Saturday, April 14, 2007

Niche Savvy

Niche Savvy
Ink Tank
Posted by Melissa Meyer

A Reuters article published Wednesday, March 21st illustrated the growing trend of the niche publication, and how special interest magazines are finding their place in an Internet savvy society.

Rodale, Inc. which publishes Runner's World magazine, seems to have found their place among runners, judging by their rising circulation, according to the article written by Robert MacMillan.

In the second half of 2006, the magazine's circulation rose over five percent, despite seeing a decline in the number of newsstand sales. Since 2000, circulation has increased nearly 40 percent.

An expert in the field discussed the draw of consumers to niche publications and how increased popularity to a sport/activity brings increased sales, at least for Runner's World.

"This is pure service journalism," said Samir Husni, a magazine expert and chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. "You're a subscriber for life. Until you stop running or die, you are getting the magazine."

There were 29.2 million U.S. runners in 2005, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, up 28 percent from 2001. As novices start running, they pick up the magazine, said Mary Wittenberg, race director for the New York City Marathon.

"Runner's World is often a key initial hook," she said.

In a single issue, the magazine offers recipes, training tips, shoe advice, ads for the coolest new gadgets, and inspirational stories from real runners, both professional and non.

The rise in ad revenue, which was $66.6 million in 2006, a 250 percent jump from 2001, is in part because of all the gadgets runners in this technology based world think they need, like i-pods and heart rate monitors. Technical clothing with wicking fabric along with reflective gear round out today's runner ensemble.

Also the market for footwear has increased. In 2005, it was $5 billion compared to just $1.5 billion just a decade prior according to NPD a market research firm.

Runner's World has also begun to incorporate blogs into its online site. It offers blogs from marathoner Kristin Armstrong, and keeps "marathon diaries from professional athetes Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor. The site also has chats for top songs to run to and nutrition.

Rodale recently acquired Running Times, essentially its only real competitor, in February, allowing it to move beyond the recreational runner, and reach the pros, which the Times catered to. The article did not disclose its source, but said the acquisition price was less than $5 million.

Other niche publications hope to fare as well. Primedia Inc. wants to sell a division of its company, Enthusiast Media, which includes titles like Motor Trend and Hot Rod. They posted $524.8 million in revenue for 2006. They could get more than $1 billion for the sale.

An acquisition like Running Times works for Rodale because it is a narrow, focused segment of a loyal audience.

"There are niches of niches today because the interests of Americans with their leisure time is so diverse," said media banker Reed Phillips.

Runner's World is one of several magazine published by Rodale, Inc. including Men's Health, Bicycling, Best Life, and Backpacker, all of which earned 2007 National Magazine Award nominations from the American Society of Magazine Editors. Other magazines from Rodale, like Prevention and Women's Health, which are also doing remarkably well. Prevention saw a 65 percent increase in sales during the 1990s. Their ad pages also doubled according to an article by Media Central.

So what is the implication for aspiring journalists? Well, have no fear, the niche publication is here! Although newspapers have seen declining sales and readership due to increased online news, magazines are here to stay. If magazines like Runner's World continue to effectively target their readers through online chats and blogs, the industry is sure maintain its status.

According to, the average pay in the local/regional magazine industry is $30,000, with only 25 percent earning less than that. Throughout the country, according to this site, magazine journalists consistently earn more than newspaper journalists, and those in the online industry earn even higher wages. Also, with the number of niche publications rising, it seems that job security in the magazine world should be a waning problem. And according to the article's stats on advertising sales, it seems like that would be a safe career bet as well.