Baby magazines defy industry, birthrate slumps

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Despite a falling birthrate and a slump in the publishing industry, child-care magazines are going strong.

From 1970 to 2003, the annual number of children born in Japan fell more than 40 percent from 1.93 million to 1.12 million. The average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime declined from 2.13 to 1.29.

But over the same period, the yearly circulation of magazines focusing on pregnancy and child care surged nearly six-fold from 2.51 million to 14.49 million copies.

This increase stands out in the magazine industry. Combined sales of all domestic magazines have fallen for seven consecutive years, from 1.6 trillion yen in 1997 to 1.3 trillion yen in 2003, according to The Research Institute for Publications.

“I think child-care magazines are doing miraculously well,” said Tatsuhiko Murakami, an RIP researcher.

Masami Ohinata, professor of psychology at Keisen University in western Tokyo, said that although it sounds paradoxical, the publication of child-care magazines grew because of fewer children.

“When the birthrate was high, young mothers could easily exchange information on the streets about raising children. But now, partly due to the increase of nuclear families, magazines have become one of the few readily available sources for them,” she said.

Noriko Takita, manager in charge of strategy and sales at Benesse Corp., publisher of a number of top-selling child-care magazines since 1993, said her company is successful because it has established a name that generates a sense of belonging.

“Our strategy to make readers participate in articles as models or ‘mama reporters’ helped build up their feelings of involvement,” Takita said.

Of 14 child-care magazines issued by nine publishers, two Benesse magazines — Tamago Club (Egg Club) for pregnant women, and Hiyoko Club (Chick Club) for mothers of infants — take up roughly 78 percent and 74 percent, respectively, of their markets.

“From the vestiges of being agricultural tribes living in village communities, the Japanese have a tendency to feel secure by uniformly buying the same big-name brands, ” Ohinata of Keisen University said.

“But it’s a bit scary to think that as much as 80 percent of pregnant readers choose to buy the same magazine.”