Traditional publishing is not what it used to be. The digital revolution has now reached book publishers and for the first time ever, electronic titles outpaced hardcovers on Amazon.com. Publishers everywhere are downsizing, and even long-time NYC headquarters are being moved away from the city to cheaper rent in nearby Connecticut. Christian publishers are not exempt from this industry-wide shake up. I’ve sat through many meetings, taught seminars and have consulted with several different Christian publishing houses. I believe the Church is going to play a key role, if the role, in keeping publishers afloat. However, publishers better deploy the right strategy or they won’t prevail.
Over 56 million people attend a Christian church (excluding Catholics) every week in America. That’s a lot of resources needed for preachers, teachers and small group leaders, and a lot of money for publishers and content providers. With the digital revolution flattening the distance between authors and end-users, the church is literally a gold mine of opportunity for publishers. Every week, Christian content consumers look at their churches for guide in their search for resources.
In this month’s edition of FastCompany Tony Hawk talks about his successful ride not as a sport’s figure or cultural icon, but as an entrepreneur who controls a very lucrative brand. Speaking about one of his greatest challenges in working with corporate types, Hawk says:
“The real problem is that some people put in charge of product development and marketing aren’t beholden to their products–it’s just their job. But passion really shines through.”
Tony’s assertion resonates with my experience in marketing to and for churches. It always amazes me that people who have never worked on a church staff, some of whom don’t even attend church regularly are in charge of product development or marketing efforts of church-related resources. There are serious differences between a small church and a mega-church dynamics when it comes to product development and sales strategy. Like any other sector, if you are not actively engaged, or as Tony said it, “beholden” than you’re not likely to be successful.
If you came to me and asked me to market you widget that helps ordinary violins sound like a Stradivarius, my first question would be: where can I find the most violin players? It’s a simple and obvious question. You know where this is going.
But even if Christian publishers understand the need to reach out to churches, they will not break into that market by deploying the same tactics they do for their trade products. They will not likely succeed if they put their church strategy on the hands of people who often don’t attend church, much less understand mega-church dynamics. If Christian publishers are going to be around in the near future, they’ll have to successfully address the church market opportunity. And they won’t make it happen by buying a full-page ad in Publishers’ Weekly.
Have you ever had someone try to sell you something they obviously knew nothing about? How did that make you feel?