Rodale revamps ‘Organic Gardening ’ to healthy-lifestyle magazine

Suddenly, the healthy lifestyle niche looks like it is turning into the hottest category in a beleaguered magazine industry.

Rodale, in the midst of the category’s rapid rise, said Friday it will rename its 72-year-old Organic Gardening title to better compete in the red-hot niche.

The magazine, the first title from the family-owned publishing house that produces Men’s Health and Women’s Health, will be re-launched as Rodale’s Organic Life.

Ironically, Organic Gardening lived exactly as long as the company’s founder, J.I. Rodale, who, during an appearance on the Dick Cavett show in 1971 predicted he’d live to be 100 — and then promptly dropped dead on the set.

The show was taped but never broadcast.

As part of the relaunch, James Oseland, who resigned earlier this week as editor-in-chief of the critically acclaimed Saveur, has been signed to oversee the conversion.

Ethne Clarke, who has edited Organic Gardening since 2009, is out.

The relaunch is a bit of a gamble for Rodale, which will be hoping it can shed the preachy how-to approach — that has served it well since 1942 — for a more populist lifestyle take that, it hopes, will boost readership and ads.

The new title and format will debut with the February/March 2015 issue.

Rodale’s Organic Life will enter a niche that has seen two hot startups in 2014 — Hearst’s Dr. Oz The Good Life, with heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Naturally, Danny Seo, with the so-called green Martha Stewart.

The Good Life’s debut issue in February sold more than 80 percent of the 350,000 copies it placed on newsstands and signed up close to 500,000 subscriptions.

The early success of its first two issues spurred the company to jump the frequency in 2015 to 10 times a year, from six.

Hearst is promising a rate base of 800,000 per issue by mid-2015.

“We think we’ll have a broader reach, but we wish [Rodale] well,” said David Carey, president, of Hearst Magazines.

Seo, 37, an author and lifestyle guru, signed a joint venture with Harris Publications in July for his title.

Insiders estimate it is on track to sell more than 50 percent of the 350,000 copies it placed on newsstands — far above the 30 percent industry norm.

Seo welcomes the competition from a third title.

“I think this is great news that Rodale is moving into this direction,” said Seo, reached at a natural wine shoot in California’s Mendocino Valley on Friday.

“I think what makes Naturally, Danny Seo different is, like Dr. Oz, it comes from a clear, distinct point of view that helps connect food, decorating and travel content consistently and evenly,” Seo said. “Women have literally called me at my office in tears because they have been waiting for a magazine like this.”

But translating early enthusiasm from fad to long -term business is not easy.

While the environmental movement and healthy foods have moved mainstream, many of the original titles in the niche stayed smallish.

Natural Health was flat in circulation at 309,196 in the first half of 2014 — and while Organic Gardening increased its circulation by a healthy 17 percent in the first half, it still had circulation of only 332,309, and its ad pages were down 7 percent through September, to a mere 151 ad pages.

Keeping a unique voice in a multi-platform format could be a key to long-term success, as Hearst has found in its numerous partnerships with TV outlets.

Oseland said that Rodale’s Organic Life “will be a print and digital brand like no other. It will be a community, a clearinghouse of beautiful, authoritative information that will weave together food, shelter, gardening, wellness and good living.”