Health and fitness trend blossoms into a way of life

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Fitness publications have been enjoying healthy advertising and circulation gains as consumers have been showing more interest in their diets and exercise regimens.

About 48 new fitness titles have been launched in the last five years, says Samir Husni, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi. In addition, general lifestyle publications, including men's books, have increased their fitness content.

But Mr. Husni says that as the number of magazines increase, specialization has decreased. He points to the new-found success of Conde Nast Publication's Women's Sports & Fitness since it added more fitness-related content. It jumped from a rate base of 475,000 in 1999 to 650,000 this month.

Other titles also enjoying the category's growth include Shape, from Weider Publications. It raised its rate base to 1.5 million in January. It is now the third-largest young women's book behind Hearst Corp.'s Cosmopolitan, with a circulation of 2.9 million, and Conde Nast Publications' Glamour, with a circulation of 2.2 million, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for the second half of 1999.

In the last decade, Shape evolved from a "bible of aerobics" to a more well-balanced lifestyle book, says Kathy Nenneker, senior VP-group editorial director at Weider. "We've seen a cultural shift from fitness as a niche activity to it being seen as lifestyle."

Groupe Clarins USA, a health and beauty products marketer, has advertised in Shape for three years.

"Health and fitness trends that began in the '80s and the '90s have become a full-blossomed way of life, so magazines like Shape or Self are certain to include prestige beauty products," says Carol Schuler, VP-communications and creative services for Groupe Clarins.

Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Fitness has grown to a 1.05 million rate base since its 1992 launch and, like Rodale's Runner's World, retains a niche identity.

Among the field of competitors, Runner's World is the prime example of how the category has grown. The 34-year-old title has shown much endurance, and its success is not just attributed to a new boom in the sport of running. Rather, it owes its continuing health to an even more pervasive, mainstream healthy mindset of U.S. consumers, says Judith Langer, president of market research company Langer Associates.

EVERYDAY LIFE

She says Runner's World taps into a demographic of less competitive, more fitness-minded runners, but it finds itself immersed in a larger societal embrace of fitness as part of everyday life.

Runner's World first found success riding the wave of the '70s running boom, when most runners were hard-core competitors trying to mirror the training schedules of Olympic athletes.

"People would get up in the morning and run to the horizon. They were zonked out, sacrificing careers, marriages, relationships," says George Hirsch, publisher. Such intensity led to burnout, and running began to lose its popularity in the '80s.

A second, bigger running boom started in the latter half of the '90s, and it continues to fuel Runner's World's current success, Mr. Hirsch says. But this time around, enthusiasts are less concerned about clocking in record times and more interested in the sport's health benefits.

KEPT ITS NICHE

Mr. Husni says Runner's World continues to thrive because it learned to retain its niche focus while broadening its reach.

"The secret to the success of Runner's World is that it went beyond the specialty," he says, adding that special-interest publications can start out esoterically, but to continue growing, they must expand to the general interest.

"More and more we've stressed total fitness, weight loss and stress," says Mr. Hirsch.

For the second half of 1999, it achieved its highest circulation ever at 522,976, up 3.4% over the same period in 1998, according to the audit bureau.

Advertising also reflects the magazine's staying power; 1999 pages totaled 526, a 10% increase from 1998.

"We've always understood the core of the brand is Runner's World and the relationship [the publication has had] with our readership," Mr. Hirsch says.

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