Christian Retailing

Christian publishers’ group marks 40 years Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:12 AM America/New_York

Association helps ‘set the bar high’ for Christian publishing industry in working for ‘the greater good’

ChristianPublishersWhile marching into a future likely to offer increasing industry challenges, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) paused to celebrate its 40th anniversary during the group’s April Leadership Summit in Colorado Springs, Colo.

People like David C Cook’s CEO Cris Doornbos, chairman of ECPA’s board, hailed the association as a vital resource for the industry.

“I became a part of Christian publishing in 1983 and fully invested myself in it ever since,” said Doornbos, which hosted a 40-year “Retro Party” during the conference. “ECPA played a significant role in my personal and professional leadership goals, as I had the opportunity to build relationships with leaders throughout its membership.”

ECPA President and CEO Mark Kuyper sees the association becoming even more important in the future.

ECPA’s fourth leader said the association’s networking, data gathering and educational initiatives have already helped members traverse the digital revolution. Keeping members up to date on developments will be crucial as e-books morph into new forms, Kuyper said.

“The traditional e-book isn’t the future,” he said. “We talk about publishers making a message known. You can do that in a couple sentences and make it known around the world in a few seconds.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of creative electronic solutions to getting the message to the right people at the right place. It’s not simply going to be taking what was in print and making it available on an electronic reader.”

During the anniversary banquet that opened the Leadership Summit, presenters announced the 2014 Christian Book Awards in seven categories as well as the Christian Book of the Year award. ECPA also celebrated where it has come since originating as a one-man shop under Executive Director Donald Brandenburg.

C.E. Andrew, known as Ted, replaced Brandenburg in 1981, with Doug Ross succeeding Andrew as president in 1987. Kuyper, formerly in marketing with CBA, arrived in 2004 and assumed the mantle of CEO.

Among the 17 publishing houses and 23 individual charter members was Thomas Nelson Publishers, now under the HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP) umbrella. 

HCCP’s senior vice president and group publisher, David Moberg, lauded ECPA for promoting professionalism and raising members’ effectiveness by equipping them to meet the marketplace’s ever-changing needs.

“Four decades later, as we continue to go through significant transitions, that vision is even more relevant and needed,” Moberg said. “We are grateful to be part of an organization that helps us set the bar high.”

Dave Schroeder, director of communications for B&H Publishing Group’s trade book marketing, said the Nashville house finds value in ECPA’s online and in-person training and conferences, and especially appreciates the best-seller lists.

“The best-seller list has been integral to understanding the trends of what type of content is connecting with readers who go into Christian bookstores,” he said. “It also provides a good look at how we can better serve our retail partners to serve their customers.”

Marilyn Largent, vice president for sales at David C Cook, said the best-seller lists offer additional value charting across all sales channels.

“This has become a great asset for book sales in the industry,” Largent said. “When we have a title on the ECPA list, it makes a difference in purchasing decisions for the general market and ABA accounts.”

ECPA’s best-seller lists and seminars are just two of many developments dotting its timeline. The group sponsored its first management seminar in Colorado Springs in 1975 and a year later attracted its first “name” speaker: former White House aide Charles Colson.

In 1978, the association launched its Gold Medallion Book Awards, naming five award winners. The number of categories would triple in 1987 before shrinking after taking on a new name, Christian Book Award, in 1996.

ECPA presented its first Lifetime Achievement Award to Pat Zondervan, founder and chairman of Zondervan, in 1982 and two years later launched its inaugural major research project on book sales.

In 1984, the association sent its first collective of publishers to exhibit at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the following year dispatched representatives to the Moscow International Book Fair.

The organization’s other achievements include the following:

  • Completing The Moscow Project in 1994, which saw 4 million New Testaments distributed across Russia.
  • Sponsoring its first Spanish Expolit with the Spanish Evangelical Publishers Association in 1993
  • Hitting a record year for Gold and Platinum sales awards in 2003, when 60 titles reached milestones of 500,000 or 1 million copies.
  • Sponsoring its first PubU (Publishing University) in 2004.
  • Producing a new multi-channel best-seller list in 2010.

There were setbacks too. Most recently the Christian Book Expo in Dallas in 2009 saw a tepid consumer response at the peak of the economic downturn. Low attendance numbers forced its cancellation for the following year.

On the plus side, Kuyper said the awards program ECPA runs does the same for the Christian industry that the Academy Awards and the GRAMMYs do for movies and music.

“I think this has been one of the most significant tools we’ve had,” he said. “Back in the day, we had very little media coverage and very little retail support, but we’ve continued to (attract) support.”

Another accomplishment that generates few headlines outside the industry has been ECPA’s anti-piracy advocacy, which included successfully engaging ina drawn-out battle to remove copyrighted content from a London-based website.

More recently, the association worked with Nigerian authorities to crack down on sales of pirated material.

Kuyper is pleased that a sizable group gathered to observe ECPA’s 40th anniversary since it draws a sharp contrast with conditions in 1974. He recalled Brandenburg’s challenge in developing cooperation at a time when little existed among the publishers.

The data gathering that followed shows how publishers became more willing to work together.

“They were willing to take the risk of having some of their data available for the greater good and analyzing the data from a market perspective,” Kuyper said. “You’ve got to be working together and you’ve got to develop a sense of trust for these kinds of tools to be available.”