Interviewer: Peter Houston
Peter: How is Dennis going about launching its children’s news title in the US?
Kerin: I think in many ways this is actually quite an old fashioned type of launch. So really what we’re talking about here is producing a really great magazine that people want to read, finding an audience for it, and launching it. And it feels like that’s kind of gone out of fashion in publishing over the last 10 years.
And I think our experience in the UK was that, by doing the simple things really well and innovatively, we can actually begin to deliver a product, and that’s the spirit by which we decided to launch The Week Junior in America.
Peter: That’s really underpinned what you’ve done with The Week for years and years, isn’t it.
Kerin: That’s right. And I think one of the sadnesses about print is that, quite often we’re focused on the wrong things. We’re not focused on the customer, we’re not focused on product, we’re not focused on what they actually get out of the experience.
But The Week is all about habit, it’s all about ritual, it’s all about finding a place. It’s got extraordinary loyalty baked into it. And that’s been the longevity of The Week. I mean, we’ve never been distracted by the shiny. We’ve never decided to pivot and spend £10 million on social media and get nothing back for it. We’ve always concentrated what people actually want.
Peter: So, when’s the magazine coming out? And what’s it going to look like, where will it be sold?
Kerin: So we are launching probably at the end of March, is the current timeline to come down to that. So it’s going to be a spring launch. Hopefully, it’ll be a little bit warmer than it is at the moment in New York!
We have begun to sell subscriptions, so we are live and in action; there’s a website up and running.
The first week actually has been fantastic, we’ve sold 1000 subscriptions. I mean, I think that’s incredible for a product that no one’s ever seen in America. I know it’s a big country, but that is a hell of a starting statement in terms of the enthusiasm that we’re feeling for this product.
The magazine will be very similar to the UK and what it intends to do, but it’s going to have US sensibilities.
Peter: So maybe that’s a good chance for Andrea to tell me what are US sensibilities!? What’s the difference there?
Andrea: Well, as Kerin said, this will adhere closely to the model that’s been set up in the UK, but it will be edited for American children. And so some content will be shared, particularly world news, for example, will be shared between the two countries and you know, re edited for an American voice. But most of the content will be original to the United States.
We will be covering what’s happening here in the US, and also covering all of the things that we know children love; science and animals and nature and environment. There couldn’t be a better time to launch this magazine in the United States.
If you think about what’s happening right now in this country, there’s an impeachment going on, and there’s an election happening this year; it’s a perfect time for The Week Junior to step in and help children make sense of it, help them understand what’s actually going on in this country in a way that they can understand. And we’re coming in as a nonpartisan source of news for children.
We’re balanced, we’re trusted, and we don’t take sides. And so our goal is to focus on the facts and leave out the opinions so that children can form their own. It’s a special time in their lives in this age group when they are becoming independent, and they’re forming their own thoughts and opinions. And so we want this magazine to enable them to do that.
Peter: One of the marketing lines I saw on this, which is beautiful in its own simplicity, is this idea of this simple goal of making sense of the world to young people, but that’s a simple marketing line, but it’s not a simple thing to do. How do you go about that?
Andrea: It isn’t simple, but it’s very important. And so what we do is, this magazine is created in real time as the news is happening the way any other news weekly would be. We’re looking at the topics that are crucial every single week, and we’re writing about them in a way that children can actually understand.
If you think about it, most media is created for adults. And so children hear things and they hear things at home, they hear things at school, they hear things on TV, they read things online. And it can be confusing.
So The Week Junior steps in and simplifies it and clarifies it, but in a way that isn’t patronising. We’re not talking down to kids. We are telling them what’s actually happening, but in a way that they can understand, in a way that respects their intelligence.
We want this magazine to respect the intelligent and curious and amazing people they are. At the same time, we also want to have fun with this magazine. This is not all serious topics. We want them to feel like this is really something fun that’s just for them. It goes into their home with their name on it, and entertains them and delights them as well as informs them.
Peter: One of the things you said a second ago was about being nonpartisan. In the world that we live in today, today’s outrage economy, can you leverage nonpartisan media as an asset? You know what I mean, are you missing a trick by jumping on the outrage bandwagon?
Kerin: I think it would be a bit much to suggest that we should be imparting partisan views to children!
Peter: So I get that absolutely, but it’s parents that are buying this, right? And they don’t have that kind of nonpartisan view of the world, surely?
Kerin: There’s a bell curve here isn’t there really, about where you’ve got people at either end of the spectrum who have highly partisan views. I think for most people, they’re just normal people who are in the middle.
So for me, you might have 10% of people who have extreme views on either side of the political spectrum. Most people don’t want that, most people are looking at their children, they’re not thinking about what their children are thinking about these particular topics. They’re thinking, ‘Is my kid going to be nice? Is my kid going to be curious, is my kid going to be kind? Is my kid going to do well in life?’ You know, what kind of child do you want?
And I think if you’re interested in putting partisan views, or instilling your child with a high degree of politics, then maybe The Week Junior not the magazine for you, right?
Peter: I probably can imagine some of the other ones they’d buy!
Kerin: You know what, if you want to find that stuff, there’s plenty of places to go to find that. That’s not our job. Our job is to say how great it is to be alive now, and how fantastic the world is, [not] to make them aware of dangers and problems and situations that are happening.
But the magazine’s is about positivity and being dynamic and being fun and being alive to the possibilities of what life is about. When you’re an adult, there’s plenty of time to think that things are terrible. But when you’re a kid, you want them to be full of enthusiasm and inspired.
Peter: Does that mean you have to avoid some…the thing that comes immediately to mind for me is the climate change debate, which is not a debate anymore, at least in this country. Does that mean you have to avoid that?
Andrea: No, we won’t avoid it. We know that that’s a topic that children are very interested in, and we’re going to focus on the science.
Peter: If only some of our world leaders would focus on the science, it would be an easier world to be in!
Kerin: Climate change is a really good example of something where, for me, that doesn’t fall into a piece of partisan politics. That isn’t about immigration at borders, that isn’t about taxation, that isn’t about human rights freedom. It’s about a global issue, which is of extreme interest to a generation who are going to be more affected by this than we are.
So I think it’s right that we would be discussing what the impact is, because this is going to be their world.
And so climate change, to Andrea’s point, we are approaching it as the concerns that they take and trying to answer that. But what we’re not going to try and do is suggest that they need to take up extreme practices in their lives or [will give them] the solutions.
Peter: If you look at the question a different way, the idea of being nonpartisan, and you look instead at the sort of sensible majority that I think you’re talking about Kerin, do you think that parent’s lack of trust in social media, the exposure to some of the extreme content, is going to help you with this launch?
Kerin: The thing about social media is that you’re not meant to be on it until you’re 13. So to the audience that we talk to, our audience shouldn’t really…is not on Twitter and Facebook. This is a magazine that doesn’t engage in those worlds.
We studiously don’t put any content that aims at children in those levels. I know that might sound a little bit kind of Harry Potter-ish, but we are trying to make a magazine that children read and consume and become interested in. We don’t have to worry about whether they’re sitting on Snapchat or that kind of stuff. I think we are trying to sidestep our role in that discussion point about social media.
We’re trying to help people understand balance, and interest and enthusiasm. And as a result of that, you’d hope that they’d become more able to moderate their own media, and quite often we ask them.
So we run a thing called the Big Debate inside the magazine, and that’s exactly the kind of questions where we will go and speak to kids and say, what age should you get a mobile phone? Is social media bad for you? So we’ll explore it more as themes for them as opposed to introductions.
Peter: We talked about that before, and you’ve always avoided it, certainly in the past. You avoided it because there was no money in it. This is slightly different, right? Your rationale here is slightly different from just the fact there’s no money in it.
Kerin: Yeah, I think there is money in it in the fact that Facebook is a place where we find parents that we sell this product to. So my ‘holier than thou’ attitude about social media for children is not the same when it comes to social media for parents, and how we can tell parents how wonderful the magazine is.
Facebook is our prime moment of discovery for this brand. So we do create content around that line, and we do do a lot of work in terms of marketing and advertising.
Peter: And is that a brand extension from The Week? Is this parents that are interested in The Week already? Or is it just generally marketing to parents?
Kerin: It’s general marketing to parents. It’s not the audience of The Week, this is a different audience. In the UK, it is a much wider social spread of people who take The Week Junior.
And I think it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens in the US in terms of the demographics, in terms of the geography, in terms of how it plays out, but I think Andrea will have a view on that as well.
Peter: Well, can I ask Andrea maybe a more direct question then? The idea that I guess in The Week, there’s a real profile, there’s a brand profile for The Week, so when The Week Junior came along, it made sense without too much explanation, I guess that’s the way it worked. In the States, there’s maybe not the same presence for The Week, and The Week Junior is something really quite unusual and unique. Is that a fair way of seeing it?
Andrea: Yes, it is. There really isn’t anything like it in this country. There are news magazines that go into classrooms, but there isn’t a news magazine that is 32 pages that’s going into the home. And there are some children’s magazines that go into the home, but they skew younger or older. So there’s something very special about this.
And as Kerin alluded to earlier, the reaction just in one week, since we’ve announced our launched has been really off the charts in terms of what we’re hearing from parents. And they’re saying that, someone told me that she’s been looking for a magazine like this for her children for the past eight years, and there wasn’t anything. And we’re hearing from people that ‘I want my child to be a global citizen, and I want my child to be a critical thinker. And this magazine is exactly what America needs.’
And so that’s the reaction that we were hoping for, that people would recognise that, we had been saying before we announced that this is a magazine that parents didn’t realise was missing from their children’s lives, until we said that it was coming.
And that’s exactly what happened. And so that’s very gratifying to us and reinforces the thought that we had, which is that it is something that is really wanted and needed in this country and currently doesn’t exist. And so we’re thrilled that we’re going to be able to make it happen for for America’s families.
Peter: I love that idea, this is a magazine you didn’t know you needed. I think there’s something in that.
Kerin: One of the things Peter just to say on The Week. The Week is a big magazine here in terms of circulation. I mean, we’re still talking about a magazine that sells 550,000 print copies a week, which is bigger than the Economist.
I think what The Week Junior will do is it will give The Week a different kind of relationship because it will turn from being a magazine that you like reading about news, to a brand that you love because of the effect it has on your family. And I think that could be a transformative moment for the brand of The Week in the US.
Andrea: The Week is very trusted here. And we want that sense of trust to come through in The Week Junior as well.
Peter: What is it about The Week that makes it trusted?
Kerin: If you read The Week, you have to trust that the editors are bringing you the news, which is [expressed through opinion], which they believe is truthful or interesting. So that’s a big commitment to make in terms of the readers leap.
So we got this very strange thing, which is that they trust The Week more than they trust the original source material! Which we see time and time again coming out in research: ‘The Week is the most trusted magazine in Britain.’ And you’re like, Yeah, but we’re made up of comment that comes from other newspapers. So, selection, distillation, the analysis that we bring to news content, is a sort of process by which The Week gets turned into trust.
Junior is very different because it’s all original sources. So you’re having to trust Andrea and her team that what they’re producing is correct, fair, fact checked.
Peter: That idea of trust though is massive, and it’s interesting that you saying, what, half a million in the States? So compare that to some of the other news weeklies in the States which are going the opposite direction, if they haven’t already gone. You’re doing okay.
Kerin: Yeah, we just we doubled the price last year for new subscribers as well!
Peter: I don’t know, that’s some black magic you’ve got going on there Kerin!
Kerin: I think that the magic moment is, it’s things that people actually want to read. And I think that just goes back to what I said at the beginning. There isn’t anything new in terms of the proposition. They’re great magazines that are really well executed that are useful and interesting to people in their lives.
Peter: Let’s go back to The Week Junior. Again, looking at your marketing, you’re talking about a quiet moment in a loud world. Andrea you’ve got lots of experience between Rodale or Reader’s Digest, Meredith, all these companies doing print. Is print still seen as a quiet moment in the States?
Andrea: Well, I think the quiet moment refers to the calm nature of the magazine, the calmness with which it delivers the information to the child. There is a lot of shouting that goes on in the media. There is a lot of arguing that goes on in this country about a lot of different things.
And it’s an opportunity for The Week Junior to come in and offer the child a chance to slow down, to take a breath, to turn the page, and to learn about themselves and the world while they’re doing that. And so that’s the quiet moment that we see in the loud world that we’re living in.
Peter: I think that was part of the – Kerin, tell me if this is the wrong way of saying this – but when you had the success that you had with The Week Junior, people were fairly surprised that a print title not only worked, but it worked for kids.
Kerin: Yeah, I think they were really surprised, actually. The ones that saw the effect it had on their children weren’t surprised. I think it’s something where, if you actually had a kid and you saw a kid read a copy of The Week Junior, you went, ‘I get it,’ because they just sat down and started reading it. And I think the idea of children being misunderstood consumers is a theme here.
Quite often, we have such a top down relationship with children that we just forget to sort of talk to them in rational ways.
We’re always telling children, ‘Put that down, do this now, why haven’t you done your homework, tidy your room, your clothes are a mess, comb your hair, what’s the matter with you stop hitting your sister.’ And so a lot of our times with them aren’t spent on very meaningful contact points because we’re all busy.
And I think when Junior turns up, it’s like, the editorial voice is saying, ‘You’re great. And here’s a whole load of great stuff for you, and let’s spend some time together.’ So it creates a really lovely readership bond. And I think that’s the root of the way the successes worked.
The children have loads of teachers in their lives, you know, The Week Junior is an explorer, discovery, [jester], it’s not a magazine that says, ‘I’m booking you in for an hour of homework.’ It says, ‘Look at all these things are exploding around the planet. And don’t you want to know about it?’
Andrea: Yeah, I think about my responsibility to children every day and I want this magazine to be amazing. I want them to think that the magazine is amazing, I want them to think that the world is amazing, but I also want them to believe that I think they’re amazing because I do.
I’m keeping those kids in my mind every day, and trying to help them make sense of what’s going on around them, and giving them something that they really want to read, and that will be special to them. And that they’ll remember all their lives.
Peter: So if we skip forward to March 2021, or spring 2021, what does success in that first year look like?
Kerin: If I go back to some of the things that we’re challenging in the US market, right, there’s three or four things that we’re challenging.
So the first thing we’re challenging is price. Magazines over here have been treated very poorly in terms of their pricing attitude. If you don’t spend any money on a product, it’s quite hard to have respect for it. If you spend some money on something you would do, I mean…
Peter: Like 12 issues for $1
Kerin: So everywhere you look over here, these consumers, these customers have been trained, that type two thinking is telling them that these products are not worth anything. So we have to engage their type one thinking to realise the prices and expression of value. So if they value this product, then price becomes irrelevant.
What’s been really interesting in the last week – we sold 1000 subscriptions – is we sold 1000 subscriptions to a magazine that doesn’t exist for $35. Now if you’re an American consumer, all you’re seeing is, I think I saw a mailing which was $12 for three monthly magazines, plus a free handbag. And for that you could get Good Housekeeping, Cosmo…right?
We’ve been in business on a website for a week and we’ve sold 1000 subscriptions of $35 by coming up with a value proposition that we’re going to help your child make sense of the world. So I think that if we can carry on with that, that’s a big tip for me, which is creating a relationship where the product is sufficiently valued that we can charge a reasonable price for it.
The second thing is, that we can use digital marketing to sell this product, which has been our experience in the UK. The US, a lot of magazine marketing is still about direct mail. So we will do some direct mail, we will give it a test, but we are going to try and see if we can use digital marketing to sell this product.
The third thing is, is that we don’t care about advertising. Sorry, I should say it like that! We care about our advertisers deeply, but not as deeply as we care about our readers. So I reserve the right to be offered a million pounds to sell my soul! But right now we have a business plan that is not dependent on advertising. I think we put in a small amount of money for advertising. And if we get some advertising, great, if we don’t get any advertising, so what. That’s not how we’re going to make money. So again, that’s really not how America is published it.
And then the last point of this is that we don’t have to produce an ABCs, so we don’t have some fictitious number where we say we’re going to deliver 100,000 copies, and if we don’t deliver 100,000 copies we’re a failure. We’re going to produce a magazine that grows at its own rate, and if things work, we’ll accelerate, if they don’t work, we’ll take our time.
Peter: Andrea, do you have any specific ambitions for the title in the next 12 months?
Andrea: I want as many children as possible to read and love this magazine. That’s what I want. I want to make a difference in the lives of American children.
This to me, this magazine is not just a magazine, it’s a mission. And I really want to open up the world for children, and I’d like them to feel good about the magazine and feel that is it’s something special in their lives.