St Pauls Publishing embraces new media

Chris Schnabel
St Pauls Publishing embraces new media
The society’s new media initiatives seeks to attract a younger flock, while deeply devotional patrons continue to support the apostolate's publishing arm

“The machine, the microphone, the screen are our pulpit; the press, the production room, the screening hall, and the transmission center are like our Church. The temptations are many, but we shall make ours the words of Paul, ‘I do all things for the Gospel.'”

Such words from Society of St Paul’s founder, Blessed James Alberione, influenced the society’s work, which has been active in the Philippines since 1935.

Inspired by the rapid growth of the press at the turn of the 20th century, Blessed Alberione resolved to harness its power to combat a rising tide of anti-church materials being published, shared Fr Domie Guzman, SSP, director of the creative department at St Pauls Publishing of the Society of St Paul in the Philippines.

Blessed Alberione established the Society of St Paul to achieve that, tasking its members around the world with using the press to spread the Christian message.

This is all done in the spirit of the founder’s teaching, who wished to start an “apostolate of the good press.”

“The main goal of the apostolate is to provide a new way of spreading the gospel,” Guzman said.

NEW MEANS. “The main goal of the apostolate is to provide a new way of spreading the gospel,” Fr. Domie Guzman, SSP, director of St Pauls Publishing's creative department says.

Apostolate evolution

He said that as a religious activity, they do get some tax exemptions. But beyond this, St Pauls Publishing operates like any other business.

Ten years ago, St Pauls closed down the last of its printing presses in favor of using third-party publishers. But it still sustains the publications in accordance with Alberione’s principles, Guzman said.

The society controls the creative direction and oversees how the material is distributed and marketed, Guzman shared.

St Pauls publishes about 15 Christian titles a year and maintains 23 bookstores across the country, from San Fernando in  Pampanga in Central Luzon, to Davao in Mindanao.

LIKE ANY OTHER BUSINESS. 10 years ago, St Pauls closed down the last of their printing presses in favor of using third-party publishers.

All the profits go to the expansion of the publishing activities and to the St Paul’s seminary.

And in keeping with their founder’s wish to spread the Gospel through the most modern means available, St Pauls has also started to embrace new media.

Guzman admitted that St Pauls’ books sales have been affected by the downtrend in the sale of traditional books worldwide.

“We used to do a print run of 3,000 copies for new titles, now we have reduced it to 1,500,” he said.

This prompted St Pauls to start selling books online through its website, he said.  

Guzman said, “Online sales have been positive so far.”

The society has also started uploading its Masses on YouTube, which it does every Fridays.

“It has become very popular with Filipinos overseas, particularly those in the Middle East and on ships,” he said.

Guzman reasoned that this is because Filipinos in those regions and situations have no way of attending Mass.

He also mentioned that the group is working on an app, which they are currently testing and hope to have downloadable by July 2015.

Bestsellers

Despite the innovations, items sold through their physical stores are still their “bread and butter,” said Guzman.

“We generally produce content that is connected to biblical scriptures. What we call Bible derivatives, such as Bible diaries. These are yearly items that we publish,” he said.

Guzman added that they also produce titles connected with the celebration of the Church or liturgy.

They also sell the misalette, “Sambuhay” and have a guide for morning and evening prayers called “Pandasal,” which allows followers to join in official prayers of the Church.

BESTSELLER. Straight from the Heart by Fr. Mar Ladra, one of St Paul's bestsellers, with over 500,000 copies sold.

There are also certain titles that are homiletics – reference materials that people can use to be able to understand the Gospel better.

Finally, there are spirituality books with of some classic titles, he shared.

Guzman highlighted one such title, Straight to the Heart, a prayer book by Bulacan-based priest Father Mar Ladra as particularly successful having sold more than 500,000 copies.

Even with such bestsellers, Guzman said that religious articles, like rosaries and chalices, account for the majority of sales at about 60%.

Filipino-Christian religiosity is very deeply devotional that’s why it’s mostly religious articles that sell well here,” he explained.

To facilitate this, St Pauls has a logistics department visiting religious manufacturers and international fairs looking for the latest items.

Guzman admitted though that there are not that many different ways you can design a rosary, although he says there is a robust international industry devoted solely to religious articles.

PAPAL FEVER LIVES ON. Religious articles represent 60% of St Pauls' sales, especially items relating to Pope Francis.

“Everything on Pope Francis at the moment sells,” Guzman said, confirming that the papal fever has not died down yet.

He said October and November are also usually big months for them as Christmas nears. The group also aims to publish titles around September to coincide with its annual presence at the Manila International Book Fair.

During the lean months, there are titles that can sustain you for the whole year like the ever-present Bible and Mass guides, Guzman said.

Overall, Guzman is very optimistic about the future and hopes that the society’s new media initiatives will attract a younger flock.

For now, he knows he can rely upon old customers who have frequented St Pauls bookstores for years, he said.

Devotion, after all, is their customer’s main trait. – Rappler.com

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