The big business of astrology apps

The latest wellness trend to ride the tech wave, customized astrology is popping up in apps, memes, and newsletters—and its future has never been brighter

Ah, you’re a Libra,” says Ross Clark, founder of the new astrology app Sanctuary and a member at New York City’s WeWork 12 E 49th St. “You excel at communication and writing—this story will be great!”

It’s the first time a CEO has asked about my sun sign during a phone interview, but it’s unlikely to be the last—the mystical-services industry, which includes astrology, tarot, and psychic readings, raked in an estimated $2.2 billion last year alone, and the internet is making astrology more accessible than ever. Astrology memes—where the zodiac meets popular culture—are a staple of Instagram and websites, and many investors are looking to get a piece of the $2.2 billion mystical-services market with apps (like Sanctuary) that offer daily horoscopes, custom forecasts, and guides to the planetary happenings of each season, hoping they’ll become as integral a part of the wellness landscape as meditation, yoga, and clean eating.

Clark sees a direct connection between astrology’s popularity online and the larger cultural focus on wellness. “People are looking for systems and meaning,” he says. (Sanctuary produces monthly horoscopes for WeWork and hosts astrology events at WeWork spaces in New York and Los Angeles.) That’s one reason Sanctuary, which just announced its own seed round of $1.5 million, focuses on offering live readings via the app—the only such service on the market.

Sanctuary’s daily horoscopes are free, but paying members of the app (membership runs $19.99 a month) get access to one 15-minute text-based reading with a Sanctuary astrologer each month. “It opens up this experience to new audiences,” says Clark. “Folks who might be in an area where they don’t have access to an astrologer or who don’t know how to find an astrologer, now have a seamless method of access to delivery.”

Clark believes Sanctuary’s readings are complementary to the detailed, often hours-long chart readings many astrologers provide, and he says many of the professional astrologers who do readings for Sanctuary (about 30, but Clark expects that number to grow) agree. “From a practice perspective, what folks have been really excited by is being able to extend what they’re already doing to new audiences and new platforms,” he says. “And then from a business perspective, everyone really likes having an incremental revenue source in addition to what they’re doing on their own.”

Astrology fan Banu Guler didn’t set out to launch her own app—but she spotted a gap in the market and jumped on it. “A few years ago, a good friend was pregnant and I made a book-length reading of the baby’s natal chart,” says Guler, founder and CEO of the astrology app Co-Star. “At the baby shower, the other guests loved it, and asked if I could make one for them and their children.” Guler realized that despite the glut of horoscopes printed in daily newspapers and monthly magazines, detailed astrological charts weren’t readily accessible to the average person. In the fall of 2017, Co-Star was born.

The app, which in April 2019 announced that it raised $5 million from Silicon Valley venture-capital firms, uses data sourced from NASA and personalized readings generated by artificial intelligence to offer daily horoscopes, but its most popular feature illuminates the social aspect of astrology. Friends using the app can link birth charts to test their astrological compatibility—a fight with an Aquarius coworker, for example, might make more sense to a Leo based on the app’s analysis. For $2.99, users can input the birthdates of people who aren’t on the app to assess compatibility with a blind date or potential new boss. Guler says that Co-Star’s users, which skew young and female, come to the app for different reasons. “Self-care, self-improvement, self-actualization, entertainment, everyday guidance—that’s just to name a few,” she says.

Other digital astrology offerings are tailored to a particular audience. Astrologer Jeanna Kadlec offers a subscription-based newsletter, which uses astrology to help writers and creatives pitch, write, and grow their businesses (a subscription costs $5 a month or $50 a year), grew organically from her Twitter feed. “The newsletter form made sense,” she says. “And the number of subscribers has grown wildly with each one, which is really exciting.”

Kadlec credits technology with expanding her reach. “Astrology has been around forever,” she says, “but the internet—and especially the rise of social media—has democratized our access to information, especially knowledge that has traditionally been more obscure and harder to get your hands on.”

On Twitter and Instagram, it’s hard to scroll for more than a few minutes without seeing an astrology meme, and the accounts that run them are becoming household names. Not All Geminis, an Instagram meme account run by Courtney Perkins, has amassed nearly half a million followers in a year’s time, while the Astro Poets (poets Dorothea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov) have parlayed their cult Twitter following into a gig writing an astrology-advice column for W.

For Clark, the astrology-meme landscape is useful to Sanctuary’s goals in a key way. Everything the brand shares, he says, has to be “a mixture of educational and entertaining content, so it’s not just about a meme that makes you laugh, it’s also about explaining, ‘What do the 12 houses mean?’”

Whether your interest in astrology stops at memes that tell you what celebrities share your sun sign or draws you deeper into an investigation of your own goals, there’s no denying that astrology apps, websites, and social media accounts have something to say—and most of the time, it’s encouraging and supportive, if not prophetic.

“Today would be a great day to write,” says the astrologer I’m paired with for a reading via the Sanctuary app. “Use your communication skills to share information with the world!” Done.

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