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A Return To Print: Plough Quarterly Digs Deep Into Christian Issues One Cause At A Time… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Publisher Sam Hine

February 19, 2015

“We had a very successful website, but we felt that the engagement with the material was superficial. People were only spending a few minutes, even less than a minute, on an article and not really thinking deeply about the topics we were raising.” Sam Hine

Plough1-1 In a world sometimes gone mad with violence from social and religious contentions and other issues that can only be handled from the far left or the far right; we all need a message of hope and renewal to refresh our hearts and souls and assure us that there is a greater good out there and we do have hope when it comes to a peaceful and loving future.

Not that socially and religiously-charged conflicts haven’t been going on since the Garden of Eden, it’s just that Adam and Eve didn’t have a Smartphone, iPad or computer to send them notifications about the battles every five seconds. Today the dissent is extremely in-your-face and there is no reprieve from it. But there are people out there dedicated to bringing us a different notification and message; one of hope and salvation from all the disunity we see in the world today.

Plough Publishing re-launched its 94-year-old magazine as Plough Quarterly on June 10, 2014. It had been twelve years since the publication went online-only. Since then Plough.com had become a top destination for Christian e-books and online inspiration, and it seemed the editors learned a few things from its success online.

“Magazines are more relevant than ever,” said Sam Hine, publisher of Plough Quarterly in a press release that was released before the magazine’s re-launch. “They have been reimagined to answer a widespread dissatisfaction with the online reading experience. People are hungry for something that isn’t ephemeral—a quick scan, then on to the next thing with a click, swipe or tap. If content has integrity, people will be happy for a beautifully crafted product they can keep around or pass around.”

I spoke with Sam recently about the reasons behind Plough Publishing’s decision to bring back the print component of the brand and the message and mission of the company. As he talked about the compassion and genuineness of the magazine’s purpose: to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, his voice was soft-spoken and even, yet firm in his passion for the magazine’s mission and his determination to give his readers a more meaningful and engaging way to connect with that calling, through the power of the printed word.

I hope you enjoy this uplifting and inspiring conversation as much as I did. The words are real and the feelings behind them absolute: love and peace are much more satisfying than their antonyms any day of the week.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Sam Hine, Publisher, Plough Quarterly.

But first the sound-bites:

Sam Hine On why Plough Publishing brought back their print magazine after 12 years:
There is also a limit to presentation, how nice you can make the reading experience online. And we heard from readers who missed the print magazine and told us that they would love to receive a quarterly journal from us. All of those things convinced us that it was time to bring back print.

On the DNA of Plough Quarterly and its focus:
It’s published by Plough Publishing House and we also publish books, currently about 12 titles per year, on faith, spirituality and social issues. And the focus of the magazine is to encourage people who want to put their faith into practice.

On why Christian magazines seem to be on the rise with consumers:
I think the United States has always been a very religious country. And I think people have always been serious about their faith. For a magazine like ours to succeed, it needs to offer something different and Plough Quarterly is really for people who are looking to go deeper with their faith and who are very serious about putting their faith into practice every day, not just on Sunday.

On what made him feel there was a place on the newsstands for Plough Quarterly:
Our sales are primarily subscription, but for us it’s important to be on the newsstands too so that new people discover us; that is the main reason we’re there.

On his biggest stumbling block during the re-launch and how he overcame it:
The decision was easy; we just had a lot to learn. The world has changed in many respects; how to promote and market a magazine; how to publish a product that offers something unique and different from what consumers can get online. And I think with each issue we’ve learned something and gotten better.

On his most pleasant moment:
The best thing was hearing from individual readers about how much they appreciated the magazine.

On what keeps him up at night:
Our mission as a publication and a publishing house is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to reach as many people as possible with the message of forgiveness, reconciliation and renewal that comes when we apply our faith to the needs of our time and we’ve hardly scratched the surface. Every day I think of how few people we’re reaching in comparison to how many are actually out there who need that message.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sam Hine, Publisher, Plough Quarterly.

Samir Husni: Like the rest of the masses 12 or 13 years ago; your company said there’s no future for print, everyone is going online, so let’s fold our printed magazine and go digital. But then last summer you came back with a beautiful, very well-done, quarterly ink on paper magazine; what changed your mind after 12 years and made you decide you needed the print component again?

Sam Hine: The decision was made in 2002 to close the print magazine because we decided we could reach more people at less cost online only. And that was probably true, but over the years since, we had a very successful website, but we felt that the engagement with the material was superficial. People were only spending a few minutes, even less than a minute, on an article and not really thinking deeply about the topics we were raising.

There is also a limit to presentation, how nice you can make the reading experience online. And we heard from readers who missed the print magazine and told us that they would love to receive a quarterly journal from us. All of those things convinced us that it was time to bring back print.

Plough2-2 Samir Husni: For readers who are not familiar with Plough Quarterly, can you give me a little background? I know the magazine was founded in Germany in 1920, but can you give me more about the actual magazine, the movement and its mission?

Sam Hine: It’s published by Plough Publishing House and we also publish books, currently about 12 titles per year, on faith, spirituality and social issues. And the focus of the magazine is to encourage people who want to put their faith into practice. So, it’s applied Christianity; how can we apply what we believe to every area of life, from social issues to current events and popular culture. It’s a magazine of stories, ideas and art to inspire people to put their faith into action.

Samir Husni: Is the magazine published only in the United States, in English, or does it still exist in Germany?

Sam Hine: We’re only publishing in English, but it’s available worldwide. We have many subscribers in the United Kingdom, for example.

Samir Husni: I interviewed Carol Brooks last month from Bauer Publishing and they’re coming out with a new magazine called Simple Grace in April. And this is a secular publishing house that’s putting out a Christian-based monthly magazine on the nation’s newsstands. She quoted a lot of the same statistics that your company did in your press release, such as 77% of Americans are Christians and she also quoted the figures of how many copies the book Jesus Calling is selling. So, they decided to come up with this Christian magazine for the newsstands with a daily meditation for readers. Why do you think we’re seeing this resurgence maybe or renewed interest in Christianity now? Is it the political world that we live in or simply the changes that are happening? Why now?

Sam Hine: I think the United States has always been a very religious country. And I think people have always been serious about their faith. For a magazine like ours to succeed, it needs to offer something different and Plough Quarterly is really for people who are looking to go deeper with their faith and who are very serious about putting their faith into practice every day, not just on Sunday. It is a niche publication for people who are looking to dig deeper.

Another gap that we see we’re filling that other Christian publications for the most part are not, is the ability to build bridges between denominations. There are over 40,000 different Christian denominations and many Christian publications are published by a particular group or geared toward a particular segment. So, one of our goals and focuses is to really reach out across all these barriers and to include voices from all the different streams of Christianity. Plough Quarterly is a place where we can build unity and understanding between Christians of many different flavors and stripes. Jesus’ last prayer was for all of his disciples to be one.

Plough3-3 Samir Husni: I noticed that you put the magazine on the newsstands; in fact I found my copy at Books-A-Million. What made you feel that there was a place on the newsstands for this niche Christian-living type magazine?

Sam Hine: Our sales are primarily subscription, but for us it’s important to be on the newsstands too so that new people discover us; that is the main reason we’re there. We’re in Barnes & Noble as well as Books-A-Million and other independent newsstands. So, the main reason is that new people find the magazine and hopefully subscribe.

Samir Husni: When the decision was made to bring back the printed magazine; what was the biggest stumbling block that you faced and how did you overcome it? Or was the decision and the process easy and it was done?

Sam Hine: The decision was easy; we just had a lot to learn. The world has changed in many respects; how to promote and market a magazine; how to publish a product that offers something unique and different from what consumers can get online. And I think with each issue we’ve learned something and gotten better. And another important facet was that it had to be graphically pleasing. We’ll also sit down and spend a long time with an article and with print we’re able to do a longer form of journalism.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant moment with the re-launch?

Sam Hine: The best thing was hearing from individual readers about how much they appreciated the magazine. We’ve been pleasantly surprised; we passed our subscription goals for the first year within the first six months. We were a bit surprised at the reception.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Sam Hine: Not Plough Quarterly. (Laughs) Our mission as a publication and a publishing house is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to reach as many people as possible with the message of forgiveness, reconciliation and renewal that comes when we apply our faith to the needs of our time and we’ve hardly scratched the surface.

Every day I think of how few people we’re reaching in comparison to how many are actually out there who need that message. We’re a mission-driven organization; we’re not for profit and we’ve barely begun. There is so much violence and suffering in the world and if we can encourage a few people each day to make a difference, to step out and do something for others, makes it worthwhile for me to come to work each morning and helps me sleep at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. Samir . . .

    The drone item under “Related” reminds me of my high school days back in the late 1940s when Superman was the big deal.

    Every Superman episode on radio began with a loud and excited voice building into a verbal crescendo:

    Look! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s Superman!

    In our version, however, the excitement was limited to the first two parts with the third part expressing disgust and disappointment so as to come out this way:

    Look! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Damn! It is a plane.

    Even after all these years, I smile when I remember how many times we got a laugh by pointing to the sky and saying those words.



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