Running Times closure: A manifestation of the modern runner or a symptom of market conditions?

December 16, 2015 9

TunningTimes_Flash© Copyright – 2015 – Athletics Illustrated

“The Authoritative Voice for the Dedicated Runner,” the masthead reads. “The magazine explores training, from the perspective of top athletes, coaches and scientists; rates and profiles elite runners; and provides stories and commentary reflecting the dedicated runner’s worldview.”

This mission statement was not written for the eyes of the modern runner.

Launched in 1977, by Ed Ayers, Rick Platt and Phil Stewart, three serious long distance runners, whose aim with Running Times Magazine was to appeal to the fan of the sport as well as to the elite and sub-elite runners. It was a niche product for 38 years, the latter decade with a company that produces far more popular publications such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Prevention as well as the most subscribed-to running magazine in the world, Runner’s World Magazine – Rodale’s fourth most popular product.

Although there was a management shakeup at Rodale Inc., in November 2015, which resulted in Maria Rodale – the granddaughter of the founder, Jerome Irving Rodale – to become chairman and CEO, her arrival at the helm – according to Rodale – was not related to the decision.

A Rodale Inc. spokesperson told Athletics Illustrated, “The difficult decision to no longer publish Running Times will enable Runner’s World, which already serves runners of all ages and abilities, to broaden its ambitions, connect with runners in new ways, and cover the sport of running more deeply.

As we continue the company’s transformation from publisher to healthy living company, we are focusing on our core business and areas with the greatest growth potential,” which isn’t much different than what they said publicly days earlier.

Despite the belief that magazines are a dying breed, there is actually significant growth. During the past four years the market has grown in the US, however, significant growth simply spreads the advertising and subscription dollars across a greater number of competitive markets. During 2012, 227 magazines launched and 82 folded, during 2013, 138 launched and 45 closed. The following year 190 launched and 99 closed. Over the first six months of 2015, 60 magazines launched and 23 closed; demonstrating a consistent trend. Over four years there is an increase of 366 magazines in the US alone.

A fair quantity of the revenue that was directed toward magazine publishing has moved online and into social media marketing. indicated in a July, 2015 article that print advertising accounted for 59.2% of sales, a significant decline from 73.8% in 2011.

But not only have the dollars continued to move online, so have the readers. Website traffic data supports a marketing value proposition when it is completely trackable. And much deeper information is available too. Anytime a publisher can know how many people are viewing their website, what pages they are viewing, why the visitor showed up, what website referred them and other powerful pieces of information, such as how many visitors visit for any segment of time, how long they stay on the site, what city they are in and what pages they exited from, they have in their hands very valuable data that no other media can compete with. None of this is available with print; all of it is available live on the internet.

Although saying that, Rodale’s top four magazines apparently have 800,000 paid subscribers; this is a strong value proposition for advertisers. In print, unlike radio, television and the digital world, the publisher can control the output volume in a measurable way; online publications have live access to the traffic, while broadcast media must rely on surveys. The most powerful value proposition lies on who has the data.

One day digital will kill the radio (and television) star.

Hopefully Runner’s World follows through on their inferred promise of covering the sport more deeply and in a more broad way.

Author and long-time running journalist and contributor to Running Times, Jack D. Welch told Athletics Illustrated, “The sport is diminished by the loss of Running Times.  I thought of RT as the most literary of the current running magazines.

Scott Douglas and later Jonathan Beverly had an inner purity which came through with their willingness to promote longer pieces of good writing.

I might have done some of my best work for them because I knew, as did their readers, these guys loved running and they loved a good story.

That’s about all we looked for in a running magazine.

Which we saved in tall piles.  And re-read.  And re-read.”

Currently, Let’s Run and various other online publications produce or aggregate content that is of interest to the competitive runner. They do so in a timelier fashion than print can and the aggregated stories collected from around the internet can be clustered onto the home page, providing easy access to all of the latest news one could possible want.

Sadly, Running Times Magazine’s time has run out.

Deena Kastor said, “Being a long time subscriber, it is unfortunate to see Running Times end its publication. I can only imagine it’s because its owner, Rodale, sees that one magazine can cover the sport in a broad way. Runner’s World touches a diverse running population so maybe they no longer need for the two print products to dilute readership. It is my greatest wish that the contributors of Running Times continue to write and follow the sport with equal passion; only then will the sport continue to be rewarded with highlights, editorials, results and studies…

…many, many thanks to Running Times staff and contributors for a good, long run.”

Running Times served its niche market well. It died on the vine, not because of a lack of quality editorial, quite the opposite, but for several factors, including the increase in magazines competing with each year for the same dollars, a growth in online publications supplying readers with more instant content and an audience who are moving away from (for now) well-written editorial commentary and perhaps the masses preferring lighter content.

While market conditions ebb and flow, especially in the media vertical, just the same the migration to easier-to-lunch-on stories may be a manifestation of the modern runner. A runner who is perhaps seeking fine knowledge on the inner workings of a fuel belt  or a cross-training method to participate in, that ironically helps the runner to ultimately avoid running or at least reading about it in a meaningful way.


  1. SallyFiver December 18, 2015 at 5:29 pm -

    I find is strange that there are 366 new magazines in the recent four years and also every time that I go to the grocery store there are hundreds of magazines on everything.

    Also because Rodale said that they are moving to a healthy living company from publishing there is more to the story there.

    They only want big dollar producing publications.

    • Wence December 19, 2015 at 6:07 pm -

      They probably think that RT was a lot of work for a little gain.

  2. Bob1 December 18, 2015 at 5:15 pm -

    I forget. Can you click-thru a magazine ad?

  3. Christopher Kelsall December 18, 2015 at 5:13 pm -


    Interesting. Perhaps there is room for some elite publications, just not a whole bunch of them. Perhaps you have to have a paywall, like T&FNews does, to off-set dropping circ/subs….

    National advertisers are funny. If you invest in printing say for round numbers sake, 100,000 copies and you have a reasonable distribution system or distributor, then you can charge a fee for advertising, of course.

    But no one has any idea how many people and how many times each person has read the publication and if they saw said ad. There is no way of knowing for sure.

    With the internet, you can know every single fine detail down to browser, IP address, pages viewed, device type, length of visit, how many pages were visited, WHAT pages were visited and more, but the advertisers will pay a tiny percentage for online advertising.

    Personally, I’d rather know that my ad was seen 10,000 times for sure with 10 click throughs than have it out there in print and not knowing….ever….

    It is going to be some time before we figure out how this business model works….

    • HRE December 19, 2015 at 3:30 pm -

      I’m not sure how a paywall would affect advertisers in a print magazine so I can’t say much about that. As to knowing how many people see your ad, you can get a pretty good idea by knowing the circulation of whatever you’re advertising in. That’s why Runner’s World can charge a lot more than Marathon and Beyond could.
      I think my general distrust of big business comes into play here. I don’t doubt that Marathon and Beyond just wasn’t pulling in the bucks to keep going. I know Rich and Jan and know what they weren’t making. With Running Times I suspect that it was making money and might still be in business if it hadn’t been owned by Rodale who simply decided it was more profitable to kill it and make Runner’s World the only game in town.
      Obviously I have no evidence here. But the long term survival of Track&Field News, etc. proves that a magazine can survive without big circulation.

      • Christopher Kelsall December 19, 2015 at 6:01 pm -

        Yes you can get a general idea of how your print ad is doing and there are surveys done, typically annually, which are pretty good, but at the end of the day, you don’t really have absolute proof the way online does. You would literally have to be in people’s housed and coffee shops to witness them reading…as analytics are basically that for online publications. Currently online products are in a funny spot because Google adsense and other ad companies pay a tiny portion of what a directly sold ad gets. So if you can charge a subscription to enough people, it is for sure worth it even if you suffer at the ad impression level.

        I think you are correct that Running Times probably could make money as a product as is, but perhaps Rodale felt it was cannibalizing RW et al and therefore wasn’t profitable enough for the hassle…..maybe….

  4. HRE December 17, 2015 at 6:34 pm -

    I’ve written for two running publications over the years. I lived around the corner from Ed Ayres when he, Phil, and Rick were starting RT and did a couple features and some race reports. In recent years I’ve had several pieces in Marathon and Beyond. Both publications went down within weeks of each other. Maybe the lesson is not to let me write for your magazine but that might be a bit grandiose.
    Joe Henderson and I have discussed the state of the running magazine and obviously it seems that there is only market enough for one national running magazine. Certainly the internet has drawn away subscribers and readers who can get material much sooner there than in a monthly or bi-monthly magazine.
    And yet I suspect there’s something more going on. Track and Field News really should be the national athletics magazine most adversely affected by the internet. Essentially their content is results with a few features mixed in. Who waits a month or more to see what happened at Stanford in April or Chicago in October now? Probably half of T&FN’s content is stuff everyone already knows. And yet it hangs on with about the same circulation it had in the days when inventing the internet was still on the bottom half of Al Gore’s “to do” list.
    But they aren’t alone. Athletics Weekly is actually going to cpme out more often than weekly at certain times of the year, or so I read. Assuming I read correctly, then “What the…?” New England Runner and Runner’s Gazette have each been around for about as long as Running Times was and show no signs of going anywhere.
    The common thread I see running through all four of those publications is that they are aimed at fairly small and very specific audiences and seem to have no pretentions or ambitions for “bigger” things. They want the serious runner or the serious athletics fan and have largely ignored the fitness or fashion runner. Running Times, and maybe Marathon and Beyond as well, seem to have landed somewhere between Runner’s World and Prevention and Track&Field News, etc. in their sought after audiences. Maybe they managed to overreach and under reach at the same time. Joe told me once that he would have liked to have turned Runner’s World into a distance racing version of Track*Field News. Running Times sort of went that route but at times seemed to me like they just couldn’t resist trying to be a bit more like Runner’s World and maybe they failed because they never quite were either.

  5. Mizner December 16, 2015 at 12:49 pm -

    That’s interesting Runbei. Seems a tad short-sited as even the corporate-climbing women like to see a man with a shirt off et al….in fact they are a little prejudiced about it….kinda like men are with not so hot women. If they are hot it will sell.

    I for one am going to miss Running Times.

    Runner’s World? Getting the message?

  6. runbei December 16, 2015 at 12:43 pm -

    I worked at Runner’s World as an assistant editor and staff photographer from 1972-76. I saw it evolve from a wonderful runner-operated magazine that completely represented the populist running movement, to a Madison Avenue-oriented advertising medium that a noted Chicago-area running crank once called “Fast Marathon Women.” In other words, it catered to the high-income reader who would read articles written by PhDs that doled out formulas for reducing their marathon times. (The cult of the marathon as high-stakes advertising medium.) And it ALWAYS had a picture of a woman on the cover – because images women supposedly appeal to the male reader, and women are a high-stakes target demographic for the sportswear and shoe industries.

    Meanwhile, Running Times took over the role of speaking to all runners. It was wonderful — interesting, practical, and operated by great guys who spoke for the true spirit of running, and who didn’t all have PhDs and speak in dry, phlegmatic, authoritative tones.

    I’m exaggerating – a bit – because Runner’s World did have a wonderful positive asset in its editor, Amby Burfoot, who won Boston in 1968. Amby, as anyone knows who’s familiar with his character and personality, is a true Mensch, as is his wife, Cristina Arragon (sp?).

    I conclude that if RW can loosen its bug-eyed focus on preserving its voice as the big-shot authority of the running world, and let the former RT editors take it back to its populist roots, the change might be a good one. But, somehow I doubt it will happen – the attraction of being Runner’$ World will be too great. Only Amby and Roger Robinson will be worth reading now, as always.

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