Sunday, January 03, 2016

Reinventing Wesleyan Publishing House

1. For a few years now, Wesleyan Publishing House (WPH) has been declining. I suppose that's no surprise given the general state of the publishing industry right now. In the absence of any real change, it's been dying a slow death. Fewer and fewer staff, no real vision (unless the plan is to let it fall under its own weight). Just the General Board checking the numbers each meeting and seeing a bad trajectory.

I think the situation has now reached a ripeness for reinvention. Any forces that might have fought against doing something innovative are pretty much gone. Now is an opportune moment to do something I think we can be quite good at--innovating.

2.  For example, I've heard it suggested that the main divisions of HQ should be the point people for initiating and then marketing WPH books. So a book would only get published if Spiritual Formation, Education/Clergy Care, etc. were willing to take it under their wings and do the initial underwriting of the project.

They do it already and have sometimes done it in tension with WPH. These leaders are the ones out there in the churches anyway. Their leaders and staff have often been great marketers. How better to insure that the books produced at HQ are useful to the church?

3. There needs to be a full shift to a print-on-demand model that does not require any in-house sales or shipping. As an extreme example, WPH could do all its sales and shipping through Amazon. It could have a website that is basically a glorified astore. I don't know if a publisher like Wipf & Stock would be be willing to be a publishing arm for a denominational imprint.

In the print-on-demand model, a book isn't printed until it is ordered. No book ever goes out of print, and every book can make a profit. With Wipf & Stock, there is an initial fee. But they even have editors on staff. Then the book is permanently available and printed on demand.

4. Bottom line. Let's not ever use the word "close." Let's use the word "re-structure." There's no reason for closure. (P.S. Why not let the colleges in on the game too? Then IWU could merge its Triangle Publishing into the enterprise).


Craig Bubeck said...

An open letter in response to Ken Schenck’s January 3rd 2016 blog, “Reinventing Wesleyan Publishing House.”

I am writing personally in response to your post, Ken. While I don’t officially represent WPH or The Wesleyan Church Head Quarters (TWC HQ) in this response I’m making, as the Director of Product Development and Editorial at WPH, I feel obliged to represent WPH’s side of the story as best I can. As I proceed, though, I have to say I am disappointed to see one of our authors, whom we’ve published several times over, representing us so disparagingly. Nevertheless, allow me to bring in another perspective, and I hope this will be read by all in the irenic spirit that I intend.

1. For these past few years, WPH has already been going through the challenging and painful process of reinvention under the wise leadership of TWC HQ and its Executive Director of Communications, Wayne MacBeth. In a rather remarkably short period of little more than two years, we have moved from being just one more retail competitor against all of the big-name retail publishers, to a relevant direct-to-church publisher. As a result, our vision has become much clearer and more focused, and it has brought about some encouraging progress. We’ve intentionally shifted our emphasis to discipleship resources that are relevant to the church—most specifically, to The Wesleyan Church along with its sister holiness denominations. While we’ve not abandoned the retail market (everything we sell to churches, we continue to sell in retail bookstores), our first standard of measure per our mission is whether a prospective resource can be used relevantly in a church and especially adult group discipleship context. Sales direct-to-church have increased in the past few years as our churches are starting to believe our sincerity in being a discipleship and spiritual formation resource provider. We are enjoying far more loyalty from Wesleyan and holiness churches than we were only 24 months ago (and for a decade or more before that).

2. Your suggestion that other Church divisions should control publishing seems naïve at best, and I doubt very much that they’d like to take upon themselves the responsibilities and challenges of publishing. However, the spirit of your suggestion is valid enough, and indeed for the past two years we have been working much more closely and even under the guidance especially of Church Multiplication and Discipleship (CMAD) and Education and Clergy Development (ECD). In fact, there are a number of titles that we wouldn’t publish unless they had the relevant department’s backing. The fact is, WPH is much more closely integrated and participating in TWC HQ ministries than it used to be. We have become a subdivision under the Communications division of TWC HQ. And for that matter, no book is published by WPH that has not been approved by TWC HQ executive leadership (representing each division). But you’re right in one regard—the successes we’ve been starting to experience of late are exactly because of our sister department’s support and promotion out on the field, in cooperation with the hard promotional outreach work of our Director of Publishing Ministries, Wayne Richards.


Craig Bubeck said...

3. As to your proposed shift to print on demand (POD), we’ve already been there for years, though not in “full” as you suggest. Going fully POD would also be very naïve, though: the higher costs of that kind of production makes for far smaller profit margins than publishers already try to eke out. As do all serious and competitive publishers in the industry today, we use POD for select titles that—though offering strong ministry potential—may not promise strong sales and returns. We try to use our experience, knowledge of the industry, and wisdom as best we can to count the cost for every title we publish in this regard. But know that we do utilize all of the best industry technologies and economies in this publishing ministry.

4. I certainly would agree with your sentiment of not closing WPH, but frankly we at WPH all have been very engaged in the very difficult process of reinventing and restructuring for quite some time now. And the results are encouraging, though we all agree we still have some way to go. But with the Board’s support and direction, we all are prayerfully optimistic about WPH’s growth that has been brought about through our reinvention at the direction of The Wesleyan Church’s HQ leadership.

Meanwhile, we have several new books and resources coming out in 2016, including an encouraging development of some strong women’s voices—the first of many more we are seeking out and publishing to churches all over the world. Check us out at General Conference in June. (And for that matter, check us out at

In conclusion: while I do appreciate the concern you (and others) have for the future of WPH, and I take that concern to heart as sincere…WPH and TWC leadership are not by any means locked into old-guard, traditional publishing. We are reinventing, and we’ve been working hard and intelligently at this to the best of our abilities, as we believe God is leading us. Having served in Christian Publishing for more than two decades, I can say with confidence that it is harder than ever to make it (fiscally), but the ministry for the Kingdom is well worth it. The church needs discipleship through printed and digital words—as much as ever.

In all sincere Christian love,

Craig Bubeck, Director of Product Development, WPH
January 3, 2016

Ken Schenck said...

May it be so! I wish you and WPH only the best. I DEEPLY appreciate your response and welcome any additional push-back.

Craig Bubeck said...

Thanks so much, Ken. I appreciate your sincere intent and valid concerns.

Dr. Duane Brown said...

Ken great article. I don't think it's disparaging at all.

David Brush said...

Nazarene Publishing House (NPH) has had to deal too with declining revenues (complicated by a disastrous merger with a digital production company), and a shrinking market. My father is an editor there who was full-time, then let go, then re-hired as a contractor for 80% of the pay and no benefits.

NPH has had to reinvent itself and its business processes quite a bit, and just recently produced a profit for the first time in quite a long while.

Through all of this though what strikes (and saddens) me the most is frankly how territorial Wesleyan/Holiness/Arminian publishers are. The broader church world is missing out on compelling alternatives to Calvinistic and Baptist publishing. I would love to see a a publisher tackle the WHA world from Assembly of God on one end and Methodism on the other with the intent on targeting exploration instead of indoctrination.

Ken Schenck said...

There are some really bright minds out there. Be interesting to get them together and see what they come up with. I am working on an imprint with Pickwick that can do some Wesleyan-Arminian scholarship.

One interesting possibility would be a POD operation that all the Wesleyan publishers used. I don't know how Seedbed approaches their publishing but that's another possible model.

Craig Bubeck said...

Spot on, David. And that really is a significant part of our mission. It is why we take everything we publish to the holiness market, to retail as well. WPH is in a fortunate position of having good channels into the retail market. (The Southern Baptists LifeWay like and swell our stuff, four instance.) We very much believe the message of holiness and God's love is a crucial counter to the dominant Calvinist worldview so pervasive in most of popular retail publishing. This is also partly why we were all saddened by NPH''s near demise, though to be honest many of us saw it long time coming. But they are not the only large publisher that has suffered so. You are so right though, the holiness message is desperately needed in the broader Church and world. We are trying to reach out with it.