When Leaf Group, known best for fitness site Livestrong, acquired editorial wellness website Well+Good this past summer for $10 million upfront, it solidified the latter’s strong and seemingly unique positioning. “We see a tremendous growth opportunity in the wellness category and many meaningful points of collaboration across our portfolio of brands,” said Sean Moriarty, CEO of Leaf Group in June. 

Moriarty was on trend: In October, the Global Wellness Institute reported that the world wellness market grew to $4.2 trillion in 2017 from $3.7 trillion in 2015 — approximately a 6.4 percent annual growth rate, twice as fast as overall global economic growth — making it ripe for revenue opportunities, especially for publishers.

Naturally, other media companies have come to play. Newer and legacy publishers including Girls’ Night In, Thrive Global, Women’s Health, Self and even Cosmopolitan are shifting their content to be more wellness-centric and are also capitalizing on the revenue opportunities from advertising dollars across beauty and pharmaceuticals. But beyond media, experiential dollars are prime for the taking as wellness fits so seamlessly with the lifestyle, travel, fashion and fitness categories. “Eight years later, we are vindicated because the wellness industry has proven to be not only serious, but also a huge economic driver,” said Well+Good founder Melisse Gelula.

In September, Well+Good reached its highest audience to date of nearly 8 million unique monthly visitors, according to comScore, and with Leaf Group’s existing wellness-centric titles, the company has the highest combined wellness audience, averaging 34 million unique monthly visitors. Leaf Group has been satisfied with its investment: During its second quarter earnings in August, the company reported that media revenue grew 35 percent year-over-year to nearly $15 million.

The new guard
Newer properties like Girls’ Night In have popped up — it started as a newsletter to a handful of subscribers in January 2017 and has grown to over 100,000 readers today, with a 50 percent open rate, according to founder Alisha Ramos. Arianna Huffington’s latest act, Thrive Global, is another — it debuted in August 2016 and now has a $120 million valuation.

“From the very beginning, our priority was to ground everything — all of our content, behavior change tools and strategies — in data and science,” said Huffington, who found her way to Thrive Global after a collapse from exhaustion in 2007 and writing books “Sleep Revolution” and “Thrive.” “It helped that an incredible amount of science and research has come out in recent years showing the direct connection between well-being and productivity. You can see that recognition reflected in the culture at large — you’re as likely to see the pieces on well-being in the business and sports pages as you are the lifestyle sections.”

Thrive Global has a cross-platform reach of over 30 million globally in just two years and is experiencing a 280 percent audience growth year-over-year, said editorial director Marina Khidekel. (The brand did not share their latest comScore data.) “Thrive leads the conversation about mental health and well-being, including topics around stress, burnout, sleep, our relationship with technology and unlocking your full potential, by marrying coverage of the most culturally relevant subjects with science-backed service,” she said.

Historically, Thrive Global has steered clear of some of the more outlandish wellness subjects, like Reiki, the Japanese alternative medicine, that Goop or even Well+Good might cover. Thrive Global’s branded content and sponsorship deals, include those with Bose, P&G, Quaker and Shire, but Khidekel said that the company “is going to need a bigger boat,” as Thrive Global is being heavily courted by many prospective partners.

Heritage players want in
Legacy publishing houses like Condé Nast (owner of Vogue, Self and Allure) and Hearst (parent company of Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan) have tweaked their coverage and business opportunities in step with the larger wellness industry trend. “If you see other organizations are covering something and getting advertising dollars from it, it really doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to get into it. Legacy companies have, in some ways, always covered health and fitness,” said Ava Seave, principal of Quantum Media. “There are no barriers to entry.”

Still, in terms of carving out a niche of the space, there do seem to be differentiators. At Well+Good, which launched in 2010, top performing content areas areas include mental health, which comprises 21 percent of monthly uniques, and beauty, which accounts for 30 percent of monthly uniques, according to the company.

For its part, Women’s Health has gone through a revamp after being acquired by Hearst and adding a new editor-in-chief, Liz Plosser, in January – in early October, digital responsibilities also came under her purview. (Plosser was actually the vice president of content at Well + Good prior.)  “The economy of wellness has exploded, so there’s never been a better time for Hearst to have bought Women’s Health and really play more in this space,” said Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan and Seventeen publishing director and chief revenue officer Donna Kalajian Lagani.“Every big business that’s out there, from fitness companies like SoulCycle to tech [companies], is tapping into the wellness space.” Seave agreed, noting that funding for fitness and wellness went up to $752 million in 2017.

Though Plosser doesn’t feel the DNA of Women’s Health of helping women make positive and healthy decisions has changed dramatically in her tenure, she has updated its coverage. “I had a gut instinct that mental health content would resonate and fit into the larger wellness and healthy living picture,” she said. The title, which saw a 9 percent year-over-year newsstand sales increase in September and nearly 10 million unique monthly visitors last month (an 11 percent growth rate year-over-year), has seen an uptick in readers and business, thanks to this coverage. In the July/August issue — Plosser’s first as editor – Women’s Health debuted a dedicated mental health section that now runs in every issue, and November was named the Mind Issue.

As such, its advertising business has grown: In the last year, pharmaceutical brands Rexulti and Abbvie Elagolix became new advertisers for Women’s Health, and Eli Lilly will begin to advertise in January 2019. Lagani expects pharma advertising dollars to be up 33 percent next year at Women’s Health. This is also going to be played out at sister title Cosmopolitan, said Lagani, where she is forecasting a similar trajectory. (Cosmopolitan, which recently appointed Jessica Pels as editor-in-chief of both print and digital also hired a wellness-specific editor to tackle its increased interest in the category. However, Cosmopolitan is taking more of a sexual health and fitness bent — for instance, in the December print issue, the title will debut a feature package about the sex education problem in America — a clear wellness topic, said Pels.)

In the beauty category, wellness is also at play with Plosser’s in-book Women’s Health Skintention feature that discusses beauty regimens. In that category, Women’s Health advertising business is also growing with Neutrogena, Aveeno, L’Oréal with Garnier, Burt’s Bees and even Head & Shoulders, according to Lagani. “These are brands that are more than ever considering wellness as part of their products and packaging, and want to be thought of in that light,” she said. “Even Head & Shoulders wants to reaffirm they are about healthy skin and scalp.”

The anti-dandruff shampoo brand was the recent sponsor of Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan’s June Skin Awards and have since licensed the Hearst Skin Awards logo in advertising and products, meaning more dollars for the titles. Meanwhile, Unilever, which owns sustainable and paraben-free personal-care brand Love Beauty Planet, had not run in Women’s Health before the Hearst acquisition, but has now become the No. 1 beauty business driver for the title this year, said Lagani.

At Condé Nast’s Self, which went digital-only in September 2016, non-endemic advertising has gone up, due to editor-in-chief’s Carolyn Kylstra diverse and inclusive approach to wellness content. “For so long, wellness was thought to be exclusively for wealthy, skinny, white women, and you’re not able to help readers if they don’t feel included in your world view,” she said. In June, Self unveiled its first digital issue featuring plus-size model Tess Holliday — according to the title, that story had 170 percent more unique visitors, 1,995 percent more social views and 23 percent more engagement than the average Self story during the June to October 2018 time period.

Though Self has cut its weekly content production of 150 stories in half to do more in-depth and science-backed reporting, year-over-year traffic is up 88 percent to around 7 million unique monthly visitors in September, said the title. Since then, Bree McKenney, head of marketing for The Lifestyle Collection at Condé Nast, reported that new advertisers like Maybeline, J.Crew, Asics and Kay have driven incremental business in 2018.

Making moves outside of pure media
Besides digital advertising dollars, Self is looking to other wellness revenue opportunities, such as its custom Self challenge for the fitness app Aaptiv. And on Thursday, Self launched a rev-share activewear line collaboration with Beyond Yoga — the brand’s first clothing line. It will also debut a podcast in the first quarter of 2019, which will also be sponsored by advertisers. Elsewhere, Women’s Health is blowing out its wellness revenue opportunities with more of an experiential arm as founding partner and primary media sponsor of the new international women’s sports festival, the Aurora Games in 2019 to be held in Albany, New York. It will also debut its Sunrise Seekers festival and club that will offer hikes and runs in localized markets — the tentative date for that live event franchise is June 2019.

Experiential has also worked for Well+Good, as it has been offering monthly Well+Good talks with a wellness theme, like CBD or the psychology of self-care, since October 2017 — all of those panels have sold out with around 120 attendees and $35 tickets. (An expanded talk at the New York City 92Y saw 800 guests at that pricing structure.) Additionally, Well + Good launched its retreats series in March — three- to five-day wellness stays at luxury hotels like The Standard Spa, Miami Beach. Those range in price from $1,400 to $3,400. While Well+Good doesn’t break out experiential revenue from media, Gelula, said its events continue to be a growing segment of the business and a chance to connect with readers and consumers offline. “We aren’t jumping on a trend here; we’ve been a part of the wellness movement for almost 10 years, and we think have also helped drive it,” she said.

But as more and more media companies want a piece of the wellness pie, Seave actually thinks it the traditional publishers that might be better equipped to capture more of the market. “Wellness is here to stay — it’s so relatable to men and women and food, fitness and lifestyle — but the larger companies might have the tools, reach and research to capitalize better,” she said.

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