‘The Martha Stewart of Astrology’
It’s happened exactly four times since beginning this story. It starts with “There is an astrologer out there that everyone seems to be reading,” and ends (quickly and excitedly) with “Wait, are you writing about Susan Miller?”
Some are devoted to her; others don’t believe a word she says. But either way, Susan Miller has built a website that over 6 million people flock to monthly—and somewhat of a celebrity status, with more than 100,000 Twitter followers and a byline that graces the pages of magazines such as Elle in the U.S. and Vogue in Japan.
Miller has made her name synonymous with her hugely popular astrologyzone.com, a website she started nearly 17 years ago in the infancy of what we then referred to as the World Wide Web.
“Whether it’s her monthly horoscope, or the daily horoscope or the one she writes for Elle--however you get Susan--you always know it’s her. You can hear her voice,” explained Joe Zee, creative director of Elle and host of Sundance Channel’s All on the Line with Joe Zee. “She resonates with people, so instead of being like most horoscopes that feel generalized, Susan is specific.”
Miller, an NYU business major, said that from the beginning, her writing style has always been very personal.
“When I’m writing, I am talking to one person. And as I write, I say to myself, ‘Oh that’s interesting, but I need to fully explain what’s happening in order for the reader to take advantage of it,’” said Miller. “So I write a lot…. My fingers need little pillows.”
It’s no exaggeration. According to Miller, she pens around 45,000 words every month. That length and specificity seems to be fundamental in differentiating her from the competition, which often offers shorter snapshots.
Thirty-four-year-old Mo Koyfman, a general partner at the venture capital firm Spark Capital, said the reasoning behind her fame is simple.
“She works harder than anyone else in the industry,” he said.
Koyfman, who was early investor in Twitter, isn’t someone you would immediately peg as an astrology fan, but he said it’s a subject whose validity has withstood the test of time.
“There are many different points of entry into the brand. If you want to just read her free monthly horoscope, that’s fine. But if you want more, you can buy her books or go to an event.”
“I think being born at different times in the year does have a real impact on you as a person,” he said. “And while I don’t always listen to it, it’s certainly another piece of input into my decision-making.”
And he is not alone. According to a study by Pew Research Center, 25% of all Americans believe in astrology. That comes out to roughly 78 million people.
Rose Pilato, senior director of communications for beauty company Fresh and an Astrologyzone reader, said Miller has been able to tap into many different types of people because of the way she has branded her business.
“She has been able to elevate herself by working on joint projects with luxury brands like Christian Dior, Club Monaco and Fresh,” said Pilato. “But she also appeals to the masses with her free monthly horoscope.”
Pilato, who described Miller as the “Martha Stewart of astrology,” said her business model is democratic.
“There are many different points of entry into the brand. If you want to just read her free monthly horoscope, that’s fine,” said Pilato. “But if you want more, you can buy her books or go to an event.”
“Susan’s popularity is mostly by word of mouth,” said Zee, who described himself as someone who loves astrology but doesn’t live and die by it.
“I think it can be an element of entertainment, an element of fun,” he said.
Pilato said that Miller’s site focuses mostly on light and helpful guidance.
“I don’t think Susan promotes that fearful need to live by her words,” she said. “I mean, I am always surprised how correct she is, and I do look at specific days that are better and worse for events, especially since I’m in PR. But I don’t get caught up in it point by point.”
Miller, who wouldn’t disclose revenues, said there were many times in the past that Astrologyzone was on the brink of failure. (In the first decade of existence, she had exclusive deals with Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) before finally deciding in 2001 to become an independent entity.)
But Miller said it was her passion for astrology, which was her second career (she had a 20 year run as an agent for commercial photography before starting the website), that pushed her forward.
“I believe we all have free will and have to take responsibility for our actions,” explained Miller. “I simply look for times of opportunity and constriction.”
She credits her mother, who secretly studied astrology and taught Susan the craft, with ultimately giving her the guidance to start her own business.
“She told me that when I was older, I’d write. And that when I got close to 40-years-old, there would be some newly invented form of communication, so new that she didn’t know the name of it yet, but that it would change the way I worked and would be the channel in which I made my ultimate contribution to the world,” said Miller.
Believe Miller or don’t. But as an entrepreneur, she is thriving--and has continued to embracing new technologies. Early on, she started publishing eBook versions of her books (she has written nine so far)-- and today uses the latest in social media and iPhone and Android apps to build the company (which she says grows a consistent 5-6% every year).
“Susan probably saw the Internet was the way to go early on, maybe intuitively,” Zee mused. “But, you know, she also could have just seen it in the stars.”
Follow Christina on Twitter @ChristinaScotti