'Maxim'-ized: American Media retools men's mag

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Men's Fitness, the former Weider Publications title now owned by tabloid publisher American Media, is ready to take aim at Rodale's Men's Health.

The remade and restaffed Men's Fitness is surfacing on newsstands with a newly Maxim-ized and ribald take on men's service motifs made familiar last decade by Rodale. The goal, American Media Chairman David Pecker said, is to leverage the new look and tone into a circulation of 1 million for Men's Fitness, helped along by wider newsstand distribution. Currently, its circulation is 630,582, which significantly lags behind Men's Health's 1.7 million.

broadening bases

This move, along with a similarly relaunched Natural Health, the company's play for the women's wellness niche claimed by Time Inc.'s Real Simple and Hearst Magazines' O, The Oprah Magazine, represents the most tangible steps yet at broadening the reader and ad base at the tabloid-and-fitness publisher. Mr. Pecker said he envisions Natural Health's 332,000 circulation more than doubling to 750,000 within two years, and that his editorial investment in remaking the titles was around $10 million.

Both titles came to the company with last year's $350 million acquisition of Weider Publications. Mr. Pecker said Men's Fitness will be available at over 80,000 retail outlets, instead of its current 30,000, and Natural Health will increase its retail outlets fivefold to 50,000-and both will better than triple the number of copies sent to newsstand, or "draw," over the next year.

Getting to Mr. Pecker's desired circulation means he's roughly banking on circulation gains familiar only to the Real Simples Us Weeklys, and O's of the magazine world, but his top editorial executive sounds unfazed.

"Whenever you just nail it, that's when you get your opportunity to grow," said Bonnie Fuller, American Media's exec VP-chief editorial director, who was plucked from Wenner Media's Us Weekly. "I've seen it happen in my own career, and also in the marketplace."

"Less finger-wagging" over health matters, promises new Men's Fitness editor-in-chief Peter Sikowitz. "You can have more fun." He does in the current issue with a partially-coherent back-page interview with Ozzy Osbourne, which, related verbatim, concludes, `"You can [unintelligible] you new bones. Trying. I'm going to get nervous, getting [unintelligible]."'

He's shooting for a slightly younger reader, one around 30, than Men's Fitness' average reader, who is just shy of 34. Natural Health's more fitness-heavy take on Real Simple motifs owes a noticeable debt to the Time Inc. title's look and feel-a notion Ms. Fuller dismissed-down to Real Simple's oversized, matte cover.

The remade titles join Living Fit on the newsstands, which is American Media's test of a defunct Weider title aimed at an older audience than Natural Health. Carolyn Bekkedahl, exec VP-group publisher of Weider's Active Lifestyle Group-which oversees Living Fit, Men's Fitness, Natural Health and women's fitness title Shape-described Natural Health as "More meets Shape," referring to Meredith Corp.'s 40-plus title.


Despite the new look, though, both Men's Fitness and Natural Health's ad pages don't yet reflect the new direction, with Men's Fitness running many ads for supplements and protein-bars. Alan Stiles, publisher of Men's Fitness, pointed out that his title now accepts spirits advertising-which was forbidden when owned by Weider-and Ms. Bekkedahl touted new Natural Health advertisers such as Johnson & Johnson's Aveeno.

But a media buyer who said she liked the changes still sounded wary. Natural Health's advertising "reflects the Woodstock-type generation, while the editorial is trying to be something different" said Bonnie Barest, exec VP-managing director of Optimedia International, New York. And competing with the likes of Real Simple, O and Conde Nast Publications' Self means Natural Health could find "a tougher break" to win broader lifestyle advertising.

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