This month, Atlanta Parent magazine, the brainchild of a Dunwoody special-education teacher with no previous publishing experience, is celebrating its 35th anniversary.
What started as an eight-page black-and-white tabloid newsletter is today Atlanta’s colorful go-to parenting resource of up to 88 pages a month with a monthly print circulation of 85,000 in addition to a digital version which increases their reach to approximately 255,000. The magazine’s survival in an era when print publications are dying by the day is a story of resilience, determination and timing.
Yet, 35 years ago, Liz White, the founder and publisher, had no intention of starting a magazine.
“I was a new mom looking for things to do. One day, at the grocery store, I picked up a copy of Seattle’s Child. I sent away my dollar [for a subscription] and totally forgot about it. Three months later it came,” she said.
At about the same time, while at the library she happened to see a book on how to make money publishing a newsletter. She checked it out and brought it home. That night, she left her newborn daughter – and the book – at home with her husband while she went out to dinner with a friend.
“When I got home, my husband said, ‘We should do this. You can sit down at your computer and practically start publishing,’” she said.
Like her, her husband, then a stagehand with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, knew nothing about publishing. But lack of experience didn’t stop them, and the next day he started talking to printers. One thing led to another, and they were soon ready to publish their first issue.
“It was just eight pages, produced on an electric typewriter,” she said. “We printed 5,000 copies, and our print bill was just $232. It was full of typos, but we were proud of it.””
For the first two years, it was “a very hands-on” two-person operation. White provided all the content and production, and her husband kept his day job and personally made all the deliveries. They soon realized they were onto something.
“People came out of the woodwork to help us,” she said.
From the beginning, the magazine focused on providing useful information about schools, camps, fun family activities and children’s health. Ever since moving to their current magazine format in 1990, their articles have been fun and colorful as well.
“We remind parents of things that are important. We do education every month, but focus on the lighter side of parenting,” she said. “Like what if the tooth fairy doesn’t come?”
A regular focus of the magazine is early childhood education and training, with frequent articles for first-time parents covering topics like toilet training, selecting the right childcare center or preschool and recognizing dyslexia.
Perhaps Atlanta Parent’s greatest strength is that its website publishes a comprehensive monthly list of every family-and-child-focused activity happening in metro Atlanta. The list in the magazine’s print version is curated – for example, the top 30 things to do for Halloween. Getting an event mentioned in Atlanta Parent is so vital to event planners that 85 percent of the listings are unsolicited.
Despite the magazine’s success, White’s personal life was hit by tragedy nine years ago when her husband, who eventually joined the publication full time, passed away.
“We were married 31 years and had worked together,” she said. “It was so hard the first few years after he was gone.”
Her daughter, Laura, now the publication’s associate publisher, plays a very active role, especially keeping the publication visually appealing and managing the digital analytics.
“We also have a fabulous creative director,” White said. “We always win awards for graphics and editorial at the Parenting Media [trade organization] awards in the spring.”
Since survival in the magazine industry is in large part a matter of being responsive to readers’ changing habits and lifestyles, Atlanta Parent stories have gotten shorter, usually no more than two pages, and more visual. Many of them focus on current topics like the ongoing battle between children’s screen time and play time.
“We want to help parents figures out how to give their kids enough active play and do several stories a year on how to give kids less screen time,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge today is advertising, especially since Atlanta Parent is free to readers.
“Selling [advertising] is a whole lot tougher than it used to be. We have a good product that people read, and we have three ad reps that effectively tell our story because everyone else is out there telling their story. Laura and I both still sell a little too,” she said. “You have to get back to shoe leather and be out there meeting face to face, taking good care of your accounts.”
Ultimately, though, it’s all about her readers, who approach her regularly at events to thank her.
“If you print relevant articles, people will read them,” she said.
To show how much being relevant has changed over the past 35 years, the October issue of Atlanta Parent celebrates its anniversary by comparing being a kid in 1983 versus now, covering everything from toys, music and play to sending thank-you notes. The article is playful but also thought-provoking.
Despite the passage of time, the one thing that hasn’t changed is White’s continuing love of her magazine and the parents who read it.
“My biggest reward is seeing a parent pick up a copy in the grocery store or the library,” she said, “and seeing the magazine come out every single month and thinking yes, we did it again.”
Atlanta Parent is available throughout Dunwoody, including the Dunwoody Library. For the digital version, go to atlantaparent.com.