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Publishing board hears encouraging reports, addresses ongoing challenges


May 4, 2005
Mennonite Publishing Network

Waterloo, Ont./Scottdale, Pa. - Encouraged by positive financial reports and promising new publishing projects, the Mennonite Publishing Network board, at its April 29-30 annual meeting, addressed marketing and financial challenges.

Audited financial reports for the year ending January 31 showed a surplus of $92,500. The year included $550,000 in payments (principal and interest) on the long-term debt which was $5.1 million three years ago and now stands at $3.5 million. Revenue included $200,000 in donations, applied toward the development costs of the Gather ’Round Sunday school curriculum. The board set a fundraising goal of $240,000 for the current year; as in the past year, donations are being sought for the resource development fund.

Management highlighted several new projects in addition to Gather ’Round, which will be introduced early in 2006 and ready for congregational use in the fall of 2006. A new hymnal supplement, Sing the Journey, will be released this June by Faith & Life Resources and will be featured as the songbook for the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in July.

A new Herald Press cookbook, Simply in Season, will also be released in June as the third in the successful series which includes More-with-Less and Extending the Table. Herald Press published 20 new titles the past year, including two more volumes—Romans and Proverbs—in the Believer’s Church Bible Commentary. Faith & Life Resources published ten new study resources including the well-received summer 2005 vacation Bible school curriculum Celebrate the Psalms! Our God is Awesome.

While the new projects are expected to sell well, board members also expressed concern that many of the existing books and resources are not as well known as they could be. They also said they keep encountering people whose image of Mennonite Publishing Network is more informed by past difficulties than by current achievements.

The board called for the creation of a marketing task group including staff, board and church representation. The group will review the overall plan for communicating the ongoing story of Mennonite Publishing Network and for promoting its resources and books. Executive director, Ron Rempel, said that research conducted this spring will provide important information for one part of the task group’s work. Mennonite Publishing Network is surveying congregations to find out why its Sunday school curriculum materials are being chosen by some congregations but not by others, who turn to alternate curricula.

While pleased with the financial report from last year, the board noted significant challenges ahead. The favorable bottom line last year was achieved through careful expense and inventory control, even though overall sales revenue fell about 7% short of budget. Ongoing work is needed to increase sales revenue.

As part of expense control, the Provident Bookstore chain was reduced from nine to eight stores when the store in Bloomington, Illinois was closed in late January. Further, the planned refurbishment of several stores in the Provident Bookstore chain did not happen last year. The board noted that for the stores to remain viable in a competitive retail environment, they need to be renovated and updated on a regular basis.

The board called for a review of the overall business plan to ensure that its publishing divisions—Faith & Life Resources and Herald Press—and its Provident Bookstore retail division can grow on a sound financial base.

The board reaffirmed the mission statement developed three years ago by a church-wide publishing transformation team, which asked Mennonite Publishing Network to pay more explicit attention to church-relatedness. The core mission is to provide readily accessible resources that equip the church to experience and share the gospel from an Anabaptist perspective.

The Mennonite Publishing Network board includes five from Mennonite Church USA (Ron Sawatsky, Phil Bontrager, Curtis Berry, June Krehbiel, Sheri Hostetler) and three from Mennonite Church Canada (Laverne Brubacher, Carry Dueck, Abe Bergen). Others participating in the April 29-30 meetings included Eleanor Snyder, director of Faith & Life Resources, Jim Schrag, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, Dan Nighswander, general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, and Esther Peters, a member of the General Board of Mennonite Church Canada.