Magazines: US publishers target Britain: Smaller companies, with long-term plans, are taking a share of the specialist markets

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The Independent Online
HUGE American magazine companies, such as National Magazine and Conde Nast, have for decades colonised the world with their glossy visions of life. Now, special interest publications with less exotic subject matter are attempting to bridge the Atlantic.

The new wave of US publishers has better marketing know-how, greater staffing resources and a longer-term outlook on profits than some UK rivals which have spent the past three years cutting back on all fronts.

Having built up monthly sales of Runner's World to 435,000, George Hirsch, owner of Rodale Press, is keen to extend his empire overseas to make it 'more of a global brand'. This summer, it has new editions in the UK, South Africa and Germany. Its arrival here is low-key as the first issue represents a re-badging of a long-established market-leader, Running Magazine.

Rodale, which has a dollars 400m (pounds 266.6m) turnover, is a family-owned company with a range of health and fitness titles. It has an enlightened attitude to environmental issues and worker welfare that includes 'self-improvement' classes at its Pennsylvania headquarters. So far, the company's approach in Britain has matched its reputation. Rather than the sackings that often follow magazine purchases, it took on all the editorial staff, including the founder, Andy Etchells, when it bought Running Magazine from Stonehart Leisure Magazines in May.

'They were happy with the British management and have left us to get on with the job. It will remain an indigenous British product, although we can run American editorial if we wish,' Mr Etchells said.

Mr Hirsch said that other titles could be launched here. The most likely is Men's Health, although any UK edition is 'a long way off'.

So what is the difference in approach? 'It is not that we are more knowledgeable,' he said, 'it is just that businesses have grown in different ways. Many of the most successful editors in the States have come from Britain but we haven't been hiring your publishers.'

There have been some unhappy chapters - most notably IDG Communications, which has repeatedly failed to crack the computer market - but overall the track record of American companies is good. Twenty months after its debut here, Ziff-Davis has established two computer titles, PC Direct and PC Magazine. David Craver, the managing director stresses that Ziff is not a typical US company. 'We have a philosophy that is unique to us. We invest in the product, in editorial, circulation, marketing and research.

'We are very market-oriented. We are more of a PC company than a publishing company - our market knowledge is one of our unique selling properties.'

His advice to publishers looking to launch here is: 'Don't listen to people who say it is not done like that. One of the problems is that too many of our practices are tired and worn out. In many cases, a fresh approach is needed.'

Financial performance is less important than it might at first appear. Ziff has still to go into profit here. 'There is hardly a computer magazine in the country making money,' Mr Craver said. 'We have a long-term strategy to make these magazines viable.'

(Photographs omitted)

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