Saturday, May 24, 2014

Church publishing houses going forward...

I am worried about the future of church associated publishing houses like Abingdon, Nazarene Publishing House, and even my own Wesleyan Publishing House. I've talked to various prognosticators and of course have thought on my own about such things.  Here are some thoughts:

1. These brands are worth saving. Sure, I can publish oodles on my own and make a whole lot more on individual sales. But there is still value in a press endorsing your work. If I only self-publish, then my books are only worth as much as people don't think I need someone else's endorsement.

There is value in keeping the brand. And there is value in a denomination having an identity, which for the time being still involves both print and electronic materials. Rumors of the demise of demand for print materials have been much exaggerated, even among millennials. Yes, electronic is essential and should overwhelmingly dominate, but print will not go away completely any time soon, maybe never.

It's like a college. You can start a new college to be sure and start from scratch. But they say buying a failing college is worth 10 years and 10 million dollars just for the accreditation alone. So having the brand is worth it, even if publishing houses have to be reconceptualized.

2. Editing can be outsourced. Unfortunately, the years of having a full time editorial staff are pretty much over. Publishers just can't afford it and stay in business. But you don't have to pay someone 40,000 a year when you can pay someone a couple thousand to edit a book freelance. There are many competent individuals willing to serve in this capacity on the side.

3. For churches, publication decisions can be made by a committee made up of a combination of ex officio denominational officials and appropriate individuals within the denomination. It is the nature of things in denominations for lay leader and minister to serve willingly on boards of this sort with no remuneration other than expense--which such individuals often donate because they believe in the cause.

4. Printing can be done directly through Create Space and Amazon with a "print on demand" model. Amazon will take care of the printing and shipping. There may be some situations where it is worth having some quantities of books on stock. But in this day and age, no book should ever go out of print. This is the age where a single copy can be printed on demand and a profit be made.

5. For a denominational press, the various departments of the denomination should serve as the primary facilitators of new books and resources, as well as their primary marketers. So a spiritual formation department might play a primary role in the creation and publication of resources from the press in spiritual formation.

Some thoughts on how we can keep church publishing houses open for the indefinite future. Obviously, there will need to be someone somewhere doing the book keeping too...


Ken Schenck said...

Another service that established publishers can start performing is the endorsement of self-published work. For a fee, a church publisher might endorse a self-published book and list it on its website as a book aligned with denominational identity and values or, alternatively, as a significant book to read on the basis of some other standard (e.g., classic, key work from another tradition, etc).

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Ken, as is your follow-up suggestion, which could prove very helpful to both writers and their audiences.

There was one author who wrote a book that was controversial, and an opponent essentially suggested that his arguments could be dismissed because he self-published (via American University Press). In other words, since no "reputable" publisher felt his book had sufficient value to publish it, it could simply be dismissed.

The opponent was mistaken, because the problem wasn't the lack of interest from a reputable publisher; the problem was the publisher's requirement that the author revise his approach to address his book to scholars rather than the general public. The author felt that his book should be addressed to the general public, and published via UAP to remain faithful to his own vision for the book. After all, he wrote it with the general public in mind.

This is just one situation, albeit perhaps an uncommon one, where your suggestion could prove very helpful to all parties involved.