FamilyFun Expands Amid Industry Downturns
Parenting magazines, however, seem to have weathered the storm better than many of their female-oriented peers. While they too have seen a slide in newsstand sales - the genre's three preeminent titles, Parenting, Parents and FamilyFun, are down between 15.1 and 18.3% against the first six months of 2002 - such sales barely register a blip within the parenting category. Parents, in fact, is the only title whose newsstand sales comprise as much as 4% of overall paid circulation, according to FasFax data released this week by the ABC.
It is in this environment that FamilyFun, one of Disney Publishing Worldwide's flagship titles, is attempting to chip away at category leaders Parents and Parenting. In terms of ad pages, the gap remains relatively wide - according to the Publishers Information Bureau, FamilyFun has notched 323 pages during the first seven months of 2003, compared with 825 for Parents and 629 for recent ASME honoree Parenting. But with the addition of FamilyFun 1·2·3 (a supplement aimed at parents of children three years old and younger) and the promise of closer ties with other Disney holdings, the magazine is clearly on the rise.
"When we launched in 1990, 'family' was like a dirty word in the world of magazines," says publisher Mary Beth Wright. "All these years later, look at how many women are choosing to stay home. When we hear that somebody like Country Living is starting a supplement aimed at families, it certainly gives a lot of credence to the path we've been taking."
Indeed, ABC numbers for the six months ending June 30 reveal that FamilyFun is up 11.9% in total paid circulation over the year-ago period, while Parenting (up 0.8%) and Parents (down 0.2%) have stalled. FamilyFun has also hiked its rate base every year since its inception, a distinction held by few other titles. It currently sits at 1.75 million; the magazine has already announced plans for a jump to 1.85 million effective in February 2004 and Wright anticipates hitting the two million mark in late 2005. "We shouldn't have any trouble getting there," she says.
While the recession has squeezed and even gutted smaller titles in any number of magazine genres, FamilyFun hasn't had much trouble navigating the treacherous ad waters of the last two or three years. Much of this is attributable to the breadth of the parenting-magazine category: recession or no, families will always need food and clothing, meaning that packaged-goods companies and retailers will never cut back too drastically on ad spending in magazines that reach moms efficiently.
Similarly, parenting mags don't rely too heavily on any one ad category. Food companies may be FamilyFun's biggest benefactors, but the magazine also generates substantial ad revenue from automotive companies (think minivans), computer hardware and software manufacturers (especially during the back-to- school period) and pharmaceutical suppliers (allergy medications for children, for example). "After what we've seen over the last few years, diversity [of advertisers] should be important to anybody who's running a magazine," Wright says.
To this end, FamilyFun 1·2·3, a supplement, which debuted in the mag's September issue, should provide additional marketing possibilities. The concept isn't especially complex: take the established FamilyFun editorial concept (activities for three- to 12-year-olds) and replicate it for the newborn- to three-year-old set. "We can go to companies targeting first-time moms that might not be inclined to advertise in FamilyFun," Wright explains, identifying makers of diapers, learning toys and infant food as primary targets. With ads from Baby Einstein, Gymboree and Gerber, the first issue bears out Wright's supreme confidence in the concept. 1·2·3 will return in November, then publish five times in 2004.
With FamilyFun on safe marketing ground, Wright's attention is mostly focused on bolstering the magazine's brand. "We want to be to families what ESPN is to sports fans," she says, shrewdly referencing one of FamilyFun's corporate siblings. Given Disney's extensive resources and the respect accorded the publication by advertisers, her plans don't seem overly ambitious.
"I'd love to see a FamilyFun television show on ABC. I'd be thrilled with segments on Good Morning America or The View. And there's any number of things we can do with Radio Disney," she says. "There are so many wonderful assets within this company that we really haven't tapped into over the last 12 years."