Mentor

Ever wondered what it’s like to be surrounded by children’s comics all day? Toni Round is the woman charged with steering kids towards the newsagent’s shelf

What does your job involve?

I manage the youth and children’s magazines division at BBC Worldwide. We publish over 20 magazines across four children’s markets – preschool, education, pre-teen and teen – with market-leading titles in each of these sectors.

As publishing director, I work with the different groups to develop and execute publishing plans for each title, or group of titles, and I manage the marketing and editorial teams.

How are children consuming media nowadays?

In a variety of ways and from a very young age.

Nearly all watch television, with an increasing number living in multi-channel homes. They also regularly watch videos or DVDs.

The older children get, the more media they consume – a typical teenage girl will watch four hours of television every day and will listen to the radio both on her way to school in the car and in the evening while doing her homework.

Teenagers also now access music through different media, including digital radio and TV, via their mobile phones and on the Internet – leading to a rapid decline in singles sales.

Magazines are still an important medium for children, providing an important source of information about what is going on in their world. Although magazines don’t always have the immediacy of other media, they do give children additional information that other sources can’t – such as facts and figures, interviews with the stars, step-by-step guides, problem pages and activities such as colouring-in.

Kids are notoriously fickle consumers. How can you get them to come back?

Most of our magazines have a core of loyal readers who buy most issues. We work hard to maintain this by asking readers what they want and delivering it to them.

We are always talking to our readers, using formal research and more informal meetings – such as in schools – to find out what they like about our magazines.

However, children can be very fickle and it’s important for us not only to reward our loyal readers, but to also encourage new ones. One way we do this is to covermount high-quality, well-targeted gifts that will encourage maximum trialing by the appropriate audience. We also run collectable covermounts that encourage repeat purchase.

It is also vital to get a cover right, as it’s the best advertisement for a magazine. In the teen market particularly, getting the right cover star is crucial to attract the occasional, less loyal readers – they need to know that the magazine is for them and that it’s going to give them what they want. This needs to be communicated clearly and quickly.

How do parents mediate what their children consume?

For pre-school children, the parents have full purchasing power and therefore total control – although these children still have a very strong influence on what is purchased, using “pester-power” to get what they want.

Parents of pre-teen children increasingly have less control over what their children consume, with about 40% of pre-teenagers buying their own magazines, over 50% having their own mobile phone and 16% having a television in their bedrooms. By the time children reach 10, parental control over media consumption has dropped significantly, with 63% of 10-14 year olds having a TV and radio in their room, 31% a video, 10% the Internet and over 80% purchasing their own magazines.

There seem to be myriad titles for girls, but none for boys. Why is this?

Girls read more than boys and have a greater appetite for magazines. They also shop more, be that with their parents in supermarkets or with their friends on the high street, and therefore they are more regularly exposed to magazines.

Boys also have less interest in lifestyle and prefer to read about specific topics such as football, cartoon characters and computer games. This means that magazines aimed at boys need to be more “niche” rather than mass market and publishers often struggle to sell the quantities necessary to make the titles profitable.

As a result, there are fewer boys’ magazines in the market.

What is the best thing about working in the children’s market?

It is an incredibly exciting and fast-moving market. As a publisher, you can never stand still, you always have to be looking at new opportunities and facing exciting challenges to ensure that you are ahead of the market.

What’s the worst?

The children’s market is an incredibly cluttered one, with an increasing number of “me too”, smaller-circulation titles being launched – leading to shelves becoming overstocked and messy.

High-quality new launches can struggle to stand out as they become obscured by the sheer volume of magazines on the shelf.

Toni Round is publishing director of BBC Magazines’ youth and children’s portfolio's

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