Publishing Trust keeps up with changes in book business
With all the far-reaching changes that book publishing has undergone in recent years, the U.S. Baha’i Publishing Trust continues to shape its new offerings and refine its business model.
Electronic publishing and audiobooks are on the rise. Distribution of physical books goes through the web as much as through traditional bookstores. And in creating the literature, there is always more to learn about what readers need and want.
But the central mission is still to make Baha’i holy writings widely and affordably available, along with other literature and materials to support Baha’i community life and the sharing of Baha’i teachings.
“We are a spiritual enterprise that diffuses the Word of God,” says Nat Yogachandra, general manager of the Baha’i Publishing Trust (BPT). That core mission has been consistent since the organization was founded in 1955 — indeed, since its predecessor, the Baha’i Publishing Society, was incorporated in 1902.
Under the supervision of the National Spiritual Assembly, the governing council of the Baha’is of the United States, the BPT is moving rapidly as the landscape of the book business changes. Among its current strategies:
Increased electronic distribution. The BPT’s bahaibookstore.com website offers a wide selection of electronic books for download, with thousands of readers and listeners receiving email and social media updates when new selections come available. (Audiobooks and music can be downloaded from bahaimusicstore.com.)
One great area of expansion is in free downloads of Baha’i sacred and authoritative writings. “More than 10,000 free e-books have been downloaded by visitors from approximately 170 countries,” Yogachandra notes. They are available in 12 languages, with more to come.
Specialized series. “Three new book series have been developed in recent years — each with its own specific focus,” says Bahhaj Taherzadeh, senior editor.
- The junior youth-oriented Change Maker series, starting with a biography of Chicago newspaper publisher Robert Sengstacke Abbott, presents books on people associated with the Baha’i Faith who have brought about social change.
- The Tender Years series is geared toward helping parents develop spiritual routines with children 0–3, starting with the titles Rose of Love, A Tiny Seed and I am a Child.
- For youth and adults interested in meditation and mindfulness, the Pause & Reflect series offers themed collections of short quotations from the Baha’i writings.
Other book-development efforts flow from the needs of the national Baha’i community. For instance, the BPT supported the recent bicentenary of the Birth of the Bab, herald of the Baha’i Faith, with the compilation Immortal Youth, a remastered audiobook version of Stories From the Dawn-Breakers, and a Baha’i wall calendar and datebook with photography inspired by the Bab’s life.
Three distinct imprints. As a flexible framework for expanding its range of books, the BPT utilizes three “imprints,” or brand names, each serving a distinct purpose:
- Baha’i Publishing serves the Baha’i community as well as the general public with sacred Baha’i writings, history, biography, scholarly and socially significant works, and other books that can contribute a Baha’i perspective to public discourse.
- Bellwood Press produces books for children, junior youth and youth.
- One Voice Press develops “titles that might benefit from a more neutral imprint identity, without overt reference to the Baha’i Faith,” Yogachandra says.
Author and book development. To complement its regular work with authors, BPT co-organizes writer’s workshops with author panels at Baha’i conference centers in California and Maine. Recent events on the theme “Conversations of the Heart” have been aimed at “accompanying authors on their personal journeys as they strive to write for the Faith,” Yogachandra says.
Staff members also travel to meet potential authors at such events as the annual conferences of the Association for Baha’i Studies and the Association of Friends of Persian Culture.
Distributing products from other publishers. Through its Baha’i Distribution Service (BDS), the Trust distributes Baha’i-themed books, music and other materials from independent publishers. “Over 90 new titles were added in the past year to its selection of 1,400 products sold through the website or phone sales,” says Ariana Ali, purchasing coordinator.
Many other lines of action are being taken behind the scenes. For example, the BPT has hired a large book distribution company to distribute its titles to traditional bookstores, and sales and distribution over the past summer “have exceeded our expectations,” says Atefeh Mahboubi, business manager. Also, the organization is taking continued steps to increase efficiency in stocking, inventory control and shipping, and to maintain website security.
Looking ahead. Increasing the number of languages in its offerings of free e-books of sacred and authoritative writings is just one way the BPT is strengthening its support for Baha’i community-building efforts.
Another major goal, Yogachandra says, “is to expand our portfolio to support the worldwide community in their efforts to observe the 100th anniversary” in 2021 of the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of and successor to Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith.