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Publishing House plans new materials, faces tougher market

 


Publishing House plans new materials, faces tougher market

March 31, 2005

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)—The United Methodist Publishing House, while continuing to grapple with sales below budget projections, is "not going to sit back and watch the drift," pledged Neil Alexander, president and publisher.

At the Publishing House board’s spring meeting, March 28-30, Alexander told directors to "get on the edge of your seats; we are going somewhere." Among the changes: new products, researching new markets and revisions to the popular Disciple Bible study series.

The Publishing House, like many other Christian booksellers, is facing tougher competition while adjusting to changing worship styles, said Larry Wallace, senior vice president of finance and operations.

The second-quarter financial report shows a sales shortfall of $1.7 million, about 2 percent behind sales for the same quarter in 2004. However, Wallace said the budget is on track for the rest of the fiscal year ending July 31 due to cost savings initiated by the Publishing House.

"We have wonderful stories to tell—of customer service where attention to detail exceeded expectations," Alexander said. "We also have challenging stories when the product did not fit the need and advertising failed to break through the noise."

Board members reviewed initiatives designed to boost sales and reach new customers for Cokesbury products.

The board approved $2 million to develop and market an interactive DVD curriculum for children’s Sunday school classes for use in fall 2006.

The curriculum is "high tech and multi-sensory," said Marj Pon, director of children’s resources. "We want children to ask to go to Sunday school, to drag their parents out of bed to take them to church."

The high-energy videos will feature teen role models and provide "built-in assistants/experts" for Sunday school teachers. Board members previewed one segment featuring teens singing, playing guitar and teaching children dance steps to a rap song, "Who da man? J.C. J.C."

"We are not trying to produce the next dated children’s materials. We want to invigorate the Sunday school movement and help the church grow," Alexander said.

The $2 million investment will go toward hiring additional staff and paying for capital expenditures, additional research, advertising and sales efforts over the next 12 months.

The Disciple Bible study series, a product for local churches to offer in-depth study of Scripture, is $568,000 below projected sales for the first six months of the fiscal year. Changes to address the shortfall are to be implemented in May, said Harriett Olson, senior vice president of publishing.

"Disciple has been a fixture for the last 18 years, but we want to extend our reach," Olson said. "We want to keep the resource fresh and vibrant, and we are listening to evaluations we receive from users."

Among the changes, new eight-week sessions will be offered, and new videos are being produced for Disciple I. Training seminars for facilitators are being shortened and will become optional for churches offering the Bible study, though still highly recommended. Ordering procedures are being simplified, and copies will be available in Cokesbury retail stores.

In other business, the board authorized $240,000 for congregational program ministries. A project leader will identify congregations with strong ministries and do research on the resources needed to support those ministries.

The Publishing House will spend $62,000 to research the "emergent church" movement and participate in its Web network. The label refers to Christians who are rethinking Christianity against the backdrop of postmodernism. Generally, the nondenominational movement emphasizes traditional evangelical beliefs while rejecting the structures and styles of institutionalized Christianity.

"We are learning to live in a world where the rules are always changing," Alexander said. "It is an exciting time."

The Publishing House is the official publisher of The United Methodist Church. It is self-supporting and is the denomination’s oldest and largest general agency.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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