Bill Harper is publisher of the largest circulating yoga magazine in the world, Yoga Journal. Based out of Active Interest Media’s corporate offices in El Segundo, just north of Manhattan Beach in LA, his day is nonstop. Between managing a portfolio of products, keeping in touch with teams across time zones that stretch from NY to San Francisco, and granting time for interviews such as this one, there’s no doubt that he maintains the balance with a liberal dose of yoga.
Here’s what Bill had to say about running a successful brand and the state of the yoga today.
Bill, what’s a typical day like for you as publisher of Yoga Journal?
I would say a typical busy day usually starts in my house at 7:30 in the morning when I check emails from my sales staff on the East Coast.
As the publisher, I am essentially in charge of advertising revenue. This entails 3 specific areas – print magazine, online digital, and event sponsorships such as the upcoming San Diego Yoga Journal Conference. My main day is filled with generating ideas that sales people can sell with: what does the yoga market look like, what areas do we see growing, where do we see opportunities.
I leave the house at around 8:30 and, as my cell doesn’t work in my house but does in the car, I talk to teams in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston, and finish up on what we didn’t cover via email. I do like to talk versus email, and spend most of that 45 mins in the car on the phone. By 9, I’m at my desk – fortunately, or unfortunately. Then it’s communications with staff. I also work on Vegetarian Times.
The web has taken a much bigger part of my time because traffic is growing about 30% a year. We redesigned Vegetarian Times this year, which was very successful, and we’ll probably go through a pretty good sized redesign for Yoga Journal next year. Though there’s not a lot to do visually, there’s some back end to fix.
In terms of time, I spend 30% on web business, 40% on print business, and 30% on conference business/sponsorship as we have 4 conferences a year (San Francisco, New York, San Diego, and Colorado).
You’ve been with Yoga Journal for about 6 years. Before that, you were at Wenner Media working on Rolling Stone, US Magazine, and part of the launch team on Men’s Journal. How different is it working for Yoga Journal?
Well, all are high profile magazines – very high quality and succinct in their mission statements. It gave me an opportunity to look at the yoga market and craft the way we would sell Yoga Journal to the advertising community… and really bring attention to the strength of the yoga market. Luckily, it has been growing and going in the right direction for me. Before Rolling Stone I was at Esquire, so I’ve really done nothing but magazines for my entire working life.
Yoga Journal has great editorial product, great graphics, and great photography. (Working here) It’s almost like night and day in terms of philosophy – the inherent goodness of the people on the staff, and what the magazine communicates outwardly. I guess at one time I became critical in my own life about messages sent out through everything from the television, magazines, and movies… and I was really looking for a place where I could work and feel good about the editorial products and the message that the product delivered. That’s where I think Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times are impressive products that really help people live a better life.
So I do feel good in selling the content and the audience of the magazine to advertisers.
How has circulation of Yoga Journal’s portfolio of media increased over time?
We’ve had a very steady increase on the website; we’ve had a steady increase in the conferences; the magazine has been pretty consistent. In the state of the advertising industry at the moment, there’s more money going into digital and face to face interaction, with advertisers wanting to reach out to customers via sampling and ‘touch-feel.’ The good thing about the magazine is that it has been consistently strong. For the past 5 years we’ve been at a 350K circulation. It may not be growing as quickly as the other areas but we’re happy with it. The worst thing is to be with a magazine whose market is declining.
Yoga Journal has been available on tablet platform since February 2012 with Kindle and Nook, and we’ve been on the Google newsstand since about 2 weeks ago. So, every Android device will have Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times available on it. We’ll be on the iPad in September. (Given this) there should be a big increase in the next 2 or 3 years.
Of print, about 50K is sold on newsstand, and there are 300K subscribers. Of the subscribers, 4 to 5% subscribe digitally.
With publishing undergoing all sorts of changes, what changes has Yoga Journal made in the way it shares content?
The majority of the people who read Yoga Journal practice yoga and look for everything from tips on yoga philosophy, to help with asana sequencing. The big change that has taken place is that we do relate the magazine’s content directly to the website – to make it come alive. Yoga is about movement and that’s where the website and video comes in; to show what the movement (sequencing) is all about.
Why do you think yoga has become so popular?
People have become more conscious of their wellbeing but it’s sometimes hard to find that on your own. I think that there are so many news and media outlets that write about yoga these days – it seems like it started 5 years ago with NYT, WSJ, LA Times, and local newspapers covering a lot. Then along came celebrities like Ashley Judd to Madonna and Lady Gaga. It’s very much out in the market place. Then, you get these big events like the Times Square Solstice where people go, “Wow, I guess I should be doing this…”Then they start doing it (yoga) and realize, “Wow, this is actually pretty good. I like this!”
Just look at the events like the one in Times Square, to upcoming global yoga in Central Park – I think they’re shooting for 15,000 people there. There are these large scale events that are bringing yogis and local communities together that keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s these kinds of things that begin to influence how big the yoga market is to advertisers.
MRI has been measuring yoga since 2001 (their studies include people 18 years and over). In 2001, 4.4 million people were doing yoga, now, there’s 14.5 million.
Were you a yogi before you started at Yoga Journal?
Actually I was not. I was very surprised by how difficult yoga was, and how good it was – not just mentally and emotionally, but physically. So I pretty much started out with Hatha Yoga and did basic flow for a period of time; then did Ashtanga until I pulled my hamstring. I practice at home most of the time. Every once in a while I’ll look at one of the over 200 videos on the Yoga Journal website.
What’s some advice you would give yogis the world over, in terms of their practice?
I would say that you never know until you try. Stick your toe in – the water’s great!
Marina Chetner is a writer, hot yogi, and passionate world traveler. She writes about all things travel inspired on her eponymous blog, marinachetner.com,and Bikram yoga related on bikramyogamusings.com. At the moment, her favourite asana is Floor Bow because it is such a challenge, she can’t get enough of green juice, and Tokyo is at the top of her travel ‘to do’ list. You can follow her on the aforementioned blogs, or via Twitter: @mchetner.