The first year, we produced four issues and nearly drove ourselves crazy. The second year, we produced six issues and nearly drove everyone around us crazy. The third year, we figured some things out, produced 10 issues and wondered how a mere six could possibly have seemed so hard.
Now, seven years into this amazing project, we’re beginning to realize that what we’ve accomplished is something of a minor miracle.
It’s no longer about the number of issues or pages we produce. Thanks to a terrific team of supremely hardworking editors, art directors and production folks (and a very supportive executive committee), we’ve got the nuts and bolts of our relatively humble little publishing project down to a pretty decent science these days. We’ve thought about doing 12 issues, but honestly, with a magazine as deep and dense as ours (we pack in about twice the content most typical health and fitness publications do), we doubt anyone would have time to read them all.
Nor is it about outrageous growth. Yes, we’ve gone from a circulation of 250,000 to better than 600,000 over the course of the past few years, and we even managed to elbow our way onto the very crowded newsstand during that time. But driving sales growth has never been our main focus. We’re fine with having a lower profile than the majority of our competitors. We don’t advertise much. We don’t do a lot of direct mail. And ultimately we care less about how many million “impressions” we make than how many actual lives we change for the better.
So what’s special about us isn’t how fast we’ve grown or how long we’ve been around. What’s remarkable about this magazine, I realize, is that we’ve managed to stay true to our improbably idealistic vision and service ethic in what has turned out to be one of the most brutally competitive publishing environments of the last 100 years.
Despite enormous industry pressures (more than half of all startups fail before the end of their first year), we’ve never caved on our no-gimmicks, no-hype promise. We resisted a lot of the “expert” advice we’ve gotten to make our covers more formulaic or our headlines more outrageous and sensational.
We haven’t given an inch on our commitment to deep, discerning reporting on the health and fitness issues that really matter. And we’ve never forgotten our core mission of helping people create better, healthier, more satisfying lives — even in the face of the complex cultural and environmental challenges of the moment.
I have said before that I believe choosing to live a healthy life in today’s society is essentially a revolutionary act.
It requires bucking all kinds of unhealthy trends, and sometimes it requires behaving in ways that other people regard as “weird” (if only I had a dollar for every quizzical look I’ve gotten after asking a restaurant staffer what kind of oil a dish was cooked in). But even though it’s rarely convenient, making the revolutionary choices required for good health pays off hugely in the long run, and it gets easier over time.
In the same way, I believe that this magazine has turned out to be something of a revolutionary publication. And while it might have been easier to follow a conventional path, staying true to our commitment has paid off in all kinds of wonderful ways we could never have imagined: the letters of thanks from readers of all ages; the words of approval from health heroes we admire; the renewal cards that arrive with “Keep up the great work!” notes scrawled in the margins.
Today, thanks to our new Web site, we’re getting even more great feedback. We’re also getting more opportunities to connect with you, the people who make everything we do so well worth the effort.
If you haven’t already checked out the new site at experiencelife.com, please do. You’ll find all sorts of groovy new tools that make browsing, searching and sharing a breeze. You’ll also find some great new blogs and podcasts from our edit staff (including me), and plenty of opportunities to add your own voice to the mix. And, of course, you’ll find our archives — a seven-year crumb trail leading back to that very first, humble issue (we blush a little looking at it) that got us started down this miraculous and marvelous path.