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
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