Changes over at AMI (Weider Publishing)

Changes over at AMI (Weider Publishing)
by Anthony Roberts

Muscle & Fitness is what we call, in the industry, a “starter magazine.” In other words, when you get into weight training, this is likely the first magazine you’re going to pick up and read. Most starter magazines have a readership who are only a few years removed from their last Pinewood Derby.

It’s kind of like Playboy, in that respect…when you’re a guy, at that age, it’s probably the first magazine you get your hands on. It takes a few years to really figure out where your true tastes lie (donkey shows, amputee porn, cosplay, etc…), and you move on to different reading material.

Of course, the most profitable periodicals in the industry are always going to be the starter magazines – because there’s always a kid picking up a weight for the first time, and that kid is going to need some way to figure out what he’s doing. And not everyone sticks with training for their whole lives, so there’s a

bottom-heavy pyramid of experience, with beginners making up the first and largest tier, and the heavier profits being expressed with that readership. The only really successful magazine that catered to a sophisticated readership was the original Muscle Media 2000, while even advanced-level newsletters (Dirty Dieting, etc…) have failed to turn a profit.

It’s like Men’s Health (a Rodale publication)…for roughly three straight years, they only had two articles in the entire magazine: “Gerard Butler’s 300 Workout” & “Train like an MMA Fighter!” They literally used the same photo of Gerard Butler every month for a year. I’m not kidding.

Seriously, that’s the same photo on two different covers.

They can do stuff like this because their reader turnover is high; not everyone who gets interested in fitness or lifting weights is going to stick with it. And even if you stick with weight training, you’ll quickly figure out that Men’s Health isn’t really a serious magazine.

The same goes for Muscle & Fitness. They had Chris Lockwood, a dude who worked at the university level, whose name you’ll find on numerous journal articles, and who has recently earned his PhD, along with Dave Barr (a guy who worked for NASA, and I suspect plays a mean game of WarCraft).

But both of those guys are no longer at the company, and the old editor from Maxim has taken over, bringing with him all of the street cred of Justin Bieber. Currently remaining on staff are a bunch of hacks who have been busy running the magazine publicly, while also running BPI (the nutritional company) behind the scenes.

Gee…this reminds me of the situation a few years ago, when it was revealed in court documents that Victor Conte had been bribing Jeff Feliciano to write positive editorials about ZMA. Then again, what situation? Jeff remained on staff, even after it was discovered that he’d been bribed by Conte.

I’ll let you digest that one for a second…M&F got rid of Dr. Chris Lockwood, who had been published in multiple scholarly articles (think PubMed) during his time at the University of Oklahoma, along with Dave Barr, and replaced them with a dude who edited a magazine that featured terrible jokes and airbrushed pictures of skanks in high heels.

Maxim is the height of literary douchebag couture; it’s the faux hawk of the magazine world. It’s a monthly catalogue of douchebaggery…if Maxim were a tattoo, it would be a tribal armband…attached to a sweaty guy…in an Ed Hardy shirt.

And now the guy who oversaw this mess is going to be in charge of the largest and most visible fitness magazine in the industry. It (almost) can’t get worse.

And because of the Hydroxycut recall, M&F was forced to hold off on staff raises for two years as well as fire people, resulting in their now being forced to file for bankruptcy* (*H/T to The NY Post broke this story on November first), and trade a great deal of office space in California to add 10,000 square feet to their New York office (going from 70k + their California offices, t0 80k sq. feet, total, in Manhattan).

Vince Andrich, of Muscle Insider, provided this insight:

This move by AMI should be carefully watched by the marketing execs at the top tier sports nutrition companies. Why? Because for as long as they have been around, when it comes to marketing sports (bodybuilding) supplements M&F and FLEX have been far and away the “gold standard” for value, i.e., selling power/per dollar spent to reach a consumer. In marketing speak this simply means a lower “CPM”, or cost to reach 1000 (M) consumers.

But, for many reasons M&F and FLEX have always seemed to attract the more serious weight training newbies, if there is such a thing. What I mean is this.

While it’s true that most people who start to lift weights will not continue to do so just a few years later, M&F and FLEX seems to attract the most serious beginners. So even if these consumers quit after a few years, the bulk of the AMI readers went into the whole muscle and strength deal with more motivation and desire, and thus are better target consumers for sport supplement marketeers. I asked one very experienced Sports Supp marketing exec about this phenomenon and here’s what he said:

1) Maybe it’s because Weider (Joe) had gone to great lengths to get the best physiques in the world under contract, then promoted them in his magazines almost exclusively (certainly years ago this was true), and thus his magazines just might have been more visually motivational to the average newbie; think Arnold and Zane, even Yates and Coleman.

2) It could also be that the exercise routines in M&F and FLEX are actually structured correctly, for the most part, and intense enough to deliver serious gains.

3) Likely where Weider mags became truly indispensable to marketers of Sports Supplements is within the many nutrition articles they publish with programs for gaining mass, cutting etc, that are PRO SUPPLEMENT.

Add it all up and M&F and FLEX would seem to have carried a distinct market advantage for selling sports supplements. In contrast, Men’s Health, who has many more readers (about 2x of M&F, and cost more than 3x for a one page ad), has always been viewed (by seasoned supplement marketers) as a “coffee table” magazine, meaning their consumer wants to look like they are seriously into fitness, but actually buy it to look for a new cologne or watch. Read: not that serous about putting on muscle. Most recently, Mens Health has greatly improved their exercise articles, but they are coming from a place that is far behind that of AMI/Weider, and in fact you may still find their typical “do it in your kitchen body-weight training” program in the next issue. Not exactly the stuff that will serve the desires of a young teen who really wants to make muscle and strength gains. In the end, the problem for AMI is they relied too heavily on MuscleTech and when MT coughed AMI got the flu. It will be interesting to see if any magazine (s) will capture all the elements necessary to keep driving the popularity of weight training (at a level where you make gains) and sell enough sports supplements, with a diverse customer base to make a long lasting business.

It’s a time of big changes for the AMI/Weider and their magazines…but if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not reading Muscle & Fitness; the changes I’m seeing aren’t going to make Weider/AMI any stronger in the eyes of my average reader – and that’s just how I like it.

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