Print for Children: the Boom in Children Magazines

Cover von ´Dein Spiegel`; © Spiegel VerlagCover of “Dein Spiegel”; © Spiegel VerlagAccording to the newspapers, publishers of weekly magazines are now discovering children as a new target group. 2009 saw the launch of several magazines targeting girls and boys of elementary school and kindergarten ages. How much may they expect of children?

“Actually, the 14 piglets would soon have survived the worst”, writes editor Julia Bonstein in Dein Spiegel: “Closely cuddled up with each other, they survived freezing nights”. The 14 piglets live in the wildlife preserve of the city of Bochum, and in Bochum the revenues from the business tax have decreased significantly since the onset of the financial crisis. The operation of the whole wildlife preserve is ultimately financed by those revenues: food alone costs € 8,000 per year, not including the salary of the keeper. Will the boars have to move? Will they have to be even killed?

“Economizing Until It Hurts” is the title of the feature by Julia Bonstein, published in the third 2010 issue of Dein Spiegel. The new children’s magazine is aimed at girls and boys from eight years of age. Economizing at the wildlife preserve, at the playgrounds and the libraries: using the story of the piglets, Dein Spiegel illustrates the effect of the financial crisis on the city.

The first political children’s magazine

Cover of “Dein Spiegel”; © Spiegel VerlagThe new offshoot of the news magazine Der Spiegel has a circulation of 150,000 and is published monthly. It was launched on the occasion of the 2009 federal elections. But can we expect children to be able to deal with news stories about lying politicians and financial misery? Or in other words, can we expect children to be able to deal with the truth?

We can, if we are to believe the chief editors of the Spiegel, Matthias Müller von Blumencron and Martin Doerry: “Children are interested in nearly all subjects in politics, history, society, science, culture and sport”. According to Doerry, the children’s magazine was developed by a small group of editors. They had their own children in mind as readers. Now the core editorial team consists of four members. They write themselves for Dein Spiegel and also commission articles from a pool of over 20 editors who write for its big brother.

“There’s never really been a politically oriented magazine for children before”, says Doerry. The new editorial concept has aroused the interest of a highly educated class: the majority of parents not only buys the magazine for their children but also read it themselves. For Doerry, it is natural “that parents read the magazine if only so as to be able to talk with their children and draw their attention to particular stories”.

Trendsetter Geolino

Cover of “Geolino”; © Gruner + JahrWith Dein Spiegel, Spiegel Publishing is following a trend that began with Geolino. The latter was initially planned as a single issue. Today it is the children’s magazine with the largest circulation: the magazine, issued by Gruner + Jahr Publishing, appears monthly, has a circulation of 240,000, and is aimed at eight to fourteen year-olds.

According to editor-in-chief Martin Verg, the magazine was launched in 1996 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund UNICEF. The initial idea was that editors of the adult magazine Geo would write articles only about children on behalf of UNICEF. But the authors didn’t want to write about children, but rather for them. “The magazine sold so well that the publisher decided to issue it regularly”, says Verg. About 20 text editors, picture editors, graphic designers and journalists expend great effort to produce the articles, says Verg: “Various editors work together closely, sometimes symbiotically, on every individual story”.

Cover of “National Geographic World”; © Gruner + JahrAnother of Gruner + Jahr Publishing’s magazines isNational Geographic World. It is aimed at girls and boys between seven and thirteen years of age. “The magazine is a bilingual science magazine with an audio book for young explorers”, explains editor-in-chief Andrea Schwendemann. It relies on outstanding photography in the quality of its parent publication, reportage, interactive elements and a cartoon character, Marvi Hämmer. And since March 2009, there has been a monthly magazine even for children from five years age, entitled Geomini.

The young customers

Cover of “Geomini”; © Gruner + Jahr“Children are an increasingly important target group”, confirms a survey of chief editors carried out at the end of 2008 by the Federal Association of Newspaper Publishers (Bundesverband Deutscher Zeitungsverleger /BDZV). Over 150 publishers participated. According to the BDZV, 76 per cent of the publishers try to attract children with editorial offerings such as children’s news, children’s pages, read-aloud stories and comics.

How can it be that children’s magazines are experiencing such a boom when the Internet is continually gaining ground in the children’s room? “Because parents are driven by the desire to advance their children, to give their children as much education as possible”, says Kathrin Kommerell, author of the guide Journalismus für junge Leser (i.e., Journalism for Young Readers). The economic pressure in turn forces publishers to think of subscribers. They therefore attempt to bind children to their products as early as possible.

Discussed is whatever attracts attention – including crises, catastrophes and wars. “There are no taboo subjects; on the contrary”, says Kommerell. “It’s always important to find a life-affirming and forwards-looking aspect that allows children to show compassion, but not to wallow in it”. The more children understand of the world, she thinks, the less anxiety they will have. The only things a magazine for children should not be is boring or difficult to understand.

And the piglets? They didn’t have to move or die. A friend of the wildlife preserve, Thilo Elsner, has known it since he was a child. He and 120 other citizens have founded an association that takes care of the animals – on a voluntary basis and without pay.

Arnd Zickgraf
is a science journalist and writer living in Bonn.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
May 2010

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