the road ahead

The Box
January 4, 2009, 1:04 am
Filed under: business, ministry


It’s time to get out of the book publishing box! I recently came on a fascinating blog post asking a very good question. What if the book publishing industry folded tomorrow? Can you imagine a world with without books, bookstores? How would our world be different? Would it even make a difference?

We have all read the concerns about publishing….

The retail model is undergoing change so quickly that it is hard for publishers to know what is happening as well as retailers!

The importance of the book which has been a staple for multiple generations is suffering from other technologies.

The list goes on and on…

Christian publishing has a responsibility to distribute spiritual messages. Regardless of the forms through which the information is transmitted. I am optimistic. Publisher’s are starting to wake up and get out of the book box!  Days of opportunity are ahead for those who take advantage of these times!

What do you think?


17 Comments so far
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I think you’re right. Opportunity IS ahead for those who will seize it but the rub in the faith world is are we willing to be LED.

In my experience, it seems that anything we Christians try and do for the furthering of the gospel we also try and control.

Because I have worked in both worlds (ministry/secular) I see how far behind we still are in regards to just how to “break out of the box”. For some reason, we Christians still think it’s up to us to handle when, in fact, God uses both the saved and unsaved together to spread His love.

You said, “Christian publishing has a responsibility to distribute spiritual messages.”

My response is: Well, sorta, but not quite. CHRISTIANS have a responsibility to distribute spiritual messages, yes, but I think the biggest “box” is that we keep separating ourselves from the rest of the world by calling ourselves “Christian publishers”, “Christian authors”, “Christian business leaders”, etc.

I know we start out with good intentions but whether in “Christian” business, ministry or education, it seems we end up setting ourselves separate from those we seek to serve as if it’s Us and “them”.

How does this tie in to the publishing world? In a myriad of little and big ways, but most especially with the hesitancy (or flat our blindness/refusal) to see the opportunities God is presenting us with and then, more importantly, with NOT trying to control how those opportunities unfold or putting a “Christian” spin on them as if to somehow make them more acceptable.

This may not be what you had in mind with your optimistic post *chuckles* but you hit a nerve and I thought I would respond.

I very much enjoy reading your blog. You’re already out of the “box”, if you ask me. Keep up the great work.


Comment by Leanne

my prayer for us in 2009 is that we will seek the lord about the messages that he’s entrusted us with and we would find the most effective way to distribute them.

Comment by Julie

Mike, what a joy to see people come out of the box. As to what I think? It won’t matter nor weigh much but what will is where, what, and how the Lord leads you! Obviously He is speaking to you so…..I know one thing my brother, you will be successful! Continue keeping in step with His Spirit! Maranatha! <

Comment by benjamin

I think you’re right on! I’m looking at a world map as I comment that shows the readers of a particular blog. There are 20 different countries represented. The readers of this author’s blog have returned over and over to read about Jesus Christ. The author BTW, is not a professional writer but is passionate about getting the Word of God to the people of the nations. Figuring out a way to get the Word out in this techno savvy world is as daunting as reaching the illiterate. May God bless us with ways to do both!

Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you;
(2 Thessalonians 3:1)

Comment by Chuck Wood

Please do not be so quick to declare printed books obsolete. Trying to re-invent ourselves is always good. But declaring books obsolete reminds me of a twilight zone episode, ( yes the old black and white twilight zones) where a man is declared obsolete because all books were destroyed by the state and he is a self declared librarian. The mans argument is that he is not obsolete because he is a God created human being and anything created by God is not obsolete. The one book he kept hidden and saved was his bible. We may have to re-invent what and how we print books, but I am not willing to declare printed books obsolete just yet!

Comment by Marc Winslow

Book we will always have with us, bookstores, maybe not. And publishers, well these entities may mutate beyond recognition. The key will be whatever electronic device allows me to carry hundreds of books within it’s spine and still have the comfort and feel of a book. The Kindle is not it. But that device, the ipod of literature, is coming and what it portends for the future will be even more books than you can imagine. Some will be jewels that would have never seen the light of day other wise. Some will be trash. And the marketing of those books will probably be viral.
The dam of business and marketing sensibilities which holds back the creative energy of millions of terrific writers is about to burst.
Won’t it be fun?

Comment by Rick Bundschuh


I think that it’s illustrative to look at other media. News once came through networks and newspapers, then through cable, now to a large extent through the Internet. Soon, that too will change, but we’ve always had news. Music was once the domain of vinyl, then 8-track, cassette, CD. Movies on reel, then DVD now Blue Ray. Yet we still have movies and music. The spiritual message will endure, as will story (fiction is important if you plan to communicate message) but books might be like vinyl and reel… or they might not. I think that to be out of the box we need to focus on our goals (to spread the message of Jesus Christ) and then look to what means best does that. It certainly means getting out of the independent retailer box, and may mean expanding far beyond the print medium box.

How about a NavPress model that busts this wide open? Let’s give contracts to authors, seeking to break into the market, to do audio blog posts on a NavPress site and read their work over a period of time. It draws people to your site, brings new authors into the fold, and has almost no start up cost. We could provide the new author a developer kit to make the audios, and get new message out for very little outlay.

This kind of thinking is what we need to “get out of the box,” in my opinion.

Austin Boyd

Comment by Austin Boyd

As a NavPress author (Christy Finalist Maggie Come Lately, and My Beautiful Disaster), I thought I would post my thoughts, which run along the same line as Austin’s:
New markets will develop for new forms of media, but that won’t eliminate books. Paperbacks didn’t kill hardcover as predicted; audio didn’t kill books and neither did movies. Books won’t go away unless publishers quit producing them. I don’t want to read a book online or on an i-phone or whatever. I want the book in my hand. By the end of most days, I hate the sight of my cell phone and laptop. I want a quiet corner, soft light and a book. Don’t you?

However, I see wondrous ways the internet can help market a book—not replace the book itself. By getting posts and advertisements where my teen readers gather, by catching their attention and linking into their discussions, there is great opportunity for promotion.

The problem is how a writer is supposed to keep up with the broadening internet, while maintaining all else that’s expected: school visits, book group discussion, bookstore signings, radio and television, interviews, press releases…. Not just doing those things, but researching them, contacting them, scheduling them, and following through. All that and still manage time to write. And now we have the internet to add to the list. I’m supposed to create and update my website, create youtube videos, manage Facebook, Myspace, Shoutlife, Linked, and the dozen other connection places people post about and still find other areas to promote, and travel, and still write. It’s practically impossible. One person—unless they have no life—cannot manage it all.

What would help is a team at Nav to help manage publicity online, people who can help research and do contacts and page layouts, much like a publicist does for radio/TV.

We need an internet team who, when provided with an array of possible side-entry publicity ideas (for mine that would be: teens for abstinence, pro-life teens, teens suffering from molestation/abuse, popularity issues, teen romance….), could find where/how to apply such ideas online, that would be a huge benefit.

My goal for 2009 is to promote more heavily, but my time must be used wisely on promotion that will lead to sales. Promotion must target readers, not other writers, which is where I see a lot of effort going. It makes a name for a writer in writer circles, but does nothing to promote the book to readers, which is the objective.

Let’s put effort into researching and developing promotion in target areas. GMail targets every incoming and outgoing email with ads that meet the topics within each specific email—shouldn’t our promotion be just as refined?! It’s not thinking outside the box; it’s applying the box to a new medium, one that has the power to reach the entire world with one click.

Comment by Michelle Buckman

Part of the shift has to do with culture and the way people interact with information. We’re living in the world of web 2.0. Authors and publishers have to become versed in the way the culture creates and participates in community–social networks, cyber word of mouth, buzz that’s not limited to verbal communication.

My hunch, and I’m writing/researching/teaching this to writers, is that many of us are simply not savvy about the culture we’re writing for–both in our content and our method of content delivery.

The culture has undergone a radical paradigm shift, but many of us prefer what is safe and known. To compete in this crazy shifting culture, we must exegete it, understand it, and love people enough to write in a way that makes sense–words that are full of authentic, raw spirituality, mystery, and hope.

And as we “market” our words, let’s not forget that it doesn’t lessen the message to have it delivered electronically. And though it seems terribly counterintuitive, sometimes being generous and winsome (giving some of it away for free) will not thwart our marketing plan, but enhance it. And, keeping the needs of the world in mind, giving some of our proceeds to help orphans or people suffering from loss, will greatly enhance our credibility to a skeptical world who still seem to be drawn to selfless acts.

Another note: author and publisher branding is important as well, but not necessarily in terms of how unique each one is. It’s important to show how a publishing entity or an author benefits society.

Mary DeMuth
(author of two NavPress books: Watching the Tree Limbs & Wishing on Dandelions)

Comment by Mary DeMuth

It is true that out of the box thinking is needed in order to know how to market materials/products these days, and I beleive you will have great success as you think outside of the box/book, however the hard copy book itself is still an extremely valuable form of media. Many people turn to the internet and electronic information for the purpose of research and reference, however when studying, a hard copy works best, and when reading for enjoyment, curling up in front of the fire with good old tangible book can’t be replaced with electronic info.

Comment by Tammy

In these times of economic hardship, I’m glad there are companies that have recognized the need to provide books at affordable prices. When people can no longer afford to spend money on movies or eating out, they turn to cheaper forms of entertainment like books—and books can be read again and again.

Comment by Anonymous

On one level – the “printed word” may be on it’s way out because readers are not coming of age in quite the numbers that they were in generations past. On another level – more reading is probably going on than ever. That reading is not necessarily on a piece of paper, but it is certainly on screens – both large and small.

At the heart of words, however, is what ideas they convey. The message. The relevance. The mechanism. A good read is a good read is a good read. The problem we all face is how much noise is out there – millions of books, blogs, websites, broadcasts, podcasts, and v-casts. Let’s face it – Harry Potter books and Twilight had people devouring hundreds of pages in just a few days (young and old)- they pushed through the noise.

We seem to need a total package – that presents good ideas, stories, metaphors, and information in many ways – creative presentation through technology/music/dance/art/theater – that beckons the audience/user to know more – to explore what is printed – to handle the permanence of the pages between a front and back cover that were perhaps introduced first through another form of idea sharing.

Sallie Culbreth – author of NavPress’ new book: No Longer Alone.

Comment by Sallie Culbreth

In response to the publishing industry in today’s age of technology, I and many others I’m sure would like to see Christian publishers get on the e-Book reader device wagon. My first reaction to the thought of e-Book reading devices was “I’d never want or need something like that”. After packing a tote bag with all the books, magazines and my Bible to take along on vacation to read (and hardly being able to lift it) well, I changed my mind. My wishlist: to have Bibles of all versions, studies, Christian books, both fiction and those about living the life we profess, with me wherever I go. E-Book devices have the ability to store hundreds, even thousands of books though smart media cards, on a single device. I can carry it it my purse, pull it out and read my Bible or a daily devotion or look up Greek & Hebrew words in Strong’s, keep prayer lists… the possibilities are limitless. I have to say that I have ordered the Sony PRS-700 (with touch screen and note-taking capabilities, audio and increased font size adjusting, with a built-in light for reading in bed– I’m sorry if I sound like a sales pitch/commercial) and anxiously await its arrival. But finding biblical Christian content for it is very limited right now. Zondervan is offering a small quantity of eBooks on their website. Hopefully more will continue to be added and other publishers will follow suit. I will always enjoy going to my favorite Christian bookstore, they have so much to offer! If they could carry the actual book to browse or buy, and offer the same book on a card to purchase for upload to a e-Book reader, I don’t see why thay would have to close their doors. Some will always like the feel of a book in their hands and others want to carry our library with us everywhere. My thoughts for what they are worth on this subject. God bless!

Comment by Terri Jenkins

It takes more resources to offer eBook versions of printed materials than you might think. While, on one hand, the conversion of an Adobe inDesign file and cover art into a finished eBook is pretty straightforward, making that same file available in seven or eight formats with quality control for each platform is not straightforward. Source files aren’t always error-free, and the transcoding itself isn’t always error-free. Then there’s the infrastructure needed to deliver electronic copy for public purchase including accounting mechanisms, royalty tracking, customer support, technical support, and the hiring and training of personnel to oversee all that.

In the end, a single title’s offering in eBook format could represent $1-3,000 expense for each title. Or more, when you adjust for overhead to handle it. And, frankly, while book sales are down, it’s not clear yet that eBook sales will make up the difference. It takes significant risk for a publisher to offer eBook titles as a matter of routine. Till now most publishers have only focused on leading frontlist titles.

That said, the industry is waking up. Every week there’s new bad news about book publishers consolidating and restructuring, letting go long-time executives and laying-off significant percentages of employees. And the booksellers, too, are hurting. Today I read about a huge chunk of Barnes & Noble stock getting dumped outright.

The long-tail is wagging. But the tail moves quicker than the dog.



Comment by Rich Tatum

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Have just read “People of the Screen” by Christine Rosen, Senior Editor of “The New Atlantis.” She has many interesting things to share about the value of reading and the impact technology may or may not have on it, dependent on how we choose to use technology. Includes, contemplation,logic, decision-making,imagination,anticipation, distraction, visualization, etc.

The following are a couple of quotes which particularly caught my attention, although there is much more to contemplate.

“For centuries, print literacy has been one of the building blocks in the formation of the modern sense of self. By contrast, screen reading, a historically recent arrival, encourages a different kind of self-conception, one based on interaction and dependent on the feedback of others. It rewards participation and performance, not contemplation. It is, to borrow a characterization from sociologist David Riesman, a kind of literacy more comfortable for the “outer-directed” personality who takes his cues from others and constantly reinvents himself than for the “inner-directed” personality whose values are less flexible but also less susceptible to outside pressures. How does a culture of digitally literate, outer-directed personalities “read”?

“In our eagerness to upgrade or replace the book, we try to make reading easier, more convenient, more entertaining—forgetting that reading is also supposed to encourage us to challenge ourselves and to search for deeper meaning.”

Comment by Christine Weddle

Interesting treatment of challenging issues. I am looking forward to reading more.

Comment by William

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