Getting Back to Mission

I just read a blog by a self-styled book industry expert, who, for a handful of irrational reasons, all but predicts the demise of a major book retailer. One doesn’t have to be terribly visionary to see menacing clouds churning above the book world. But, rather than responding to such hyperbolic predictions, it occurs to me I ought to stop and reconsider why I was drawn to this business from the start.

  1. I love books! Not surprisingly, I love reading insightful, provocative ideas, marvelously expressed, that surge from words on a page. That’s very cool. I’m re-reading David McCullough’s The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris, and it rings with hope about how creative thought can renew a broken world. So, one reason I came to publishing was to affirm the expression of creative, regenerative ideas.
  2. Good news is my call! For those of us who first invested ourselves in the Christian genre of publishing, it was about mission. Worthy’s mission is to help people experience the heart of God. We must not let the tumultuous book trends of the 21st century distract us from our mission to bring light to a world permeated by darkness. Any number of Worthy’s recent books remind me of that mission, not the least of which are Margaret Feinberg’s Wonderstruck, Mary Lou Quinlan’s The God Box, and Nichole Nordeman’s  Love Story.
  3. Wall Street doesn’t get it! The book industry has been overrun by holding companies and entertainment corporations, causing it to lose much of its creative heart. Not every business is best exercised as part of a multi-national enterprise, such as a mature, boutique-arts industry like books—the entire trade book business of $16 billion is only one third the size of the $42 billion Walt Disney Company. It’s hard to see what Wall Street has brought to the table, and I’m not altogether sure why the Street sees books as an opportunity. Do financial gurus think book earnings will experience double-digit growth over the next five years?
  4. Craft can be lost in a corporate environment! There was a time not long ago that publishing was driven by literary families who were impassioned by the artistic, enriching expressions found in books. Beginning with Gutenberg, think about all the family names that have defined what we still call publishing houses: Nelson, Zondervan, Harper, Collins, Putnam, Pearson, Warner, Doubleday, Simon, Schuster, Wiley, Dutton, Holt, et al. Today few families retain their heritages, resulting in Big 6 publishers being a conglomeration of hundreds of acquired imprints. The primary focus has changed from mission to ROI. Not good news.

Worthy’s mission is our message . . . helping people experience the heart of God. We are blessed to be funded by individuals who believe in our craft and support our mission. Worthy must be a great steward of its resources, yet we must not lose site of our mission.

Question:  From a literary and mission point of view, how is the business of books in a better place today than it was in years past?


Encouraging News about Books

Considering the quakes rumbling through the book industry, even slightly encouraging news lifts the heart. Because I believe so fundamentally in the vitality of book content and the future of reading, I’m not alarmed that the reading of books is threatened. But what’s nearly impossible to predict is the course book reading will take over the next few years.

That said, of late I’ve noted a number of small indicators that may affirm the future of the book industry.

  1. During this holiday season, TV ads for a half dozen brands of digital devices are noting how attractive their device is for book reading, whether in low light, bright light, in bed, or on the beach. Those TV spots are defacto consumer ads proclaiming the joys of book reading. Yay!
  2. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a Publishers Weekly story saying Barnes & Noble bookstore profits were up and that sales increased 1.8% for the quarter, excluding Nook hardware (in transition to a partnership with Microsoft). There’s little the book industry needs more than a healthy Barnes & Noble. Go, B&N!
  3. E-books accounted for 22% of book sales in the second quarter, up 14% over the previous year, according to Bowker Market Research. It appears quick adopters have settled in with their reader of choice, but notice that physical books are still 78% of the total unit sales. We need new technology, yet everyone involved—authors, publishers, retailers—need an element of stability in our shared industry. Christmas cheer all around!
  4. AAP reports trade book sales for August 2012 were up 10.4% over 2011, whereas ebooks are now growing at a far slower rate. Great news!
  5. Family Christian Stores just announced a new investor group that is committed to its mission. Having spent time in recent days with one of those investors, I’m encouraged again about moves toward more stability in book retailing. Prayers for Family!

Change is inevitable. But smart change will better protect the flow of great content to consumers in a way that works for author, publishers and retailers. I’m praying that the flashes of sanity I’m seeing aren’t illusions, but are the makings of a trend toward a more stable, healthy book industry.


Celebrating the Life of Calvin Miller

Guest Blog By Kris Bearss, Executive Editor/Worthy Publishing

Regardless of the changes that occur in the months ahead, the book publishing industry will always be centered around words. We are a community that celebrates, believes in, and stands by the power of both the word and The Word. So when a gracious wordsmith like Calvin Miller leaves this world for “the better realm,” as he called it, we are all a little lesser for it.

This past weekend, we lost Calvin—one of Christian publishing’s true craftsmen—to complications from heart surgery, and now our literary world will be a touch less poignant than it was before, like a well-crafted sentence that is missing its adjective.

On a personal level, though I only knew Calvin for the final 17 months of his life, he made a distinct impression on me and the rest of the Worthy team. We’d known of his industry accomplishments—which were many; been shaped for years by his literary prowess and spiritual insight—which was extensive; but what we didn’t know until we had the chance to work with him was how fully engaged he was in LIFE! His final months were not punctuated with an uncertain question mark or a run-of-the-mill period. Rather, he concluded his final earthbound chapter as I suspect he lived his every day: with an exclamation point.

Curious, excited, and very much alive, Calvin enthusiastically approached his writing, his relationships, his faith with a gusto that I often wish I had—and with a humility that I hope to emulate. He was caring, kindhearted, sweetly funny, genuinely interested in others . . . and a man of God who was minus all the pretension of someone who sold more books in his career than almost any Christian author living today.

I can’t say how God rewards His faithful scribes in heaven. Perhaps with a pen that never runs dry, a thesaurus with perfectly appointed words, and a heart that is ever full of inspiration. But this I do know: Calvin Miller shepherded the words that heaven supplied as no other ever will, searching for those scurrilous creatures on the high plains until they were found, rescuing them from the desert of superficiality, freeing them from the valley of apathy, and then herding them onto the lush pastures of finished pages bearing his name. Pages that all pointed to the Name that is above all names. And in the process, he led everyone who read him to the refreshing waters of belief, reassurance, and a Grace not of this earth.

Having previously been hospitalized for heart trouble, he lived with the awareness that eternity is only a step away. And in his final book, aptly called Letters to Heaven (which Worthy had the honor of publishing), he sought to take care of things the only way he knew how: Through the written word. Through letters that might complete the unfinished business of this life. Through personal missives that encouraged readers to write their own thank yous and wonder ifs.

Meanwhile, he held out for us all the hope that awaits.

For Calvin, on Sunday, August 19, 2012, his hope was realized. A sweet reality no longer the stuff of mere dreams. A lifelong confidence undeniably fulfilled.

Those of us who wrangle words for a living will never be able to replicate his ability to “make verbs dance and nouns sing,” as Max Lucado described his gift. But the one thing we can do is, I believe, the one thing he would ask us to do—whether we sell words or pitch them, design words or write them, edit words or print them. I think Calvin would say: “Make sure you end your story with an exclamation point.”

He sure did. Personally and professionally.

On the last page of Letters to Heaven, Calvin told of having heard the pale horse of death stomping his steel hooves, restless in his stable. “I am a shy equestrian,” he wrote, “yet I am not afraid. I have waited all my life for this ride. . . . This is my coronation day!”

Here’s to you, Calvin. We miss you already, dear friend. But we celebrate your life too, realizing that, as C. S. Lewis said in The Last Battle, “Now at last [you are] beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read.”


Celebrating Year One, and Counting…

On this first day of August 2012, Worthy joyfully celebrates its first full year in commerce.  We are thankful to God for the team He has assembled, the opportunities He has provided, and above all, the grace He has poured out on us.  And that’s not to mention our supportive board that has believed in us from the get-go, providing cherished counsel and resources.  Thank you!

Creative Talent Onboard.  Looking back over this first year, I am humbled by the confidence authors have expressed in Worthy.  It’s unimaginable the talent that has come our way.  Never would I have believed a couple of years ago, when we first conceived the idea of launching Worthy Publishing, that we would be honored to have signed such a list in only one year. A short list of bestsellers that have come our way includes…

Stephen Arterburn

Tim Clinton

Franklin Graham

John Hagee

Hank Hanegraaff

Neta & David Jackson

Jerry Jenkins

David Jeremiah

Stephen Mansfield

Nichole Nordeman

Les & Leslie Parrott

Chuck Swindoll

Michael Vick

 Vision for Authors!  In a day of mega-sized New York-based christian publishers with enormous book lists, it’s easy for authors to get lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. They often complain of getting little editorial input and even less marketing attention.  Worthy’s unique vision is to be a nimble, author-focused shop that is responsive to its authors and the marketplace.

                                     

Giant Media Exposure for Worthy.  Even as a new publisher, Worthy already has managed to get front-page, feature stories in USA Today, as well as appearances on NBC, Fox, CNN, ESPN and others, about two upcoming books:  BeBe Winans memoir of his 28-year friendship with Whitney Houston, The Whitney I Knew (July 31); and NFL star Michael Vick’s autobiography, Finally Free (September 4).  Stephen Mansfield’s just- released book, The Mormonizing of America, has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN’s Piers Morgan, Fox News, The Sean Hannity Show and MSNBC Now.

This first year has been quite a ride – and from my vantage point 2013 doesn’t look any less exciting!  Holding on to my chair.


Why The Sky Is Not Falling On Print Part I

E-book sales may be growing, but ink-on-paper reading has a healthy future

With the changes book publishing faces, especially in light of what’s happened to the music industry, I am frequently asked, “Are physical books a thing of the past?” I am always quick to say that books are more current than ever. Still, publishers, retailers and consumers are unnerved about the future of books and bookstores.

As background for my optimistic outlook, we chose to launch Worthy, likely the newest publisher, right in the middle of one of the greatest economic and political crises of our lifetimes. That said, my experience in Christian publishing over the last twenty years gives me reason to believe the sky is not falling on the book industry and that opportunities are still alive.

Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a seventh grader I remember sitting in the aisles of a nearby college library during the summer break reading everything you could imagine. I passed that love of books along to my children, including “date days” with my daughter. She and I would often browse in a bookstore together—leisurely noting particular titles or passages for books we found interesting, using those moments as a basis for discussions we both remember years later.

As a young publisher, I was brought to Word Publishing in the late 1980s during some tough days. Then, in the mid-90s, Word was acquired by Thomas Nelson, which brought unsettling changes including a move for many of our staff from Dallas to Nashville. Yet from early on we were honored to sign and publish many best-selling authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, Charles Swindoll, Barbara Johnson, John Maxwell, Frank Peretti, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Frank Peretti, and so many others. Though turbulent at times, God still worked amazingly.

Leaving Nelson, we launched Integrity Publishers, ironically moving into our first office on 9/11/2001 as reports of terrorist firestorms rang out. Despite the ensuing market crash, we experienced great receptivity for Christian books and found wider distribution through new channels. God continued to work through books more mightily than ever.

Now, as Worthy Publishing enters its first full year of commerce in 2012, I see parallels with the past. Economic crisis, unpredictable retail patterns, and shifts in sales volume from traditional channels to new technology, keep us wide-eyed. When will I ever learn that each decade will undoubtedly bring its own new set of changes – and that in the long-run God will use change to expand the reach of the Gospel? I’m convinced that more people are reading books today than ever in history, though maybe in different ways than before.

I believe, contrary to some, that Christian books will remain relevant for the long haul and next week I will share with you three reasons why.


Should Guttenberg Be Afraid?

One of the first things I hear from almost anyone who finds out I am a publisher is a grave expression of empathy that conventional books are on their way out. The media’s focus on skyrocketing e-book growth – whether Kindle, iPad, Nook or others – amplified by music’s breathtaking drop in physical CD sales, drives many (even fellow publishers) to jump to the conclusion that the end is near for the paper-and-ink book. Not so fast!

Witness the May 19, 2011 report by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Based on data gathered from 84 publishers, both print and digital formats of books saw revenue gains in March 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. In fact, religion books in March grew for the third month in a row, increasing 27.4%. Growth in book sales came despite a staggering 145.7% increase in e-book sales. That’s not to say general economic woes won’t periodically depress books sales, or all retail for that matter, as was the case in 2009. Yet, even with Borders liquidating, I’m generally encouraged.

Read More »