Keeping Current with Technology (Part 1)

Ten Tons of books. That’s what I estimated were heading for the dumpster as we closed the warehouse of the former Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN) in Scottdale, PA,  in June of 2011. “What a waste,” I thought to myself, “I hope in the future we can do it differently.”

Today, with eBooks, Print on Demand, and audio downloads, MennoMedia is doing it differently.

ward-sutton-in-preparation-for-landing-please-turn-off-your-books-new-yorker-cartoonEBooks are everywhere now. Over the past several years they have become the fastest growing segment of book revenues in North America. While many like to read digital books on dedicated devices, like a Nook or Kindle, the tablet computer is rapidly becoming the device of choice and will, I believe, make dedicated readers obsolete in the near future.

MennoMedia has recently had most of its backlist (older) titles converted to eBook formats, which are available at places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Since last fall, every new book title from Herald Press has a digital format available concurrently with the print version. Before too long we hope to be able to sell eBooks directly through our own online store as well. While I am not a huge fan of digital books personally (I like the tactile experience of reading a book on paper) I can see how eBooks can be especially useful to people who travel, do research, or who simply don’t like stacks of books lying around.

photo (3)Print on Demand. It used to be that when you printed books, you had to calculate a print run in the thousands in order to get a decent unit price on books. Older books were a dilemma: how many more would we estimate to sell? What if we don’t sell all that we print? Shall we just let it go out of print? Do we risk printing 500 or 1,000? The ten tons we disposed of in Scottdale are a case in point. In the past decade, a new technology, Print on Demand (POD) has changed the decision-making. Now we can literally print one copy of a book at a time and not have any inventory at all. We are utilizing it for lower selling products as well as older books that have steady, but lower sales. It means that we also never have to let a book go out of print. As POD vendors such as Lightning Source open up facilities overseas we also see them being able to produce our books in places such as the UK, Germany, South Africa and Australia, meaning that we don’t have to ship books overseas, which is very expensive and time-consuming.

Audio downloads. I love listening to books, especially when I am driving long distances. Sometimes I borrow books on CD from the library (a useful, but dying technology,) but lately I have been downloading books directly to my iPhone via Audible. Two of our recent books, Laughter is Sacred Space, by Ted Swartz and Making Friends Among the Taliban, by Jonathan Larson,  are now both available as audio books and we have made both available only as a downloadable version. Both authors are great speakers/performers and it was natural that we would produce audio books from each. These downloads, by the way, are available directly from MennoMedia’s online store.

Russ Eanes

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See also video trailer for Making Friends among the Taliban, and Weaving Life documentary, and video for Laughter is Sacred Space.

New Yorker Cartoon above available as a poster.

Collaborate and Innovate

Last week I spent three days in New York City attending the Tools of Change Conference, an annual gathering of innovators and thinkers about the future of publishing. I attended last year so my anticipation was high. Next week I’ll give a better summary of what I experienced this year, but today I’d like to just highlight a workshop on collaboration I attended this year called “Booksprints” and why I think it’s a way for MennoMedia to become a leader and innovator in our field.

(Photo from Booksprints.net.)

Booksprints is not a technology, but a process, a methodology, which brings together a group to produce a book in three to five days. Considering that the typical lead-time in book publishing is 12-18 months, curriculum is six-12 months and film documentary is one to two years or more, this concept is quite literally counter-intuitive. I was intrigued at not only how they work, but also at how they use open-source software to produce the end product. Considering that an e-book can be produced almost instantly, as soon as the content is ready, and that Print-on-Demand (POD) technology can generate a physical product in a little over 24 hours, this concept completely blows apart the traditional production schedules and lead-times that most of us are used to.

I realize that not all produced content will fit in this model; works of fiction, literature, and other researched topics will still take as much time as authors and content-creators need; but much of our work could benefit from this type of creative process. Imagine bringing together a team of curriculum writers, editors and illustrators for three to five days and in an intensive process, produce a whole quarter of curriculum which is press-ready as they depart. Not only would it make content more up-to-date, but the short lead-time would allow for quicker and faster response to customer feedback. Right now, it may take us three or more quarters (up to nine months) before we can implement a significant change that our customer base may ask of us. I am told that Hymnal: A Worship Book (Mennonite hymnal published in 1992) took a decade to produce. What if we stretched our creative and collaborative mindset and imagined creating a new hymnal in five days? Considering that the longer projects take to produce, the more they cost, this could have the effect of slashing overhead costs greatly and still produce a high-quality product for much less. My dream is that several at MennoMedia get trained in facilitating this type of process and make us leaders in our field—our future. As I heard asked elsewhere last week, “How do you change the future? You change the story that people tell themselves about how the future will be.”

DSCN0625  ~Russ Eanes

Growing Fifty Shade of Grace

How is the idea for a book born? Let me count the ways.

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Most often in the mind of an author or writer–I often scribble an idea–or lots of them–on a scrap of paper. Sometimes on a blank computer document. Sometimes through lively staff discussions or brainstorms in the lunchroom.

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Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise was launched in our lunchroom at MennoMedia on Dec. 12, 2012, as an “answer” of sorts to a certain other popular Fifty Shades book.

An email went out soliciting stories. Deadlines were established, with a desired release date of April 15.

Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise

A designer got busy working on a cover in time for the 2013 Catalog.

Oh, and then in this case, a project manager (me) is assigned to pull the stories and chapters together cohesively.

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Mostly we work with manuscripts electronically, but sometimes, when organizing a book of this nature with more than 50 submissions, you eventually have to print it out and work hands on. At least I do.

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There! It feels more like a book. Funny, since many readers will end up accessing this as an ebook–which is fine!

So the thoughts go full circle–whether electronically or printed–into the minds of readers! and the stories carry us to another place, another time, another world …

“Cold mountain wind roared in my ears. The path through the snow had vanished, along with visibility beyond forty feet. I had no map, no compass, and no idea where the 2,000 foot cliffs were lurking …”

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We hope you look for this book April 15 or thereabouts!

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Watch this for a lovely quick peek how books are still made in some places. Today many titles can be handled as print on demand only books. MennoMedia has many books available as ebooks through standard sources like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo.

–Melodie Davis, MennoMedia author, columnist, producer, blogger.