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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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December 25, 2012

Cokesbury follows Augsburg Fortress, shuts stores

The United Methodist Publishing House announced in November it will close its 38 brick and mortar Cokesbury stores and 19 seminary bookstores, driving all sales to its website, toll-free call center and church events (“resource fairs”). The closings will be completed by April 30 and affect 285 full- and part-time employees.

Neil Alexander, publishing house president, told the United Methodist Insight that 2012 fixed operating costs of Cokesbury retail stores were $2 million more than combined sales. He called the change “financially and practically necessary.”

In a statement the publisher said a survey found only 15 percent of customers shopped exclusively in stores. And a breakdown of the publisher’s $85 million revenue in the last fiscal year revealed that 30 percent came from store sales, 40 percent from the call center and events, 18 percent from online sales, and 12 percent wholesale to trade.

Alexander cited similar moves by Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, the ELCA publishing ministry, which in December closed its last U.S. retail store at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. It was in 2008 that Augsburg Fortress eliminated its nine U.S. brick and mortar stores, moving to an online, call center and event sales model. Since those closings, Augsburg Fortress has not publically reported its sales data.

According to United Methodist Insight, the 2008 market downturn left the Methodist publisher’s staff pension account “underfunded and its board has adopted a seven-year plan to restore the fund’s assets.” Before 2008, the publisher gave the net income from Cokesbury to the United Methodist Church to help support clergy pensions and churchwide initiatives. Since 2008, the denomination’s pension board has not received funds from the publishing arm.

During the transition, called “CokesburyNext,” Alexander said the publishing house is working “to generate the required funds for capital investments in new technology, start-up costs for innovative publishing and sales programs, [and] funding for our staff pension and health benefit obligations.  … CokesburyNext is designed to assure a vibrant and financially viable Cokesbury future.”

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