FITNESS KICK PAYS OFF FOR 'SHAPE' AND 'HEALTH': RATE BASE HIKES MOVE TWO TITLES OUT OF WOMEN'S HEALTH NICHE

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Women's health magazines have toiled for the past decade to cement a relationship with readers. For two titles, the workout finally appears to be paying off.

Weider Publications' Shape and Time Inc.'s Health will boost their rate base -- the circulation a magazine guarantees advertisers -- to 1.5 million and 1.3 million, respectively, come January.

THIRD-LARGEST

The increase catapults the magazines out of a niche health category and into the larger rubric of general-interest women's books. Shape now becomes the third-largest young women's publication behind Hearst Magazine's Cosmopolitan and Conde Nast Publications' Glamour.

The two health magazines have used different tacks to increase their circulation. Shape has grown organically, while Health grew through acquisition; it recently bought American Health from Reader's Digest Association. Yet both books have benefited from larger attitudinal changes in consumer lifestyles.

"Women's interest in health has grown," said Carol Schuler, VP-communications and creative services, Groupe Clarins, which became a steady Shape advertiser this year. "If you talk to the editor in chief of any women's magazine and ask them what are the best-read sections in their magazines, it's very often health columns."

ADS NOT UP TO PACE

While the reader's appetite for women's health has swelled, advertiser interest hasn't kept pace. That's partly because the women's

category in general is showing signs of softness. Ad pages in women's fashion/beauty titles shrunk slightly, down 1.3% in the first seven months of this year, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Ad pages in the health and fitness field dropped by 3.9% for the same period.

AD PAGES UNEVEN

Health showed the most growth among the leaders, up 27.6% to 407.6 ad pages through July, while Shape was down 8.4% to 425.25. Shape boasts a new ad sales team under Group Publisher Joan Sheridan LaBarge, hired in January.

The impact of the stepped up ad effort is evident in the June and July issues, up in ad pages 14.4% and 25.4%, respectively.

For Shape, January's 15.4% rate base increase to 1.5 million will be the third in three years. In 1997, the monthly promised a rate base of just 900,000. Health's 18.2% jump to 1.3 million rate base marks its fourth upward adjustment over four years.

"Health has gone mainstream," said Judith Langer, president of market researcher Langer Associates. "A number of people in the last few years declared the fitness trend dead, saying we were seeing a backlash against it. But in reality, a lot of women have a great eagerness to learn more about their health. They feel they've grasped a lot of the basics, but now they want to figure out how to put it into practice."

'AMERICAN HEALTH' FALTERS

Yet, not all women's health magazines have caught readers' interest. American Health's newsstand sales for the first half of this year declined 33%, a dip that contributed to Reader's Digest's decision to sell to Time Inc. Meanwhile, Conde Nast's Self awaits a makeover.

The first issue under new Editor Cindy Leive is slated for November.

Women interested in "well-being" are not just at the older end of the demographic spectrum. Shape's average reader is 31 years old, Ms. Sheridan said. Health's readers range from 25 to 45 years old, according to VP-Publisher Mary Morgan.

A WIDE SPECTRUM

"I've run into cases where a daughter in college is a subscriber, and so is her mother. It's a wide spectrum of women that are embracing a more healthy lifestyle," said Ms. Morgan.

Those demographic groups are traditionally ones claimed by fashion/beauty leaders such as Glamour, which delivers 2 million women each month, and

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