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Kazoo: A Magazine That Puts A Different Perspective On What It Means To Be A Little Girl In Today’s World – It’s Not Always About The Lip Gloss – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Erin Bried, Founder, Kazoo Magazine

October 31, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

Kazoo issue number 2.

Kazoo issue number 2.

“It does feel like a radical thing to do at this moment, for sure. But I think kids in particular still crave, and in fact, require printed material. There are statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children have on average seven hours of screen time per day, which is insane. No parent wants that for their child. And I don’t think it’s satisfying for kids either; it’s not engaging. And I know this is true of my daughters; kids like to have that tactile sensation; they like to turn and feel the pages and see the bright colors. And also go back to stories over and over again, without all those annoying popup ads and the low-battery lights; all of those things.” Erin Bried (On whether anyone asked her during this magazine journey if she was out of her mind to launch a print publication in this digital age)

“The act of holding a magazine in your hands and turning the pages gives you some breathing room and some time to focus and concentrate. It gives you a moment to pay attention and sit with material and come back to stories over and over in a way that the Internet doesn’t allow. It’s just so fast paced. It just gives kids space to think and dream. With Kazoo that’s what I want for them. I want girls and boys too, but girls especially, to come to these pages and be inspired. Here’s a scientist who’s studying space and meteorites that come to Earth, and what if I could do that? And I don’t think you have the room to daydream like that on the Internet and to imagine your future like that when you’re on the computer and you’re constantly clicking forward and backward and bookmarking and closing popup ads. It just doesn’t give you the space to do that like print does.” Erin Bried

Kazoo is a new kind of print magazine for girls – one that offers a world filled with more than the color pink and shiny lip glosses. Its founder, Erin Bried, is an author and veteran of the publishing industry. She decided to launch Kazoo magazine as an alternative to the staunchly stereotypical girl’s magazines that are out there in the marketplace and give her readers, target age 5-10 years old, something a little meatier to engage with; a magazine that promotes critical thinking and strong women, both past and present, and gives its readers successful and admirable role models to consider.

It’s a lovely magazine with a fresh and energetic take on the world of little girls. And it’s a Mr. Magazine™ selection for one of the 30 Hottest New Launches, well-deserved, I might add. I spoke with Erin recently and we talked about her vision for Kazoo, both before the first page was ever printed and now, after the second issue has been completed. Having been unable to find any magazines that reflected her daughter’s passions and interests, such as science and tree-climbing, Erin decided that it was time to fill that niche. So, Kazoo was born through Kickstarter and a lot of support from readers who obviously agreed with Erin, as her campaign was the highest-grossing journalistic endeavor in history for the crowdfunding resource.

I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a woman who knows innately that to offer children the world, there’s no better way to do it than through a great magazine; the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Erin Bried, founder, Kazoo magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

Erin Bried. (Photo by Circe)

Erin Bried. (Photo by Circe)

On that moment when she discovered that there was a niche, a place for a new type of kid’s magazine: Yes, it all revolved around that trip to the bookstore with my five year old. We were picking up some books and then we stopped by the newsstand and I looked at all of the titles. I’m familiar with the adult magazines, certainly, having been in the industry for so long. But I hadn’t really paid too much attention to the kid’s magazines up until then, when my older daughter came of age and started reading them. So, I figured we would stop by the newsstand and see if we could find something good for her to read. And I was so shocked by the offering on the newsstand and the lack of diversity for girls. Every cover we saw that day had a little girl in lip gloss and makeup on the cover; stories on good manners or pretty hair, or about her personal drama, and I just wanted so much more for my daughter.

On the prevalence to launch new magazines these days via a crowdfunding source such as Kickstarter: I think it’s such a fantastic platform for us. I chose to launch through Kickstarter because I wanted to see if there was a big enough audience right away. I know how hard the print landscape is right now and I wanted to make sure that I was launching a successful enterprise with a big enough and passionate enough audience behind it.

On whether anyone stopped her during this journey to ask if she was out of mind for launching a print magazine in this digital age: It does feel like a radical thing to do at this moment, for sure. But I think kids in particular still crave, and in fact, require printed material. There are statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children have on average seven hours of screen time per day, which is insane. No parent wants that for their child. And I don’t think it’s satisfying for kids either; it’s not engaging. And I know this is true of my daughters; kids like to have that tactile sensation; they like to turn and feel the pages and see the bright colors. And also go back to stories over and over again, without all those annoying popup ads and the low-battery lights; all of those things.

On the biggest stumbling block she’s had to face and how she overcame it: I wouldn’t say that there has been a stumbling block; I think it was a tremendous blessing for us, but we took off so quickly. We finished the Kickstarter and I had scheduled the first issue to come out only three months later, which in retrospect I wish I would have allowed myself a little bit more time (Laughs), because we spent the first few weeks fulfilling all of the rewards for the Kickstarter. So we were sending T-shirts and bags; kazoos and stickers all over the world. And that was very time-consuming. We’ve had such tremendous growth so quickly, and for that I am so excited and grateful. And we’ve had to adapt to that quickly as well. I was doing the envelope-licking and stuffing and managing the subscriber data base myself with this increasingly unwieldy Excel spreadsheet. We finally got help for that and I think it will make a huge difference in freeing up my time and brain space to think harder and longer about the actual making of the magazine.

On the most pleasant moment for her throughout this experience: Despite all of the glue on my tongue from the envelope licking, the entire process has been so exciting, heartening and inspiring. And I have loved every second of it. We have gotten such incredible reader feedback everyday on social media. And through email we get pictures of our readers clipping the magazine with their art projects. Now we’re starting to get mail from them with pictures they’ve drawn and funny jokes they want to share, and questions they want us to ask scientists.

On whether she thinks there is room for more children’s magazines in the marketplace that are purely circulation driven and with no ad revenue: I certainly think there is more room; we’re definitely proof of that. There is nothing like Kazoo on the newsstands. There is nothing with such a strong point of view. And I think that’s what sets up apart; every story in Kazoo is either developed or inspired by a top woman in her field.

On whether she believes that’s the future of the magazine industry; to be more circulation driven than advertising driven, especially in print: We don’t have any ads between our covers and I think that’s because no parent wants their kid wading through advertisements; these aren’t savvy consumers, and they don’t know the difference between editorial and ads. And I want our editorial to remain pure. Most magazines make most of their revenue through advertising and I feel like that can be a problematic paradigm.

On whether she hesitated when she made the cover price of Kazoo $12.50: I was a little concerned about that, but then I thought of all of these major consumer magazines and if you pulled out every ad page, the quantity of editorial in Kazoo is certainly comparable. So, will parents pay a higher premium to protect their children from a constant barrage of advertisements; I think so.

On having an online presence: You have to have an online presence, that’s the way we connect with the parents of our readers and let them know what we’re doing. To be a quarterly; you put your issue out and then you’re sort of quiet for a few months, and I want to maintain the relationship throughout the whole year, every day.

On what role she thinks the printed magazine plays in today’s digital age: The act of holding a magazine in your hands and turning the pages gives you some breathing room and some time to focus and concentrate. It gives you a moment to pay attention and sit with material and come back to stories over and over in a way that the Internet doesn’t allow. It’s just so fast paced. It just gives kids space to think and dream.

On whether she will publish a Kazoo for boys: As far as boys go, we certainly welcome boys as our readers; our target is girls, but I think it would be amazing for boys to subscribe to Kazoo. There’s nothing about the actual content of the magazine that boys couldn’t read and enjoy. They could do the mazes, read the short stories, and do the science experiments. There is nothing gendered about it. Would I launch a separate magazine for boys? Not right now.

Erin Bried  with daughters, Ellie (5) and Bea (1). The daughters are Kazoo’s Tiny and Teeny Editors. (Illustration by Libby Vanderploeg)

Erin Bried with daughters, Ellie (5) and Bea (1). The daughters are Kazoo’s Tiny and Teeny Editors. (Illustration by Libby Vanderploeg)

On what made her decide to go with the handwritten-type covers: I wanted it to be colorful and playful and engaging, and also accessible for our readers. Our five-year-old readers are only just learning to read, so they’ll be reading with their parents. Our ten-year-old’s certainly will be reading by themselves, so I wanted it to engage and be accessible to all of our readers.

On anything else she’d like to add: One thing I would like to say about Kazoo is you hear a lot of talk about how we need to inspire our girls and help them feel confident and all of these different things. That’s often the talk we hear about what girls need and require, but I think what’s different about Kazoo is young girls are our target readers, ages 5-10, and they already know that they’re smart. They already know that they can be silly and run fast and they can do anything, this is not new information to them. It would be shocking to them if you told them otherwise.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up at her home one evening unexpectedly: Right now, after the kids go to bed, I’ll often hop back on the computer and do more work while the house is quiet. But yes, a glass of wine is always such a nice way to end the day, and some conversation with my better half. Going out to dinner in Brooklyn; any of those things sound great.

On what keeps her up at night: (Laughs) What doesn’t keep me up at night? It’s been a little bit difficult lately. My kindergartner was having a thing at school where her whole class takes a bite of an apple at the same time, and I woke up in the middle of the night because I had forgotten to put an apple in her bag. I got up and put the apple in her bag, so it can be something as trivial as that, to what artist are we going to use for the spring issue? Which fiction author will write our next short story?

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Erin Bried, founder, Kazoo magazine.

Samir Husni: You’ve managed to receive a lot of publicity and write-ups about Kazoo and about your story; would you mind telling me about that moment when you discovered there was a niche, a place for a new kind of kid’s magazine?

Erin Bried: Yes, it all revolved around that trip to the bookstore with my five year old. We were picking up some books and then we stopped by the newsstand and I looked at all of the titles. I’m familiar with the adult magazines, certainly, having been in the industry for so long. But I hadn’t really paid too much attention to the kid’s magazines up until then, when my older daughter came of age and started reading them. So, I figured we would stop by the newsstand and see if we could find something good for her to read.

And I was so shocked by the offering on the newsstand and the lack of diversity for girls. Every cover we saw that day had a little girl in lip gloss and makeup on the cover; stories on good manners or pretty hair, or about her personal drama, and I just wanted so much more for my daughter. She’s not interested in any of that. She’s more interested in climbing trees, running fast and playing pirates. There was nothing on the newsstand that we saw to reflect her interests and her passions.

So, we left that day with no magazines and she was just totally OK with it; she didn’t think twice about it. As we were walking home I kept thinking about it. I kept thinking how terrible it was that I could not find anything for her and that we could do so much better for our daughters. These messages have real consequences in their lives; we’ve seen this in so much of the research.

Well, I tucked it in the back of my mind, but I kept thinking that somebody should do something about it, and it became one of those ideas that stuck. It kept percolating and percolating. Finally I thought if somebody is going to do something; I can’t wait on that. I had the background and I certainly had the skills, so I decided to do it. I was going to be the one to bring this into the world. And then shortly after that we launched the Kickstarter.

Samir Husni: It seems that almost three out of every ten new magazines I see have been launched via crowdfunding; via Kickstarter.

Erin Bried: I think it’s such a fantastic platform for us. I chose to launch through Kickstarter because I wanted to see if there was a big enough audience right away. I know how hard the print landscape is right now and I wanted to make sure that I was launching a successful enterprise with a big enough and passionate enough audience behind it.

And I was so happy and inspired to find out that there were so many other parents and uncles, grandparents and neighbors who felt the same way I did. Within 30 days we had raised over $171,000, which made us when we closed our campaign, the highest journalism Kickstarter campaign in history. And that was so exciting.

Samir Husni: Erin, you’re a product of this magazine industry and have been involved with so many things; did anyone stop you during this entire journey and ask you were you out of your mind to launch a print magazine in this digital age?

Kazoo

Kazoo

Erin Bried: (Laughs) It does feel like a radical thing to do at this moment, for sure. But I think kids in particular still crave, and in fact, require printed material. There are statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children have on average seven hours of screen time per day, which is insane. No parent wants that for their child. And I don’t think it’s satisfying for kids either; it’s not engaging. And I know this is true of my daughters; kids like to have that tactile sensation; they like to turn and feel the pages and see the bright colors. And also go back to stories over and over again, without all those annoying popup ads and the low-battery lights; all of those things.

Also, Kazoo is designed for kids to actually use and manipulate the pages. There are search and finds, where they will circle the hidden objects; there are mazes where they will take a crayon or pencil and mark right on the page and I think that’s very important.

And I was also heartened by the statistics that the sales of children’s books were up; they’ve gone up steadily over the years. I think it was a 13 percent rise last year, so children may buck this trend. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Now, with two issues under your belt; what has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Erin Bried: I wouldn’t say that there has been a stumbling block; I think it was a tremendous blessing for us, but we took off so quickly. We finished the Kickstarter and I had scheduled the first issue to come out only three months later, which in retrospect I wish I would have allowed myself a little bit more time (Laughs), because we spent the first few weeks fulfilling all of the rewards for the Kickstarter. So we were sending T-shirts and bags; kazoos and stickers all over the world. And that was very time-consuming.

But we managed to pull off a wonderful first issue. We had all of these great contributors from Alison Bechdel to Diana Nyad and Mickalene Thomas. So we did it. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t sleep very well, but we made it. So, I would have allowed more time.

And as I said earlier in our conversation, we’ve had such tremendous growth so quickly, and for that I am so excited and grateful. And we’ve had to adapt to that quickly as well. I was doing the envelope-licking and stuffing and managing the subscriber data base myself with this increasingly unwieldy Excel spreadsheet. We finally got help for that and I think it will make a huge difference in freeing up my time and brain space to think harder and longer about the actual making of the magazine.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you throughout this experience?

Erin Bried: Despite all of the glue on my tongue from the envelope licking, the entire process has been so exciting, heartening and inspiring. And I have loved every second of it. We have gotten such incredible reader feedback everyday on social media. And through email we get pictures of our readers clipping the magazine with their art projects. Now we’re starting to get mail from them with pictures they’ve drawn and funny jokes they want to share, and questions they want us to ask scientists.

And I have never before in my career felt so connected with the reader and so conscious of doing right by them. I want to exceed their expectations every issue, and I’m talking about both the kids and the parents. I just want to make it great and I want everybody to be excited. I want every issue to be better than the last. And just seeing the smiles on their faces and the art projects that they’ve been inspired to do, and getting these letters from parents that say things like their kids have never read out loud before, but they have been reading the stories over and over again to everyone. There is nothing better than that; there’s nothing more satisfying than that.

Samir Husni: There are plenty of children’s magazines in the marketplace and as you’ve said, the majority of them cater to the Barbies and the princesses of the category. When you look at magazines like Highlights, which for 70 years never accepted advertising and depended on circulation; do you think there is more room for children’s publications today that are along the same route as Kazoo, which is purely circulation driven with no ad revenue?

Erin Bried: Yes, Highlights is amazing with what they have done and what they’ve grown. I certainly think there is more room; we’re definitely proof of that. There is nothing like Kazoo on the newsstands. There is nothing with such a strong point of view. And I think that’s what sets up apart; every story in Kazoo is either developed or inspired by a top woman in her field.

Samir Husni: Do you think that’s the future of the industry; to be more circulation driven, rather than advertising driven, especially in print?

Erin Bried: We don’t have any ads between our covers and I think that’s because no parent wants their kid wading through advertisements; these aren’t savvy consumers, and they don’t know the difference between editorial and ads. And I want our editorial to remain pure. Most magazines make most of their revenue through advertising and I feel like that can be a problematic paradigm.

Samir Husni: You’re someone who is in the industry; you’re not some novice who just one day decides to start a magazine. You know how the industry works. Did you hesitate when you put a cover price of $12.50 on the magazine? For $12.50 I can get a whole year of some magazines that will remain nameless.

Erin Bried: Yes, it’s true, I was a little concerned about that, but then I thought of all of these major consumer magazines and if you pulled out every ad page, the quantity of editorial in Kazoo is certainly comparable. So, will parents pay a higher premium to protect their children from a constant barrage of advertisements; I think so.

There are two other reasons for our cover price. One is we print in the U.S.A., in Vermont, on recycled paper, which I think is important when you’re making a magazine for children to keep their futures in mind; we wanted to do it in a sustainable way.

And finally, I feel very passionately about the importance of paying your contributors, and I think that’s one of the problems with digital media. You have all of these websites that are asking for content and are not paying their contributors as well. And I want top contributors and I want to value our artists for their work. And to do that, you need to pay them.

Samir Husni: I love your P.S. in the first issue: Although Kazoo is print only by design, we have some cool stuff online.

Erin Bried: You have to have an online presence, that’s the way we connect with the parents of our readers and let them know what we’re doing. To be a quarterly; you put your issue out and then you’re sort of quiet for a few months, and I want to maintain the relationship throughout the whole year, every day. And let people know what we’re up to and what we’re excited about. We want to hear from them and find out what they want to see more of so that we can keep evolving the magazine, and keep everyone excited, happy and satisfied.

Samir Husni: In this day and age, where you see we are bombarded by information and we’re living in what I call an “isolated connectivity,” what role do you think the print magazine plays in today’s new generation?

Erin Bried: The act of holding a magazine in your hands and turning the pages gives you some breathing room and some time to focus and concentrate. It gives you a moment to pay attention and sit with material and come back to stories over and over in a way that the Internet doesn’t allow. It’s just so fast paced. It just gives kids space to think and dream.

With Kazoo that’s what I want for them. I want girls and boys too, but girls especially, to come to these pages and be inspired. Here’s a scientist who’s studying space and meteorites that come to Earth, and what if I could do that? And I don’t think you have the room to daydream like that on the Internet and to imagine your future like that when you’re on the computer and you’re constantly clicking forward and backward and bookmarking and closing popup ads. It just doesn’t give you the space to do that like print does.

One thing that I love that we do in Kazoo is that we illustrate all of our experts as they were when they we were young girls. So, I get photos of all of them when they were girls to give to whoever is illustrating our current issue, we have a different illustrator every issue, and they illustrate our experts. We get their childhood photos and we draw them as they were when they were kids, so our readers can more easily see themselves in these future positions of power. What does a future Fulbright Award winning cosmos chemist look like? She looks just like me. Or what does a future Olympian look like? She looks just like me. A future major artist or a future record-breaking swimmer; what do they look like? I just want our readers to be able to see themselves in every page of the magazine and imagine a future where they can be anything.

Samir Husni: Will you publish a Kazoo for boys?

Erin Bried: We get so many emails from parents asking about a Kazoo for teenaged girls and I always laugh and I’m so flattered that people will write and think why not just launch two magazines at once. (Laughs) It’s a wonderful idea, but I don’t think I can do that right now.

As far as boys go, we certainly welcome boys as our readers; our target is girls, but I think it would be amazing for boys to subscribe to Kazoo. There’s nothing about the actual content of the magazine that boys couldn’t read and enjoy. They could do the mazes, read the short stories, and do the science experiments. There is nothing gendered about it.

It would be amazing for them to see all of these wonderful women role models, because we don’t see them when you look around in popular culture. We don’t see them as much in politics, or hanging on the walls of our museums or in our Fortune 500 companies. We just don’t see women as much, so I think it’s important to carve out that niche for girls. We don’t see them even in children’s books. Boys are 1.6 times more likely to be in the title of a children’s book than a girl. It’s important to create this space for girls.

Boys certainly have a lot of gender expectations that are put on them that are as unfair as the gender expectations that are often put on girls. Would I launch a separate magazine for boys? Not right now.

Samir Husni: I have to ask you about the design. What made you decide to go with handwritten covers; what was your thinking behind that?

Erin Bried: I wanted it to be colorful and playful and engaging, and also accessible for our readers. Our five-year-old readers are only just learning to read, so they’ll be reading with their parents. Our ten-year-old’s certainly will be reading by themselves, so I wanted it to engage and be accessible to all of our readers.

And we also made a conscious decision not to picture any girls on our pages. You’ll see that there are no photos of real girls on any page, because I never wanted our readers to start comparing themselves to anyone else and think that they don’t look right or doing it right; that they don’t look happy enough or just whatever. I wanted them to totally be lost in their own experience. So, that was a conscious decision not to picture girls on any pages. And it was a good one. It allows us to be really playful with our illustrations and we often combine illustrations with photos, which I think is really fun and engaging, and offers a lot of depth and diversity.

I have such a great team helping me; Nia Lawrence is our art director and Andie Diemer is our photo editor. I just feel so grateful to be working with such smart and creative people.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Erin Bried: One thing I would like to say about Kazoo is you hear a lot of talk about how we need to inspire our girls and help them feel confident and all of these different things. That’s often the talk we hear about what girls need and require, but I think what’s different about Kazoo is young girls are our target readers, ages 5-10, and they already know that they’re smart. They already know that they can be silly and run fast and they can do anything, this is not new information to them. It would be shocking to them if you told them otherwise.

Kazoo’s mission is to reinforce what they already know. If you go to playground and you look at young girls play, they’re screaming, running, hanging upside down; they’re being strong; they’re already amazing. And Kazoo is just reinforcing in them what they already know, so that by the time they do get to adolescence, which is typically when young girls start to question their confidence, our Kazoo readers will be fortified, they will be more likely to question anybody who makes them feel wrong or that they can’t do something, than they would themselves.

I’d also like to say that I don’t have a problem with princesses, just that there is more out there than the color pink for girls. Kazoo is not an anti-princess magazine in any way; it’s just a magazine that offers a whole world out there.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home one evening unexpectedly what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; having a glass of wine; watching television; or something else?

Erin Bried: Right now, after the kids go to bed, I’ll often hop back on the computer and do more work while the house is quiet. But yes, a glass of wine is always such a nice way to end the day, and some conversation with my better half. Going out to dinner in Brooklyn; any of those things sound great.

I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve done any of those things. Right now it’s still fast and furious startup mode.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Erin Bried: (Laughs) What doesn’t keep me up at night? It’s been a little bit difficult lately. My kindergartner was having a thing at school where her whole class takes a bite of an apple at the same time, and I woke up in the middle of the night because I had forgotten to put an apple in her bag. I got up and put the apple in her bag, so it can be something as trivial as that, to what artist are we going to use for the spring issue? Which fiction author will write our next short story?

It’s such exciting stuff to think about, and I guess I’m up because I’m excited about everything we can do. There’s so much to do and having only put out two issues so far I have a list of ideas longer than my arm. It’s just so amazing and I feel so grateful and lucky to know I have a job where I can think, who do I want to talk to? Which writer in the whole world do I want to talk to next about writing and getting writing activities or lessons from to teach our readers? Which amazing woman should we feature in the next maze, where they can meet her from one point to her destination? We’ve done Jane Goodall, Into the Forest of Tanzania; we’ve done Diana Nyad, from Cuba to Florida; who do we want to feature next in this maze? It’s just all so exciting.

The whole world is out there for us to explore and to share with our readers; that’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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