Diet Book, Ad Sales Boost Publisher
Oct. 21, 2003
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Lehigh Valley businessman J.I. Rodale found his first publishing success with a magazine based on his personal passion for organic farming.
Six decades later, Rodale Inc. is getting a big boost from its first No. 1 best seller, ``The South Beach Diet,'' the latest hit in the diet wars with something for both protein and carbohydrate eaters.
``I'd like to think he'd say we're right on mission,'' said Steve Murphy, Rodale's president and chief executive officer. The mission of J.I. Rodale and his successors, Murphy said, ``has always been to help people to live a healthier, more active life, period.''
Murphy just returned to the company's Emmaus headquarters from the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he met with publishers and booksellers from around the world and sold French publication rights for ``The South Beach Diet.''
``It's fun and exciting to be at the international book fair with the No. 1 nonfiction best seller in America,'' he said.
The book by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a Miami cardiologist, has been solidly on best seller lists since its introduction in May. It's in its 27th week on The New York Times best seller list _ a majority of those weeks at No. 1.
The company has ordered a 22nd printing that will bring total copies in print to 5 million, making it the year's top-selling nonfiction book and second only to the latest ``Harry Potter'' tale in overall sales, Murphy said.
That's a dramatic turnaround for a publisher that had sunk into debt in 1999. Murphy, a former executive at Disney Publishing Worldwide and at Simon and Shuster, was hired in a management shake-up by Rodale's founding family in 2000 as the book business sagged.
While he wouldn't divulge the privately held publisher's earnings, Murphy said Rodale became profitable by 2001, increased that profit by more than 30 percent in 2002 and was on track for a 33 percent increase this year even without ``The South Beach Diet.'' Revenues are expected to reach $500 million for 2003, he said.
Founder J.I. Rodale had been in business manufacturing electrical parts with his brother and had tried other ventures _ including the short-lived humor magazines The Humorous Scrapbook and The Clown _ before his organic farming magazine began to thrive.
Organic Farming and Gardening, launched in 1942, later became Organic Gardening and now is entitled simply OG, published bimonthly with a circulation of 350,000.
Prevention magazine, emphasizing diet and health, was added in 1950 and is still the company's biggest magazine. Rodale said circulation including subscription and newsstand sales tops 10 million.
Prevention and Organic Gardening were the mainstays when Rodale, 72, died of a heart attack during taping of the Dick Cavett Show in 1971.
His son, Robert Rodale, built up the line of magazines, which now include Men's Health, Runner's World, Backpacker, Mountain Bike, Organic Style and Rodale's Scuba Diving.
A skilled shooter who competed on the 1968 U.S. Olympic skeet shooting team, Robert Rodale was also an avid cyclist. He added Bicycling magazine to Rodale's publications in 1977.
Robert Rodale died in 1990, when a bus hit a van he was riding to the airport during a trip to the Soviet Union. He had negotiated a joint venture to publish magazines and books, starting with Rodale's The New Farmer, in Russian.
With many Rodales still in the management _ including Robert Rodale's wife, Ardath Rodale, as board chairman, and daughter Maria Rodale as vice chairman _ the company still practices family traditions.
The 305-acre Rodale Research Center experiments with organic farming methods and crops. The Rodale Institute promotes organic farming and consumption of organic foods worldwide.
The company has a reputation for offering ``information you can use,'' said Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi journalism professor who tracks the magazine industry.
``People are not buying those books to keep on their coffee table,'' said Husni, who also heads a consulting firm and publishes a monthly report on the industry. ``They are one of the few companies dedicated to service journalism, the active, do-something-about-it journalism, as opposed to fantasy. You don't go to their magazines if you want to fantasize.''
The magazines have also been on a roll, signing up 189 new advertisers in the first half of the year, Murphy said.
Murphy has focused on getting the book, magazine and direct sales departments working together on projects like ``The South Beach Diet.'' Prevention, Men's Health and Bicycling have all featured articles about Agatston and his diet, which balances ``good'' proteins such as lean meats and lowfat dairy products with ``good'' carbohydrates such as whole grains.
The diet book ``gives us a shot in the arm,'' according to Murphy, helping the company launch major new projects. Upcoming books include a Pete Rose autobiography; a book by Larry King to be entitled ``Heart to Heart,'' about how celebrities deal with heart disease; and ``The Big O,'' a biography of basketball great Oscar Robertson.
Keeping the South Beach momentum going, Rodale plans to publish a Spanish-language edition and a reference for followers of the diet, ``The South Beach Diet Good Fats/Good Carbs Guide,'' in January. A South Beach diet cookbook is slated for April.
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