‘I was thinking about the future of fitness’: Australian influencers are using subscription fitness apps to monetise their huge online followings

  • Australian fitness influencers have been releasing smartphone apps to monetise their large online followings.
  • These apps usually offer custom exercise routines, recipes and other resources through a subscription model.
  • While these apps can be lucrative, influencers also have to deal with long development times, ongoing costs, and an increasingly saturated fitness app marketplace
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Often filmed performing picture-perfect exercise repetitions while clad in pristine workout gear, fitness influencers are a major part of modern online culture.

These online content creators build an audience through social networks like Instagram and YouTube by posting about exercise, nutrition, psychology, and everything in between.

Fitness influencers monetise their audiences in a range of different ways, such as sponsorships or by selling products. But, increasingly, the biggest creators are creating their own custom fitness apps as a means of earning an income.

These applications generally offer workout routines, often with instructional videos performed by the influencer, as well as recipes and other resources. Such apps have seen a surge in popularity recently, in no small part thanks to people being confined to their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Madalin Giorgetta is a Perth-based fitness influencer who launched her app, Work it with MG, in early 2019 after more than a year of development. Prior to this, Giorgetta had sold fitness ebooks and had a clothing sponsorship.

She said creating an application offered a new way to share her exercise knowledge with her audience, which includes more than 860,000 followers on Instagram.

“I was thinking about the future of fitness,” she said. “People don’t want to print off a PDF, they want something that’s accessible, easy to use and affordable.”

Giorgetta said she’s seen a boom in interest in fitness apps as people are confined to their home during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a lot of people are trying to work out at home. They’re looking for exercises that they can do at home. These people are are turning to exercise and workout apps,” she said.

These applications offer influencers a way to monetise their audiences in a predictable, consistent way, according to Jared Cohen, who founded Tempo, a company that develops fitness apps for influencers.

“Their communities want access to the content and want to support the influencer’s work. Influencers provide their communities with value and should let their communities reciprocate. It’s a perfect alignment of interests,” he said.

Tempo is one of a number of companies that are offering customised fitness apps as a service. Ranging from skinning a application template to completely new designs, these developers use their technical knowledge to provide a structure around a creator’s content.

Cohen said that subscription-based business model helps influencers avoid any conflict of interest that might come from advertising or sponsorship.

“Follow the money if you want to know who someone is working for. If you follow the money to the community, then the community is being served. If you follow the money to the advertiser, then the advertiser’s interests are primary,” he said.

Giorgetta’s application uses what she calls a “pay what you can” model which starts at $4.99 a month, with the option to pay as much as $19.99 a month. Soon after she launched, she had more than 10,000 subscribers.

“It used to be most of my income came through my application. Although, since I changed my messaging and stopped promoting weight loss, it’s not making as much money,” Giorgetta said.

Perhaps the best known example of an influencer-based fitness app is Sweat, a workout app from Australian personal trainer Kayla Itsines.

Launched in 2015 at $19.99 a month, Itsines’ app generated more revenue than any other fitness app in 2016.

Today, it is still the second highest grossing fitness application in Australia, according to analytics firm App Annie.

Itsines’ empire, which also includes income from books and fitness resources, was valued at $486 million in 2018.

Giorgetta warns that the eye-popping numbers that come from back-of-the-envelope calculations of her revenue don’t reflect what she actually earns from her app.

“There’s a big amount that goes to Apple, and you have to pay developers, and – because it’s an app – people expect it to evolve, more workouts and more recipes to be added,” she said.

Competition from an increasingly saturated fitness app market and the long lead time for development both factored into the cost of the application. And, Giorgetta said, people underestimate how time consuming it is to produce professional content, because it can appear to be effortless.

“It all takes a huge amount of time. Even just taking images can take so long,” Giorgetta said.

And while Giorgetta thinks that she’s been able to help people, she worries that some consumers are subscribing to some influencer’s apps because of the creator’s appearance or brand rather than the quality of the app.

“I think they form a relationship with you. They trust you. They like you. I do think it also includes women buying apps because they want to look like the person selling them,” she said.

“That’s a big part that people don’t like to say.”