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How Kookie magazine is re-inventing the print magazine to inspire young readers

The award-winning Kookie magazine is a pre-teen, girl-powered publication with a difference. It’s aiming to give girls aged 7 to 12+ a bigger, bolder sense of their place in the world – replacing content about pop culture and looking pretty, with tips on environmental action, how to navigate friendships, inspiring creativity and more. Co-founder Nicky Shortridge talks about the editorial, design and sales elements that drive the magazine’s success.

Vivien Jones and Nicky Shortridge.

Founded by childhood friends Nicky Shortridge and Vivien Jones, Kookie is a 56-page quarterly print magazine aimed at respecting pre-teen girls with all kinds of interests, backgrounds and abilities.

Shortridge says that the publication “busts the mould for pre-teen magazines”. A direction that has earned the team publishing industry acclaim.

Since its launch in December 2017, Kookie has won two publishing awards: most recently a 2019 Mumbrella Publish Award (Consumer publication of the year – small), as well as a British Society of Magazine Editors Award in 2018 (Launch of the year).

Kookie magazine delivers gender-neutral content aimed at encouraging curious, confident girls.

Driven by a clear purpose and a key difference

Between them, Shortridge and Jones have over 30 years’ experience across editing, writing, publishing and design. Shortridge is based in Australia and Jones in the UK.

“When Viv framed Kookie as a kind of feminist magazine for tweens, it was a lightbulb moment for us. We don’t talk feminism inside the magazine, but this way of thinking about its purpose and content brought complete clarity to the project when we started working on it,” says Shortridge. 

Kookie is about giving pre-teen girls a bigger, brighter view of the world and their place in it.

“We’re publishing a magazine that stands apart with smart, gender-neutral content that encourages curious, confident girls.”

Shortridge says “With no advertising, fashion or make-up, Kookie (as in smart cookie) aims to meet the needs of an under-served audience: girls aged 7 to 12+ who want – and deserve – a magazine that provides a rounded and optimistic sense of who they are and what they could become.

“Where existing magazines mostly follow a familiar format – think pop, think pretty, think plastic cover gifts – our magazine avoids narrow stereotypes, reflecting and respecting girls with all kinds of interests, backgrounds and abilities,” she says.

Kookie Co-Founder Nicky Shortridge explains that traditional print media remains popular among pre-teens, who love interacting with magazines in a tangible way.

Carefully considered editorial and design elements

The magazine’s content is carefully curated to inspire its pre-teen readers, as is the format and delivery of each article. Every edition includes articles that build a girl’s confidence, fill her with ideas and connect her with a wider community.

Pre-teen readers are also brought into the process of creating each edition. “It’s a magazine for girls and by girls. Our readers are our interviewers, writers and artists, alongside an international team of talented and creative female contributors,” says Shortridge. 

“Because kids need to ‘see it to be it’, we showcase a host of remarkable women: robotics engineer Marita Cheng, children’s author Kirli Saunders, and Olympic swimmer Cate Campbell have all been interviewed by our readers.

The magazine also includes original fiction and comics, plus features on everything from activism and adventure to science and sleepovers. Regulars include rad girl profiles, embarrassing moments, heroes of history, environmental topics, craft, books, puzzles, problems, pets and more.

“Our passion is to create a publication that’s inclusive of all kinds of kids. This influences the way we create and source editorial. Text is also carefully composed to avoid gendered or ableist language, and formatted to balance visual appeal with accessibility – that is, presented to reach eager and developing readers alike.”

Nicky Shortridge, Co-Founder, Kookie

Covers feature actual Kookie readers and a unique look: strong black-and-white portraits complemented by vibrant illustration, commissioned to convey the content inside. Throughout the magazine, imagery shows girls as active participants not passive subjects.

Kookie magazine is an ad-free publication, which is central to what the magazine’s ethos, and a key subscription selling point for parents and schools.

Kookie magazine = an ad-free magazine

Many magazine publishers wouldn’t consider launching a magazine without advertising revenue, but Shortridge explains that having an ad-free magazine is central to what Kookie stands for.

“We want to foster fresh thinking, not a new generation of avid consumers, and made a conscious decision to not solicit advertising, treating this business challenge as an advantage.”

To reduce the initial risk, Kookie was launched via a crowdfunding campaign to establish a subscriber base ahead of issue 1. The campaign was successful, securing over 300 backers.

“Today, customers (mainly parents, plus schools) love the ad-free experience we offer and are prepared to pay a slightly higher cover price for it,” says Shortridge.

Print driving engagement and community

Shortridge says that there are so many advantages to print over digital for the pre-teen age group.

“Our experience (supported by industry research) confirms that traditional print media remains popular among pre-teens, who love interacting with magazines in a tangible way – receiving them in the post, colouring in pictures, pulling out posters, filling in quizzes, reading stories on the page – actively immersing themselves in content.

She says that magazines offer a sense of ownership and escapism – they can be read anywhere, at any time – and without a charger in sight.

“Parents love to see their kids engaged deeply in our content,” Shortridge says, which is important given the parents often hold the final purchasing decision.

“We want Kookie to spark conversations and build community too, and a physical magazine is something a child can share with a friend, a parent, a sibling.” 

Nicky Shortridge, Co-Founder, Kookie

A growing subscriber base and a mighty vision

Two years into publication, Kookie’s circulation is still growing but is already broad and diverse, with subscribers in every state and territory, and in metropolitan, regional and remote locations—including a school 190 kilometres south of Broome.

“For a publication that’s passionate about building community, balance and belonging, this rich take-up – achieved within a year of launch – is a standout achievement,” Shortridge says. 

Shortridge and Jones want Kookie to be a keepsake publication that’s re-read, collected, cherished and shared by its readership.

“We’re a micro independent publishing company with a mighty vision, shaking things up and determined to do better for a new generation of girls.”

For more information on Kookie magazine, visit its website.

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