Mainline Protestant publishing houses are facing serious financial problems as well as new challenges, reports the e-newsletter PW Religion Bookline (Nov. 20).
Hit by harsh pressures from economic forces as well as decline in their sector of American Christianity, publishing houses owned by mainline Protestant churches are responding to the turbulence of the times in a variety of ways.
The common view seems to be that in the long run the distinctive message these publishers have historically furnished will still be heard, though in a new form that will be determined through trial and error over the coming years.
Augsburg Fortress, publishing arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, announced operating losses for the first three quarters of more than $4 million, news that followed a hiring freeze and staff reductions earlier in the year. In the near term, Augsburg will concentrate on reducing inventory and meeting sales forecasts for education and worship resources. At Pilgrim Press, the trade imprint of the United Church of Christ, publisher Timothy Staveteig said, “We have a viable financial future, but probably not in our present form.” Denominational publishers are faced with with either pressing forward on mission-related publishing, which may require subsidy, or strive for commercial profitability.
That might mean mergers to achieve economies of scale, or niche publishing on unconventional topics. For example, Pilgrim Press has concentrated on niche publishing and joined forces with other publishers in launching a new ecumenical curriculum with publishers and church leaders from Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. United Methodist Publishing House, which includes the trade imprint Abingdon Press and publishes more than 150 titles annually, is also responding to increasing denominational diversity. The house is working on forming closer relationships with congregations to find out exactly what they need.
The Presbyterian Publishing Corp., which includes the Westminster John Knox and Geneva Press imprints, has made staff cutbacks, scaling back of next year’s trade lists and closure of an office in the Netherlands. In late October, the house announced it had moved customer service in-house to control costs.
Davis Perkins, PPC president and publisher, said the house will focus more tightly on core competencies in academic publishing and seminary training materials. “We have always been a niche publisher, and have gotten into a bit of trouble when we’ve strayed outside,” said Perkins.