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My Interview with Lou Waryncia, Editorial Director of Cobblestone Publishing
Kids don’t read. That, in short, is myth number one that you hear day in and day out. And if you are willing to believe myth number one, then for sure you will believe myth number two: even if kids read they do not read history magazines. Well, the funny thing about both myths is just that: they are myths. Kids do read and kids have enjoyed reading a history magazine aimed at them called Cobblestone for almost 30 years.
Cobblestone magazine was founded by two New Hampshire women, Hope Pettegrew and Frances Nankin, in January of 1980. They wrote in the introduction to the first issue of the magazine, “Month by month we will be traveling together around our country, visiting the different people, places and events which have played an important part in our history.” The magazine is now part of the Carus Publishing group and this coming January will publish its 30th anniversary issue celebrating 30 Greatest Americans.
I asked Lou Waryncia, Editorial Director of Cobblestone Publishing, five questions regarding the magazine, kids’ reading habits, the future, the impact of technology and the status of children’s magazines in what can be described a “collective Attention Deficit Disorder society.” What follows is the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Lou Waryncia:
Samir Husni: With the internet taking off faster than a speeding bullet, and digital technology moving printed magazines and books out of the front page news, do you think the end is near for children’s printed magazines?
Lou Waryncia: I do not think the end is near for children’s magazines. I’m a firm believer that print will be around for a long time. Certainly technology is changing the magazine industry, and we’re all trying different ways to co-exist with these changes. But magazines still have a place with children (and adults). We get letters from children all the time saying how much they enjoy their magazines. Getting that magazine in the mail (with their name on it) is still a big deal to most kids. I had a mother tell me recently (and this isn’t the first time) that her son hides himself away in his room and reads his magazine cover to cover the moment it arrives. That one-on-one connection is real.
SH: Do you know whether it makes a difference for kids to read from a laptop, digital device or a printed magazine or book? Any studies you are aware of?
LW: The only study I’m aware of is a 2007 report from the National Endowment for the Arts that indicated a drop in test scores was due to a decrease in the amount of time children read. It brought up the point that kids are reading elsewhere, other than books and magazines, but gave no conclusions on what type of reading is best for kids. Does it make a difference where kids read? I think it depends on the child. I read books, but I was not a big book reader as a kid, but I devoured magazines. I think it’s the same for kids today. There are just more choices today. I think magazines have the capacity to compete with the Internet and other digital devices because of the variety of content and due to great graphics and design.
SH: Cobblestone is celebrating 30 years of publishing and is continuing to focus on history for young kids, do you think that the so called “collective ADD society” can still focus on history and its role in our lives?
LW: The longevity of our magazine proves that kids can and will focus on history if it’s written and presented to them in a way that they find interesting. Cobblestone has grown and changed with the times to make history fun as well as informative. Our goal is to show kids that history has an important place in their lives because it defines who they are and where they came from. Understanding history is a very important part of being a good citizen. Will all kids enjoy Cobblestone, no. But that’s true with any magazine. Yet I think we do a good job of making the subject matter enticing, and I hope entertaining, to a wide audience.
SH: Where do you see the future for all Carus’ magazines? Have you been growing? Steady? Declining?
LW: This has been a tough year for us as a publishing company. But we’ve remained fairly steady in terms of circulation. No dramatic decrease in circulation among our company’s 14 magazines. And we’re non-advertising based. Our subscription rates are higher than other magazines and pay for the publications. One reason I believe we continue to be successful is that parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians value our magazines and want to get them into the hands of their children. Adults will skimp on themselves, but will still buy items, such as our magazines, that they believe are important for their children. People make a commitment when they buy our magazines.
As to the future, I hope to be around for Cobblestone’s 40th anniversary. And I feel strongly that my company’s magazines will still have a place in the lives of children. Will there be changes, or interactions with technology, definitely. We’re still trying to find our place on the Internet. And will we deliver our content in different ways? Definitely. But I believe we’ll still be flipping through print magazine pages as well.
SH: Will it matter where your great content is consumed? On the screen or on the pages of the magazine?
LW: Ultimately, I don’t think so. Good content is good content. But I think the experience is different. And people respond to media differently. Attention span and the amount of value one places on a medium, or what someone simply likes better has a lot to do with how content is consumed. Studies will eventually tell us if reading on a screen is different, better, worse, or equal to print. I wish I knew the answer. But as in most media battles, everyone seems to find a way to coexist. I believe the magazine will still be an important part of children’s lives for some time.