Sartell parents launch magazine for large families

Date: 2001-05-02

Sartell parents launch magazine for large families
Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001
SUE HALENA
St. Cloud Times
SARTELL (AP) -- Paul and Paula Dunham have yet to see the first edition of the new magazine they will market internationally, and already they know the daunting proportions of the project.

But big endeavors hardly scare the couple that is raising nine children and looking to adopt more.

It's their large-family experience that has catapulted the Dunhams into the publishing industry. Their magazine, Joyfull Noise, targets families with four or more children -- a market they found ill-served by mainstream parenting publications.

"It's celebrating and encouraging large families," publisher Paula Dunham said. "We want to have a magazine that truly understands large-family dynamics."

Joyfull Noise premieres next month. Production relies so heavily on Internet technology that the Dunhams need little more than a computer and telephone to run the operation from their home.

Advice on health, finances, cooking, products and activities will be included in the 56-page first edition -- all geared to the 3.5 million U.S. families that have four or more children. The magazine is intended to offer information, amusement and a sense of community. The name "Joyfull Noise" is at the same time a play on words, a description of the Dunham household and a reference to the Biblical background that guides the magazine's values.

"We love large families. We understand them," Paula Dunham said. "We have the talent and the ability to do it, so we just stepped in and filled a hole in the market."

While large families are abundant -- especially in more rural states -- they are too scattered to have strong local support systems, the Dunhams say.

Some are families with adopted children, some are blended families from two previous marriages and many also are home-school families.

The Dunhams' goal is to deal with topics all of them can use and enjoy.

Joyfull Noise started as a short-term newsletter for large families that Paul Dunham produced when he was taking a college writing class five years ago. Reaction to the newsletter was powerful enough to make the Dunhams dream of regular publication.

That dream lingered until a harrowing event in December 1999 spurred the couple into action. On a trip down Interstate Highway 94, the Dunhams' van hit a patch of ice and rolled. The family escaped unharmed except for a cut on Paul's knee that needed four stitches.

"It just puts life in perspective, and if you have a dream you need to do it," Paula Dunham said.

The couple went to the Anderson Entrepreneurial Center at St. Cloud State University for advice on starting a publishing business. They read industry publications, researched their market and wrote a business plan. They created a Web site -- www.joyfullnoise.com -- to survey the market and build a subscriber base. They found a managing editor in Kansas, a photographer in Arkansas, a local art director and 75 free-lance writers across the nation. They got financial backing from their parents and pulled together a media kit to show potential advertisers. They arranged for printing six times a year at Banta Publications Group in Long Prairie.

The market survey yielded an 18-month content plan and confirmed that other publications weren't dealing with large-family topics -- such as complex sibling relationships and matching 102 pairs of socks.

Planning was critical.

"This is really a tough business, and unless you do a lot of research, I wouldn't suggest starting a magazine," Paula Dunham said. A typical magazine doesn't break even financially for three to five years.

The Dunhams are optimistic. They have subscribers in 39 states, Canada, Australia and England. Ad sales for the first year have exceeded their goal.

"While it's a passion of ours and we love large families, it is a business too," Paula Dunham said.

At first, most of the work was done after the children -- ages 1 to 15 -- were in bed. Paul Dunham works full-time as a technical writer for DeZurick Copes-Vulcan valve manufacturer in Sartell. Paula Dunham teaches their five home-schooled children during the day. Recently, she's fit more daytime work into her schedule. A long-distance alert feature on the phone helps her grab important calls.

Duties divide clearly between the couple, both 36 years old. Paula, trained as a teacher, puts communication skills to work on advertising and marketing calls. Paul is editor, but besides guiding the tone of the publication he is a one-man information technology department.

"In a small business, you wear many hats," Paula Dunham said.

The children, besides being the inspiration for Joyfull Noise, take on a few of the tasks. They've handled telephone messages, colored labels for the media kits and helped plan entertainment for the May 19 launch party.

In more than one way, technology has been the magazine's friend.

A Web-based messaging system allows the Dunhams to chat with their far-away managing editor. Everyone working on the project has access to it via the Web. Finished pages of the magazine will be transmitted electronically to the printer.

Internet searches led Paula Dunham to her advertisers, and e-mail is her favorite follow-up tool. Soon a CD-ROM will replace the paper version of the media kit that is used to pitch their product to potential advertisers.

The Internet has made it easy for the Dunhams to stay in touch with large families they met during Paul's Air Force career and to meet thousands of others. They know their magazine's market well, even though neither of them started marriage with plans for an exceptionally large family.

Paula, adopted into a family with one other child, started her marriage hoping for four children. Paul, from a family of four siblings, thought two would be fine. Their thoughts changed as the years went by. "They were just too cute," Paul Dunham says as a smiling 3-year-old Megan curls up in his lap.

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