Poor autumn sales, online publication push, layoffs and cutbacks prompted by ‘tough economic times’
Several Christian publishers and entertainment companies have downsized citing the economic slowdown.
Thomas Nelson terminated 54 employees last month after poor sales reports for September and October, while Focus on the Family announced in November plans to lay off 202 employees and turn four of its print magazines into online publications due to the economy.
Meanwhile, VeggieTales maker Big Idea announced it was cutting its workforce and relocating its headquarters in an effort to reduce costs.
Elsewhere, Augsburg Fortress—the Minneapolis-based publishing arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—will close stores and shift its publishing emphasis as part of significant changes to its operations. The move was based on a year of market analysis and business research, the publisher said.
The Nelson layoffs were the second round of staff cuts at the Nashville-based publisher last year. Company officials said the reductions were across the board, but did not comment further. However, President and CEO Michael Hyatt wrote of the “extremely difficult” decision to trim his workforce at his personal blog.
Though April’s 60 job losses had been due to the company’s decision to reduce the number of new titles it published, the December layoffs were “purely a result of the slowdown in the economy,” he wrote.
While as recently as September, Hyatt had assured staff that further downsizing was “not even a remote consideration,” he said “final September and October sales reports changed that.”
Founded by James Dobson, Focus will terminate 149 employees and eliminate 53 vacant positions—about 18%—of its 1,150-strong staff, company officials said. The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based nonprofit organization previously announced in October 2008 that 46 employees would be reassigned or laid off in 2009.
Focus’ Vice President of Media and Public Relations Gary Schneeberger told Christian Retailing that most of the new layoffs were to go into effect in late November, but some would be phased out through early this year.
“Tough economic times require tough decisions,” he said. “The worldwide economic downturn has had a negative impact on donations—which make up about 95% of our operating expenses.”
Plugged In, Brio, Brio and Beyond and Breakaway—all aimed at teenagers—will be revamped into online versions, and their content targeted at parents instead, Schneeberger said.
Focus now has four print magazines left—Citizen, Clubhouse, Clubhouse Jr. and Focus on the Family.
Additionally, Focus’ budget will be reduced from $160 million in 2008 to $138 million this year.
The Big Idea moves were announced in December by general manager Leslie Ferrell, who said they were part of broader changes by parent company Entertainment Rights.
The owners were “like so many others, facing economic challenges that have led us to make some difficult choices,” Ferrell told Christian Retailing. Big Idea’s 30-strong staff would be trimmed, she said, declining to give details because discussions were “ongoing.”
Among those remaining with the company will be Vice President of Creative Development Mike Nawrocki, who co-founded the popular children’s brand in 1993 with Phil Vischer—no longer part of Big Idea, but still involved with VeggieTales projects. Writing at his personal blog, Vischer said that two-thirds of Big Idea’s staff had been let go.
Ferrell said Big Idea would be looking to move from its current location in Franklin, Tenn., to a new home in the area and planning to outsource production, hopefully involving existing staff.
Meanwhile, Augsburg Fortress will close nine bookstores by April 30, 2009, company officials said. A store at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., which is not owned by Augsburg Fortress, will continue to rent space there and Augsburg’s Canadian bookstores will remain open.
Additionally, Augsburg Fortress will no longer accept or sell new titles in its consumer-oriented book line, although it will continue to sell stocks on hand. Beth Lewis, president and CEO, said 55 positions will also be eliminated from Augsburg’s 242-strong staff.