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January 11, 2024

Joint editor-in-chief of Women’s and Men’s Health UK explains new membership focus for brands

E-commerce and product licensing - like mattresses - are other parts of the revenue diversification going on.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Memberships are a priority focus for Women’s Health UK and Men’s Health UK in 2024 according to editor-in-chief of both magazine brands Claire Sanderson.

New apps launched for both the Women’s Health Collective and Men’s Health Squad membership offerings in mid-December, featuring exclusive premium content as well as workout videos and training plans.

Speaking just before Christmas, Sanderson told Press Gazette that membership “is the future of Women’s Health and Men’s Health” and making it a success is their “priority”.

Both brands launched the first version of their membership more than a year ago but the addition of the apps marks a huge step up in the strategy, which follows in the footsteps of the Elle Collective membership also launched by Hearst UK in October.

Sanderson said: “We knew there was a huge opportunity for membership because we can offer something unique, which is premium content and premium features, long reads, investigations, opinion pieces written by some of the best journalists in the UK.

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“But we also have the knowledge and credibility and expertise to create training and fitness content, service driven so training plans, workout videos, and offer them to our audience in a much more cost effective manner than what they would pay if they signed up to other fitness training platforms.”

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Annual memberships for each title costs £89.99 but there is an initial price of £49.99 for the year for anyone who signs up before 1 February and there is also an offer giving the first six months for £9.99. This compares to a print and digital subscription to Women’s Health which currently costs £44.99 for a year or £23.99 every six months.

Elsewhere in the fitness market The Body Coach app from Joe Wicks also costs £89.99, after a first year at £59.99, for workout and meal plans.

Sanderson was “really confident” that people will stay signed up as members past their initial discounted period as “the offering we’ve created is such good value and will enrich our audiences’ lives to such an extent”.

She added that both brands have a “very strong” subscription base but already “a majority of new customers who are becoming subscribers are choosing one of the membership packages, which just goes to show that the loyalty is there and people are opting for membership”.

In 2022, the latest available ABC figures, 73% of the 73,227 average circulation of Women’s Health were paid subscriptions. At Men’s Health, that was 77% of 73,315.

Figures show subscriptions have grown in importance in recent years: in the second half of 2019, the final pre-Covid figures, 30% of the 128,239 circulation of Women’s Health were subscriptions while at Men’s Health it was 31% of 120,273.

More membership rollouts to come at Hearst UK

Following Elle UK, Women’s Health UK and Men’s Health UK, Sanderson said there are plans to roll out memberships at other Hearst UK brands “in the future”.

“There’s a lot of loyalty to Hearst brands,” she said. “If you think of some of the iconic names that come under the Hearst umbrella – Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire. They’re the most famous magazine brands. So why wouldn’t you want to create a more engaged relationship with that audience?”

Having a direct relationship with the audience is increasingly important in a market where digital publishers are suffering severe drops in search and social referral traffic.

Sanderson said: “We do pride ourselves in our relationship with our audience across both brands. The trust in the brand, I think, is born in print.

“I think the magazine is the foundation of the brand. It’s the mothership. And I believe that the relationship that you form with a print product, which is tangible – you can touch it, you can save it, you can go back to it, you can turn down pages and go back to it later in the day or the following week – I believe that the trust is born in the print products, and then that can emanate through every other platform and touch point, allowing us to diversify the revenue and grow the brand.”

Hearst UK chief executive Katie Vanneck-Smith told Press Gazette last month that revenue diversification will be key this year. She said: “As we head into 2024, publishers can’t be dependent on one platform or one revenue stream. We need to continue to identify growth opportunities and focus on those. I’m particularly excited about accelerating our membership propositions, driving digital subscriptions and building our diversified revenues.”

Sanderson similarly said revenue diversification would be the “biggest challenge” overall for 2024 but she added: “I’d like to think it’s not such a big challenge for Women’s Health and Men’s Health because we have such trust in the brand, that if we harness the power of that trust, I truly believe that people do want to invest in our brand across various touchpoints whether it’s accreditation, product licensing, or membership. So the biggest challenge is maintaining newsstand success.”

She said the magazines had “really strong success” on the newsstand in the latter part of 2023, pointing in particular to the final Women’s Health of the year with Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden on the cover without her wig following chemotherapy for breast cancer.

“It had an overwhelmingly positive response, especially from women going through the same as her,” Sanderson said. “And that is going off sale up year on year, so we’re finishing the year on a high and a challenge for me is to maintain that positive performance on the newsstand into 2024.”

Women’s Health and Men’s Health mattresses ‘just the start’ for licensing

E-commerce and product licensing are also two areas of increasing focus.

Sanderson said affiliate revenue on Women’s Health was up 23% year-on-year while Men’s Health was performing “particularly well on fitness e-commerce. So we know that’s an area that we can grow.”

There is a central e-commerce team at Hearst UK that has been “growing steadily over the years”.

“We’ve seen huge growth in that area because people do want to buy products endorsed by Women’s Health and Men’s Health because we are so credible and trusted and people know that we are the experts in our field – so why wouldn’t you buy products endorsed by us when you know that it’s gone through the same scrutiny that we would give editorial content?”

Similarly Women’s Health and Men’s Health have just launched a mattress range with DFS which promises to “deliver exceptional support to your pressure points”. They have done similar product deals in the past but never with a consistent focus put on that revenue stream.

But Sanderson described this as “just the start – so going forward, you are going to see more products from the Men’s Health and Women’s Health family”. Hearst UK now has a specific team in place whose role it is to grow licensing for both brands, she added.

Sanderson has been editor-in-chief of Women’s Health UK for seven years and added Men’s Health UK to her remit last month.

She is the first female editor of the men’s title and told Press Gazette that although she “got the job on my credentials” and has a “proven track record of leading a successful brand”, she is nonetheless “extremely proud and I think it should be celebrated that Hearst has put its trust in a woman to lead such a brilliant brand like Men’s Health”.

Sanderson said 2024 will be “really tricky for me personally taking on an entire another team and getting those working together and also proving to the market that people should be investing in the Women’s Health and Men’s Health apps – but I think they’re great products and we’re extremely proud of them”.

Before taking on her first editorship at Women’s Health UK, Sanderson started out on Trinity Mirror’s graduate trainee scheme in 1999 and worked her way up the industry through The Sunday People, Grazia, Look magazine and The Sun Online.

She told Press Gazette she has “put into practice a lot of the learnings that I absorbed on previous publications about what type of manager I wanted to be. So I lead my team in a very democratic manner, and I want everyone’s opinion and take everyone’s opinion on board, whether they are my deputy or whether they’re an intern.

“And everyone has a voice, and I empower people to do their jobs – and some – because I feel if someone feels challenged, then they are more committed, and want to improve and are more engaged with their job.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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