If you've recently tripped over an SUV stroller on the sidewalk or fled a restaurant full of crying toddlers, you'll be surprised to learn there's not, in fact, a national baby boom. The number of babies born each year in the U.S. has been constant since the late 1980s, at about 4 million. Just the same, babies are a craze, one partly fueled by advertisers spending more aggressively than ever to reach affluent parents.
Marketers are now chipping in over $1 billion a year on baby and family-oriented magazines alone, up 46% from 2001. It's no wonder that consumer products giants like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Nestl?, which each operate baby-oriented Web sites, have jumped in to duke it out with such rival stalwarts as New York Times (NYT), Meredith (MDP), and Cond? Nast.
So how does a newcomer stand out? Wondertime, a quarterly that premiered in February, isn't even trying to compete in the old, servicey ways. Obvious how-to lists for, say, toilet training are shunned, says Executive Editor Trisha Thompson. Instead, the magazine, backed by Walt Disney Co. (DIS), tries fresh approaches: It might run a short item on how to explain to your child how a toilet flushes. Or a humor article on how frantic moms rediscover calmness through their kids. "We're more about the joy of parenthood," says Thompson, "than the job of parenthood." Cookie, a new glossy from Cond? Nast Publications, is fat with upscale ads (Cadillac, Gucci, Bali bras) mixed in with ads for kiddie stuff. Billed as a lifestyle magazine for well-schooled (and well-off) parents, it features interviews with authors such as Jay McInerney, who moved from writing about New York's coked-up singles scene to being a post-September 11 parent.
These magazines, different as they are from one another, are a new breed, distinct from the long-established mainstays. Meredith Corp.'s American Baby, Parents, and Child magazines, for instance, hew to a familiar, even downscale look with loud, bright-colored layouts. The articles are evergreen, advising parents on how to keep kids off junk food or the best "tub toys." Although they're sticking to their well-proven formula, Meredith says it plans to unite all three magazines on a single portal featuring video, podcasts, and blogs.
There's nothing cuddly about the online competition in the category, though. J&J's BabyCenter.com reaches about 4 million people a month, according to comScore Networks Inc., roughly double the circulation of American Baby. The parenting channel of About.com, bought last year by The New York Times Co., is growing fast, with as many as 2.5 million readers a month. But so far, the baby craze is big enough for both New and Old Media to thrive.
By Joseph Weber