Digital Publishing
4 mins read

How Women’s Health is defying circulation decline in women’s magazines

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The women’s magazine ABCs are rarely a pleasant read for magazine aficionados. But one magazine stands out from the rest as having shown consistent circulation growth, as well as managing to increase its revenue for the sixth consecutive year.

We spoke to Women’s Health editor in chief Claire Sanderson on the podcast this week about some of the reasons behind the magazine’s growth, at a time when similar titles are seeing double-digit falls in circulation, and a few have folded entirely.

The interview is in full above, but here, we draw out four key reasons why Women’s Health is growing its magazine sales.

1 – Global trends

Sanderson attributes the primary reason for the growth of the brand to the growing interest in overall wellness; not just fitness, but the concept of eating well, drinking well, and just generally looking after your physical and mental health. “Wellness is on a trajectory that very few people could have predicted, and it is showing no signs of abating,” she explained.

With the wellness industry now worth a predicted $4.2 trillion, it’s easy to see how picking up a health and fitness magazine is now a part of the lifestyle.

“In the UK, wellness is now social currency,” said Sanderson, comparing it with the early 2000’s when social currency came from what nightclub people went to. “Now, it’s which boutique gym you’re working out at…and among millennials, they’re drinking less and it’s all about how well you are, how strong you look, and how fit you are.”

The resulting subscriber boost is also beneficial for their revenue, with over half of their revenue mix currently from circulation growth.

2 – Diversification

Diversification is not a new strategy for publishers, and Women’s Health are no exception in using ecommerce and events to gain more subscribers. “We’ve got a really successful Fit Kit range at Argos, and there are plans to bring out other licensed products,” Sanderson explained.

The brand is also pushing much harder into events. “The primary touchpoint is events, because wellness lends itself to experiential, you can come along and work out with your favourite trainers.

“Next year, we’re launching a big wellness event…it’s going to be much bigger than anything we’ve done before.”

As well as this, Sanderson has been influential in launching smaller events to connect directly with her readers, such as ‘Fit Night Out’. “We wanted to tap into this whole trend where women are socialising through exercise,” she said. “It’s very normal now for a group of girls to get together and go to a boutique gym, do a class, and then go out for a glass of prosecco afterwards.

“So what we wanted was the fitness, but as a night out…five hundred readers came along, we sold our tickets very quickly and it was a really lovely event.”

3 – Influencers

Many publishers have highlighted ‘influencers’ as a concern, with influencer marketing being a largely unregulated industry. But Sanderson sees influencers as an opportunity rather than a threat.

“Influencers are brilliant, they really sell on my cover. The biggest issues for us have [involved] influencers, and one of the reasons for that is…influencers really want to be on our cover, because it’s seen as one of the highest achievements you can have in wellness to be on the cover of Women’s Health.”

There’s something ironic in digital influencers seeing print magazine covers as aspirational, but there are other brand-building benefits tied up in featuring such people on the cover.

“What these influencers do once we put them on the cover…is that they go on one-woman PR campaigns to promote us. So it’s impossible to quantify the amount of PR we get from these influencers who are putting us on their channels to their highly engaged, borderline fanatical audiences.”

Such an approach is a key way of keeping the brand relevant in a competitive space, and Sanderson points out that one of the key benefits is that it brings on board both younger, harder-to-reach audiences, but also older audiences.

“One of the other reasons we are growing is that wellness is non age-specific, so we are bringing in the younger readers, plus we’re getting the older readers…who just want to look and feel amazing.”

4 – Facts first

But these things alone aren’t enough of a reason to make a publication stand out – after all, there’s plenty of competition both online and offline for brands in the fitness and wellness space. Sanderson mentioned that their content is “science backed, it’s well-researched,” and that they present information from research papers from world-leading universities in a way that is accessible and interesting to their audience.

“If you were to pick up Women’s Health, you would see how many research papers we’d referred to. When we pick up the phone…everyone wants to speak to us because we’re the leading wellness brand, so we speak to leading neuroscientists, top nutritionists, doctors, physios, the best trainers in the world.”

This is absolutely key when considering the vast swathes of health and fitness content out there. Perhaps in today’s world, among all the fad diets and popping jade eggs in unmentionable places, there’s a growing audience who appreciate just a little bit of science-based fact about what actually works for their health.

by Esther Kezia Thorpe @estherkeziat

Republished with kind permission of Media Voices, a weekly look at all the news and views from across the media world