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My Interview with John Barry, editor in chief, Bible Study magazine
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.
What follows is the complete interview with John Barry, editor in chief, of Bible Study magazine:
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.