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    Outlier magazine Inc. now a leader in its field

    For many years, Inc. was a magazine that featured obscure entrepreneurs and quirky startups on its covers.

    The magazine was published in Boston, unlike many of its rivals, which are based in New York, the center of the finance and magazine worlds.

    Inc.’s ambitions were purely focused on the small businesses it wrote about, and the magazine was largely overshadowed by the likes of Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune.

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    But today, Inc. is on something of a roll. Working from offices at 7 World Trade Center in New York, Inc. has been turning out glossy covers of celebrities like Jessica Alba and Mark Cuban, broadening its appeal. Inc. recently signed a deal with CNBC to start a content-sharing and conference business focused on entrepreneurship. It has lured reporters and editors from bigger business magazines. And it is defying the trends plaguing most magazines, with growth in advertising pages, in unique visitors to its website, and in newsstand sales.

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    “Inc. is becoming a mainstream publication, which we never were,” said Bo Burlingham, an editor at large who has written for the magazine for 32 years. “We were sort of outliers or outlaws.”

    Its editors, reporters, and even its owner credit these changes partly to how popular entrepreneurship has become in recent years. Joe Mansueto, chief executive of Morningstar, who was profiled in the magazine in 1994 and bought Inc. along with its sibling publication, Fast Company, in 2005, has no qualms that Inc. benefits from this movement.

    “Entrepreneurship is hot,” Mansueto said. “It’s right smack in the middle of this trend.”

    But Inc. appears to be picking up on more than just an industry trend. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, the magazine’s total circulation over the last decade grew 22 percent to 763,962, from 625,824, a higher percentage of growth than Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, Fortune, and Fast Company.

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    In the last year, newsstand sales grew 45 percent, surpassed only by Fast Company, which grew 48 percent. (Fortune’s newsstand sales grew 12 percent, Bloomberg Businessweek’s rose 0.08 percent, and Forbes’ suffered a 6 percent decline.) ComScore also shows that the number of unique visitors to Inc.’s site increased 117 percent, to 4.6 million in October, from 2.1 million the same time the year before.

    Inc. is also attracting more advertisers. Data provided by the magazine show that its number of advertising pages grew 10 percent from January to October, compared with the same period the year before. Ira Melnitsky, chief executive of Tourneau, which started advertising in Inc. this year, said the magazine targeted a “passionate audience” of entrepreneurs.

    “It’s a clientele that we want to appeal more to,” he said.

    Readers of the magazine seem to treat it as a textbook of sorts for managing small businesses. Jim Mitchell, chief executive of the technology company Fuhu, said he used to read Forbes and Fortune faithfully when he was a partner at Accenture, because they featured companies he worked with. When he moved to a startup, he turned to Inc. for its practical advice.

    “I was looking for other people’s experiences in this, what I call this ‘new world’ to me,” Mitchell said. “Inc. magazine really spoke to me on that level.”

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    Recently, employees at larger business publications have also migrated to Inc. Eric Schurenberg, its president and editor in chief, who previously worked at Fortune and Money, noted that Inc. recently hired four people from Fortune, including Inc.’s publisher, John Donnelly.

    David Whitford, who spent 18 years at Fortune, recently accepted a buyout and joined Inc., where he had previously worked. Whitford, an editor at large, said that covering small businesses, where there are fewer handlers than at the larger companies he wrote about at Fortune, was refreshing.

    “You’re much closer to the ground at Inc. There’s a lot less mediation, a lot less spin,” Whitford said. “As a storyteller, that was really wonderful to me.”

    For now, Inc. continues to ride this entrepreneurial wave. Its fans include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which after 14 years ended a partnership with Fortune on its annual Battle of the Bands event to work with Inc. Steve Dobo, director of sponsorship and promotions at the Hall of Fame, said the affiliation made more sense since more startups appeared in the events in recent years.