CAMPAIGN REPORT ON TOP MAGAZINES: Healthy options - Publishers are racing to make an impact in the fitness sector. Who will succeed? Lucy Hone reports

When a sector attracts no less than seven launches in as many months, there’s no doubt that publishers have alighted on what they believe is going to be the next big thing.

When a sector attracts no less than seven launches in as many

months, there’s no doubt that publishers have alighted on what they

believe is going to be the next big thing.

Everyone’s at it. The National Magazine Company, John Brown, Attic

Futura, Mollin Publishing, Gruner & Jahr, Cabal and WV Publications are

all eyeing up the health and fitness market.

Much of this excitement can be attributed to the unexpected success of

Men’s Health magazine from Rodale Press. Launched amid much scepticism

four years ago, the most recent ABC results prove that a health and

fitness title directed at men can compete against mainstream glossies.

Men’s Health’s booming circulation - up 29 per cent year on year to

283,359 - and a 29 per cent rise in advertising pagination for the

sector over the past two years, has not gone unnoticed by rival


The principal competition comes from NatMags, which has just turned last

October’s pilot, ZM, into a bi-monthly, and Mollin Publishing, due to

launch Men’s Fitness in May.

But Conde Nast knows that this market is not easy to crack. While Men’s

Health goes from strength to strength, the last ABC period also saw the

demise of GQ Active as a standalone title. Poor copy sales (an ABC of

65,064 in January-July 1998) prompted Conde Nast to distribute the title

free on a quarterly basis alongside GQ.

Most pundits attribute the title’s failure to its preoccupation with

extreme sports. Steve Goodman, director of press at Mediacom TMB, found

its positioning muddled: ’We thought it would do well initially, as it

had the right backing and was a quality product. But it never really

found its focus: one minute it was talking about adrenalin-pumping

sports, the next article would be on jogging.’

Neil McQuillan, publisher of ZM, is confident that the lifestyle content

of his magazine will ensure it has a sufficiently broad appeal to reach

circulation parity with Men’s Health. ’GQ Active was written for a

clique of people who ski in the Rockies. Nobody ever felt they could be

part of that. Ours is a club men will feel they can be part of.’

Although the women’s market has yet to see such high-profile closures,

the ABC figures for July to December 1998 revealed a stagnating


NatMags’ Zest was the only women’s health and fitness title to record a

year-on-year increase, but with a total ABC of 108,190, it doesn’t come

close to a top 100 ranking. The women’s health sector has always been

hampered by small circulations.

In this context it will be interesting to see how the launches from

Attic Futura (Real Health and Beauty), WV Publications (Women’s Health),

Mollin Publishing (Shape), Gruner & Jahr (Vital) and John Brown (Daily

Mail Best of Health Magazine) fare. With five launches and the relaunch

of Good Health, recently acquired by Cabal, the market is certainly set

for a shake-up.

Priscilla Rogan, press buying director at Mediapolis, is sceptical about

the potential for growth in the women’s sector. ’There’s no doubt that

Marie Claire Health & Beauty and Zest have grown the market and attract

different readers to Top Sante and Here’s Health. But health, beauty and

fitness are so well catered for by mainstream women’s magazines that I

cannot see these specialist titles ever achieving massive circulations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some fall-out in the sector.’

This is where the men’s and women’s markets differ. Men’s Health, and

the initial interest in ZM, prove that the right product will grow the

men’s magazine market. Where health, fitness and beauty sit well within

the mainstream editorial of women’s mags, their presence would

definitely jar in a lads’ mag. ’You can hardly see Loaded running some

health editorial among all that beer and sex,’ Rogan quips.

But the huge volume of health and muscle toning products that feature in

the classified sections of the men’s lifestyle publications implies that

their readers are interested in fitness and exercise.

Considering the apparent slow-down of circulation growth among the men’s

lifestyle market, as seen in the ABCs for July to December 1998, the

excitement surrounding this sector is understandable.

’Men’s health magazines could be a real boom sector,’ Rogan


’Men are just as insecure about their bodies as women are nowadays, but

they just don’t want to read about it in FHM. Health needs to be

packaged separately for men.’

By targeting Men’s Fitness at men in their mid-20s, Mollin is aiming to

give the readers of FHM, Loaded and Maxim something different to


And with Stephen Fern, launch editor of GQ Active, and Sharon Walker,

former editor of Health & Fitness, on board it should have garnered some

insight into the vagaries of this difficult market. So what lessons have

been learned?

Simon Hamer, group advertisement director, is confident the secret lies

in creating a new product and not patronising the readers. ’The

casualties of the past have hived off an existing brand or just bought

into it believing that it would fly on its own. The titles that have

succeeded show that bolt-ons don’t work because they treat the reader

with contempt. To get this market right needs an entirely new product

with serious support behind the brand.’ Mollin is backing the two

launches with a pounds 1.4 million advertising package through St Luke’s

and Mediacom TMB.

So many new titles are entering this sector that press buyers are

battling to stay on top of who is launching what and when. There’s huge

disagreement over which magazines will succeed and which will sink into

anonymity, and also some doubt over the timing.

The general consensus is that casualties are likely in the women’s

market but the immaturity of the men’s market allows more potential for

launches - just as long as they don’t concentrate on heli-skiing in the



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