Rodale, Inc. History

33 East Minor Street
Emmaus, Pennsylvania 18098-0099

Telephone: (610) 967-5171
Fax: (610) 967-8963

Private Company
Incorporated: 1930
Employees: 1,300
Sales: $500 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 511120 Periodical Publishers; 511130 Book Publishers

Company Perspectives:

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.

Key Dates:

J.I. Rodale and his brother Joe form Rodale Manufacturing, and J.I. soon begins publishing humorous and health-related magazines from a corner of the factory floor.
J.I. Rodale begins publishing Organic Farming and Gardening.
Rodale launches Prevention magazine.
Robert Rodale, J.I.'s son, takes over the company at his father's death.
Rodale buys Bicycling magazine.
Rodale launches Men's Health.
Ardath Rodale takes over as chairman and CEO at her husband Robert's death.
Steven Murphy replaces Ardath Rodale as CEO.

Company History:

Rodale, Inc. is a leading U.S. publisher of health- and sports-related magazines and books. Known for the monthly publications Men's Health and Prevention, the family-owned operation also publishes the popular magazines Runner's World, Bicycling, and Backpacker. The company branched out into new markets in 2001 with Organic Style and MH-18. Rodale Books provides a significant portion of the company's revenues, with approximately 100 new titles a year and a backlist of more than 500 titles, including the best-selling Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss and The Wrinkle Cure. The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies, one of its most popular titles, was a brisk seller around the world.

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. Following 40 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 50 years after its debut. An interest in nutrition and other areas of personal health led 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 20 years.

Building Upon Success in the 1970s

Robert Rodale was an editor at Rodale before becoming its leader in 1971. He was also skilled with a shotgun and landed a trip to Mexico City with the 1968 U.S. 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 nonprofit 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 of two categories in 1987. It sold Practical Homeowner magazine as its interest area 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 one 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 U.S.S.R. Tragically, 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 30 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 million 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 startups, 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 led 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 spent $15.8 million to buy New Woman from K-III Communications Corp. in August 1997.

Sales increased considerably--more than 50 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 online operations. Its web site for Men's Health featured an online form for ordering back issues and article reprints.

Setbacks in the Late 1990s

Although sales had risen considerably in the 1990s, several of Rodale's publications were dragging down profits in the late 1990s. In response, the company sold off underperforming magazines and reorganized some divisions, in addition to changing its name to simply Rodale, Inc. In 1998 Rodale sold its American Woodworking Group, which included the magazine American Woodworker, to Reader's Digest Association for $20 million. The same year Primedia purchased the company's Quiltmaker and "Quilter's Newsletter," and Clotilde bought the company's Quilts and Other Comforts catalog. Heart & Soul, Rodale's health and beauty magazine for African American women, was sold to BET. In 1999, a downturn in what had been the booming bicycling market led Rodale to combine its sales and marketing forces for Bicycling and Mountain Bike, resulting in the layoff of 20 people, the first ever for the almost 70-year-old company.

Organic Gardening, Rodale's flagship publication, was also experiencing difficulties. Readership and advertising had been falling since 1997, and Maria Rodale, Ardath's daughter, was brought in to revive the title. She was put in charge of the new Organic Living division, which ran Organic Gardening and the company's gardening book titles. In addition, she began developing a new entry into the women's glossies: Organic Style.

The company's purchase of New Woman was also proving a disappointment. After two years of investment in the magazine's editorial, marketing, and circulation departments, Rodale closed the 30-year-old title in January 2000. Rodale ended 1999 with a disappointing 46.6 percent drop in sales, to $267 million.

New Life in the New Millennium

Rodale continued to revamp its product line, its organization, and its image in the early 2000s. Most importantly, Steven Murphy took over as president for retiring Bob Teufel in April 2000. Soon thereafter, the former Disney Publishing executive restructured the company, abandoning the format divisions for ones organized by content: Men's Health, Women's Health, Sports and Fitness, Organic Living, and Books. His intent, he said, was to transform Rodale into a multimedia company.

Support for this new focus came from Maria Rodale, seen as the heir-apparent to CEO Ardath Rodale. "Maria wants a much harder-edged company," Folio quoted one Rodale employee as saying. "She wanted to bring in what she calls 'New York cool.'" Maria encouraged that new image with her magazine Organic Style, which launched in August 2001. The health and lifestyle magazine for women went head-to-head with Time Inc.'s Real Simple and Hearst's O.

Revenues were still on the rise in 2001 for the company's top seller, Men's Health. Hoping to expand on that magazine's 33-country success story, Rodale launched MH-18, a version of Men's Health for teenage boys.

By 2001, Murphy's changes seemed to be bearing fruit. Streamlining operations had cut the company's workforce from 1,300 to 800 and saved an estimated $40 million. Despite the soured economy, company sales had reached approximately $500 million in 2001, and the privately owned company had reportedly returned to profitability. Early in 2002, Murphy was promoted to chief executive officer, although Ardath Rodale remained as chairman.

Principal Divisions: Men's Health; Women's Health; Sports and Fitness; Organic Living; Books.

Principal Competitors: The Hearst Corporation; Meredith Corporation; Reader's Digest.

Further Reading:

  • Bamford, Janet, and Jennifer Pendleton, "The Top Fifty Women-Owned Businesses," Working Woman, October 1997.
  • Calvacca, Lorraine, "Fits and Stops for Rodale Start-Ups," Folio, October 1, 1996, p. 20.
  • Carey, Robert, "Exercising Your Options," Incentive, June 1995, pp. 30-34.
  • Donaton, Scott, "Boys Will Be Boys But, Says Men's Health, It's No Fad," Advertising Age, March 7, 1994, p. S3.
  • ------, "Rodale Press Nurtures Growth with Spinoffs," Advertising Age, September 14, 1992.
  • D'Orio, Wayne, "Rodale's New Challenges," Folio, October 1999, p. 43.
  • Foege, Alec, "Emmaus on the Hudson," Mediaweek, July 16, 2001, p. 20.
  • Freeman, Laurie, "Trash to Treasure," Advertising Age, June 24, 1991, p. 36.
  • "Getting Better: Rodale Press," Chief Executive, December 1995, pp. 12-13.
  • Hochwald, Lambreth, "Database Partnerships," Folio, August 1, 1994, pp. 52-53.
  • ------, "Sub Promotion Still Hard to Read," Folio, March 15, 1994.
  • Hodges, Jane, "After Suffering Setbacks, Rodale Tries Decentralizing," Advertising Age, February 17, 1997, p. 22.
  • "How Rodale Takes Care of Its Health," Business Week, July 23, 2001, p. 79.
  • Jaben, Jan, "Publishers Beware," Business Marketing, December 1991, pp. 29-30.
  • Kavanagh, Mick, "Men Slip Between the Covers," Marketing, April 13, 1995, pp. 27-29.
  • Kaplan, Michael, "Rodale's New Attitude," Folio, November 2000, p. 57.
  • Lucas, Allison, "Exercising Your Options," Sales and Marketing Management, December 1995, p. 14.
  • Manly, Lorne, "Fly Fishing Lures Rodale," Folio, June 1, 1995, p. 36.
  • Masterton, John, "Prevention Passes Physical," Folio, February 1991, pp. 55-56.
  • McCullagh, James C., "Publishing Opportunities in Russia," Folio, June 1, 1996, pp. 77-87.
  • McGrath, Mike, ed., The Best of Organic Gardening, Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1996.
  • Milliot, Jim, "Rodale Promotes Murphy," Publishers Weekly, January 21, 2002, p. 14.
  • Mummert, Hallie, "Naturally Successful," Target Marketing, March 1994, pp. 10-16.
  • Peterson, Lisa C., "Dressed for Health and Success," Food Management, June 1996, pp. 52-58.
  • Popper, Margaret, "Take It to the Tube," Folio, January 1, 1993, pp. 58-62.
  • Reilly, Patrick M., "Magazine Launching Moves Timidly," Wall Street Journal, p. B1.
  • ------, "Rodale Finds Clean Living Gives a Healthy Tone to Ad Levels," Wall Street Journal, p. B1.
  • Rodale Press, Inc., "Who We Are," Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, n.d.
  • "Rodale Sues Poll Firm, Baxter International Over Health Survey," Wall Street Journal, April 22, 1993.
  • Rosch, Leah, "Heart and Soul Shows Healthy Symptoms," Folio, November 1, 1994, p. 30.
  • Rosenfield, James R., "In the Mail," Direct Marketing, December 1992, pp. 19-20.
  • ------, "Pets, Pests, and Paranoia: Direct Marketing in All Its Glory," Direct Marketing, September 1996, pp. 50-55.
  • Simon, Virginia, "The Arithmetic of Going Green," Target Marketing, January 1993, p. 29.
  • Teufel, Robert J., "The Rodalization Process," Journal of Direct Marketing, Spring 1996, pp. 2-3.
  • Wynter, Leon S., "Business and Race," Wall Street Journal, June 14, 1993, p. B1.
  • Yorgey, Lisa A., "American Direct Mail Overseas," Target Marketing, September 1997.

    Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 47. St. James Press, 2002.