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New Generation of Magazines Targets Fun-Seeking Families

As affluent baby boomers settle down, publishers try to cash in

MOVE over, Rolling Stone.

Make room on the upscale coffee table for Family Life, a new magazine founded on the premise that as baby boomers trade rock for the strains of "rock-a-bye baby" and the fast track for the family track, they need a family-oriented publication of their own.

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That at least is the hope of Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone, who is gathering no moss as he launches his fourth magazine.

The glossy publication made its debut last week with a newsstand distribution of 300,000 copies. It is targeted at baby-boom parents with children between the ages of 3 and 12.

"These parents may have waited a bit longer to begin their families," explains Julie McGowan, publisher. "Now their values and priorities have shifted squarely to the family arena."

Upbeat features in the premier issue include an article on dinosaurs, an interview with Tipper Gore, a profile of a top-ranked public school in Chicago, and a column by Harvard University research psychiatrist Robert Coles.

The magazine, which will be published every other month and costs $12.97 for a one-year subscription, also serves as a buying guide for everything from computers and dictionaries to school fashions and children's haircuts - the latter ranging from $6 to $65.

Although Ms. McGowan insists that Family Life is "not an elitist magazine," she agrees that it has "an up-market feel." One hint of the affluence of its intended readership comes in an article titled "A child's guide to home computing." Supposedly written for children despite words like "acquisitional" and "sclerotic," it says: "Your parents can afford more than they think, as always."

That is certainly the hope of the magazine's advertisers, who range from BMW, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren to Tide, Oxydol, and Playskool.

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The publication of Family Life comes 2-1/2 years after the arrival of FamilyFun, also aimed at parents of the 3-to-12 set. Founded by Jake Winebaum, who honed his editorial skills at US News & World Report, Time, and Fortune, the 400,000-circulation bimonthly will become a monthly in November. A one-year subscription to FamilyFun costs $9.95.

Mr. Winebaum, the magazine's president and editor, shuns buying guides and fashion, concentrating instead on "great ideas for how to spend time with kids. We try to focus on what we feel is the most precious and valuable resource a family has, which is the time they have to spend together."

The October issue, now on newsstands, includes such features as "50 Great After-School Activities," "How to Haunt Your House," the art of pumpkin-carving, and how to curate a family museum.

Part of the appeal for both publishers is demographic. Fifty-two million Americans have children between the ages of 3 and 12, according to Winebaum. These parents are the nation's biggest consumers. "They use a lot of products," he says. Beyond numbers, McGowan notes that there are "psychographic" reasons for launching a family magazine.

"The old-fashioned thinking was that when you married and had children, it closed a door on the jazzy part of your life," she says. "That thinking is very much reversed. People who are in that boat feel it doesn't close a door, but it opens a door to a more profound kind of joy than other things are able to provide."

Both magazines want to appeal to fathers. Although 95 percent of FamilyFun's buyers are mothers, according to Winebaum, 40 percent of the readers are fathers. He avoids articles written specifically for women on the grounds that these "tend to scare off men."

A similar philosophy prevails at Family Life. It excludes advertisements for diapers and feminine hygiene products, which, as McGowan explains, "might make men feel, 'This magazine is not for me.' "

For a brief period, it appeared that Family Life and FamilyFun would share newsstand space with Family Adventures, a travel and adventure publication for parents and children between the ages of 5 and 15.

But the premier spring and summer issue of Family Adventures earlier this year drew too little response, and Hearst Magazines scrapped plans for future issues.

"It was a good magazine, but the timing was a little off," says Edie Finley, assistant to the publisher at Hearst Magazines.

Winebaum says he is confident that increasing competition will not threaten FamilyFun. In 1992, he sold the magazine to the Walt Disney Publishing Group, a move that he says "gives us unique access to the largest customer base of families in the world."

Although Winebaum acknowledges that "it's brutally difficult" for families to carve out time together, he emphasizes the importance of doing just that. As a child, he recalls, "I did a ton of stuff with my folks. Those are my strongest memories. It's not what parents buy for kids, it's what they do with them. Those are the memories that stick in your head about your childhood."

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