Opening ShotsFEATURESAbout NYRM

HighlightsHighlights for Children

Circulation: 2,000,000
Date of Birth: 1946
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $4.95 per issue, $29.64 per year (more than 99 percent of sales are by subscription)
Natural Habitat: On an end table at the dentist’s office, sandwiched between issues of Parents Magazine and Reader’s Digest

By Daniel Luzer

When psychologist Garry Myers and his wife started Highlights for Children in 1946, they took a gigantic financial risk; the Pennsylvania couple used the money they were saving for retirement to found the magazine. They had no idea what a powerhouse their publication would become.

They first marketed it door to door, and then, in the 1950s, began selling Highlights to schools. Now a staple of elementary schools and doctors’ offices across the nation, the magazine aims to “help children develop creativity, sensitivity, literacy and the ability to think and reason” by presenting games and stories for children ages 6 to 12.

It isn’t easy for an adult to judge how well the magazine does its job, so we asked a school-age reader for his opinions. Eoin McKenna is a fifth-grader at Belmont Day School in Massachusetts. He received a subscription as a present from his father. “I think it’s an interesting magazine,” he said. “I read a lot of it.”

Laid out using primary colors and abundant pictures, with no advertisements, Highlights resembles a children’s workbook more than a traditional magazine. As February was President’s Day month, the “picture puzzler” at the back of that issue urged readers to hunt for the names of U.S. presidents among the store names written on buildings in a picture of a town. The stores included “Grant’s Leather Goods” and “Carter’s Peanut Farm,” which relate to actual presidential professions. McKenna said the puzzle was interesting, but “it was hard. I haven’t studied [the presidents] yet, so I didn’t really know the names, just the big ones.”

The issue also contained a short story, “The Mystery of the Ghost in the Wall,” in which a math whiz solves a scary conundrum. “I liked it, it was pretty good,” said McKenna. “I liked how they found the secret using math.”

Each issue contains an advice column by a woman operating under the nom-de-HighlightsArizona.” One question in the February issue came from a girl who complained that a friend was always copying her Valentines. The advice columnist essentially told the questioner to get over it, reasoning that imitation is the highest form of flattery. McKenna found this advice useful: “I think it was helpful because I have four brothers and they copy me.”

Highlights’ business model is unique in the magazine industry, with its readers—children—financially distinct from its buyers: their parents, schools and other institutions. “It has been available in bookstore newsstands since 2000,” said Hillary Bates, a communications specialist at Highlights for Children, Inc., “but less than one percent of sales are via newsstand. The overwhelming majority of subscriptions go directly to families. It’s mostly parents or grandparents giving subscriptions to children.”

Highlights for Children, Inc. is today a media conglomerate composed of several companies that create children’s products, including Highlights High Five (a magazine for children ages 2 to 6), Highlights Book Clubs (which offers books published and distributed by Highlights, Inc.) and Highlights Catalog (toys). The company is privately owned and managed by the founders’ great-grandson. Highlights, Inc. posted $100 million in revenue in 2005.

Its presence in schools across the country seems to ensure that Highlights will maintain a virtual monopoly on its unique publishing niche—but only so long as it can continue to satisfy readers like McKenna.





About | Site Map | Archive | Masthead

Copyright 2008
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
George T. Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism | 2950 Broadway, NY, NY 10027