Now Richard “Stage 32” Botto has hit the wall again, lost his Scottsdale home to the bank and he owes a lot of people a lot of money, including the IRS (around a cool million).
If tough guy RB can’t find true love, what hope is there for the rest of us?
RB intimidates many, including one of his former business associates Joey Tuccio who fled the company, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.
Many are trying to emulate Felix Dennis’ fabulously sordid cash cow Maxim, but few would insist they were doing so in a bid for respectability. When you are the man behind such popular Web sites as Dirty Cheerleaders and Pregnant Babes, however, the relatively mild beer-and-babes formula can look downright upright.
Razor, launched a year and a half ago in Canada and distributed throughout Canada and the United States, carries the hopes of an unlikely pair of entrepreneurs. One of them, 33-year-old Richard Botto, made his fortune as the founder of RJB Telcom Inc., which runs several popular adult Web sites, including the well-trafficked Kara’s Adult Playground. His editor in chief, 36-year-old Craig Vasiloff, founded xxxgen.com, a short-lived Webzine that “went behind the scenes and between the sheets in the adult entertainment industry.” He is also a musician, he says, who once worked with Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon on several unreleased projects.
Their brainchild is a stand-alone title funded primarily by Botto and his brother, Robert, with editorial offices just outside Toronto and business offices in Scottsdale, Arizona. There is little in it that would surprise anyone who has ever flipped through a copy of Details, Esquire, Gear, GQ, Maxim or Stuff. Recent cover girls include “Planet of the Apes” star Lisa Marie, “E!” hostess Brooke Burke, and Leila Arcieri, the star of a television program called “Son of the Beach.” Inside are such laddie perennials as a look back at the Rat Pack and a handy guide to strip club etiquette.
But Razor is also aiming for sophistication. “We don’t embrace the Felix Dennis philosophy that men are mental midgets,” Botto says. “We’re not about asking every single model that we have whether they are interested in having a three-way.”
Vasiloff recently ran a profile of the 21-year-old underground novelist J.T. Leroy, and he says he is committed to commissioning serious investigative pieces and travel narratives. He’d also like to start running short fiction.
Botto says his hope is to stake a claim somewhere between what he describes as “the college-frat mentality” of Maxim and what he considers the more refined air of GQ, which, Botto says, “puts itself at arm’s length from the average income to above-average-income guy.”
Botto says early success led him quickly to expand from six to 10 issues per year. He also cut a distribution deal recently with Time Distribution Services, a unit of AOL Time Warner, which should result in more prominent newsstand placement. The magazine’s unaudited circulation is 210,000, Botto says.
Ad sales are another story. The magazine’s page count has hovered at 96 since launch, Vasiloff says. But those pages are short on advertising. The January issue included only 10 ad pages; the February issue carried 12. A few are from national advertisers, including Skechers and HBO. The rest are for regional nightclubs or adult-themed products. That shortfall could be a product of the very positioning so avidly sought by Botto and Vasiloff. Richard Notarianni, the New York media director for DDB Worldwide Communications Group, Inc., echoing the comments of other media buyers, says that he has not heard of the magazine. But when the market position was described to him, he responded that the middle ground between the laddie mags and the fashion mags was a precarious place to stand. “I haven’t talked to a lot of young men who’ve said, ‘you know, I would read Maxim if it was a little more sophisticated,’ ” he says. “It’s like, I’m not ugly but I’m not that good-looking, either.”
Botto, buff and tan enough to star on his own Web site, founded RJB Telcom with his brother in 1996 and built it into a thriving e-commerce business. Kara’s Adult Playground frequently ranks among the 25 most popular sites anywhere on the Web. And through Max Cash, an affiliated company, RJB also pioneered the use of independent Web masters to direct traffic to other Web sites—a marketing device sometimes known as “clicks for cash.”
The company operated with little publicity until the FTC filed a suit in October 2000 alleging RJB was illegally billing consumers’ credit cards and long-distance phone accounts. The FTC lawsuit claimed the company billed consumers for access to Web sites they never visited, and installed phone dialers on their computers when they tried to exit from the membership areas of the sites. The dialers then called international phone numbers that ran up long-distance charges that eventually flowed back into RJB’s coffers.
The suit was settled in October 2001 without RJB admitting any wrongdoing, although the company agreed to a series of fraud detection and prevention measures. The company also established a $250,000 escrow account that it could forfeit if it violates any of the conditions of the settlement. Botto declines to discuss the matter and says he is no longer involved in the company’s day-to-day operation.
Vasiloff formulated the business plan for a men’s lifestyle magazine in early 2000 and showed it to a number of interested investors, including Bob Guccione Sr., who, Vasiloff says, declined to invest—in part because he felt it was too similar to his son’s Gear. Enter Botto, who shared Vasiloff’s passion for publishing. “This is something that I always dreamed of doing,” Botto says.
Like Botto, Vasiloff says he does not believe his porn career—even, in his case, an unsuccessful one—will hinder Razor’s future. If anything, he says, it prepared him for a brighter future in publishing. “I never wanted to be in the porn business,” he says. “I just wanted to build my skills so I could get where I wanted to be.”
Razor, the four-year old men’s lifestyle magazine has been shut down by Richard J. Botto, its fast-living Arizona-based owner.
Several company insiders confirmed the news, first reported on the Gawker.com Web site yesterday. Few details were available and nobody answered the phone at the magazine’s Scottsdale, Ariz.-based headquarters.
According the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the magazine’s paid circulation plunged 18.4 percent from the same period a year ago to 200,259. Botto billed himself as an Internet entrepreneur, but rarely mentioned that much of his Internet fortune was derived from pornographic Web sites.
In 2000, his operation ran afoul of the Federal Trade Commission, which accussed him of running an illegal credit card scheme that billed consumer’s credit cards for porn material they claimed they never ordered.
Under terms of a final consent decree, his corporation, RJB Telecommunications was ordered by the FTC to set up a $250,000 escrow account to reimburse consumers who claimed they were defrauded by the Internet billing scheme.
The one-time Internet porn king toned down his act somewhat with Razor, which reveled in the fast living lifestyle of glitz and glamour without resorting to full nudity.
Still, the magazine did run ads that irked regulators, pumping Internet gaming sites including bospoker.com and bodog.com, which the FTC frowns on. But it also had ads for maintream products like St. Pauli Girl Beer and Skechers Footwear.
And in the September issue, it boosted some high profile contributors including NFL star quarterback Troy Aikman, New York Sun “Gangland” columnist Jerry Capeci, legendary Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, and freelance writer Anna David.
Botto burnished the mag’s fast-lane reputation with lavish parties that attracted the likes of NFL quarterback John Elway while the women of Razor dressed in skimpy outfits and passed out gift bags in venues ranging from the Arena Bowl in Las Vegas to the American Century Championship Celebrity Golf Weekend in Tahoe, where Tiki Barber, Jerry Rice and Charles Barkley and Drew Brees were among the guests.