Beyond the Printed Book: Redefining Publishing in the Twenty-first Century

(Editor's note: This article continues a year-long partnership between LWP and Media Associates International to present a series of articles focused on global Christian publishing.)

Like never before, Christian publishers are blessed. God has allowed us to live in the midst of the most important changes since the invention of the Gutenberg Press. For hundreds of years publishers had just one way to communicate—printed paper. Today, we have a plethora of platforms for reaching readers: printed books, magazines, and newspapers, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, ebooks, and Apple applications. We must be tech savvy and highly skilled.

Sometimes, the breakneck pace of change scares us. It can seem more like a threat than an opportunity. But the fact is we can’t continue to publish books the way we used to.

We also can’t ignore the variety of ways we now have to communicate. In a sense, it doesn’t matter which particular medium we are talking about. More and more, we realize that, as publishers, our role is to provide content, regardless of which media we use to communicate it.

Perhaps our real problem is how to monetize the new media in order to survive and thrive. Most readers are not willing to pay for online content. But online media demand high investment from publishers. In this unknown frontier, spending too much money can put businesses at risk. Yet, more and more readers are becoming Internet users.

Recently, we investigated how our publishing house could take advantage of online trends.

A Case Study from Brazil
Editora Mundo Cristão is an independent Christian publishing house in one of the world’s most dynamic markets. Brazil has experienced five successive years of significant economic growth. Due to government measures, the spending power of the poorest layers of society has increased. Approximately thirty million people have become “consumers” during this period; before, they could barely afford to cover basic needs.

Meanwhile, the Evangelical Church in Brazil has been rapidly expanding. It has grown nearly ten times larger since 1970—from 4.8 million in 1970 to 46 million in 2010 (see chart). Projections indicate that evangelicals could represent fifty percent of Brazil’s population by 2020. (In 2010, Brazil had nearly 200 million inhabitants.)

Brazilian evangelicals mostly belong to the poorest layers of our society. A low-cost printed title is the only way to motivate them to purchase a book. For these readers, it is cheaper and easier to have a printed book than an e-book.

Such a dynamic economy challenges us to reach a broader audience. The Internet has become more popular and the number of households with Internet access has grown more than seventy percent in the last four years. With online access at work, cybercafés, and more, an estimated seventy-six million Brazilians may now be connected online.

At Mundo Cristão, we are testing new technologies to reach a larger audience and, ultimately, to fulfill our mission. So far, new media have boosted our effectiveness.

Creating Communities
One lesson we have learned is that we have to create and sustain reader communities with frequent interaction. Some call it a “business to community” strategy. It requires rethinking the business as usual strategy. Sometimes, publishers release a book with the assumption that it will reach all kinds of readers. That’s a mistake. A book for everybody is a book for nobody. We need to define the reader’s profile and use social networking tools to reduce the distance between us.

Twitter, Facebook, Websites
In terms of Twitter followers, we are the third largest Brazilian publisher. Every day, we send tweets with campaigns, news, and book launch announcements. In August, twenty-two thousand followers were interacting with us. It’s amazing how fast our twitter posts are replicated.

Recently, we launched a new edition of The New Living Bible in Portuguese. In order to spread the new translation’s concept, every day a Bible verse is tweeted. The uniqueness of this new translation has been shared in an unprecedented way.

We are also on Facebook. There, we post copies of the messages we send via Twitter and insert links to our website updates.

The website is also a fundamental tool to our publishing strategy. Besides the company website, we have created sites for some of our new releases. A good example is a site designed for young girls. For this audience, we publish a devotional Bible, fiction, nonfiction, and devotionals.


Secular magazines for girls have given us several good reviews. There is no quality difference between our books and similar books published by Brazil’s largest general publishers.

These young readers’ responses and feedback have given us insights for future publications. Girls are sending us questions on faith issues, behavior, and health. They are listening to songs, reviewing our series, and more. Their desire to interact online has exceeded our dreams.

Mundo Cristão also publishes a magazine, Seu Mundo (Your World in English), that provides details of new book releases, author interviews, and articles. It’s free and can be read online.

Our website also offers free book chapters and allows reader to share their reviews.

Paper Is Not Dead
Despite predictions of the death of the printed book, we don’t believe it will happen any time soon. We have been distributing printed books as never before and believe that digital and paperback can live in harmony. For those who publish printed books, printing technologies for small quantity and larger print runs have opened new possibilities.

Despite the economic crisis facing many printing companies, some are still investing in new equipment. Advances in software such as InDesign and Adobe Acrobat and the spread of broadband networks reduce a book’s production time. In the early 1980s it took ten years to develop a Bible translation; now it takes five years.

Collaborative solutions exist today that eliminate geographic barriers. In many countries, it’s possible to print abroad and harness the most innovative solutions available. The New Living Bible was edited in Brazil, paginated in Denmark, and printed in China.

Mundo Cristão sells more than 3.2 million copies annually. However, we (like all publishers) do not have the budget to keep copies of all our titles stored in a warehouse.

Print on demand (POD) enables readers to purchase older titles at a reasonable cost. A typical print run for a reprinted book requires at least one thousand copies to be cost effective. However, this title may typically remain for a year or more in the warehouse. When publishers have up to three hundred titles in their backlists, they barely have funds to reprint a few titles.

Using a POD solution means printing as few copies as you like. The individual book cost is higher, but the total amount invested is much less. This means the title would cost fifty percent more than a current bestseller, but we have found that many readers are willing to pay more for it.

We are also considering a partnership with a print-on-demand supplier in the U.S. to serve the Portuguese-speaking market there. We intend to give these readers a better and faster service with reasonable prices. If this works, we will include bestsellers as well.

We have started to convert our titles to digital. The ebook market is still small in Brazil, but we are testing its viability. In the United States ebooks comprise four to seven percent of titles among the largest publishers. There are approximately one million ebook titles available in English, but just four thousand in Portuguese. Conversion costs from print to ebooks are steep, and we are trying to find cheaper methods. The Brazilian government is about to reduce taxes on e-readers and we expect to have new users soon.

The ebook is also an alternative for reaching Portuguese-speaking readers throughout the world. Ebook prices are generally twenty-five to thirty percent less than print titles. Regardless of the uncertainty of the size of the ebook market, we should not exclude ourselves from it.

We have also developed an application for the iPad, although we haven’t launched it yet. Again, the idea is try the technology and test the market. We would use a public domain title and price it as low as possible. The ebook would have video, audio, and interactive tools.

Using a smart combination of these new technologies is the only way for publishers to survive and grow in such uncertain scenarios.

We should not dismiss nor blame the changing technologies. Instead, we must thank God for additional tools to broadcast the good news.

Renato Fleischner is editorial and production director at Mundo Cristão Publishers, Brazil’s largest independent Christian publishing house. He studied journalism and has an MBA in marketing. He has worked in the publishing industry for twenty-two years, nine of those at Mundo Cristão.