With the January relaunch of Yoga Journal, the staff breathed new life into a magazine many had narrowcast as a niche title with limited upside potential. Nine months later, the every-other-monthly finds itself well positioned to capitalize on an uptick in yoga's popularity.
According to a May 1999 survey conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide, 10% of all Americans have tried yoga or meditation. Over 18 million Americans practiced yoga an average of one to two times per week in 1998, a 300% increase over 1990.
Celebrities who practice the discipline, such as actress Gwyneth Paltrow and model Christy Turlington, are helping build interest in yoga. This year's Paramount Pictures film, "The Next Best Thing," in which Madonna plays a yoga instructor, also brought yoga to a larger, more diversified audience.
Madison Avenue, too, appears to be embracing yoga: Ads featuring yoga poses already have appeared for Nike, DaimlerChrysler's Jeep and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Oil of Olay, among others. Saks Fifth Avenue ran an ad in the August Men's Journal in which a male executive meditates atop his desk early on a Monday morning, eyes closed and legs folded in the lotus position.
Small wonder, then, that advertisers from fitness to fashion are signing on at Yoga Journal, including national players such as Eileen Fisher, Puma, Kraft Foods' Balance Bar, Aetna Health Care and Amazon.com.
SPIRITUALITY IN THE MAINSTREAM
"I think Yoga Journal will grow from its long-term status as a niche title into the mainstream because the market is so ready to embrace yoga as a health form, and more significantly as an all-around lifestyle," said Valerie Muller, senior VP-director of print services for Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York.
Ad pages in the every-other-monthly are up 30% for the year to date as compared with the first eight months of 1999, with 500 pages sold through the first five issues. A color page is $13,100. Although Yoga Journal won't give specifics, it claims advertising revenue is up 60% year to date since the magazine's redesign. The title is not yet measured by Publishers Information Bureau.
Originally founded in 1975 with a circulation of only a few thousand, Yoga Journal was purchased in November 1998 by John Abbott, a former investment banker for Citicorp and an avid yoga enthusiast.
Mr. Abbott, president-CEO of Yoga Journal, said, "It was clear to me that the magazine was an underdeveloped business with a lot of growth potential. It grew organically and survived 23 years with no investment funds, which is a tribute to its strength in an age where magazines open and fold every day."
Circulation has jumped 55% in the nearly two years since Mr. Abbott's purchase, to its current 170,000. By first quarter 2001, executives project circulation will reach 200,000--although that's well behind titles such as Self, with circulation of 1.2 million. Yoga Journal recently applied for membership in the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and expects its first audit to be available in mid-2001.
"Things that are a little more spiritual, like yoga, are coming into the mainstream. As new people come into the market, a magazine like Yoga Journal that covers the subject will gets spurts of activity," said Paula Brooks, managing partner and director of media services at Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York. "The trend, as it has been for Tennis and Golf, is that circulation will spike and level off, but at a level much higher than previously."
A recent deal makes Comag Marketing Group, a Hearst Distribution Group-Conde Nast Publications joint venture, the national distributor for Yoga Journal, "so customers will soon find the magazine in mainstream supermarkets, drugstores and airports where it hasn't been seen in the past," Mr. Abbott said.
Its competition includes Yoga International, published by the nonprofit Himalayan Institute, with a circulation of 30,000. But its wider target is women's magazines that now cover yoga in addition to beauty and fitness.
"Certainly there's a need to inform, a need for magazine segments devoted to this activity, though I'm not sure how an entire magazine on yoga will do," said Judith Langer, president of Langer Associates, a marketing consultancy.
WOMEN'S BOOK RIVALS
Editor Kathryn Arnold isn't worried. "Women's magazines are generally devoting space to superficial, more specific exercise poses," Ms. Arnold said. "We're much more committed to taking people deeper into the practice, to do it in a way that is safe and informed."
According to Publisher Kathleen Craven, advertisers have responded in great numbers to the demographic shift. "Nowadays, there are so many increased marketing opportunities behind yoga, because the audience is a highly educated, affluent group of people with strong purchasing power."
Carolyn Connolly, marketing director of Vail Athletic Club, said there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to a single ad it ran in Yoga Journal's July issue. The club handles its advertising in-house.
"We've had an incredible result from phone calls, mainly New York and California residents," she said.
Clif Bar also has begun to advertise its new Luna Bar in Yoga Journal. "It's probably an audience we hadn't yet reached through a magazine like Shape," said Anja Hakoshima, creative services director at Clif Bar. The effort was handled in-house; Clif Bar's account is currently in review.
Yoga Journal's new streamlined look, designed to reflect a calm, serene yoga environment with abundant white space, has attracted unexpected advertising inquiries. "Fashion and finance is developing, and we're also looking into automotive advertisers like Volkswagen and Saab because they characterize our readers," Ms. Craven said. "Though our readership is composed of 80% women, yoga is a non-gendered practice, and many men are participants as well."
Yoga Journal also has established licensing agreements for videos, books and conferences. Its instructional videos are bestsellers in Amazon.com's Yoga Video Category, and a book of photography with publisher Hugh Lauter Levin is in progress. Upcoming conferences include the 25th Anniversary Yoga Journal Conference in New York, where on Sept. 20 the magazine will announce that Christy Turlington will serve as its new editor at large.
Copyright September 2000, Crain Communications Inc.