With its stunning location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs, Colo., seems more like a vacation destination than a literary center. But although the red rock formations of the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak attract six million visitors each year, there's plenty going on in "The Springs" for those who enjoy a good book. And with so many Christian organizations headquartered there (170 by some estimates)—drawn by abundant and relatively inexpensive land and incentives from local government—this city of 370,000 has become a center of evangelical Christian book publishing and bookselling.
The large number of evangelical Christian organizations based in Colorado Springs has given rise to the city's nickname: "The Protestant Vatican." It is also home since 1970 to CBA, the trade association for the Christian retail channel. CBA employs a staff of 26 and serves 2,144 members from its 28,098-square-foot space.
Four important Christian publishing houses are headquartered here, but only one, NavPress, has its roots in the Springs. Cook Communications, Focus on the Family and WaterBrook all relocated here in the '90s, and none have had any problems hiring experienced people from all over the country. In addition to all its other attributes, Colorado Springs is one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. and was ranked by Money magazine in 2006 as the best city to live in.
Cook's Winning Ingredients
Cook Communications relocated here 10 years ago. "We were land-locked and looking to expand, and Colorado Springs was working tirelessly to attract clean [nonpolluting] industry—so we came," explained Michele Tennesen, Cook's senior publicity manager.
Formerly known as David C. Cook, the company was previously based in Elgin, Ill., where it still maintains a distribution center. (It also has a distribution center in Canada and a U.K. division that publishes books and music.) Renowned in the CBA world as a richly capitalized company, Cook reaped big rewards from the sale in 1998 of its Good Family magazine group and in 1999 of its Dayspring greeting cards division. It also began a series of acquisitions—among them Victor Books and Scripture Press in 1996 and Honor Books and RiverOak in 2002.
The past year has brought new top leadership and reorganization to Cook, which has 336 employees in its four locations, 225 of them in Colorado Springs. Cris Doornbos took the helm as president last fall after 22 years at Zondervan. Senior v-p and publisher Dan Rich came on board in May, and Don Pape took over as publisher of the book division two months ago.
In the past year Cook published some 150 titles—"too many," said Rich, who is rethinking the company's acquisitions strategy. Echoing many publishers these days, he said, "We'd like to do fewer better." Its bestselling title last year was Cracking Da Vinci'sCode—which has sold almost 350,000 in the U.S. alone—but that was a unique opportunity that will be hard to duplicate. The plan is to cut down to 80 titles this year and 60 in 2007, and, Rich said, "We're looking for more marquee authors to do books that will appeal to pastors and other leaders and help shape the future of the church."
Cook began in 1875 as a publisher of Sunday school materials, and Christian education is still at the heart of what it does, said Doornbos. "We're teaching harder than ever, but people aren't learning, and we're trying to figure out why and publish into that." Marlene LeFever, v-p of educational development, is leading a study of Christian education, seeking ways to move beyond the old models and "provide teaching opportunities in a number of mediums," she said.
Although CBA stores are still the single largest retail channel for Cook, it also sells into general trade stores, direct to churches and online. Its Bible storybooks for children and Honor Books gift line do best in the trade.
Another organization lured by plenty of space and financial incentives is Focus on the Family. Now 29 years old and with 1,200 employees at its hillside headquarters in the Springs, Focus—founded by psychologist and popular author James Dobson—was based in Los Angeles until 1991.
Dobson's daily Focus on the Family radio program reaches some 200 million listeners worldwide, and Focus headquarters has become a vacation destination for his fans. The 84-acre campus receives more than 200,000 visitors a year.
From the mid-'80s, Focus published its own books. But in the mid-'90s, Dobson and members of his senior staff began to question whether they should be in the business of publishing. Said associate publisher Bruce Peppin, "We decided to cooperate with our partners in ministry, rather than compete with them," and the organization began to divide up its list, licensing distribution rights to eight publishing companies. In 1997, Focus signed an exclusive contract with Tyndale House (Tyndale had published many of Dobson's books). Larry Weeden, director of book development and acquisitions, said, "We still acquire, contract, edit and typeset most of the books, but then we hand it off to Tyndale for printing, distribution, sales and publicity." Tyndale has published 36 Focus on the Family titles this year.
Peppin believes that at least half the Focus books—including titles like The First Five Years of Marriage (new edition in Feb. 2007), part of the Complete Guides series, and The Focus on the Family Complete Book of Baby & Child Care (1999)—have trade appeal, and noted that some have little or no explicit religious content, although they are based on an evangelical Christian worldview.
Far from the Sea
One Springs-based publisher is no newcomer. NavPress is the publishing arm of the Navigators, an organization founded in California in 1933 to minister to U.S. Navy personnel. In 1953 the Navigators purchased Glen Eyrie, the more-than-800-acre estate of William Jackson Palmer, founder of several railroads and of the city of Colorado Springs. The castle that is the centerpiece of the estate was built in 1904; it also houses a bookstore. The publishing company was founded in 1975, with Dan Rich at the helm.
Books on spiritual formation and discipleship have always been the core of NavPress's list. Its all-time bestseller (1.5 million copies) is The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges, published in 1978. Th1nk, an imprint for the teen-to-early-20s demographic, was launched in 2003 and publishes 25 to 30 books a year; there are more than 100 titles in the line. Reaching younger readers continues to be a key goal—next fall the company will launch Pilgrimage, a line for 25—35-year-olds.
A newer area of emphasis is fiction. "We've been in fiction as a focused line for about 18 months now," said publisher Paul Westervelt, "and we're concentrating on author development for the long haul," with writers like Ginger Garrett and Austin Boyd.
Sales manager Eric Grogg and ABA accounts manager Eric Helus described the CBA market as "leveling off," but said that the company's general market sales are growing. Helus now presents about 60% of NavPress's titles to the trade. The popular Message Bible line accounts for 40% of total sales. "That got us in the door with a lot of general market bookstores," said Helus. Early next year the house will publish its first children's Bible, My First Message.
A Random Outpost
One newcomer is an outpost of one of New York's publishing Goliaths. Random House's WaterBrook unit made big news at this summer's International Christian Retail Show when PW broke the story that it had acquired Sisters, Ore.—based Multnomah Publishers. The history there is long—WaterBrook was launched by three former Multnomah staffers: Dan Rich, Steve Cobb (now WaterBrook president) and Doug Gabbert. The Random imprint started in Sisters and moved to the Springs in 1997. WaterBrook is now integrating Multnomah into its operations, with a new name, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, and some former Multnomah employees making the eastward trek.
"We're looking at how to position the two lists to complement each other," said v-p and editor-in-chief Dudley Delffs. "We expect to continue to each publish in the same categories," pointing to Multnomah's strength with the postmodern or "emergent church" buyer and to WaterBrook's growing stable of Charismatic authors, like Grant Jeffries and Jim Graff. Both companies have fiction programs, and Delffs said there is no plan to merge those yet. They now are doing separate catalogues that ship together, and working on a 1,200-title backlist catalogue. In 2006 WaterBrook published 75 titles; in 2007, 60 each are planned for WaterBrook and Multnomah.
In a company famous for the autonomy of its units, Delffs said, WaterBrook Multnomah will cooperate with other Random divisions rather than competing for authors. The house copublished Mark Sanborn's You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader (Sept.) with Currency, and is doing Andrew Carroll's Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War (Mar. 2007) with Doubleday. The YA title A Friend at Midnight by Caroline B. Cooney was just copublished with Delacorte.
As for the newly configured company, Delffs said, "We plan to hit the basics hard and look for authors with platforms," like Liz Curtis Higgs (Grace in Thine Eyes, Mar.), already a star for the press; she travels and speaks extensively and publishes her own newsletter.
While other believers face Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca, evangelicals may be looking toward the Rockies for future inspiration.