Men's Health's May 2017 cover.


Men’s Health, the Rodale-owned glossy, is getting an overhaul under new-ish editor in chief Matt Bean.

Bean, who returned to Men’s Health in September, succeeding Bill Phillips, told WWD that the May issue of the men’s fitness and lifestyle magazine is the first that reveals his full editorial vision. Like the majority of newly minted top editors, Bean began his overhaul with the look of the title and doubled down on its core mission as a sort of manual of self-improvement.

“You have a class of magazines that for a long time provided an escape for readers — that’s never been Men’s Health,” said Bean. “Our promise to our readers is that we’re going to improve every element of your life.”

Drawing inspiration from old guidebooks, vintage style and repair guides and hiking maps, the new Men’s Health now features infographics, for example, that help filter everything from workouts and diet plans to what kind of suit best complements your body type.

In addition to more illustrations, readers can expect a different mix of cover stars and “real guys.” For instance, in the May issue, which goes on sale on April 18, Bean tapped Dan Wells, a well-known CrossFitter, who his team met while reporting on “Wodapalooza,” a CrossFit event, for the cover. Bean didn’t address the fact that booking “real” — albeit extremely fit — regular people saves on costs, but did explain that the magazine’s cover model mantra is more in line with his perception of reader demand.

“I don’t think guys buy a magazine based on the celebrity on the cover,” he said. “There’s sort of an implicit thought process — you either want to have a beer with the guy or you want to be that guy…. The days of casting models or actors for our covers is over. I want real guys with a story.”

New sections in the magazine include “Unfiltered,” a photo-centric section; “The Exchange,” a section that is informed by online and mobile communication with its readers, and “Useful Stuff,” a revamped how-to package that includes a column by Timothy Ferriss.

Each issue will also follow a theme; the May one is the “strength issue,” for example, and it includes an interview with Hafthór Björnsson, famous for his role as Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane on “Game of Thrones.” Björnsson will appear in MH Films, an online video franchise developed by Bean’s team. The editor emphasized brand extensions as the broader push at the company, citing the development of web franchises, e-commerce initiatives, live content and workouts created by influencers and the Men’s Health team for its app. He also said he hopes to bring in a new stable of writers to develop the title’s journalism.

Bean’s development of Men’s Health, which publishes 10 times a year, comes as the men’s magazine market is under pressure to find new readers. With fewer fitness-focused men’s titles left — there’s Wenner’s fitness-lifestyle hybrid Men’s Journal and AMI’s Muscle & Fitness, which recently absorbed much of the staff Men’s Fitness (but still publishes the title) — it begs the question if that reader is still buying print.

According to the Alliance for Audited Media, in the second half of last year, Men’s Health’s paid and verified circulation totaled 1.8 million, which was flat with the previous year. Total single-copy sales were 160,599, marking a 29.7 percent dip over the same period a year earlier. (While newsstand declines are symptomatic of a larger trend, it should be noted that Men’s Health still has the biggest circulation of any U.S. men’s magazine).

Bean acknowledged volatility in the men’s media sector but declined to comment further. Instead he offered that his readers have more in common with Condé Nast’s Wired than perhaps GQ, Esquire and the fitness magazines.

“As we look across the landscape, I see magazines like Wired in many ways to be in our group because it appeals to an incredibly smart reader,” he said.

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