Free Enterprise Staff  | September 1, 2015

Designing Books for Infants: As Tricky as You’d Think

A recent report from Scholastic and YouGov found that children who were read to “early and often” were more likely to be frequent readers themselves later in life. But where can parents find the kinds of books that help young children develop a lifelong love of reading? For many caregivers, the answer is Babybug.

What makes Babybug unique? Published by Cricket Media, a Virginia-based media company, Babybug is specifically designed to engage babies aged six months to three years. Made up of poems, stories, and other pieces engineered to make parents interact with their children, Babybug is available in digital and physical forms.

Though it has evolved over time to become more specialized and targeted, Babybug remains geared toward its core audience of parents and their children. To find out more about the publication and what distinguishes it from the competition, we recently sat down for an interview with Cricket Media.

Where did the idea for Babybug come from?

At the start, Cricket Media offered content for all age groups. Our Ladybug publication was started to serve younger readers (0–6). Eventually we realized that was too broad an audience, so Babybug was founded to provide content more appropriate for the youngest readers and their caregivers. Incidentally, Babybug and Spider were started at the same time, as we had recognized that additional brands were needed to allow us to focus on more age-appropriate themes.

Babybug was founded in 1994, and the magazine aspires to provide babies, toddlers, and their caregivers with the best rhymes, stories, and art to enjoy together, and to begin the appreciation of the arts at the earliest possible age.

What makes Babybug different from other products within the space?

An issue of Babybug offers a much wider variety of illustration and literary styles than a reader would find in a board book. The artwork is beautiful, playful, and engaging, and the poems and stories are well-written and fun to read aloud. Each issue presents a serial with a relatable toddler, an action rhyme that encourages imaginative play, a simple concept, and many opportunities for little ones and their caregivers to interact and enjoy one another. 

What’s the biggest challenge you face in terms of running the company?

One of the bigger challenges is to adapt to the variety of products and formats customers want and need. When Babybug was born, it came in one format, a board book. It was a specific size, a specific number of pages, and the content was fixed; we knew how best to create content that would be really effective for that format.

Now, with digital technology, customers can access Babybug content on a four-inch smart phone or a 12-inch tablet, and they expect the experience to be great at either extreme.

The reading experience itself has also changed with the interactivity that digital enables. For example, you can read Babybug within Story Bug, our virtual bedtime story app that lets two people read together via a videoconference. It’s really great, but it’s different from reading to a child who’s sitting on your lap, so our biggest challenge is to make sure that all of these Babybug experiences are equally rewarding for parents and kids.

What’s the most rewarding part of it?

Without question it’s the feedback you get from parents or kids, who will share how Babybug and its characters are part of their daily routine. For example, we once published a poem called “The Mitten Song,” which was about dressing up for going out in the snow. I recently got a letter from a parent telling us that both of their kids, now 5 and 3, still sing that song every time they go out in the winter. That’s pretty amazing. 

What are some of the parenting trends you’ve seen come (and maybe go) over time?

New parents have always read to their babies. But new parents today are more aware than they’ve ever been about the benefits of reading to babies, and of exposing their children to storytelling from the very youngest age; because of that, they make reading a priority.

They also talk about it more, publicly—before there were social platforms like Facebook, parents didn’t really know much about whether and what other parents read to their children. Now they compare notes and make recommendations and talk about the stories that they love and that their children love. Even though it seems that we live in an age of screens, there’s really more conversation about reading, books, and their place in terms of the family than ever before.

How many employees do you have, and where is the company based?

We have about 90 employees, and we have two offices, our corporate office in Herndon, Virginia, and our Chicago location, where most of our creative team is.

How has it evolved over time?

It’s probably what I mentioned earlier: The evolution of our company from a traditional magazine business to a children’s multimedia company that builds content across a variety of physical and digital formats. Babybug is now more than a single fixed product: It’s really a collection of experiences. Creating amazing experiences across a variety of formats, and for different languages and cultures—we have recently begun publishing Chinese/English versions of Babybug in China—is what we do.

Where would you like the company to be 5 years from now?

Hopefully we’ll be doing what we do now—continuing to create the highest quality content experiences possible for as many kids and parents as we can. I don’t think anyone can predict what those formats that will be right now, but I know that’s what we will want to do. Hopefully some toddlers in China will be singing a Mandarin version of the Mitten Song when they go out to play in the snow!