Highlights Magazine Freshens Design

The Associated Press
Sunday, June 18, 2006; 5:38 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- That scamp Goofus and his do-gooder companion, Gallant, look more animated and colorful in the Highlights magazine hitting mailboxes and dentists' waiting rooms across the country next month.

The lessons conveyed through the cartoon panels _ asking parents before adopting a puppy and fulfilling one's promises _ are largely unchanged, however, from those that have long modeled good behavior for children.

Highlights, which turns 60 this month, has freshened its look as it competes with video games, television and dozens of other children's magazines, many of which tie into cable networks or spin off of grown-up publications.

"Our competition is really for kids' time in a crowded world," said Kent Johnson, 37, chief executive and the great-grandson of the magazine's founders.

Highlights' pages pop with more vivid colors and illustrations that have a three-dimensional feel, but the changes are subtle enough that its 2 million readers won't be dismayed. They'll still be able to hunt for the needle in "Hidden Pictures," a feature that challenges readers to find smaller objects in a full-page illustration. And Ma, Pa, Mabel and Tommy Timbertoe, the family of wooden people, will still be there with their dog, Spot.

The "smiling H" _ the jaunty capital letter with its upturned middle line _ still leads the title, and the cover remains a full-page illustration showing kids and animals having fun.

The August issue _ which included the magazine's billionth copy printed last week in Clarksville, Tenn. _ adds cover teases, widely used in the industry.

Like other mass magazines, Highlights has lost readers in recent years because of competition in the industry and from other media sources, said Samir Husni, chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi, who tracks the magazine world. He has been consulting with Highlights to help the magazine revamp its look.

In the last 10 years, about 140 children's magazines have been launched, although the majority have since folded, Husni said. According to the Magazine Publishers of America, about 190 children's magazines were in circulation in 2005.

Highlights, which doesn't accept ads and is sold primarily through subscriptions that cost about $30 a year, hit a peak in circulation a decade ago at about 2.5 million. To grow again, the magazine will need a bigger presence on the newsstand, Husni said. Other magazines, such as those tied to the kid-focused Nickelodeon television network and Disney, have built-in publicity.

Still, of the about 6,500 consumer magazines available, Highlights is one of about 40 that have a circulation of 2 million or more, Husni said.

Highlights features articles on topics ranging from T. rex to teenage soccer star Freddy Adu, as well as jokes, games and crafts such as making a dragonfly using pipe cleaners. Several pages are filled with drawings and poems produced by readers.

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