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Merger Effort with Adventist Publishing Houses in the U.S. Comes to an Abrupt End
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Submitted: Aug 4, 2013
By Adventist Today News Team


Officials at the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (GC) announced last week that taskforce assigned to develop a plan to merge the Review & Herald Publishing Association and the Pacific Press "will cease its work immediately," according to a bulletin from the Adventist News Network (ANN), the denomination's official news service. "Differing perspectives as to the interpretation" of statements by Ellen G. White more than a hundred years ago were given as the reason for abandoning the effort, although there were hints that the subject will be approached again in the future.
 
The problems faced by the denomination's publishing enterprise are clearly outlined in a confidential document that Adventist Today has obtained. "Rapid advances in printing technology. Widespread availability of electronically disseminated information. ... Momentum toward self-publishing [and] movement towards print-on-demand and electronic publishing [mean that] publishers must view themselves as distributors of intellectual property rather than publishers of books and magazines."
 
The document was evidently prepared for the officers of the GC and the North American Division, and led to the June 19 decision asking the management and boards of the two publishing houses to develop a plan for merger. In addition to the technological and economic environment within which Adventist publishing must work, the document also lays out a number of problems specific to the denomination's operations in the United States.
 
The problems noted: (1) There are many "very price competitive" providers of print services available and "denominational entities demonstrate a commitment to 'lowest cost' among all available options." (2) "The Literature Evangelism program is no longer a primary distribution avenue [because] door-to-door marketing of consumer products has almost completely disappeared." (3) Down-sizing of staff in local and union conferences has "reduced the promotion of local church involvement in annual ... literature distribution initiatives." (4) "Many local conferences no longer operate" bookstores. (5) The way the denomination's supply system for local Sabbath School materials is organized and intellectual property is handled.
 
The goal of merging the two publishers was to introduce more cost effective use of new technology and connect the institutions to the plans of the Adventist Church in North America. Both publishing houses are organizationally linked directly to the GC despite the fact that there are now 63 publishers operated by the denomination around the world and the cost of shipping paper products has largely ended international distribution.
 
A source inside one of the institutions told Adventist Today that almost immediately after the June 19 announcement there were widespread expressions of fear among employees about loss of employment and personal difficulties related to being asked to move to another state. Other sources refused to characterize the reactions of employees even when offered anonymity, but acknowledged that similar concerns were being felt.
 
A 1968 compilation of Ellen G. White quotes on "Confederation and Consolidation" has been circulated among interested individuals. The ANN story implies that this collection or the original documents were discussed by the taskforce. Extracts from about a dozen letters written by White from 1894 through 1911 are included in the 22-page document, as well as a letter dated May 15, 1983, from "Friends of the Pacific Press" urging readers to write to certain GC officers and the union conference presidents because "in a few weeks ... the future of the Pacific Press is to be decided [and] some would have it give up some of its independence."
 
A line from Letter 81, 1896, is quoted stating that Pacific Press "was ever to remain independent of all other institutions." Most of the original correspondence quoted in the document is from 1894 through 1896 when White was living in Australia and there was an effort to place the denomination's publishing houses under one governing board, a concept approved in principle by the delegates to the 1889 GC Session and further developed at the next session in 1891.
 
Material from the letters was read to the delegates at the 1895 session, although at that point the item under discussion was the merger of periodicals, not publishing institutions nor the concept of a single governing board. (See the General Conference Bulletin for 1895.) "I have no faith in consolidating the work of publication, blending into one that which should remain separate," White had written in Letter 71, 1894. "This is not God's wisdom, but human wisdom."
 
Interpretation of passages such as this one becomes controversial at several levels. What specifically was she intending to address? The earlier plan to have one governing board for all the publishing houses or the immediate proposal to combine some of the periodicals? Did she intend to make statements about situations more than a century later or was she only addressing the foreseeable future? How was the 1963 compilation constructed? That was prior to the capacity to search the entire text of all White's writings which is available in digital form today.
 
Those who interpret the material from White most literally not only believe she has ruled out any kind of organizational merger, but also that she mandates that each publishing house own separate production facilities. The 1983 proposal put forward a concept that has been discussed again recently; to have separate publishing organizations that share one production facility. This would be more cost efficient than the current situation.
 
In previous news reports Adventist Today editor J. David Newman has pointed out the value to the church of maintaining a number of voices and a range of views. With an estimated 30 million adherents around the world, the Adventist movement would, in the opinion of many members and clergy, not benefit from any plan that features a single editorial operation for even North America.
 
Although "the taskforce will not continue," the joint statement of the GC and NAD officers said, "the nature of a restructuring relationship in whatever future format that may develop requires deeper analysis and modeling." The statement also asked that the publishing houses "try to find ways to realize economies through closer cooperation and possible shared services."
 
"If the publishing houses would embrace this idea and really develop collaborative projects to deal with the new technology and business models in today's media world, they could probably avoid this merger idea coming back again," a church member who has worked in media businesses told Adventist Today. "Collaborations and joint ventures as the most common way forward these days. Mergers are largely among those holding onto eclipsed technology."
 
 

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Edwin A. Schwisow
2013-08-05 12:18 PM

What a fortunate development! As we look at the tightly structured, exceedingly top-heavy ways of the Jehovah's Witnesses "Watchtower" and the LDS's publishing and broadcasting enterprises, we are indeed reminded that while "too big to fail" can keep huge, centralized, one-of-a-kind enterprises on life support, it may do so long after the creative juices have been sacrificed to group-think inefficiency.

How paradoxical that even as the media ministries are moving away from centralized coexistence in Southern California, GC administration envisioned reversing the process in the matter of the publishing houses.

I applaud any part Adventist Today and its readers and editors have played in helping open the eyes of Church administration....



 

Inge Anderson
2013-08-05 1:56 PM

I appreciate J David Newman's perspective of "the value to the church of maintaining a number of voices and a range of views. With an estimated 30 million adherents around the world, the Adventist movement would, in the opinion of many members and clergy, not benefit from any plan that features a single editorial operation for even North America."

And a church member quoted above got it right too, the way I see it: ""If the publishing houses would embrace this idea and really develop collaborative projects to deal with the new technology and business models in today's media world, they could probably avoid this merger idea coming back again. Collaborations and joint ventures as the most common way forward these days. Mergers are largely among those holding onto eclipsed technology."

Thanks for the report.

William Noel
2013-08-05 10:37 PM

It looks like the concept that instructions given more than a century ago would remain eternally essential and binding has come into sharp conflict with reality.  How long can the church afford to preserve both PPPA and R&H when the demand for products can be easily met by just one and we also have instructions that all church institutions should be operated so they are fiscally healthy?  At some point a hard decision will have to be made.  Will that decision be made with the luxury of looking forward, or forced by financial difficulties that eliminate currently-available options? 

Edwin A. Schwisow
2013-08-07 7:11 PM

Times are indeed changing, but a memo to the two presses that in effect orders them to find a way to merge seems a bit over-the-top, for two creative enterprises that for more than a century have been "competing" to try to come up with the best product for the Adventist as well as the Gentile markets. There are a host of other cost-saving options equally in tune with the times that do not require merging of these two facilities—options that do not require the Church to rely primarily on one, and only one, set of editors for development of its products.
 

William Noel
2013-08-07 7:46 PM

They're going broke and must seriously cut their operating costs.  That's the reality they can't escape.  One solution worth exploring would be to have separate editorial staffs and, since the combined demand for all their products could easily be produced by either printing plant alone, let them share one printing plant. 

William Noel
2013-08-07 7:49 PM

Plus, I find it deliciously ironic that the failure to make a decision would be based on conflicting views from the history of each organization and statements by Ellen White.  That's a cowardly response to a difficult choice.  Any decision will be the object of vocal criticism but the result far better for the church than delaying a decision.

Debbonnaire Kovacs
2013-08-09 1:28 PM

 Dan Appell said: "For a long time, Pacific Press has been the most religiously conservative of our two North American publishing houses - tending to publish and promote authors who were on the right to far right of our church.  R&H has been, not only the more creative of the two, but also much more open to representing and producing material for the whole church."  

I am not particularly knowledgeable about this sort of thing and don't know any of the inside sort of information that appears in the comments above; for example, I had no idea Pacific owned the ABCs. But I find this particular comment surprising, since it was Pacific who published my books, including one on Christian meditation that garnered such negative reactions from the far right that in some circles I am considered an actual force for evil within Adventism!
For myself, I've been watching this merger idea with some interest and curiosity, but in fact, I have already moved to publishing within the larger marketplace rather than the denomination. I didn't write those books for Adventists--I wrote them for Christians in general. And these days, I'm more interested in being read by other spiritual seekers than even Christians.

William Noel
2013-08-10 3:38 PM

Debbonnaire,

There really is no possibility of publishing anything without someone criticizing it.  While we authors wear our emotions on our sleeves and our works are intensely personal expressions from our inmost being, we must develop thick skins to put the criticism in perspective else we hide for fear someone won't like our work.  I've been writing for enough years that most of the time I can forgive the criticisms that inevitably come.  Still, some things pierce my armor and what gets me upset is how particular prejudices have driven the church publishing houses to limit their product offers out of fear of criticism from those who are both influential and prejudiced.  R&H published two of my spiritual novels.  Like you, I was writing for the general Christian audience.  The first quickly rose to their #2 seller that year before finishing at #5.  While not considered a book for youth, they proved to be the primary buyers.  The comment I heard most often from readers was how the stories helped them understand aspects of Bible prophecy in practical terms.  The next comment was how they were sharing the books with friends.  But some people felt using a spiritual novel to teach Bible truths was some sort of abomination and complained.  One church leader even asked why R&H was "wasting resources" by printing a book about prophecy that wasn't exploring them in the same theological manner as most such books and not extensively quoting Ellen White.  The result: my second book was dropped from the list of books promoted in various church journals and sales lagged so low it was barely in their top 25 books that year.  My royalties from that second book were higher after the book went into the discount bins than off the first-run shelf.

I don't know about you, but after that experience I'm going to need a very specific and significant reason before offering another of my manuscripts to an Adventist publisher.  I'm working on another book right now and will try marketing through Thomas Nelson or Zondervan first.

Truth Seeker
2013-08-09 3:17 PM

One recent visitor to the R&H Publishing remarked about the very relaxed atmosphere to the extent that sometimes work seems to take second place.
Being creative does not mean publishing and/or printing books that contradict the principles that the SDA church prescribes. One employee of one of the "Houses" agreed that certain books should not be printed. I have no doubt the liberals will push back on that idea. So be it.
In order to properly represent Adventism employees should not be living in overt sin. Plus management must abolish the idea of terminating loyal surplus employees without notice! But then who is really listening.
Maranatha
 

William Noel
2013-08-10 3:50 PM

To be attractive to a diverse audience we must have a variety of publications.  Because something does not appeal to you does not mean it is not relevant and beneficial to someone else.  The problem is when someone sees something that does not appeal to them it is often labeled as "sinful."  The real sin there is the accusation. 

The bottom-line in any business is the bottom line on the ledger.  If you're not bringing in enough revenue to make that number positive you must cut somewhere.  Working for the church has historically been almost a guarantee of lifetime employment.  But even church institutions are not immune from economic reality and managers are now being forced to make difficult decisions impacting the ability of the publishing house to survive.  It was their unwillingness to make those decisions in years past that has brought them to the current situation and their inability to make those decisions now may bring us to the point of no longer having either publishing house in the future because they will have gone bankrupt. 

Rngrbird
2013-08-09 10:31 PM

To me, it seriously causes great concern that "we" have differing interpretations as to Sister White's writings - Does anyone else not see that a heavy perspective of our present and "seems to be ever changing interpretations" on what we as a church believe have been influenced by "amplifications" of the Bible by Sister White. IF we look at all the 'entities' who believe that they have a Right to interprete her writings "WE" would turn into Lawyers = all having their own opinion!! / or as one might say plainly 'they' all have their own distal end of their G.I. track.  That's a ready made disaster, where are we going?  As the sun set today and Sabbath began I pray that God would guide us as a Church on one accord.

William Noel
2013-08-10 3:56 PM

Instead of getting hung-up on the words of a prophet penned more than a century ago, why is no one asking what a prophet would say today to the present situation? 

Rngrbird
2013-08-10 4:54 PM

I'm not as concerned with the words penned more than a century ago - I'm more concerned that 'we' seem to have those in leadership positions that can't seem to decide what side of the coin their going to "lead" with,  and then from person to person "they" decide what we as a church will take from her words.

In theory - wouldn't it be great if we could ask her what she would say today about the present situation.  I'm sure she'd turn us over her checkered apron and spank us till the world looks level.  I feel sure she'd be sorely disappointed at what we've done with things.

Elaine Nelson
2013-08-10 6:34 PM

Religious belief has no place in the public sphere.  Read the First Amendment.  If someone believes that religion should have a voice, whose voice is being suggested?  

Kevin Riley
2013-08-14 12:29 AM

Elaine

Surely you don't believe what you wrote?  I can see no way that religion can - or should - be excluded from the public sphere.  Or does freedom of speech and expression no longer apply to believers in any religion?  There is a long way from forbidding the 'establishment' of any religion and excluding religion from all public debates.  And as to whose voice should be heard - why not everyone's?  It can do little harm while we are all free to believe or disbelieve as we choose.

Wayne Wilson
2013-08-14 4:41 AM

The First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The statement "Religious belief has no place in the public sphere" is an absolute contradiction of the First Amendment!  Are we really expected to take such uninformed comments seriously?  And why would a Christian want to prohibit religion?  Isn't that precisely what many atheists want?  I am completely baffled by your opinion Elaine.

 

Elaine Nelson
2013-08-14 1:13 PM

Religious freedom of belief is ALLOWED in the public sphere; but religion incorporated in laws is prohibited.  The free exercise of religion and speech is always limited, and there have been numerous examples.

Adventists have long been taught that this freedom of religion would one day be challenged with a law introducing Sunday rest or worship.  That is wrongful use of religion in U.S. laws. 

Wayne Wilson
2013-08-14 1:38 PM

Elaine,
In the above post you stated that "Religious belief has no place in the public sphere." This is a rather are dogmatic assertion that religion shouldn't be ALLOWED in the public sphere.  You ask for us to read the first amendment but it is quite obvious that you don't understand it yourself.

Elaine Nelson
2013-08-14 2:47 PM

Private religious belief has no place in the public sphere to influence public laws.  The "public sphere" does not mean private religion or private religious beliefs.

Where in the public sphere would you prefer to see religion?  Or where do you believe religion should be in the public sphere?  Religion should always be one's private and personal beliefs unaffected by the public.

Wayne Wilson
2013-08-15 5:40 PM

The First Amendment says nothing about "private vs. public" religion.  It does say that you can't make any law prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech (of that religion) which is precisely what you are advocating when you stated that “Religious belief has no place in the public sphere”.   When the founding fathers declared independence they declared in the public assembly that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” They actually utilized these very rights for the base of our constitution, signing the end of the document “In the year of our Lord.” 

We are not prohibited from speaking about God in public.  His name is written on our monuments and our money.  Our leaders pray to Him openly, both in times of peace but particularly in times of crisis.  When we are prohibited from speaking about God in public and only allowed to do so in private, we have lost our religious freedom.

Elaine Nelson
2013-08-15 7:20 PM

"Speaking about God in public" is fully exercising our First Amendment rights.  However, the government cannot foster or approve any particular  belief in  its public laws.

You have failed to demonstrate any occasion when religion or speech has been abridged.  Where are the examples of religion being prohibited or God's name being prosecuted?

Wayne Wilson
2013-08-16 1:50 AM

I have simply been responding to your statement that "Religious belief has no place in the public sphere."
 

Anonymous



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