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When imitation's
more than annoying

Rodale: Men's Fitness redo apes Men's Health

   
   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 Peter Sikowitz.
   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 advertisers. 
   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 there.”
   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 concerned.”
   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 book.

   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 working.
 
"The 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.
  


March 22, 2004© 2004 Media Life




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