Northwestern College students plan Christian magazine

Northwestern College English professor Richard Sowienski decided to do more than teach about magazine publishing. He decided to put his teaching to the test of the real world by encouraging his publishing class to launch a national magazine for Christian college students.

Titled Cardboard, the magazine’s mission is to explore culture and faith from a creative Christian perspective. According to a recent article in the Beacon, the college newspaper, the name “Cardboard,” refers to cardboard as a container, representing the belief that humans need to be filled by God. The name also reflects the impermanence of life on earth.

“For now,” says the Beacon, “Cardboard is written entirely by Sowienski’s class. However, the magazine’s future will include freelance articles by college students across the country.”

“We want to be a national magazine,” says Sowienski. “When the first group of students developed the mission statement, I was so amazed and touched. I was moved by their passion for this magazine with its Christian mission.”

Because of the magazine’s potential, the publishing course was offered a second time and a new team of students are working to launch it. In order to achieve a more professional standard, the publishing class has partnered with Journey Group, a Virginia firm specializing in high-quality magazine publishing.

The publishing course will continue permanently in two formats, an introductory class and an advanced one.

“[The] publishing [class] started out as a one-time offering,” says Sowienski. “But the more the students worked on the magazine, the more excited they got, and the more excited I got as well.” Students who pass both courses will be able to continue to work on Cardboard as editors and advisors, possibly in paid work-study positions.

“Magazines are in my blood,” says Sowienski, who worked for 20 years in publishing before entering academia. Previously, he served as parenting and education editor of Better Homes and Gardens, senior editor of Successful Farming, and managing editor of The Missouri Review, a lliterary magazine.

To read Cardboard, visit

Five checkpoints for a stronger magazine

Sure, most magazines fail within the first 10 years of operation. But there are things you can do to help make sure  your magazine won’t be one of the casualties. Here are five checkpoints to consider as you look at the future of your magazine.

1. Checkpoint One: Your magazine’s mission and editorial, marketing, and design philosophy. How long has it been since you’ve reviewed your magazine’s mission? Does everyone on the staff know why your magazine exists and what purpose it was designed to serve? A clearly and tightly focused mission will help you to stay on track as you make day to day decisions, selecting  articles, designing pages, and marketing your magazine.

2. Checkpoint Two: Know your audience. Do you know who your audience is and who you want it to be? One American magazine for college students was alarmed to find some 15 years after it was founded that the declining audience was composed mainly of people in their late 20s and early 30s. What happened? As the editorial and design staff aged, they failed to keep up with the tastes and issues faced by their supposed audience, and little by little the magazine grew older with the staff. Do you really know the audience you’re trying to reach? The more you know about your audience, the better equipped you will be to produce a magazine they will want to read.

3. Checkpoint Three: Your marketing plan. Are you continuing to look for new ways to get your magazine to your prospective readers? Have you explored new options as they’ve become available? Especially with a small staff, it’s easy to focus on producing the magazine and to forget to budget time to consider how you will get your wonderful product into the hands of readers.

4. Checkpoint Four: Your financial situation. Do you have a budget and are you keeping track of expenses? Do you have a fairly good idea of how much it will cost to produce your magazine next year and how many subscribers, advertisers, or donors you will need in order to continue to produce the kind of publication you now have or would like to have? A carefully-prepared budget and financial plan will make it possible to gauge your progress throughout the year and will alert you to potential problems or the need for an infusion of cash or a course correction.

5. Checkpoint Five: Are you continuing to learn your craft? Magazine publishing is changing rapidly. Are you keeping up with trends in magazine publishing and those that affect your audience? Design styles are changing and the expectations of consumers are changing, as well. It’s easy just to continue doing what you’ve always done and the way you’ve done it. However, those who continue to learn, whether through formal training or keen observation will be better equipped to produce a quality publication that continues to appeal to its market..

Six reasons why your new magazine may fail

Why would you want to think about reasons your new magazine might fail? Well, you’re making a significant investment of time and money in getting your magazine off the ground and you want it to succeed. In the United States 60 percent of magazines fail within the first year. I don’t know what the statistic are for other countries, but my observation is that the same is probably true in many other places. In the U.S., by the fourth year 80 percent of new magazines have failed and by the 10th year, only 10 percent are left.

So, how can you make sure that your magazine is one of the 10 percent that make it long term? Industry expert Samir A. Husni ( suggests there are 13 traps to avoid. I’ll list six of them here and briefly comment on each.

• Insufficient planning and research: You’re excited about your idea for a new magazine and you want to start right away. Why take the time to plan for the long term and to do research to find out whether your magazine is really wanted and needed and whether anyone will be willing to place advertisements in it? Many years ago, I was on the staff of a national Christian bi-weekly newspaper that started with great excitement and an investment of millions of dollars. The publishers were so sure their vision for the publication was on target that they didn’t bother to do research. Five years later, with diminishing renewals and skyrocketing debt, the publishers concluded a publication like theirs was not wanted.

• Insufficient budget and funds to cover magazine costs: It’s not surprising that a brand new publisher has no idea how much a magazine will cost. The assumption may be that you sell the copies and it will cover the cost of the issue. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. It may take years of careful planning before your magazine even gets into the black. That means you have to have investors or donors who share your vision and who are willing to cover the losses until the magazine is able to get on its feet.

• No clearly defined audience or target market: Who exactly is this magazine for and what are their interests? Publishers and editors know what they want to say, but if you don’t know what your potential readers want to read, your magazine will have an audience of one. The more you know about your potential reader, the more you can shape the content, design and language to appeal to the reader. Okay, this does mean research. Don’t take it for granted that you know who they really are.

• Unfocused mission and editorial philosophy: Can you say in one sentence what the purpose of your magazine is and how it should affect the reader? If not, go back to the drawing board. The more focused your mission and editorial philosophy, the more likely you are to appeal to the target audience.

• An ineffective [or nonexistent] marketing plan: Many magazines in the Developing World are started by editors. This is the person with the vision and the ability to communicate. However, often this is also a person who is NOT a marketer. I personally know of many magazines with enormous potential started by editors who knew the audience, were good writers and editors, but who were not able to get the magazine to the audience. A carefully thought out and researched marketing plan is crucial.

• Unable to acquire significant distribution: How will you distribute the magazine?  Distribution is a significant hurdle and new publishers have to have a plan to overcome the obstacles in the way of new, small, untested magazines. In many countries, subscribing to magazines is practically unknown. Everyone buys their magazines and newspapers at the local kiosk. But will the kiosk take your magazine? And if they do, will they display it or will it end up stuffed behind the more popular publications? If it’s not possible to get single subscriptions and if you can’t use the kiosks, how will you distribute your magazine? This is an important issue and should be seriously considered before you even think of printing the first issue.

In my next post I’ll list some reasons why your new magazine may succeed.

Someone is looking for your magazine

So you have an idea for a magazine and you’ve been thinking about it for years, mulling over the pros and cons. Sure, there are lots of cons these days with a struggling economy, news about the demise of well-known magazines, and maybe print is on it’s way out, anyway. Is anyone interested in magazines these days? Is anyone looking for the kind of magazine you’ve been dreaming about? The answer is: Maybe so!

A look at Google’s keyword tool is instructive. Over the last 12 months, the average monthly number of searches for Christian magazines for women totals 8,720. How many people are searching each month for Christian magazines for kids? 6,066. How about Christian magazines in Malayalam, a language spoken by nearly 30 million people in Kerala, a state in south India? I was surprised to find that there were a monthly average of 1,070 searches for Christian magazines in Malayalam.

For the generic term “Christian magazine” there were 40,500 average monthly searches. A lot of people are looking for Christian magazines and maybe some of them—or even a lot of them—are looking for the magazine you’ve been dreaming about. Check it out. Maybe it’s time to get to work on that new magazine.