The bimonthly magazine Caribbean Travel and Life, which has been published by a Silver Spring company of the same name since its first issue five years ago, has almost doubled its production schedule with a contract to publish a bilingual, in-flight magazine for American Airlines' subsidiary carrier American Eagle, which flies throughout the Caribbean.

Caribbean Travel is well-known and well-regarded throughout the magazine industry, according to James Guthrie of the Magazine Publishers Association. Its steady growth over the past five years has proven that the magazine's niche -- covering the Caribbean islands, the Bahamas and Bermuda for vacationers -- is both big enough and important enough to cover exclusively, always the first stumbling block for any "niche magazine," Guthrie said.

Just one in five magazines make it to be five years old. Magazines of all types are suffering from a soft advertising market, Guthrie said, and travel magazines in particular have been hard hit by "the one-two punch of the economy and the war."

But Caribbean Travel is coming off its most profitable year ever, said publisher Patricia Fox. Not only does the magazine not cover the war zone or Europe, but also the Caribbean is a prime destination for budget-conscious travelers, she said.

Every year the company used to publish six issues of Caribbean Travel and Life and four issues of an in-flight magazine for Antillean Airlines, another Caribbean carrier. Now it also publishes six issues of American Eagle's magazine, called Latitudes South, and is launching an annual travel guide called The Caribbean Made Easy, due out next month.

"All of a sudden we went from publishing 10 issues a year to 17," said Fox, who oversees the firm's 12 workers. "Each of {the magazines} is very different, but it's so efficient for us to do it."

Because the two in-flight magazines focus on the same basic territory as Caribbean Travel, the same editorial material often can be used in all three magazines, Fox said. And for the two in-flight editions, some work is merely a matter of translation, as both magazines run all stories in Spanish and English.

Moreover, the company has established relationships with advertisers all over the Caribbean, Fox said, which makes the search for advertising that much easier. A network of independent advertising representatives around the Caribbean and in New York garners advertising for all three publications.

This arrangement makes the in-flights "very profitable," Fox said, although she declined to comment specifically. She did add, however, that advertising sales in Caribbean Travel were up 47 percent in 1990 over 1989.

The airlines approve the contents and layout of the in-flight magazines, but the company has no financial arrangements with them; it keeps any profit it makes, Fox said.

The company distributes about 100,000 copies of each issue of Caribbean Travel -- 80,000 to paid subscribers, which Guthrie said is above normal for a magazine its size.

The remaining issues go to newsstands and travel agents. Initially, 70,000 copies of Latitudes South will be provided to American Eagle.

Fox, a former public relations executive and freelance writer, took over the magazine shortly after it was started by a local businessman who "knew nothing about magazines" but thought it was a good idea.

She attributes much of the magazine's subsequent success to the investors she brought in: William D. Littleford, who used to publish Billboard Magazine, and Robert H. Fowler, who published history magazines. Both became involved with Caribbean Travel three years ago after selling their businesses.

Fox said the only other magazine Caribbean Travel truly competes with is a slightly larger publication called Islands, which focuses on all the islands of the world.

"While they probably have more coverage of the Caribbean than any other travel magazine besides us ... they generally cover the Caribbean with special issues geared to the high season," Fox said.

"Advertisers like us because we're supporting the islands year-round."