Curation, a publishing model for MennoMedia?

For about as long as I’ve worked in the publishing industry I’ve been involved in discussions about the right publishing “model” for paid content. Authors, editors and other content creators do work that is valuable to society, and if it’s good, should be paid for.

I worked for an academic publisher in the early 2000s when the industry was at the tail end of the effectiveness of the academic library model, the model where academic books and journals that broadened the boundaries of academic knowledge and were deemed publishable by academic peers, and by the publisher were packaged and sold to libraries all over the world. Library budgets began to shrink and the money previously available for academic monographs was shifted to academic journals. Academic journals printed in often slim volumes were a lucrative business for a while, but the electronic revolution was coming and subscription sales began to drop as knowledge moved online. Publishers who had relied on this model as their bread and butter began to look for alternatives and developed online platforms, or partnered with content aggregators to distribute the ever broadening academic knowledge available on the web.

Fast forward to the mid-2000s, and smart publishers had successfully made this transition from printed knowledge to knowledge that was packaged, accessed, and sold electronically. It’s a fascinating history for anyone who follows academia, or is interested in technological transitions and revolutions.

Textbooks, trade books, and non-academic titles didn’t really catch up to the technology until the late 2000s. Now, however, we are firmly ensconced within the digital revolution across all book and knowledge types. Journalism has gone through a heart-wrenching and harsh transition from print to an online environment where the default mode for content for many former subscribers is “free.” Just ask yourself: When was the last time you picked up a print newspaper that you actually paid for? Even if you have read a print newspaper recently, how has the online “free” environment changed your reading and purchasing patterns?

So what do you value? What kind of content would you pay for?

Recently a couple of previously unrelated strands began to come together for me as I thought through this question. In February I attended the Tools of Change Conference in New York City, a conference dedicated to those in the publishing industry who are wrestling with how to embrace both technological and social change to provide a valuable product for their customers.

I attended a session where one of the panelists was the founder of Twitter, about what he was working on next. He is currently working on a platform called Medium that, unlike Twitter which focuses on immediacy and currency, goes deeper into the web and into our thoughts, rather than shallower. If Twitter is a 140 character window into someone’s online soul, what the Twitter founder was working on next was something more like a panoramic painting or photograph, digging deep to find not just what was new and immediate, but what was most valued and important; not exactly timeless, but something close. He was talking about curation.

What I didn’t realize in February was that I had already known and appreciated the concept of curation for a long time, I just hadn’t applied it to my professional life.

When I lived in Southern California one of my favorite radio shows was by a guy named Jason Bentley called Metropolis. Bentley was a DJ for the public radio station KCRW. KCRW had long established itself as a cultural bellwether in Southern California and especially in the electronic and the Hollywood film music scene of the 2000s. Bentley was part DJ, part cultural savant, and most importantly a curator. When I look back to that time driving the LA freeways and listening to his show I realized that I listened to his show not so much because I knew what was going to play next, but because I wanted to hear what Bentley was hearing out there in the world he inhabited, and I knew it would be good. This is an example of curation.

What I value and am willing to pay for is a vision of how things can and should be, whether that is in music, religion, art, or any of the realms I inhabit.

MennoMedia as the publisher and producer of Anabaptist content for the Mennonite Church and for the world, can become a curator of a vision of how the world should be, for how a people can faithfully live out their calling as followers of Jesus.

Why I do what I do

“So, what do you do?”

We all ask it, when we meet someone new. Usually, we are asking about a job: where do you work to earn money, what do you do there? For me the answer is, I work for the church, as a publisher, as the Executor Director of a media agency. That’s really an unsatisfying answer; there’s plenty of other stuff that I “do” which matters to me: I do the dishes, fix meals, I spend time with my family or doing chores. I ride my bike. Sit with friends. Watch the sunset from my deck. I travel.

At a deeper level, and more important to me, however, is the question of “why” I do what I do. A few months ago I asked MennoMedia staff to think about this, after I saw a TED talk by Simon Sinek, called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” His talk was simple and profound at the same time. I highly recommend it—it can change your life.

He said that the difference between success and failure—between great and mediocre companies or organizations—was that the great ones know why they do what they do. Most organizations or businesses can say what they do or how they do it. What differentiates the truly great, however, is the why: What’s your purpose, your cause, your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning and why should anyone care? “The why,” Sinek said, “is what inspires.”

I thought about that why this morning as I looked over the newly released Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations.9780836196757 For me, the why of what I do is in this book. I do what I do so that we can all celebrate life, faith, community and family, the things which I think give us the greatest satisfaction and which form a foundation for everything. For me (known as a “foodie” by some) eating is not mostly about feeding my body, or nutrition. Eating is a meal, a way to celebrate the joys of taste, of creation, of togetherness. In our home we try and prepare meals together; we sit down at the table together; we take time to celebrate being together. That is really what life is about.

Achieving failure is

Amy Gingerich, my wife Jane and I joined the women last summer for an evening celebration in Abbotsford, B.C., where we will head again in a few weeks to launch the next book!

The ten women who produced this book, and their outstanding blog, are to be thanked for this marvelous contribution to the joys of eating, of celebrating, of families and of communities. This is why I do what I do—and I hope it brings joy and purpose to the lives of its readers. Cheers!

~Russ Eanes

The Long Cold Winter Brings Out Daring Board Chair

Looking out my window this April, I recall how an irrepressible Manitoba grandmother became my newest hero.

What I see are the same piles of snow that have greeted me for the last five months, only slightly diminished since spring made a calendar (if not actual) appearance a few weeks ago.  An unusually snowy winter followed by an unusually cold spring has me living in what feels like pre-redeemed Narnia, where it is always winter and always will be. Spring fever, which has claimed more than a few victims in other parts of the continent, is definitely chilled here in the Canadian prairies.

My hero, Kim Bright, looked at those same piles of snow on the first day of spring and saw a great opportunity for fun. Donning her black swimsuit, furry hat (with ear flaps) and don’t-mess-with-me winter boots, she headed outdoors, with her son as a cameraman. The result is a series of videos posted on YouTube (see “Canadian granny defies winter”) that has reaped thousands of hits. In the videos, Bright is engaged in typical winter activities, like skiing, tobogganing and ice-skating (my personal favorite). Her snow angel lasts a thrilling 20 seconds. As she skates, or dog-walks, or snow shovels near the camera, she cheerfully sings out, “Fight on, Manitoba! Fight on!”

Melissa Miller emulates her Manitoba hero.

Melissa Miller emulates her Manitoba hero.

Her rallying cry invigorates me, whether I’m picking my way over an icy sidewalk or through delicate situations I encounter as a pastor. Or in the enormous adventure of chairing the MennoMedia board (meeting this weekend at Virginia headquarters, April 19-20).

Daffodils and tulips are in bloom in Virginia, just in time for board meeting.

Daffodils and tulips are in bloom in Virginia, just in time for board meeting.

It is a time when the landscape of Christian resources is shifting dramatically and unpredictably. When faced with challenges, we can wrap ourselves in gloom and misery, or strip down to the basics and throw ourselves into the bracing elements.

Which way do you think is more fun?

mmiller

Melissa Miller, MennoMedia Board Chair

P.S. Melissa reports that on April 15, five new inches [13 centimetres]
of snow were predicted in Manitoba, with fierce wind. She will be happy to get to Virginia.