Church Publishing accelerates electronic products, suspends mass-market publishing, lays off nine staff

May 11, 2009

Church Publishing Inc. (CPI), which produces books and religious items that include Episcopal Church prayer books and hymnals, on May 9 announced several moves that it said will "strengthen its position as a denominational publisher of excellence in these times of economic travail."

The New York-based publisher will accelerate the release of several electronic products, but also announced that in response to a "steep market decline in trade-book publishing," it will suspend publication of books for a general audience. Scaling back such activity in its Seabury Books imprint has resulted in the layoff of nine staff, said Nancy Fisher, director of communications for the Church Pension Group. The publishing operation is an affiliate company of the pension group, which manages the Episcopal Church’s pension fund, among other operations.

The market decline means that CPI "will be reconfiguring the scope of its book publishing program to focus more intentionally on 'core' publications that directly relate to liturgical and worship practices in the church," according to the announcement.

According to an article in the April 27, 2009 issue of Publishers Weekly, a publishing trade magazine, total book sales are expected to decline 0.5 percent in 2009, to $35.041 billion from $35.219 billion in 2008. Book sales in the religion category are expected to decline 7.9 percent and in the trade, or adult, paperback category, by 4.0 per cent, said the Institute for Publishing Research. The institute attributed the forecast to a decline in discretionary income among consumers due to the economic downturn.

Fisher said the CPI decision concerning Seabury, which was originally established in the early 1950s, applies to future acquisitions. "We are not deferring or delaying any books currently under contract; we will proceed as planned," she said, adding that CPI will continue to support and promote its backlist of previously-published books and is adding books from the list to Amazon.com’s electronic-book Kindle program.

CPI said in the announcement that it will "bolster its offerings" at its other two imprints -- Morehouse Publishing, which produces titles for the laity on spiritual enrichment and practical guidance, and Church Publishing, which produces Episcopal Church liturgical and musical books and resources.

The company is accelerating this year the release schedule of electronic products that encompass worship planning, faith formation and church administration, based on the CD-ROM "Rite Series" from the 1990s, it said. The "Rite Stuff" downloadable resource, for example, contains templates for various liturgies, commentaries on readings and hymn words and music.

By the end of 2009, the Morehouse Education Resources division will release a collection of curriculum materials for use in Christian education programs that is an ecumenical collaboration among CPI and five other religious publishers. Morehouse Education will also publish a new confirmation curriculum via the Internet, CPI said.

The announcement noted that the Morehouse Church Supplies division recently expanded to offer vestments and will continue to offer worship essentials, parish administration materials and other items.

Production activity across all CPI product lines is being centralized under Vice President for Production Lorraine Simonello and editorial acquisitions will continue to be led by editorial director Frank Tedeschi and publisher Davis Perkins.

CPI was launched as the Church Hymnal Corp. in 1918 with the production of The Hymnal 1918, which remains in print.