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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?