Serving as keynote speaker for PWedu’s Christian Publishing Summit on Wednesday, group publisher of HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP) David Moberg offered a full history of faith-based publishing in the U.S. as well as his forecast of where the industry is headed. PWedu’s online immersion course is gathering industry leaders for a multi-week guest speaker program.With over four decades of personal experience, Moberg discussed the most significant disruptions to the business of Christian publishing as well as new resources and innovations that are driving growth.
“There have been changes in American Christianity, a demise of Christian bookstores, and competition in a broader marketplace: that’s where we find ourselves today,” he said. “It is challenging, there is truth to that, but Christian publishers are hardly alone.”
Recalling the launch of Amazon’s Kindle in 2007, as well as the rise of deep discount pricing, self-publishing, retail store closures such as Waldenbooks, Borders, Family Christian, and LifeWay, Moberg asserted that the way Christian books are selling has changed dramatically. He also noted the impact of podcasts, cable subscription packages, and entertainment options for users of all ages on book sales. Nevertheless, “books matter,” according to Moberg.
“Books matter to authors. Books matter to culture. Books matter to the church,” he said.
Moberg, who played a pivotal role in the merging of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan under the HCCP umbrella in 2011, laid out key characteristics of a great publishing team. “The cornerstone is a mission statement—what are we committed to, what are we passionate about, what ideas drive us,” Moberg said. “It’s worth putting into words. It can guide every decision.”
Looking ahead to what the future holds for Christian book publishers, Moberg pointed to 10 key issues to consider.
10. Sustainability. “What are you doing in service of a better world,” Moberg asked.
9. Hybrid publishing. Calling it the best of both traditional and self-publishing options, Moberg expects this will be a primary adaptation publishers make to their business models in the next five years.
8. Importance of author brand. “In a crowded market, a brand stands out,” according to Moberg.
7. Millennials, which Moberg referred to as “the new core market.”
6. The big unknown. “The breaking up of big tech,” Moberg said.
5. Discoverability. “Books are harder to market. Research and data just aren’t moving the needle. But readers don’t have much trouble finding their next book. We need to get to know the consumer on a level we haven’t done before and understand all the ways discovery happens for them.”
4. Online pricing. “Tinker with your online prices," he advised.
3. Diversity. Moberg said publishers need to strive to be “missional and relevant to the society we serve.”
2. Traditional publishing infrastructure. “Big publishers will have difficulty supporting overhead costs.”
1. Publishing is not a dying business, it’s a changing business. “Do you publish books to make a profit, or do you make a profit to publish more books,” Moberg asked.
Ultimately, Moberg is optimistic about the future for Christian publishing, and he credits the industry for serving the universal needs of readers as well as humanity’s search for meaning in the world.
“It takes five years to become a publisher—there are no shortcuts,” he said. “You have to have a passion for the business, a love for books, and a desire to spend days with others who love the business and love books. You have to have ink in your blood.”
Participants in PWedu's Christian Publishing Summit can watch an archived version of the keynote. The next session in the Christian Publishing Summit takes place Thursday, November 7, and features speakers from WaterBrook & Multnomah and HarperCollins Christian speaking on the topics of crossover success and online book sales. Learn more and sign up here.