Post-Soviet Christian Publishing: Aiming for Self-Sufficiency
Marsh Moyle, Gerry Davey, and Brenton Milne
Is it possible for Central and East Europeans to pay for their own publishing ministry, to lead, manage, and provide for themselves? Or must they forever be dependent on Western control and money? International Literature Associates (ILA), an informal association of evangelical publishing houses in Central and Eastern Europe, think independence is possible. They are working hard to publish and distribute quality books which contribute to the growth and maturity of the Church and are committed to a biblical world view which they intend to communicate to the world around them. They are assisted by Mission Literature Associates (MLA), which brings together the literature resources of three organizations: Eastern European Literature Advisory Committee, Stredoeurópska nadácia, also known as Central European Missionary Fellowship, and International Teams. The missions of MLA worked together under the old regime to help provide theological literature to churches. Then when radical changes occurred in 1989, because they already knew groups of people interested in publishing, they were well-positioned to take advantage of the changes. In 1989 they created a more formal relationship and structure, which led to the development of International Literature Associates.
Mission Literature Associates Goals
The primary goal of MLA is to assist national Christians from across Central and Eastern Europe to establish independent, nondenominational publishing houses. When the project is completed ILA hopes to see the following in each country:
New Man was founded in October 1990. It was the second private publishing house registered in Bulgaria and one of the first nonprofit organizations. The courts did not have legislation to deal with such a phenomenon. Initially, there was a great demand for literature from the churches. This later led to difficulties as New Man overestimated the market for books, a situation from which it is just now recovering. New Man has published 84 titles to date.
Návrat Domu--Czech Republic
Návrat Domu is the second attempt to start a publishing house in what was then Czechoslovakia. The first attempt failed because of involvement with the wrong people on the wrong basis. Its idea has been to have an evangelical publishing house, based in the evangelical market, but eventually breaking into the secular market. After two years, 80 percent of sales were to the nonevangelical (Catholic and secular) market. Much more work needs to be done to attract the general lay reader. In evangelical circles, people are not used to reading good, solid books. On 17 October 1996, Návrat Domu released a Czech edition of the New Bible Dictionary by InterVarsity Press. This project was unique in many ways. Coordination of the work over four years and with a team of 16 people responsible for the various parts was a true learning experience. The response greatly exceeded expectations. The first two print runs, totaling 5,000 copies, were sold out weeks before they came off the press. A third print run of 3,000 copies in January 1997 finally enabled Návrat Domu to supply copies to bookshops throughout the Czech and Slovak Republics.
Návrat Domu opened a distribution branch, Návrat Domov, in the Slovak Republic in July 1993. After the split of the Czech and Slovak Republics on 1 January 1993, and the creation of an official border, business between the republics became much more complicated. With great reluctance the board of Návrat in Prague decided that it had to recognize the reality of the unwanted and impractical split in what was Czechoslovakia. Because of the larger population in the Czech Republic, most books were available only in Czech. Due to the pent-up demand for good books many Slovaks accepted this. The situation is now changing and in order to meet the needs of the church, it is becoming increasingly important to publish books in Slovak. Because of this, ILA has helped establish a separate publishing house in Slovakia.
Harmat began life in 1990 as the publishing arm of the student ministry MEKDSZ, a partner movement of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. In the beginning the office was spread over various people's homes, but in October 1992, Harmat moved into an apartment shared by the student ministry. In September 1996, due to a generous grant from a German mission, it was able to purchase its own office in a favorable location and with room for expansion. Harmat has published 56 titles, eight of which are by national authors. In February 1997, a new manager took over: Dr. Kornel Herjeczki, a medical doctor who knows the influence good books have had on his life. Harmat has been able to produce high-quality books from the start since printing standards and equipment in Hungary are advanced.
Russia presents one of the largest markets for Christian literature in the world. Even though the economy is a disaster and people had been under communism for 72 years, MLA partners believe the country is large enough to support its own publishing ministry. MIRT, founded in 1994, takes its name from the Russian word for myrtle, with its logo based on the Bible verse, "and instead of briars the myrtle will grow" (Isaiah 55:13). MIRT launched a reader's club in the spring of 1995 and now mails a newsletter to its 700-plus members at Easter and Christmas, featuring book reviews, a catalog, price list, and discounts on upcoming books. Members are spread throughout Russia and the former USSR. This is the only way many people in villages have access to books. Distribution is such a problem in this country, which spans 11 time zones, that local churches often band together and send someone to Moscow or St. Petersburg to buy a load of books. MIRT manager Roman Nosach has a national vision, creative ideas, and a desire to see solid Christian literature available which will change lives.
Areopag was founded in early 1991 as a response to opportunities made possible by post- communist liberalization. Now Areopag lives in a very competitive and somewhat crowded Christian market where few publishing houses are providing the type of literature that meets ILA goals.
Editura Logos began operations in 1990. Grants and loans from MLA helped underwrite the opening of this publishing house through the supply of equipment, an office, the purchase of royalties, production costs, software, and training.
MLA training, experience, and funds also have been used to help publishers in Kazan (Russia), Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
The Road to Financial Independence
Our aim from the beginning has been to help each publishing house to become self- supporting as soon as possible. With the exception of MIRT in Russia, each has now been in operation for about five years and much valuable experience has been gained. Initially, the missions involved helped with direct financial provision for national worker support, equipment, and other setup costs. Following this, ILA supported publishers' initial production projects and funded specific titles. The profits from the sales of these books have gone back into the publishing houses to cover national administration costs and the production of additional new titles. Money granted in 1995-1996 has, to a great extent, been used to provide capital for growth, rather than subsidies for losses. Income from inside Central Europe has reached over $1,100,000. Investment from the outside has been matched dollar for dollar by Central and East European income. This must be a unique achievement by ministries in this part of the world.
As the work has developed, the publishing houses have been able to take on more of the responsibility for their own books. They have gained experience in marketing, distribution, and administration. Over the coming years increasing competence in financial planning and management will facilitate the move toward greater self-support.
From Grants to Loans
While there will still be a definite need for continued funds for expansion and development, we now see the need to move from grant to loan-based funding. It is important to note that this shift is happening in the context of long-term relationships and trust built up over many years of working together. The goals of this phase include a transition to full support, more realistic financial management, a stronger sense of local ownership, greater incentive to develop commercial competency, and the redirection of funds to other mission fields which would otherwise be consumed in Central and Eastern Europe.
The financial goal of the ILA loan fund is not to maximize capital return, but to cover any bad loans and inflation. We need to keep in mind that Christian publishing does not normally give a high return of investment, even in the most developed countries. It is not the business to get into if you are aiming to maximize capital return. Our primary aim is the development of sound theology, healthy churches, and dynamic outreach. Economics cannot completely dictate the content and direction of the ministry or we will not accomplish the transformation of church and society to which we believe we are called.
Western participants in the ILA project have been encouraged by the increasing personal initiative, sense of responsibility, and hard-won experience evident in the development of new East European Christian publishers.
Editor's note: Ironically, one of the greatest obstacles faced by Christian publishers in East Central Europe in overcoming Western dependency is competition from free literature donated by Western ministries. In the world economy, the marketing of goods under cost is called "dumping" and sometimes leads to legal action and international trade wars. But in Christian circles this well-intentioned but short-sighted practice is mistakenly thought to be commendable charity. Gifts of literature are in order in certain instances, but when they constitute routine practice in Christian outreach, they seriously undermine the possibility of independent, indigenous Christian publishing. Many ministries might do well to rethink their approach to literature distribution based on the discerning counsel and long-term strategy of sustainability offered by Marsh Moyle, Gerry Davey, and Brenton Milne.
Marsh Moyle is director of Stredoeurópska nadácia (SEN), Bratislava, Slovakia; Gerry Davey is director of Eastern European Literature Advisory Committee, Bromley, England; Brenton Milne is Central European literature administrator for International Teams, Luton, England.
Edited and adapted with permission from the authors' International Literature Associates (Bratislava, Slovakia: Stredoeurópska nadácia, 1997). The full 24-page report is available without charge; donation requested.
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