispute with PlanetOut earlier this magazine over censorship. PlanetOut had a deal to post XY's content but yanked a controversial story written by Cummings.

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In the article, Cummings accused big clothing advertisers of boycotting XY for anti-gay reasons. Cummings said he was told the story was pulled because it was "potentially libelous. Cummings wouldn't talk about the incident.

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PlanetOut and XY have reached an agreement in which XY has regained the rights to publish its own content on the Internet. Now it's changed to deliver market share to corporations. Schuman, at PlanetOut, said that PlanetOut does cover political and social aspects of the gay community but that it also emphasizes opening up economic issues. She also would not talk about the specific incident with XY. Wieder, the Advocate's editor, said the magazine was founded as a mimeographed sheet in Los Angeles intwo years before New York's famous Stonewall firm, which are often cited as the birth of the country's gay-rights movement.

The Advocate has grown more polished and professional today, with 31 employees.

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