Knock Knock. Who’s There? ChopChop, the new food magazine for children. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with ChopChop’s Editor in Chief Steven SlonApril 19, 2010
“Cooking is the one area where print beats digital for convenience.” “The very old and the very young are both still reading printed material.” “I think the classic magazine revenue model is dead.” The aforementioned soundbites are but three sentences of the many words of wisdom Steven Slon, the editor in chief of the new children’s magazine ChopChop had to see in the Mr. Magazine™ interview.
The newest entry to the children’s magazine market focuses on food as its corner stone, but also covers health and nutrition as it ventures into new areas no other children magazine have ventured before. Both on the business side and the editorial side ChopChop takes a completely different approach to launching a magazine and to reaching an audience ignored by magazine publishers for so long.
I asked Mr. Slon (via e mail) who was, for years, the editor of AARP, The Magazine (aimed at 50+), and now the editor in chief of the new magazine ChopChop (aimed at 5+) about the shift to editing a children’s magazine, the magazine marketplace today and the future of print. What follows is the complete exchange with Steven Slon.
Samir Husni: With the internet taking off faster than a speeding bullet, iPads and other tablets moving printed magazines and books out of the front page news, why would you start a printed childern’s magazine?
Steve Slon: Cooking is the one area where print beats digital for convenience. You want to be able to lay the pages displaying the recipe open next to where you’re working. No matter if it gets splattered on or lightly dusted with flour. You can’t place your ipad,iphone, or Kindle on the stove. Or near it. And, yes, you could print a recipe and carry it to the stove, but that’s a couple of extra steps. Having made all these points, we are building out a website as we speak, and have future plans for developing apps and other tools of the hand-held communication world.
SH: Do you know whether it makes a difference for kids to read from a laptop, digital device or a printed magazine or book? Any studies you are aware of? etc. etc.
SS: Don’t know of any studies per se, but our mission is to reach children of all economic levels, with special attention to children at and below poverty level. Low income families are much less likely to own a computer. According to a recent paper, “Home Computer Use and the Development of Human Capital,” in the U.S, “less than half of children with family incomes under $25,000 lived in a household with a computer, compared to 92 percent of those with family incomes over $100,000.” [Citation from Stephen J Dubner’s blog, PDF of paper at http://www.columbia.edu/%7Ecp2124/papers/computer.pdf.] That said, even young children who have computers enjoy the tactile and visual pleasures of holding a book or magazine in their hands.
SH: The Food Network magazines is doing very well and so are the rest of the new food magazines, what are the odds for ChopChop to make it in this crowded marketplace?
SS: There isn’t much in the market aimed at children. But what makes us different is primarily a) Quality and b) Authority. I’ll explain in a minute, but let me back up first and say that we’re competing, not as a magazine, but as a health and nutrition educational resource that happens to be in the form of a printed magazine. We began by marketing ourselves to pediatricians who are extremely frustrated by their inability to make the slightest dent in the massive and growing childhood obesity crisis. They feel that they are spitting into the wind when they tell a family with overweight children that the children need to watch their food intake and exercise more. Lecturing doesn’t work. ChopChop, for them, is a tool that they can “prescribe” to families. And pediatricians are telling us they are thrilled to have this tool at their disposal. The big goal is to move the dial in the direction of cooking and eating together as a family. So, our mission is not really to produce a magazine, but to encourage nutritional literacy that will last a lifetime. That said, it’s a great magazine! Unlike most “educational” materials, ChopChop is lively and engaging and fun. It has the look and feel of a consumer publication. So, back to the point of our differentiation: We’ve put together a top-notch team of veteran magazine-industry designers, photographers, and reporters—all working pro bono to support what we all feel is a valuable mission. (Please note especially the charming profile of a 14 year old chicken farmer by Susan Orlean.) As to the second point of differentiation, authority, our brilliant and charismatic founder Sally Sampson, a well-known cook book author, is deeply networked in the health community, particularly in the Boston area. She has put together an advisory team that includes leading names from Harvard, Tufts, BU and more. This kind of backing and knowledge can’t be replicated.
SH: How would you describe today’s children’s magazine marketplace? Is it in a state of growth or retreat?
SS: The beauty of ChopChop magazine is that it is completely outside the classic magazine model—children’s or otherwise—in that we do not depend on newsstand or advertising—and in fact, while we offer subscriptions, that’s not a serious revenue stream either; subs are only for the convenience of people who’ve heard of the publication and want to get it at home. We are supported in the most part by foundation, government and corporate dollars. We also receive modest levels of financial support from schools, children’s hospitals, childrens’ clubs and pediatricians.
SH: Will it matter where your great content is consumed? On the screen or on the pages of the magazine?
SS: For the present, it’s better in the printed magazine form, for reasons covered in the first question. And also because the product needs to be tangible in order for pediatricians and family physicians to “prescribe” it to their patients. In the future, that model may shift as the tools for transmitting information change. But for now, we think it works best as a physical entity.
SH: What advice you will give for someone coming to you and saying “I want to start a new kid’s magazine…” What would you tell that someone?
SS: Magazines succeed with their audience if they connect in a personal way. I would say, you’ve got to think like a kid and imagine what you’d want a magazine for you (as a kid) to be like. On the business side, I’d say, you’ve got to think very creatively. You have to do something different. I think the classic magazine revenue model is dead.
SH: On a personal note, you have made an 180 degrees switch from editing a magazine for the 50+ (AARP, The Magazine) to a magazine for the 5+. How does feel to make such a move?
SS: For one thing, the very young and the very old are both still reading printed material. The old because of custom, and the young because of school. (Schools are not completely wired…yet.) But, yes, of course it’s different. And, it’s a wonderful change of pace. I need regular change and big challenges to keep the juices flowing.
SH: What is the goal and vision of ChopChop and what do you expect to accomplish from launching such a magazine?
SS: I think I said some of this above, but our mission is to “Teach kids to cook and to be nutritionally curious and literate; Empower kids to actively participate as health partners with their families & doctors; Establish and support better eating habits for a lifetime of good nutrition; and σtem the tide of unhealthy children who are growing into unhealthy adults.” Our grand vision is to reverse and prevent childhood obesity.
SH: What are you doing to ensure a print future in a digital age?
To paraphrase the character Vinnie telling Robert De Niro about the murder of Joe Pesci in the movie Goodfellas, “[it’s] gone and we coudn’t do nothin about it.”