Glimpses of the Power of the Pen and Christian Publishing in AsiaBy Ramon Rocha III
June / July 2011
(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.)
“Christian publishing is foolish!” “You know, you're kind of stupid.” “Why did you join that publishing house? You are wasting your time!” These brutal words from friends rang in the ears of the newly-installed managing director of a start-up Christian publishing house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“People here don't like to read. You are young, educated, and can speak English well. You are better off landing an important and high-paying position in one of the many multinational, non-profit organizations in Cambodia!” This director is one of many publishers in Asia whom I have met in my ministry as a publishing trainer.
Challenges of Publishing in Asia
These comments capture the world's assessment of young Christian publishers in Asia and the difficulties they face in choosing that career. Local leaders who pursue Christian ministry through the written word are confronted with significant challenges as well as opportunities. They work in largely Muslim, Buddhist, Animist, and Hindu nations with small markets for their publications.
- Financial priorities. Many Asian people have little interest in reading and wages are low in countries of the Majority World. Families may budget income for food, housing, and the education of five or more children. Buying Christian books and magazines lies near the bottom, if at all, in the list of family priorities.
- Free literature. Furthermore, for decades different denominations and Christian groups have distributed free literature as tools for evangelism and church planting. Evangelistic tracts of all kinds flood the continent. We thank the Lord that thousands of genuine conversions have resulted from this strategy, but people have become so used to receiving complimentary Christian reading materials that they consider purchasing Christian books and magazines absurd. A struggling Christian publishing house that wants to wean away from dependence on donations and become “self-sustaining” will find it difficult to obtain steady and growing revenues from book sales to attain its mission and vision.
- Printing costs. Printing costs also pose an obstacle to effective Christian publishing in Asia. Going back to the example of the publishing house in Cambodia, they can sell a maximum of five hundred copies of a new title in its first year. A 500-copy print run means a high printing cost, necessitating a retail price that is far above the affordability level.
More often than not, publishing houses, not only in Cambodia but also in countries such as Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, and others, opt to print one to two thousand copies to keep the printing cost low. Then, excess inventory builds, destined to gather dust in the warehouse for at least two to four years. In such a scenario it is very difficult for publishers to maintain a healthy cash flow.
Of course, the challenges facing Christian publishers within Asia differ greatly with this vast and diverse region, including westernized nations of Singapore, Japan, and South Korea; Muslim countries like Indonesia and Pakistan; emerging superpowers China and India; “closed” countries such as Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam; and impoverished Bangladesh and Nepal (see sidebar on China).
The Written Word at Work
But publishers in all these places have stories to tell of how God is using the written word to draw men and women to himself.
Ramon Rocha III is the international literature development coordinator for OMF International and a trustee of MAI-Asia. He is the former CEO of OMF Literature, Philippines.