By: Wendy Giman
A concept that emerged from the kitchen table projects of mom & pop publishers
is now sparking a national flurry of acquisitions, partnerships and launches
In a move that underscores the growing power and importance of the local “parenting” newspaper niche, United Advertising Publications (UAP) has bought three free parenting papers in Southern California.
UAP’s acquisitions ? LA Parent, Orange County Parenting and San Diego Parent ? are among the most profitable parenting publications in the United States, according to trade association executives in the business. Combined circulation of the three tops 270,000. Though profit figures are unavailable for the nation’s parenting papers, industry watchers said that in top markets revenues have increased 30% in the last year.
Parenting papers typically are monthly and free, and printed on a variety of stocks. They report on all aspects of community affairs related to family. They keep time-strapped working parents informed about the details of things like local school lunch programs, after-school activities, puppet shows and children’s pool hours. Mostly started as kitchen table projects by parents who wanted answers to their own questions about children, many have developed significant local circulations and equally significant stables of advertising clients.
UAP is the latest of a number of larger media firms ? including several daily newspaper companies and the Walt Disney Co. ? to delve into parenting publishing. During the last year, 11 parenting papers have been sold, mostly to established media companies, according to the Parenting Publications Association.
Best known for real estate, apartment and automotive rack-distributed publications, Britain-based UAP also owns Advanced Distributing Co., which provides third-party distribution services throughout the United States.
UAP said only that the purchase is “a result of our presence in Southern California.” Richard Davey, vice president of marketing, refused to comment on whether the company intends to expand in the parenting market.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a company with that magnitude in Southern California will not just stay there,” said Kathy Mittler, executive director of the 145-member Parenting Publications of America, a trade association that LA Parent helped found. At PPA’s conference last month, on hand from UAP were Davey, chairman and CEO Nigel Donaldson, and president and chief operating officer Jeff Baudo.
John Cribb, who represented the seller, Wingate Enterprises Inc., of LA Parent, Orange County Parenting and San Diego Parent, called United “a bright company looking at a developing niche.”
Thomson Newspapers Group made its first foray into the market by acquiring Mahoning Valley Parent of Youngstown, Ohio, two years ago. The publication grew from 12 pages and 7,000 circulation to 80 pages and 125,000 circulation in nine years.
Publisher Karen Kreps said Thomson wants to expand in the field and to “take our core product and offer it to other papers,”
The Trenton, N.J.-headquartered Journal Register Co. also entered the parenting business two years ago, when it bought County Kids, a free monthly servicing Fairfield, New Haven and Litchfield counties in Connecticut. It has since started more papers.
Enter Walt Disney
Walt Disney Co. has also entered the parenting niche ? via the Internet. Through a controversial deal with PPA members, Disney bought advertising in member publications in exchange for online use of their editorial content. The deal allows Disney to exploit the papers’ community calendars ? widely perceived as their greatest strength. Some people in the industry thought the deal shortchanged the papers. Others welcomed the Disney presence.
Here’s an example of how the deal works: Kreps has provided her local calendar for posting on Disney’s Web site, family.disney.com. In exchange, Disney agreed to buy at least six quarter-page ads in 1997. Disney used those ads to publicize Mahoning Valley Parent’s location on family.com, said Kreps, who is happy with the arrangement.
“There’s tremendous loyalty and trust with these products,” PPA’s Mittler said.
But there are growing pains. The No. l gripe among parenting publishers is the lack of an organized national advertising sales network. While the larger papers pursue and get national advertising, overall, the niche lacks a cohesive voice ? along with customer-friendly features such as standardized ad sizes.
“It’s the thing everyone needs to work on,” said Brenda Sandoz, co-publisher of Dallas Family and Houston Family. She is concerned that anyone can start placing national advertising without knowing the industry. If an advertiser doesn’t pay, then who is responsible? These issues remain unresolved, publishers said. Yet, parenting publications do get national advertising and continue to grow.
The PPA represents more than 6 million circulation in North America. And Sandoz is a good example of the next generation of publishers of parenting publications. “I’m a new breed maverick. Yes, I am a mom, but this is a business,” she said.
?(Monthly parenting newspapers have become as
popular as they are profitable in metro markets across the country. Growing numbers of large media companies are showing increasing interest in acquiring or launching their own parenting publications.) [Photo & Caption]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 21,1998) [Caption]