Magazines Spin Off Kid Versions

Publications capitalize on name recognition to go after the eight-to-14-year-old market

IN the lexicon of your kids, there's a magazine-publishing trend that's ``phat.'' Or maybe they'd call it ``chill.''

By whatever handle, creating piggyback periodicals for eight-to-14-year-olds is definitely ``in.'' Capitalizing on the name recognition and reach of profitable parent magazines, more publishers are producing junior editions.

The National Geographic Society has been doing this for almost 20 years with National Geographic World for children. More recent arrivals include Outside Kids, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Zillions (Consumer Reports for Kids), and a once-a-year, nonprofit Money for Kids.

Media analysts say it's like retail apparel companies developing clothing lines aimed at the children of their adult clients.

``One of the biggest challenges in starting a magazine is not only identifying who your audience is, but how to get to them,'' says Stephen Masten, a Sandy Hook, Conn.-based magazine marketing consultant. ``These publishers have the advantage of having a huge in-house list of readers, and it's fairly easy to identify which of them have kids.''

And the synergy can go both ways as young readers graduate to the parent publication. ``We think we'll be feeding readers to Sports Illustrated,'' says Craig Neff, editor of Sports Illustrated for Kids. ``By age 13 or 14, they're starting to read both SI and SI for Kids.'' But Mr. Neff and Zillions editor Charlotte Baecher say many readers don't make the leap from the junior to the senior versions because of the cost or because the content of the adult magazine doesn't speak to 15-to-20-year-olds.

Editors tend to describe the motivation for the spinoffs in more altruistic or philosophical than business terms.

``Our publisher, Larry Burke, saw his readers growing older, and many have children now,'' says Lisa Bessone, editor of Outside Kids, a quarterly magazine begun last year. ``We feel that ... being outside is the best way to live. And growing up outside is the best way to grow up. That's an important message for kids.''

The editors of these magazines bristle if one implies they are producing watered-down versions of the adult magazine.

``There's some overlap on the business side, and some of us used to work at SI, but this is a separate publication,'' Neff says. ``Our goal is to encourage literacy by drawing on kids' passion for sports. But there is no great flow of ideas from SI to us.''

Indeed, the editorial and advertising departments operate apart from the parent magazines. ``We are a guerrilla unit,'' Bessone quips. ``We've got to make it on our own.'' Most seem to have borrowed only the guiding philosophy and theme from their parent publications. The design and content are distinct.

Outside Kids, for example, covers the environment, sports, and wildlife. But the articles are often by and about teens. For the autumn issue, Outside brought six youths to the magazine's headquarters for a weekend of research mixed in with climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding and ``pigging out.'' The result: eight photo-laden pages on ``What's Cool.'' The same edition includes a sports clinic on how to do an ``Ollie,'' a basic stunt for skateboarders, and a four-page feature on Tamas Brooks, a 12-year-old who works at a sanctuary for wolves.

The editors are adults who agree that input from readers is crucial. Some have teen advisory boards, some send out up to 1,000 questionnaires after each issue to gauge what works. Others rely on public schools, focus groups, or reader letters. Most employ a combination.

Sixteen-year-old Lauren Moskowitz of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., is on the Zillions ``Z-Team,'' a squad of 100 youths nationwide that the magazine draws upon for comments, research, and articles. ``It's fun, and you feel like you're making a difference,'' Miss Moskowitz says. Lately, she's tested instant hot chocolate, cold cereals, and toys.

All the magazines emphasize building self-esteem. ``Kids Did It'' is one of the most popular features in World. ``We try to teach without being preachy,'' says Neff at SI for Kids, mentioning ``My Worst Day,'' a feature by athletes telling about a bad day and what they learned.

Like Highlights for Children, the granddaddy of kids' magazines, the new piggyback magazines are stuffed with quizzes, mazes, riddles, contests, and other interactive features. But from a design standpoint, the difference between Highlights and Sports Illustrated for Kids is akin to the difference between the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

To adults, the pages may seem frenetic. The eye bounces around to often a dozen or more items on a page. Typefaces may change on a word-by-word basis. Short articles are the standard. Cartoons are common. ``We found kids 8 to 14 like wild presentations and lots of white space,'' Neff says. ``They are not eager to sit down to a lot of text.''

Highlights editor Kent Brown Jr. says he prefers magazines that emphasize lasting values rather than pop culture. But, he says, ``It has to be fun for kids and anything a child reads is positive.'' As for the new competition, Kent says, ``We have to stay on our toes, but I don't think one or two more magazines will do us in.''

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