A Brave New World for Christian Bookselling: @SPCKPublishing CEO Sam Richardson answers questions from the trade

IVP/SPCK Press Release, 7/10/2015: InterVarsity Press and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Jointly Agree to Unite

IVP/SPCK Press Release, 7/10/2015: InterVarsity Press and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Jointly Agree to Unite

IN A PRESS RELEASE issued on Wednesday afternoon, 7 October 2015, two of the UK’s leading Christian publishers, the respected conservative evangelical IVP and the much-loved champions of theological diversity SPCK, announced that they were joining forces with immediate effect:

InterVarsity Press and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Jointly Agree to Unite

The trustees of InterVarsity Press (IVP) and the trustees of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) today announced a major new agreement that will secure the future of IVP as the United Kingdom’s leading evangelical Christian publisher. From today, IVP will come under the management of SPCK, who have agreed with the current IVP trustees on a comprehensive plan to refinance IVP and ensure it is fully resourced to thrive as an evangelical Christian publisher in the digital era…

Whilst some in the trade were aware that IVP was experiencing some financial difficulties, this development — which has significant implications for the wider trade as well as for the two publishers and their staff — appears to have taken everyone completely by surprise.

My thanks, therefore, to Sam Richardson, SPCK’s CEO, who has very kindly offered to answer some questions fielded from members of the Christian Authors, Booksellers and Publishers facebook group about the agreement. Some issues can’t be addressed as freely as some might wish at this stage due to legal constraints and staff consultations that are still in progress, but I hope that all readers will accept Sam’s assurances in the spirit of openness and respect for due process with which they are intended and, even more importantly, heed the call for patience, prayer and continued trade commitment with which he concludes. As always, all comments welcome.

1. The press release states, “The former IVP trustees will join a new IVP Publishing Board that has been constituted to preserve IVP’s longstanding and highly respected conservative evangelical ethos.” Could you expand on this, please, to explain how you plan to ensure that IVP retains its evangelical distinctiveness, and the corollary to that, to ensure that SPCK retains its traditional breadth? Is there not a danger that some evangelical authors will walk away rather than work in partnership with SPCK? In short, how do you plan to address the question of trust for both authors and readers in what some see as an unlikely partnership?

SR: As you say it does on the face of it look an unlikely partnership. This is the source of its strength. These are two publishing imprints that can be happily distinct, without needing to step on each other’s toes or compete for authors. At the absolute heart of the business case for this deal is that the missions of IVP and SPCK will remain true to their roots – IVP in the evangelical market and SPCK with its traditional breadth.

A number of systems are in place to ensure IVP does not end up getting ‘watered down’ through this partnership, and these are contractually enshrined: IVP publishing director and commissioning editors will sign the doctrinal basis (as long as this is remains legal); there is the separate IVP publishing board which you refer to, formed of the current trustees, who have a complete power of veto over any IVP title – so in other words, the same people who have been responsible for safeguarding IVP’s theology until now will remain responsible for it going forward.

These are the key messages we have been sending to authors, along with the fact that SPCK brings strengths in sales (particularly to the general market) and marketing (particularly digitally) that we expect to significantly increase their readership. IVP has a very loyal author base and we hope they will give us a chance to prove that this is a positive arrangement for all parties. There is a strong pipeline of new titles already commissioned which will give us a chance to prove what we can do under the new arrangement.

2. The implication is that IVP will become an imprint of SPCK rather than remain a publisher in its own right. Are you able to give an assurance that SPCK is committed to retaining the IVP brand and ethos for the long term?

SR: I see SPCK and IVP as being separate but equal imprints with distinct identities but some shared support services. It is just like my previous company Hodder where they have a number of imprints including Hodder, John Murray, Sceptre, Chambers, Teach Yourself and Hodder Faith. Each has its own editorial team, but other functions including the back office are shared.

The contract we made in taking over at SPCK ensures that the IVP brand will remain, and in due course this will be enshrined into SPCK’s royal charter. The safeguards I referred to in question 1 are all permanent arrangements, they will be around longer than you and I.

3. Where does the arrangement leave IVP’s relationship with UCCF?

SR: We hope to strengthen further IVP’s close ties with UCCF. I look forward to having discussions with the UCCF team around a number of ideas we have in terms of both publishing and marketing where there may be shared benefits in working more closely; and also to listening to UCCF’s views on how we can support them in their hugely important ministry. We plan to continue to run IVP-branded stores at Word Alive (and also at Keswick).

4. A number of booksellers are concerned about trade logistics and representation. The press release states that “IVP will honour all existing distribution and representation contracts with third party publishers” but how will this work in practice? Will IVP’s Partnership Distribution continue to operate from their Nottingham depot or will everything be merged into SPCK’s agreement with Macmillan Distribution, or vice-versa? What are the plans for trade representation?

SR: IVP is currently going through a process of consultation with staff which includes looking at the future of its warehousing and distribution operations in Nottingham. As I am sure you will appreciate, it would be inappropriate for us to respond publicly to any question that could impact staff. When there are strategic decisions taken which are relevant to our customers or the public, we will discuss them as soon as it is appropriate to do so with our trade partners and the public.

I know this is a point the trade will be desperate for more information on. What I can assure people of for now is that it will be business as usual up until at least Christmas, with IVP continuing to deliver from Nottingham the high standard of service which customers have come to expect. This applies to all the publishers IVP distributes, not just IVP.

5. There have been availability problems with some IVP distributed publishers recently. Will the new relationship solve this?

SR: Overall fill rate has actually been going up in recent months, but clearly when you carry as many lines as IVP there will be individual problems that get noticed. This may be one area where SPCK does not have a magic wand as IVP has developed competence in this area over a long period. But I would be grateful to hear of specific issues to look into.

6. Some duplication of roles seems inevitable. What are the implications for staff: should we expect to see redeployments and/or job losses?

SR: The consultation underway clearly has implications for staff and I would ask that you respect their privacy, and our need to undergo due process, as the consultation is ongoing. I would reiterate that we will tell the trade of any final decisions as soon as it is appropriate to do so, and that from the trade’s point of view IVP will be continuing to operate in broadly the current way up until Christmas.

7. Where does the agreement leave IVP’s direct-to-consumer discount marketing business, thinkivp.com? Some booksellers see this as undermining prices and their trade: what is your message to them if the project is to continue?

SR: There is a consumer (and author) expectation that publishers should have professional looking websites where there books are available for sale. SPCK does not discount books on its own website except in exceptional circumstances, I think bookshops have enough challenges without publishers becoming one. But in all honesty there are enough priorities I am looking at in terms of integrating the organisations, that pricing on the website is unlikely to get my full attention for a number of weeks.

8. Anything else you’d like to tell us?

SR: I’d like to thank you, Phil, for the chance to fill in a bit more detail for the trade, and just to ask for the trade’s patience as we work as fast as possible towards being in a position where we can announce firm plans going forward. The failures of STL, TMD and more recently Joining The Dots show that the marketplace is perilous. But that does not make the mission any less important.

I would really appreciate everyone’s prayer for all of the IVP team as we work on hammering out in more detail exactly what the future looks like. Clearly this is a very tough situation for the IVP team who have been wonderfully committed to the ministry over many years. We would really appreciate your ongoing support both in your prayers and in your continued ordering from IVP.

I will try to keep an eye on any comments below, but people can also feel free to contact me directly, my email address is made up of my initial and my last name at SPCK dot org dot UK.

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3 thoughts on “A Brave New World for Christian Bookselling: @SPCKPublishing CEO Sam Richardson answers questions from the trade

  1. Very helpful summary. Thank you Phil. And thank you Sam for such openness. I’m quite sure that the entire trade will be mindful of the impact on all of the staff and that IVP / SPCK will feature in our prayers at this challenging time. Everyone at CLC UK wishes you well during this period of ongoing consolidation in our trade. Eddie Olliffe.

  2. Pingback: IVP (UK) and SPCK Join Forces | Christian Book Shop Talk

  3. My fear is that the “wholesale model” for book distribution is no longer adapted to internet commerce where prices vary in real time. This means that we publishers cannot guarantee to booksellers that we will not supply books to others at much lower prices than what we are charging them.
    Perhaps for new titles we need an “Ebay model” of a Dutch auction where the trade can bid for books: everyone who overbids still gets the best price while those who do not bid or underbid are not supplied at all for a certain time. This does not stop variable pricing but does ensure the same start price for everyone.
    Rather than following the trends of the general book trade, perhaps the religious trade can lead the way!

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