Children often move back home in hard times, so nobody was shocked last week when Little Rock magazine SAVVYKids announced it was folding into its parent publication, the Arkansas Times.
Publisher Alan Leveritt put it in terms even un-savvy kids could understand: He’s taking lemons and making lemonade, ending a decade-long run for the monthly as a stand-alone publication. Leveritt, who has avoided layoffs at his string of magazines despite the pandemic squeeze, thought it better to take SAVVYKids back in than to let it starve.
Starting with its next issue, the magazine will be a bit smaller and be “bound within the pages of … our parent publication,” as Editor Amy Gordy put it.
The news hit home for Heather Baker, publisher of AY Media Group, also of Little Rock. After all, she founded SAVVYKids in 2010, ran it for Leveritt through its infancy and even named it for her daughter.
Savvy Baker is now 13, and her mother now publishes titles like AY About You and Arkansas Money & Politics, which published news of the SAVVYKids format change last week.
Heather Baker told Arkansas Business that the publishing business was challenged even before COVID-19, which Leveritt called “100%” the reason for the ad revenue collapse that led to the SAVVYKids decision.
“Seeing firsthand the struggles of local media over the past few months has been difficult,” Baker said. (Only weeks before, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette announced that, at the cost of four jobs, it was pulling the plug on Arkansas Life, a glossy monthly that tried to retrench digitally before bleeding ink all the way to oblivion. Over a dozen years, the publication had never made money, Wehco Media Inc. Chairman Walter Hussman Jr. told Arkansas Business.)
“I wish them the best and hope that this new model can sustain a future,” Baker said of SAVVYKids, adding that she hopes the recent developments will “encourage people to more actively support local media. We need that more than ever,” Baker said.
Arkansas Business’ corporate family, Arkansas Business Publishing Group, has its own title in the parenting magazine niche: Little Rock Family.
Parenting magazines can struggle in a smaller market like Little Rock, said Natalie Ghidotti, CEO of the Ghidotti agency, a mother of two and a former editor of Little Rock Family.
“With millennial parents getting most of their information in digital formats, it’s not surprising [SAVVYKids] is getting folded into a larger, stable publication,” Ghidotti told me.
“Parents have phones in hand, researching options. … Everything they do is through that phone, and that’s why the advertising base … is moving to digital formats vs. traditional print.”
Bottom line? “Central Arkansas has smaller retailers advertising in these parenting publications, and a lot of them are now spending their precious marketing dollars (particularly during these hard-hit COVID months) on digital platforms,” Ghidotti said. “If you are a print magazine without a strong digital component, you’re not going to survive.”
Baker said AY Media Group “has been blessed with award-winning content and record sales. Our plan is to keep on trucking and work to help keep print alive.”
The ad crunch hit SAVVYKids hard in March and April, Leveritt said, but he is still optimistic, buoyed by online subscription success and a revenue bump the Times saw after making its own transition from a weekly newspaper to a glossy monthly in early 2019. “We’re seeing some good business,” he said, and he expects reduced expenses at SAVVYKids to keep it worthwhile. “Were just trying to make lemonade out of lemons,” Leveritt told Tyler Hale of AMP.
Leveritt told Arkansas Business he’s planning no further changes at his publications, including El Latino, Bike Arkansas and AR Food & Farm, and that arktimes.com is coordinating a subscription drive. “We have added 400 subscriptions to arktimes.com since January, which brings us to about 2,150 [yearly subscriptions] at $110 each. We are launching a push to get to 5,000 by April of next year,” he said.
He’s been avoiding deep thinking, he confided, “other than trying to sell an ad and a subscription here and there.” He did offer one thought, deep enough but a bit off the subject. “People need to stop bringing their guns to protest demonstrations,” he said, a reference to armed defenders circling the Confederate monument at the state Capitol a little over a week ago. Those folks were confronted by Black Lives Matter marchers, some of them armed.
“That is my only epiphany of late.”