The future of evangelical publishing


1johnwilson1.jpgMy friend Rachel Maxson presented an interesting paper at The State of the Evangelical Mind conference last week. In substantial part the paper attempted an autopsy of the demise of the journal Books & Culture: A Christian Review (1995-2016).

Maxson made the following points, which she will explicate in a forthcoming article in Christian Scholars’ Review. (N.B. – these are as captured by John Fea – thanks for taking notes John):

  1. It is too soon to say that “print is dead.”  Maxson pointed to a survey that found that 92% of college students would rather have a print textbook.
  2. Evangelicals interested in promoting Christian thinking need to be more creative in their funding models.
  3. Evangelical public scholars and public intellectuals must be rewarded for their work when they “go up” for tenure and promotion.
  4. Evangelicals need to do a better job of creating “clearing houses”

Some musings on a couple of Rachel’s theses follow.

Print is not dead.

Pundits too quickly heralded the death of print. There is a growing consensus that the tactile experience of holding a book, writing in a journal, and reading ink on paper make stronger connections in the brain than reading across a screen. As a result, we remember more effectively when we read a book rather than a kindle.

As a publisher, I want people to read our books in the manner they prefer. At the same time, I continue to believe that print books are superior to e-books and, especially when dealing with complex ideas or writing, offer a superior experience.

New business models.

An interesting subtext of the conference was the skepticism toward business, marketing, and funding as a part of the project of cultivating the evangelical mind. Such skepticism is warranted given the cultural-societal pull toward an instrumental kind of capitalism.

However, one of the things that attracted me to academic marketing is a deeper vision,   the vision of a thriving intellectual and economic ecology in which intellectuals, academics, publishers, journals, universities, and other institutions come together in an interdependent and mutually-beneficial web of relationships.

We’ve got to pull together and recognize that we all have to give in order to advance the this project.

As a publisher, I have a fiduciary responsibility to publish a range of books. Some will be numerically successful, some will be significant, some will be both. However, many significant books–especially significant academic books–don’t sell huge numbers of units. What they do, however, is change the direction or shape of an on-going conversation.

I want to publish those books even if they may lose money. In order to take that risk, it’s important to publish other books that will be financially successful.

Is this selling out?

I don’t think so.