Men's Category Remains Healthy, Fit

There was a time when many in the media planning world scoffed at the idea of a magazine directed at men that seemed to vary its cover lines between "Great Abs, Great Sex" and "Great Sex, Great Abs."

But a look inside the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation numbers reveals that Men's Health, after 14 years, is thriving--and is, in fact, one of the more vibrant consumer magazines out there. Lost among the endless attention cast on babes and beer books like Maxim and FHM and old guard titles like Esquire and GQ, Men's Health--and to a lesser extent, Men's Fitness--have established a highly successful alternative segment within the men's category.

Particularly at the newsstand, these books are winning in a forum normally dominated by eye-catching, hot cover girls. Men's Health's newsstand sales popped by 7 percent in the first half of the year --a significant increase for a book that already had solid numbers, reaching 488,575 copies sold each month through June. Total circulation for the magazine is now at 1,718,319, making it the second largest book in the men's category, behind Maxim's 2.5 million circ (or roughly the same size as In Style and Real Simple).

"I loved the newsstand," said Men's Health Vice President and Publisher MaryAnn Bekkedahl. "These guys are faced with so many decisions, and [488,575] of them are laying out $3.99 for us."

In a year when the consumer magazine industry slowly recovers ad dollars, many have been laying out big bucks to advertise in Men's Health, as ad pages are up 10 percent on the year through July. "I do believe that we entered this year with a lot of advertisers looking at a flat budget, deciding to go deeper in fewer books, and we won in a lot of cases," Bekkedahl said.

Two years ago, Men's Health went through an editorial expansion led by Editor in Chief Dave Zinczenko, during which the magazine shifted from mostly a workout and health book to a more comprehensive lifestyle product. "Our editors have done a consistent job staying relevant to performance-driven guys," said Bekkedahl. "Dave has been able to expand from the core."

That expansion included adding a cars column, a Men's Wealth column on finance, and a lot more fashion. "We realized we were not speaking to this guy with the level of style, the merchandising he is used to," Bekkedahl said. "Now we get a lot more image-focused advertising."

The brand continues to expand, as spinoff Best Life was launched in May, while Zinczenko peddles a bestselling book, "The Abs Diet."

While Men's Health begins to build from a leadership position, Men's Fitness may claim the most eye-popping statistic in the latest ABC figures, as newsstand sales soared 38 percent.

Of course, Men's Fitnessis roughly a third the size of Men's Health, yet the growth is significant--given the title's major editorial shift from muscle-head bible to Men's Health-wannabe as it acquired by American Media Inc. back in late 2002.

"There is lots of wind in our sales for this brand," said Publisher Alan Stiles, who credits a changing men's marketplace and the wallet of AMI's David Pecker, the brains behind the National Enquirer and Star.

The results of the editorial changes are apparent. A look at Men's Fitness in August 2003 reveal page after page of ways to use a dumbbell, and various workout routines, along with tons of ads for diet supplements.

The current issue covers sex and relationships, health, reviews of mp3 players and bikes, plus a ton more fashion (though there is still a workout grid in the back of the book).

"The ABC numbers signal that it is working," said Stiles. Plus, American Media's newsstand clout has made the title far more available, including increased distribution at airports and a crucial 're-categorization.' "We used to be near Flex," Stiles said. "Now we have no more in common with that book than does Men's Journal."

Men's Fitness boasts 66 new clients since January of this year, according to Stiles--including Kenneth Cole, Absolut, and Target. "We used to be 40 percent endemic," he said. Ad pages are up 3 percent for the year, according to PIB.

While it is clear that Men's Fitness is emulating Men's Health, they say they are going for a missing demographic in the middle. "We are post-laddie, pre-daddy," Stiles said. "The big difference is that we don't have edit for mature guys. We don't cover fatherhood or [older] health issues."

Men's Health's median age is 37, while Men's Fitness's is 34, according to Spring 2004 MRI data.

For now, Men's Health does not acknowledge Men's Fitness as a threat. "Every time a competitor [comes after us] we get a chance to be more like ourselves," Bekkedahl said.

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