A News Day Dawns
From his glass-fronted Brentwood office, Publisher Adam Linter can watch and hear the playground shenanigans at a school directly across the street.
That might be considered distracting or annoying to another businessman. But to Linter, publisher of a newspaper for children called Tomorrow’s Morning, it’s more like market research. The rambunctious neighbors are potential customers, every one.
“Kids are proprietary. They want their own thing,” Linter said. “We’ve created a USA Today for kids, which is a fairly interesting alternative to what’s out there, and teachers and kids are responding to it.”
Tomorrow’s Morning, which printed its first edition in 1992, is digging in a crowded sandbox, where the big kids have such well-known names as Weekly Reader, Scholastic and Time. But armed with $5.4 million from an initial public stock offering early last year, the Los Angeles-based company has managed to kick circulation higher and is exploring new ventures, including a journalism CD-ROM game.
Tomorrow’s Morning bills itself as the first weekly home-delivered newspaper for kids, ages 8 to 14, but much of its weekly run of 250,000 goes to classrooms.
There the market leader is Weekly Reader, which puts some 8 million of its publications into schools every year. Weekly Reader reaches 70% of the nation’s classrooms, the company said.
Scholastic has been producing a classroom periodical for 77 years, and circulation of its 35 grade-specific newspapers and magazines is now 7 million. Included in that total is its Scholastic News newspaper, which publishes editions for each grade level from first to sixth and has a circulation of 3.5 million.
Weekly Reader and Scholastic News resemble each other and are printed on similar-weight paper with teacher-friendly lessons in each issue.
Time for Kids is a recent entry into children’s publishing, putting out a glossy eight-page simplified version of Time for grades four through six (launched in 1995) and a separate edition for grades two and three (begun last year). Circulation is 1.7 million, and the publications are not yet profitable, Time has said.
“The whole world of media for children has changed a great deal,” said David Goddy, editor in chief of Scholastic’s Classroom Magazine Division. “It is more competitive.” Scholastic also produces books and software and has an extensive Internet presence.
While Scholastic’s magazine group is profitable, Goddy said, “We are not driven by some predominantly commercial motive; we are not driven by advertising. Our company’s entire mission is to educate kids.”
Weekly Reader and Scholastic News “are a franchise and they don’t really have to change,” Linter said. “We can compete very well against them.”
Tomorrow’s Morning looks much different. Based on a French newspaper for children called Le Journal des Enfants, the four-page publication sports flashy graphics and color photos printed on white paper.
Stories are short and punchy. Recent editions have included articles on efforts to keep kids from smoking, the release of Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, the trial of a former French official who allegedly worked with the Nazis during World War II and the rescue of Oni the hippo from a substandard zoo enclosure.
Linter does all the writing, culling from newspapers, magazines and the Associated Press. A staff of six compiles or creates the artwork, and some is contracted out.
Most editions carry no advertising, although some standing features bear the names of corporate sponsors. A column called Kid$tock$, which tracks movements in stocks such as Apple, Ben & Jerry’s and Disney, for example, is sponsored by Bloomberg and carries that corporation’s name. A column on the World Wide Web carries the name of its sponsor, Yahoo.
Tomorrow’s Morning has published special supplements tied to products, including an insert on aliens sponsored by MCA Universal Home Video and linked to the re-release of the “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” video. Such commercialism, subtle though it may be, does not always sit well with educators. But “I have no trouble with advertising,” Linter said.
The Bloomberg sponsorship makes possible the Kid$tock$ column, a feature that “was a way to show that we have tremendous respect for our readers,” Linter said. “Kids spend $20 million a year and influence $200 million in spending by walking down the aisle and telling mom what to buy.”
Weekly Reader and Scholastic News “are written for teachers, and Tomorrow’s Morning is written for kids,” Linter said. “I’m going to hook the kids, and they’ll bring the teachers along.”
Teachers, nonetheless, are Linter’s biggest customers, buying Tomorrow’s Morning for classroom use at about $2.90 per student a school year. Tomorrow’s Morning also runs a sponsorship program in which corporations or individuals can buy the newspaper for a classroom or school.
The paper is delivered by mail to home subscribers for $24.95 a year. Only about 5% of circulation is home delivery, Linter said.
Circulation recently hit the 250,000 mark, thanks to a telemarketing campaign financed with part of the funds raised in last year’s public offering. Tomorrow’s Morning has been something of a problem child for Linter, a former screenwriter who has spent most of his time trying to raise enough money to keep the publication alive.
Before the IPO, the company was constantly on the verge of running out of money, he said. But Linter has cultivated several patient investors, who have become advisors to the company.
Like any start-up, it has endured continuing losses: a total of $8.08 million in operating losses in the five years ended June 30, 1997. The company has said that the $5.4 million raised should be enough to continue operations until at least June 30 of this year before more fund-raising is required.
Tomorrow’s Morning stock has been trading slightly below its initial price of $5 per share lately, after hovering around $6 per share in December on the Nasdaq small-cap market.
Other ventures of Tomorrow’s Morning include an online version of the newspaper and a CD-ROM game, currently in development, called “Scoop.” The game takes players into a fictional world where they must move up the ladder at an imaginary newspaper. The game’s editor is played by Ben Bradlee, former Washington Post editor, and the help function is embodied by talk show host Larry King.
Linter’s plans include merchandising and television shows.
“I always knew the paper was the linchpin,” he said. “What we’re trying to do, at least in theory, is build a kids’ media company.
“We want to be at the point, that transition, where kids go from learning to read and start reading to learn. Kids and reading is kind of an irresistible concept.”
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There’s big business in classroom publications for children. The market leaders, Weekly Reader and Scholastic News, have been around for decades. Time for Kids and Tomorrow’s Morning are newer entries. Weekly circulation, in millions:
Weekly Reader: 8.0
Scholastic (all titles): 7.0
Time for Kids: 1.7
Tomorrow’s Morning: 0.25