What's a magazine editor to do when all the best ideas
seem to be taken, especially when they've been spirited off by the
leader in your category?
Well, invent a little, but maybe crib some too. Geez, maybe
crib a lot, just so you don't cross that line where cribbing begins
to look like theft.
For many months, Men's Health, the hugely successful Rodale
title, has been grousing about the redesign of longtime also-ran-but
far-less-noticed Men's Fitness, that former Weider title picked up
by David Pecker's American Media.
The complaint: The redesign so closely copies the look of
Men's Health, shamefully so, that it goes beyond flattery and beyond
annoying to representing a theft of a creative sort.
So on Friday, Rodale, which is based in Pennsylvania, filed
papers in a state court announcing its intent to sue American Media,
according to a company statement.
The similarities between the two titles is rather
startling--much the same look, columns with very similar sounding
names, and articles whose style and tone are quite close. It is the
handiwork of new editor in chief
Sources have been telling Media Life that Rodale has been
annoyed over the Men's Fitness redesign since it was first revealed
last fall, the apparent intent to take the former muscle magazine in
a lifestyle direction to gain both readers and new
But at least publicly Rodale was dismissing the similarities.
“We are very flattered that they want their magazine
to be just like ours,” said Men’s Health publisher MaryAnn
Bekkedahl told Media Life back in November.
“That said, they have a lot of work to do to get
She also dismissed the title as any real threat to
Men's Health, noting that the magazine “has been copying some of
Men’s Health’s design elements and story concepts for years, and
that hasn’t enabled them to steal readers from us. We’re not
A press release issued by Rodale announcing the suit,
the company's only comment, says otherwise: "In
Rodale's opinion, Men's Health's continued and unparalleled success
has clearly inspired American Media to create a copycat version--one
that is obviously intended to confuse consumers."
The release says AMI has copied Men's Health's
"distinctive and proprietary trade dress," defined as features that let consumers know who is producing the
What has changed? Could it be that Men's Fitness is
gaining on Men's Health?
A spokesman for American Media, Stuart Zakim, says he has not
seen the court filing but claims that the Men's Fitness redesign is
redesign changes that have been made resonated amazingly well with
two primary groups, our readers and our advertisers.
"Since the redesign, we've attracted 42 new
advertisers to Men’s Fitness, which is pretty significant.
Whatever changes we made are really clicking – in spite of what
Rodale’s saying. Bottom line is, when you get that
response from advertisers, you know it's right."
The title certainly could have used some help.
Through much of last year, Men's Health stayed very strong, with
pages between January and September growing by 22 percent,
with ad revenue for the period up 29 percent.
During that same period, Men's Fitness saw declines, with
pages off 10 percent and revenue growth a modest 2 percent. The
title is also a third of the size in readership, at around 600,000
versus 1.7 million.