“The Internet and its potential really spoke to me,” says visionary publisher Rodney Friedman. “The librarians caught onto it first. They were using it as a tool very early on. I just thought the Internet offered so much more.”
Indeed. Mr. Friedman, a seasoned veteran of both print and online publishing, has experienced a professional life filled with both extraordinary successes and a few missteps along the way.
He is publisher and editorial director of University Health Publishing, and received the 2006 Mequoda Publisher of the Year award earlier this month at the Mequoda Summit in Waltham, MA.
During his distinguished career, Mr. Friedman has founded two prominent health publications—the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter and the Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50—and was an Internet pioneer during the dot-com era when he founded WholeHealthMD.
His latest venture, with publishing veteran Stuart Jordan, is the John Hopkins Health Alerts website, an exemplary model of the Mequoda System.
University Health Publishing is a publisher of consumer health information. It started as a print newsletter publisher in 1983, when Mr. Freidman decided to create a health wellness newsletter for consumers and market it by direct mail.
“Rodney Friedman is a visionary whose creativity and business acumen are reflected in a lifetime of achievement in the publishing world,” said Don Nicholas, Mequoda Managing Director. “With the launch last year of the John Hopkins Health Alerts website, he has demonstrated his devotion to embracing innovation while staying true to his mission of helping ordinary people be smart consumers of health and medical information.”
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Highlights and observations from Mr. Friedman’s career
- Was graduated from Hobart College and received his law degree from George Washington University.
- Launched the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter in 1984 as founder-publisher-editor.
Mr. Freidman decided to create a health newsletter exclusively for consumers and market it by direct mail.
“Wellness is much more than simply the absence of sickness. It is optimal physical, mental, and emotional well-being, a preventive way of living that reduces—sometimes even eliminates—the need for remedies.”
“Wellness emphasizes personal responsibility for making the life-style choices and self-care decisions that will improve the quality of your life. One crucial tenet is that preventing illness is even more important than treating it, especially since many chronic diseases are incurable.”
The Wellness Letter has more than 350,000 subscribers in the U.S. and Canada (plus thousands of readers of its foreign-language editions). U.S. News & World Report, The Baltimore Sun, Money Magazine and The Washington Post have rated it No. 1 for its “brisk,” and “reasoned” coverage of health issues.
The Wellness Letter relies on the expertise of the School of Public Health and other researchers at University of California at Berkeley, as well as other top scientists from around the world. It translates this leading-edge research into practical advice for daily living—at home, at work, while exercising, and in the market or health food store.
- Launched The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter Health After 50 in 1989.
“Our mission was to make better health care consumers.”
“We were not (previously) talking about any medical subjects. The thought was that doctors didn’t have enough time for patients. Our feeling was that we could give you the information so that you know all about your disease.”
- “In 1993, we launched the Johns Hopkins White Papers. If you had a very specific disease, we were going to give you everything you need to know to be on a one-to-one relationship with your doctor. In some cases, we had information that the doctors didn’t have. We were reading all the studies. In all fairness, most doctors don’t have the time for that.”
“The idea was to even up the score and make you a very effective consumer of health care—ultimately with the hope that you would take much better care of yourself.”
“We can lay out the information in a very clear but very sophisticated way. The service we’re offering is looking at all the information and giving you Johns Hopkins expert opinions. It’s very important to us that every White Paper and every Johns Hopkins Health After 50 article has bottom-line advice. If we can’t give you an answer, then we’re not going to write the article.”
- “In 1999, we launched the Johns Hopkins Bulletins. These were single-subject, quarterly newsletters priced at $149, very current and in-depth. What we are promising is to give you information about what happened over those last three months, 20 pages long, from the head of the Johns Hopkins department of whatever disease it is. And then we also offer a service of answering people’s specific questions.”
- Also beginning in about 1999, Mr. Friedman was an Internet pioneer during the dot-com era when he founded WholeHealthMD, which failed to thrive.
“As a company, we tried several different ventures, and none of them worked out. We were kind of dysfunctional at the time. My partner at the time was an older man who just couldn’t grasp the Internet. He couldn’t use a typewriter much less a computer. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust me; he just couldn’t imagine what we were talking about.”
“What I finally did was ignore my current business, which was very much based on respected institutions and their authority, and we did a website called “WholeHealthMD.”
“Our idea was to get these doctors to help the Internet visitor treat non-threatening illnesses effectively. We launched this site with the backing of Whole Foods Market, a big seller of dietary supplements. The idea was, we were the doctor’s office that prescribed certain dietary supplements, and then you could click over to Whole Foods Market and they would fulfill your prescription.”
“It was a neat idea. It was very elaborate. We offered food for treating your disorder. We also would tell you how conventional medicine would treat it. We weren’t necessarily prescribing medicine.”
“We developed quickly, with a pretty big staff of 75-90 people, developing this website. We were able to get our part of it working very well, with advice on more than 100 disorders. We had a very good technology team, and were able to get our algorithms to work fairly well.”
“It was a difficult problem and Whole Foods—they’re a great grocer—had a lot of trouble getting their (online) market working. When we had nothing to show for our efforts, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, with great prescience, pulled the plug on the whole thing.”
- In 2004, Mr. Friedman completed a long protracted buy-out of his former print newsletter business partner. Soon thereafter, Stuart Jordan, a publishing industry consultant and long-time friend and collaborator, joined University Health Publishing as chief operating officer.
“When we took over the company in 2005, our first mission was to get online. We started devising our web strategy.”
“Stuart was actually a consultant to the business from Day One. Stuart and I had a very close working history over 15 years. My passion is really the creation of new product. I brought Stuart in to be our COO, and specifically to be responsible for marketing and finance. It’s a very fortuitous situation. He completely understood our mission. It’s a perfect fit.”
- In May 2006, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Jordan launched Johns Hopkins Health Alerts.
“With the help of Mequoda, we chose to launch Johns Hopkins as our real first web venture because we had a lot of products.”
Today, as an independent company that operates under a license agreement with Johns Hopkins, University Health Publishing has taken its leading brand—Johns Hopkins Medicine—and developed 26 paid products that it markets to a database of more than 12 million customers.
During the past year, the publishing company has overseen a 10-step transformation, starting from its core print title— Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50—to a multi-million dollar media empire.