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At Rodale Press, we have a vision of the world as it could be ... a world where health is recognized as more than simply freedom from disease. Where individuals take control over their lives. Where people protect and enhance the environment. Where neighbors and nations are guided by the spirit of cooperation. Granted, it's an idealistic vision. But ideals are a source of inspiration to us. They keep us ever reaching for a healthier world. And while our dreams may be in the clouds, our feet are firmly planted on the ground. For it is here that the work must done. We believe that this ideal world is, even now, being created--by centered, self-reliant people who are capable of creating a better world for themselves. That's why all of our publications focus on the individual and what you can do to make life more natural, more self-reliant and more healthful.
Rodale Press, Inc. knows how to make things grow. Beginning with a guide for organic gardening, Rodale has ventured into books and magazines designed to nurture human life on topics as varied as cooking, sports--even woodworking. Since the 1980s, the company's growth has outpaced most of the giants of magazine and book publishing. After successfully managing several popular magazines in the United States such as Prevention and Men's Health, Rodale has focused on international expansion. The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies, one of its most popular titles, has been a brisk seller around the world. After the death of Bob Rodale in 1990, his wife Ardath Harter Rodale assumed the roles of chairman and CEO.
Out of the Depression
J.I. Rodale began his professional life not on a farm, but in a New York City accounting practice. He and his brother Joe formed Rodale Manufacturing in 1923. The company produced commercial and residential electrical connectors but it would provide the means to launch Rodale's more earthy enterprises. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, a borough near Allentown, eventually lured Rodale Manufacturing to relocate through offers of lower costs and free factory space.
J.I. Rodale soon began publishing a humorous reader from a corner of the factory floor. However, it proved too humorous to last a second issue. Nevertheless, other magazines with such lively titles as The Clown (later The American Humorist), You Can't Eat That (later Health Guide), Everybody's Digest, and True Health Facts appeared before 1940. Fact Digest was the most successful of the lot, selling 100,000 copies at one point.
During the Great Depression, most families had dirt yards and education was as scarce as good jobs. Most people were more concerned about merely eating than eating right. But J.I. Rodale felt that something was fundamentally lacking with the ways Americans looked after their farms and themselves. He was inspired to buy a 60-acre farm after Sir Albert Howard, considered the founder of the modern organic farming movement, published his findings in 1940. After forty years of research in India, Howard believed that the living organisms that made soil useful needed to be nourished with compost, the way the natives Howard observed returned all animal and vegetable matter to the earth. He also felt this made for more healthful produce. Howard also strongly opposed artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
Rodale began publishing Organic Farming and Gardening in 1942, while developing techniques on his farm near Emmaus. The magazine was born into controversy; however, it remained an enduring success, counting a million readers more than fifty years after its debut. An interest in nutrition and other areas of personal health lead to the launch of Prevention in 1950; it eventually garnered an audience of more than 3.5 million to become the country's leading health magazine. Prevention was originally printed on uncoated paper with few graphics and carried mostly mail order advertising.
J.I. Rodale attained some celebrity, and died while appearing as a guest on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971. His son Robert, who was born in 1930, would lead the company for the next twenty years.
Building Upon Success in the 1970s
Robert Rodale was an editor at Rodale before becoming its leader in 1971. He was also handy with a shotgun and landed a trip to Mexico City with the 1968 US skeet shooting team. He became known for the sensational growth the company experienced under his leadership.
Rodale continued the research efforts initiated by his father at the Rodale Research Center (originally the Soil and Health Society, founded in 1947), which operated a 333-acre farm in Maxatawny, Pennsylvania. Regenerative agricultural techniques were the focus of this center, which, in cooperation with the USDA, USAID, and other institutions, examined a variety of environmental and economic issues. Rodale also founded the Rodale Institute, a non-profit organization that sought to make science "not just for the people, but by the people as well."
Inspired by the cycling at the 1968 Olympics, Rodale bought Bicycling magazine in 1977 and turned it into the hottest thing on wire wheels. Another editorial innovation was The Prevention Index, an annual survey of American health trends used by media, government agencies, and corporations.
As health foods and nutritional supplements became more available in specialty stores and supermarkets, Prevention had to formulate a new strategy for the 1980s to accommodate dwindling mail order advertising. However, its efforts to interest media buyers for national accounts seemed doomed by the magazine's earlier criticisms of processed food. The magazine also began occupying checkout counters, spurring previously nonexistent single copy sales. In the early 1990s, Rodale would focus more on retail sales to counter increasing postal rates.
Competition drove Rodale out two categories in 1987. It sold Practical Homeowner magazine as its field became too crowded, and also sold Children, which struggled amid a field of parenting copycats. However, the company was fertile with new ideas. Rodale tested what would become one of the fastest-growing magazines in print, Men's Health, in 1988. Its circulation would quadruple in the early 1990s, reaching 1 million in 1994.
Going Global in the 1990s
Eventually, the company was able to export viable versions of its domestically successful magazines in Europe, Asia, and South Africa. Robert Rodale's international expansion plans brought him to the Soviet Union to work on a publishing joint venture with state publishing agency Vneshtorgizdat and a state farm. The pioneering collaboration eventually produced The New Farmer (Novii Fermer) with a circulation of 50,000 in spite of huge obstacles. For example, the magazine was printed in Finland due to a lack of quality presses in the USSR. Tragically, though Robert Rodale was killed in a Moscow car accident in September, 1990.
Ardath Harter Rodale succeeded her husband Robert as chairman and CEO of Rodale Press after his death. Ardath Rodale immediately formed an advisory board including her children, several executives, and Robert J. Teufel, a longtime employee and trusted advisor, who served as chief operating officer and president.
For the previous thirty years, Ardath Rodale had designed office space for the company. (True to the company's origins, existing vacant buildings were often renovated and reused.) AIDS awareness projects had become the focus of her extensive community service after her son, David, died from the disease in 1985. Ardath Rodale wrote the "Reflections" column for Prevention and the syndicated "Awakenings" column for the Chicago Tribune and published the inspirational text Climbing Toward the Light in 1989. Her thoughts on spirituality in modern life were featured in Embracing Our Essence: Spiritual Conversations with Prominent Women. She also lectured on health, the environment, and relationships. "Our mission is to show people how they can use the power of their bodies and minds to make their lives better," said Ardath Rodale. "'You can do it,' we say on every page of our magazines and books."
Revenues were about $250 when Ardath Rodale assumed the company's leadership. The company continued to launch many new magazine and book titles. Rodale developed Straight Talk, a magazine for teens, with the National Education Association, and marketed it to schools in 1991. The company tested Young Executive, designed to help men attain corporate distinction, in 1992. Rodale's Scuba Diving fared better. The company even presented a cable television show based on its Bicycling magazine.
While the depressed economy of the early 1990s was not kind to Rodale's start-ups, the company fared fairly well otherwise, except perhaps for Prevention magazine, which saw ad revenues dip. The venerable Runner's World, launched in the mid-1960s, experienced a huge increase in advertising, however. Rather than discounting rates, the company focused on innovative promotional tie-ins to keep sponsors enthusiastic. In addition, magazines that lead their categories weathered depressions best, and Rodale had unloaded underperforming titles in competitive fields. The company credited consumer loyalty to its high standards.
Although group publisher George Hirsch had two years earlier predicted to the contrary in the Wall Street Journal, in 1993, Rodale entered the lucrative and competitive women's service market with its own Healthy Woman. However, this venture failed within a few months. Rodale launched Heart and Soul, aimed at black women, with Reginald D. Ware, a black entrepreneur who had spent years developing the concept. Heart and Soul attracted advertisers, but four years after its debut had yet to become profitable.
Rodale pursued cautious growth by acquisition in the mid-1990s. In the spring of 1995, Rodale Press bought a share in Abenaki Publishers with plans to introduce new fly fishing magazines.Rodale reportedly spent approximately $20 million to buy New Woman from K-III Communications Corp. in August 1997.
Sales increased considerably--more than fifty percent--under Ardath Rodale's tenure. By 1996, Rodale Books had sold 20 million copies, reaching one-fifth of all American homes and providing half of Rodale's income. Green Pharmacy, Low-Fat Living, and New Choices in Natural Healing were among the most popular offerings of its 500 titles in print.
A British version of Men's Health was immediately successful. However, other international ventures frustrated Rodale, prompting them to hire the consulting firm Braxton Associates. They found that Rodale's traditional, decentralized working methods, while fostering creativity, made communications even more complicated overseas. In 1997, Rodale began distributing a Spanish language version of Men's Health in cooperation with Editorial Televisa, based in Mexico City.
In late 1996, AT&T canceled its web venture with Rodale called the HealthSite after only a few weeks. Rodale Press created a new marketing division in 1997 and applied a new, decentralized approach to its on-line operations. Its web site for Men's Health featured an on-line form for ordering back issues and article reprints.
In the late-1990s, Rodale Press published a dozen national magazines, including Mountain Bike, Rodale's Scuba Diving, Rodale's Heart and Soul, and Fitness Swimmer. In addition, Bicycling, Runner's World, Men's Health, Backpacker, and American Woodworker all lead their fields. Rodale's best known, Prevention, now a sophisticated glossy magazine, outsold its next three competitors combined. The company reached over sixteen million customers every month.
The company's successes went beyond such numbers. The company refused liquor and cigarette advertising in its magazines (although it began running beer ads in Runner's World in 1987). Its headquarters provided exercise facilities (or "energy center") and healthful cafeteria (Rodale Food Center) fare, as well as recycling facilities complete with 50 different types of bins (the cafeteria, of course, saved its food scraps for composting). Rodale claims it recycles up to 90 percent of its waste. Most of the company's books and all its magazines are printed on recycled paper.
Principal Divisions: Magazine Division; Book Division; Rodale Marketing Solutions.