Archive for August, 2009

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A new magazine to help you get “in and out” of the Bible: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with John Barry, Editor in Chief of Bible Study magazine

August 24, 2009

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Bible Study magazine is just that: a magazine to study the Bible. Some will be quick to say, so what’s new about that? Aren’t there plenty of magazines that deal with Bible studies and such? Well, on the surface, the answer is yes, but the more I studied (no pun intended) the new magazine, the more I saw its point of difference. It is not your grandfather’s Bible study magazine and it is published by a tech firm. This last observation alone could have led me to interview the publishers of the ink on paper Bible Study magazine, however in addition to this fact, the “Weird but Important” content of the magazine also caught my attention. Add to that some of the facts that I have later learned about the magazine’s business model. All of the above made John Barry, the magazine’s editor in chief, the perfect person to “study” and interview for the Mr. Magazine’s™ Interview segment of my blog and web site.

For the skimmers, here are some soundbites:

On launching in ink on paper:
Because paper works. As long as waiting rooms, lobbies and bathrooms are around, magazines will exist… There are also business reasons for launching a print magazine. Logos Bible Software is all about forward thinking…
On the magazine’s concept:
We are the only publication devoted solely and entirely to Bible study. Sounds odd, but it’s true.
On their different business model:
We don’t have a single subscription card. We chucked that business model out the window before we even launched our publication.
On advising others to launch a magazine in today’s market place:
I am tempted to say, “Don’t!” But the truth of the matter is that today is a great day to start a magazine.

What follows is the complete interview with John Barry, editor in chief, of Bible Study magazine:
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SH: In the midst of the doom and gloom of the print industry, why would a tech firm Logos Bible Software publish a printed magazine?

JB: Because paper works. As long as waiting rooms, lobbies and bathrooms are around, magazines will exist. As Logos Bible Software’s president, Bob Pritchett, says, “Magazines are bathroom-compatible.” No one brings their laptop into the bathroom, but they do bring a magazine. I can sit in a hot tub with a magazine, but I wouldn’t bring a hand-held device in there. And even if hand-held devices takeover the magazine world, like they have a segment of the newspaper world, people will be charged for the content, and many will still want the print version because of the info-graphics, tables, layout, art, typesetting and general readability.
Logos Bible Software is a digital publisher with nearly 10,000 biblical and theological books available to purchase and download—fully linked to each other, powered by incredible searching technology, and databases. So, many customers asked us, why not publish our magazine for Logos Bible Software? Our answer was (and is) because inevitably there are amazing resources in anyone’s digital library that they are yet to learn about, like the early church fathers. The insight the church fathers shed on Bible study and faith in general is incredible. Or what about Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote about Jesus? Or ancient translations of the Bible? Or ancient inscriptions contemporary to the Bible? Through something as simple as a print magazine, we can introduce people to these topics and peak their interest. We can teach them “What They Don’t Tell You in Church,” which is the name of one of our departments.
There are also business reasons for launching a print magazine. Logos Bible Software is all about forward thinking. This is why we developed a tool called RefTagger that automatically makes any Bible verse linkable to http://bible.logos.com with a tool tip window. Forward thinking is also why Logos recently launched a site called Ref.Ly that transforms Bible verses into short URL addresses for Twitter.com users. But the managers of our company realized that all the forward thinking about online sites in the world could not reach the entire market. We needed to reach the print community. Solution: Bible Study Magazine. Now we have the ability to teach the online and the print market about the book so many affirm as holy. And we have the ability to show people what is “Weird but Important” about the Bible, which is the title of another one of our departments.

SH: Do people need a Bible Study magazine to engage in a Bible study?

JB: Yes and no. Anyone can engage in Bible study—it just requires a Bible. But it’s like building a house. Sure I have wood and nails, but I don’t presume to know about carpentry, hanging dry wall, or plumbing. I don’t know squat about those things. Wood and nails don’t make a house, and neither does just labor; it requires knowledge and planning. And more often than not, a crew. Sure we have the Bible translated in our language, but we are separated from the culture by 2,000–4,000 years. Anyone with a Bible translation in their language can read it, but many people don’t know how to study it and draw their own conclusions about what it says. For this reason, we need a crew to help us—the world of biblical scholarship. But, it too is hard to connect with and confusing. So, we need a guide, a general contractor, and that is where Bible Study Magazine comes in. Our goal is not to tell people what to think about the Bible, but to teach them how to draw their own conclusions.

SH: What differentiate your magazine from the rest of Christian magazines out there?

JB: We are the only publication devoted solely and entirely to Bible study. Sounds odd, but it’s true. We surveyed all the Christian magazines out there, and there was a gap when it came to Bible study. This is the other reason why Logos Bible Software decided to launch Bible Study Magazine—we want to fill that gap.
We don’t want our magazine to be ordinary; we want it to be different and extraordinary. The stuff we put in our magazine, we haven’t seen anywhere else. For example, we have covered topics like “How Tall was Goliath and Who Really Killed Him?” In this article we propose, based on the earliest manuscript evidence, that Goliath is actually much shorter than what most translations say. In this article, we also solve the mystery of a Bible passage that claims that Elhanan, not David, killed Goliath. We take the reader straight into the Hebrew world, coloring Hebrew letters in several graphics, to show how to solve a very complicated textual issue. Our headlines also regularly push the envelope with titles like: “God’s Right Hand Woman?”; “Rock Music and Bible Study”; “Bible Study Anywhere” with Pastor Mark Driscoll; “The Real Ten Commandments?”; “Paul’s Lost Letters”; “Chapters and Verses: Who Needs Them?”; “A Fat Kind and a Left-Handed Man”; and “Did Jesus Believe in Reincarnation?” This sampling of our titles well illustrates our two major goals: (1) To get people inspired to read the Bible with human interest stories; and (2) To take a controversial or difficult topic and teach someone how to use in-depth scholastic tools and methods to solve it. We want readers to be able to walk away from a story both knowing more and knowing how to study the Bible for themselves.

SH: It is my understanding that you operate on a different, and maybe even unique, business model. Do you care to elaborate?

JB: We don’t have a single subscription card. We chucked that business model out the window before we even launched our publication. All our subscriptions come via http://www.biblestudymagazine.com, or people calling 1-800-875-6467. This cuts the cost of printing the cards, the additional mailing cost of the weight, the mailing costs of the cards being sent back to us, and the overhead of processing them. Plus, we get all the information we need to follow-up with the customer for renewals when they buy their subscription. We have substituted the cards with subscribe and renew ads.
We are also subscriber revenue based, rather than ad revenue driven. But unlike other subscriber revenue models, our subscription price is low, currently only $14.95 for six issues a year. We make this model work by cutting cost on all fronts.

SH: As you approach your first anniversary, what would you consider the major hurdle that the magazine leaped over, and what is the major hurdle still looming in the near future?

JB: Our first major hurdle was reaching 10,000 paid subscribers; we did that by the time we mailed the last copies of our third issue. We also sold nearly every advertisement in our first issue, which was a huge accomplishment. Our next major hurdle will be getting all of our nearly 13,000 paid circulation to renew. But my goals don’t end there, I want to double the amount of paid subscribers by our second anniversary.

SH: Where do you see Bible Study three years from you?

JB: Ideally, our paid circulation will be 1 million paid subscribers. (Kidding, of course; although that would be nice.) Three years from now, I envision Bible Study Magazine having 75,000 paid subscribers. Perhaps we will go monthly at that point. We will also hopefully have a very popular blog going, and an even larger online counterpart. Our interactive articles are very cool and unlike anything I have seen another publication do, but I want to see an online community built around Bible study as well. It will be a place where people can dialogue about our Bible studies and offer each other suggestions, so that we can all learn together. I believe churches will begin to look for Bible study solutions, and we will be the first place they turn. Our ongoing Bible study (covering the eight weeks between issues), for example, is a very inexpensive way for a church to a run a Bible study. Instead of a $29.95 book that lasts for one quarter that each class member would have to buy, we can offer a $14.95 subscription to each class member that lasts the whole year. And it does not just include a Bible study; it also includes word studies, guides and interesting articles. I am convinced that as word spreads about our publication, we will become the chosen solution for ministries.

SH: Any advice you are willing to give to someone who wants to start a print publication in this day and age?

JB: I am tempted to say, “Don’t!” But the truth of the matter is that today is a great day to start a magazine. Simply because everything is cheaper, outside of mailing. If you play smart, get good prices, and negotiate hard, you can do it. Find a niche market that has a need, learn how to reach that market, and then fill the need. But the business is risky, so do everything you can to stabilize your revenue sources. Use an auto-renewal system and get as many readers to agree to have their subscription automatically renewed as possible. Also, give advertisers substantial price breaks when they commit to advertising for a year. See them as business partners—you help them, and they help you. The business partnership opportunities are virtually limitless. In this vein, devote a lot of time to smart marketing—both finding your market and getting them to commit.

Finally, innovate, innovate, and re-innovate your business model. Those who stop evaluating will die. Watch every penny and be willing to make sacrifices. But remember, no matter how small a staff or budget, there are no excuses for mediocrity. At the end of the day, great publications reaching a real market can sell.

SH: Thank you.

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What’s in a name? A brand, a magazine, or a taboo…

August 21, 2009

Meredith Corp., publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal and Family Circle among other magazines, reintroduced itself to the media world last week via an ad campaign in the trade press by stating that “Today’s Meredith is designed for today’s media, combining all the channels with the marketing expertise you need to connect with consumers at the speed of life.”
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What caught my attention is that the word magazine appeared only once in the new vocabulary of the company’s ad campaign. Magazines, as we knew them, are now referred to as “national media brands.” One of those “national media brands” is Ladies’ Home Journal. Well, I guess the magazine is also attempting to reintroduce itself. The September issue of the magazine is testing what seems to be a new name, or a new brand, or dare I say a new “national media brand.” LHJ, in bold blue color, replaces the Ladies’ Home Journal name on the cover. The test issue also reverses all the color from the regular issue. What’s blue in Ladies’ Home Journal is brown in LHJ and vice versa.

Now, the folks working at Ladies’ Home Journal may fondly refer to the magazine as LHJ, but do they really think the readers outside the magazine’s offices refer to the magazine as LHJ? If we are truly in the process of reinventing ourselves and reintroducing ourselves, should we make it easier for the readers to find our brand or should we make it harder? I hope that this test is not a sign of what “reintroducing Meredith” is going to be. Ladies’ Home Journal is a much bigger brand in the women’s magazine field to be reintroduced as LHJ… and so are the remaining magazines published by Meredith.

I hope that the word “magazine” is not going to be a “taboo” in the vocabulary of the “Reintroduced Meredith” and the same is true for Ladies’ Home Journal. There is a big difference between a “brand experience” and a “magazine experience.” Please do keep the “magazine experience” well and alive and the “brand experience” will follow.

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Pages that count and Customers who count…

August 19, 2009

… are the only two solutions for the American magazine publishing model. That was my message this morning on the Money for Breakfast show on the Fox Business Channel.
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The show, hosted by Alexis Glick, focused on the news that only 12 magazines have witnessed an increase in their ad pages in the last six months. Eric Hoffman, Hoffman Media executive VP and COO, publisher of one of those 12 magazines, the highly successful, Cooking with Paula Deen magazine, and I were Alexis’s guests for the morning show segment “Turning A New Page?” Click here to watch the video from this morning show.

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Against all odds: Seventeen magazine is pretty, fun and flirty at 65

August 19, 2009

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What do Teen People, Cosmo Girl and Elle Girl have in common? I know that you are going to say that they are all dead. You are right. That is a fact. However, for a brief shinning moment in the last few years, the aforementioned magazines were the darlings of the media folks and were predicted to be the “hot new trend” in magazine publishing for teens. They all aimed to de-throne the mother queen of teen magazines: Seventeen. Guess what! Contrary to the predictions of the media pundits and “prophets of doom and gloom” the mother queen is still well, alive and kicking at 65.

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The magazine that carried the tag line “Young fashions & beauty, movies & music, ideas & people” on the cover of its first issue, back in September of 1944, is still offering its readers “pretty, fun and flirty” fashions, beauty, movies, music, ideas and people as “a relevant, trusted and fun resource for teens,” says the magazine publisher Jayne Jamison. So the next time you read about some upcoming new title that is taking the media pundits with a storm, stop, take a deep breath and do not lose faith in the good old established ones.

Magazines don’t age if they stay true to their DNAs. Magazine do age and die when you mess with their DNA. It is not the age that matters, but rather the DNA of the magazine. So, before you write off that old 60 something magazine, think twice and check its DNA. Seventeen is a shiny good example of a magazine at 65 that is still true to its DNA and thus still pretty, fun and flirty. It is necessary, sufficient and relevant. Read here my interview with publisher Jayne Jamison.

Happy anniversary and many many more!

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ESPN, The Magazine: Helping the economy or committing publishing suicide

August 14, 2009

ESPN1I love ESPN, The Magazine. I was one of three media critics who spoke positively about the launch of the magazine back when it started. This introduction is more than needed because what I witnessed at the post office last week sent shock waves through my system and caused me to stop and question the wisdom of what ESPN, The Magazine is doing.

Here is the story: I went to check my post office box at the main Post Office in Oxford. I saw a middle aged man taking a copy of ESPN, The Magazine from his box, he looked at the cover and then dropped the magazine at the garbage can. My heart almost stopped. Throwing ESPN, The Magazine in the garbage without even looking at the magazine. I dove into the garbage can and picked up the magazine. I looked at the cover that was half covered with a flap offering the subscriber “Your subscriber thank you gift!” The cover line on this flap screamed “What can you get for $1 these days? See inside.”

What was inside scared me even more than the moment the guy dropped the magazine in the garbage can. The answer to the cover question was “26 issues plus FREE ESPN Insider for $1.” The magazine told the “active subscriber” that “At ESPN, we are committed to delivering top value for you hard-earned money — especially during these tough economic times. That why we are offering our currently active subscribers a Thank You gift they can’t get anywhere else. 26 issues of ESPN The Magazine for just $1… That’s an unbelievable savings of $128.74 off the newsstand price!”

An entire year of the magazine for $1. Keep in mind, this is not an offer to new subscribers, or a trial offer. This offer “is valid for current subscriber renewals only and this offer is nontransferable.” My active subscriber did not even take the magazine home. Is the magazine really trying to help its subscribers in hard economic times? Or is the magazine committing publishing suicide by continuing to follow the dead American magazine publishing model: counting numbers rather than finding customers who count?

I do not believe that selling a one year subscription for $1 is the right answer to the hard economic times. It is, in my humble opinion, yet another example of a print publication committing publishing suicide.

If these hard times are not forcing the magazines to start selling to customers who count, rather than counting customers, I do not know what some publishers need to wake up and change their circulation methods. I do not know when the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) will go back to the good old days when they only counted the “customers who count.” Now is the time to change. Tomorrow is too late.

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From “nice to have” to “must have”: Scientific American’s Bruce Brandfon recipe for success

August 12, 2009

cover_2009-08What if some one tells you that the 21st century starts on Jan. 1, 2010? Well, you have to be stupid not to stop and listen to what that some one has to say. That is exactly what happened during my breakfast with Bruce Brandfon, Vice President and Publisher of Scientific American magazine, in New York City earlier in the week. Bruce’s comment reminded me with what Charles Overby said in his speech at the AEJMC’s convention last Friday that the last decade in the newspaper business was the lost decade.

Bruce told me that the reason he believes the 21st century starts January 1, 2010 “is because this first decade has been like stumbling in the dark clinging to the 20th century behavior. We woke up collectively when our 401k lost a major chunk of their value; when our kids graduated from college to find no jobs, and our business model collapsed…”

So I asked him, what do we need to do to prepare for the 21st century? His answer was three fold:

1. Deliver the most highly desirable, differentiated and satisfying content… If you are not different, the consumers will have harder time making a decision to pick you up… We are changing from nice to have, to must have.
2. Need to be able to justify for the other revenue stream, i.e. the advertiser, that you can deliver prospects who are involved in the content and not tricked into getting the content (like getting a one year’s sub for a dollar or five dollars). Your value proposition must be very clear.
3. You should be able to justify a premium price of whatever and wherever we are selling content…digital, print, etc. In your subject area you have to be dominant…no room left for middle of the way.

So what is needed to do all of the above? In Bruce’s book, we need two main ingredients:

1. Innovation: How to do every thing better… we have not innovated enough.
2. Sustainability: How to sustain the businesses we are involved in?

On the news front, Bruce told me “that starting with the January issue Scientific American is dropping its rate base to 450,000 from 575,000. The drop is 100% based on the decision to stop the direct mail method of acquiring new subscribers. It used to take 2 to 3 years to make any money on a new subscriber, now it is 7 to 8 years. Our new rate base will represent the loyal subscribers who renew at a phenomenal percentage and our 100,000 copies we sell at the newsstands.”

In addition to that, as of September 1 all feature articles on line will go behind a pay wall. People visiting the magazine’s web site via Google or other search engines will be able to see the first article for free, a synopsis of the second article and an invitation to subscribe or buy the digital edition.

His final words of wisdom for the day were, “We need to be THE THING for our audience. We need to create the BEST Scientific American yet.” Amen to that!

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Twelve Commandments for a Better News and Newspaper Future from Charles Overby, Chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum

August 9, 2009

Charles and Andrea Overby at AEJMCThe last decade in the history of American newspapers is in fact the lost decade, so says Charles Overby, Chairman and CEO of the Freedom Forum and CEO of the Newseum. Mr. Overby, a journalist, editor and publisher was the recipient of The 2009 Gerald M. Sass Award for Distinguished Service to Journalism and Mass Communication at the Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication annual convention this past week in Boston. Mr. Overby, in his acceptance speech, outlined the problems facing newsrooms and newspapers in today’s market place, and offered his views on how to reverse the declining trend facing the industry today. (Picture: Charles and Andrea Overby with the Gerald Sass Award)

Here are Mr. Overby’s “great dozen” ideas for the problems and solutions of today’s newsrooms and newspapers:

1. Free is not a business model:

Free is not a business model, certainly not for newspapers and news is and always has been a business. A free press does not mean free news. The survival of the free press, as we know it, depends on the public paying for it. If we want newspaper-size newsrooms, people have to pay for it. If we don’t, then forget it. It does not matter. But the idea that profits for newspapers are designed for greedy newspaper owners, I think, is missing the point. We need a revenue base that will support robust newsrooms and robust journalism.

2. Internet cannot replace the newspaper-sized newsroom:
We must resist the notion that the Internet, social networking and twitter can adequately replace newspaper-sized newsrooms. This doesn’t mean that you have to be against those new media. That is not the case at all. They are nice add-ons, but they are not a substitute for newspaper-sized newsrooms.

3. Preservation of the newsroom:

The issue is not narrowly the preservation of newspapers; it is the preservation of the adequately funded newsrooms.

4. Charging for content does not make you technically illiterate:

Rupert Murdoch announced this week that News Corp. plans to start charging for news content on the Internet at all his properties worldwide. Immediately Murdoch was labeled as technically illiterate. It is interesting to me that when cable companies charge fifty dollars or more a month to consumers they are not seen as technically illiterate.

5. Publishers are waking up:

I believe newspapers publishers are waking up to this reality and I think you will see many other legacy media outlets charging for their content. It is about time they did so. Not everybody will choose to pay for content. That’s OK, ten, twenty years ago not every body chose to subscribe to a newspaper. But many people who value substantive serious news will pay.

6. Publishers are to blame for their papers’ demise:

If people in the future asked the question who lost the news people, if traditional media disappeared as we knew it, whose fault will it be? I think the answer will be it was the fault of those who worried more about extending their brand for free on the Internet, than those who focused on preserving the value of their brand. Let us hope it will not come to that.

7. The underline principle of news has not changed:
The changes for the most part have involved the delivery of the news from drawing on cave walls, to smoke signals, to the pony express to satellites. But the underline principle of news has not changed; seek the truth, tell the story as fully and fairly as possible. There has been one other constant until recently. Over the years people have understood that you pay for news. That was true in the days of the colonial press; it was true even in the days of the penny press. But now it seems to be a debatable concept. For those who think that people should pay for the news, now incredibly, are often characterized as luddite, hopelessly out of touch. The dilemma has brought newspapers to the edge of a cliff. The future of newspapers, and I would say journalism as we know it, hangs in the balance. I recognize that some people have already written off newspapers and some of you may have already compared newspapers to dinosaurs. I believe that is a mistake.

8. The last decade is the lost decade

It is difficult for me to comprehend how steep the decline of newspapers has been in the last decade. I consider the last decade as the lost decade for newspapers. Virtually every thing about newspapers has gone down in the last decade. Circulation is down, advertising is down, profits are down and in some cases gone, news hole or the amount of space available for news stories is down, the number of editors and reporters is down.

9. Negative trends are the result of publishers’ disastrous decisions:

These negative trends are largely the result of the disastrous decision about ten years ago of newspaper publishers to put virtually all the newspapers’ content on the Internet for free. The thinking ten years ago went like this; we have to be on the Internet. We can’t miss this opportunity. We will figure out the business plan as we go along. The optimist thought the move to the Internet might ultimately allow newspapers to eliminate the two biggest expenses printing and distribution. The optimist also thought the Internet will bring in many new readers that will result in major profitable advertising.

10. Free is a trendy thing:

This move to free content is a very trendy thing, very seductive particularly with young people…there is even a book called Free. I point out that the book is not free it cost me $26.99.

11. Newspapers can’t survive if they continue to give their content for free:

Newspapers publishers are only now beginning to recognize that can’t survive if they continue to give their content free. If the free content trend continues you can bet the size of the newsrooms will decrease even more. That is bad for local communities, it is bad for journalism and I think it is bad for our democracy.

12. Reversing the trend:

The question is can this trend be reversed or stopped? Will people now pay for news content after growing accustomed for decade for getting this for free? I believe the trend can be reversed and that people will pay for news, perhaps in combination with print and the Internet. Readers have to see and understand substantive value for what they are paying for. They will not pay for a newspaper, or its equivalent, that continues to shrink in size and resources.

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