Howard Brown takes a different approach to social media to spread a little sunshine with spiritual reflection

Author of Shining Brightly

In my life, I am forever grateful for all the people who brought me a little sunshine, a little hope, when I was at my worst. Whether I was battling stage IV cancer or was facing the ups and inevitable downs of launching a new company or building up a nonprofit—I learned that these are team sports.

When I travel and talk to audiences now, the first thing I tell people about finding the resilience to succeed in life is: You can’t do it alone.

I take that to heart in my social media, too, often thinking of simple questions that may remind my online friends of the many ways people are shining brightly around them, every day.

So, today, I’m sharing two recent posts to show you a couple of ways I have done this. Maybe, after looking at these posts, you might decide to shine a little brighter in your own social media.

I’m sending you this creative sunshine in the form of this ReadTheSpirit column—so that, if you’re inspired, you may pass that sunshine on to others.

Sharing Our Happy Places

The first post is from Facebook. Because basketball is the “happy place” that literally has saved my life more than once, I often post about shooting hoops with friends. My hope is not that everybody is going to start playing basketball, but that each person who sees these posts may decide to get active, may head outside for some exercise and may be more thankful for their own family and friends. I’m modeling that in this Facebook post by also giving a “shout out” to one of my long-time friends Martin Davis, who wrote the book about coaches.

(Want to learn more about hoops as a “happy place”? Head over to Amazon and get a copy of Shining Brightly)


Linked-in illustrates that “leadership” is more than a job title

I also use Linked-in posts to illustrate the many challenges of effective leadership. True leadership involves far more than a job title. Authentic leadership depends on understanding and valuing the entire community we represent—shining light on everyone’s role and encouraging everyone to be their best.

Here’s a creative example of a post that you might never have expected to see on Linked-in, which many people regard as a place to celebrate their latest professional accomplishment. As I just explained, above, true leadership is about more than our individual resumes.

So, this Linked-in post is about—Barbie!

My wife and I had fun seeing the Barbie movie and that led to lots of conversations with friends and family. I’m well aware that social media mavens tell us that you shouldn’t use too many hashtags in your posts. But, in this case, I intentionally grouped a lot of the common Barbie hashtags together—along with a fun photo of me inside the giant Barbie box at the theater where we saw the film. My question asked friends to simply think about which of those hashtags mean the most to them.

That kind of reflection is one of the many daily steps toward effective leadership.




Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And especially read this story: Two-time cancer survivor Howard Brown writes ‘Shining Brightly’ to encourage others to stay healthy

Free Resource Guides

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:




‘Excelsior!’ (Higher!) The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee’s Dream of a New Kind of Christian Comics

‘What If …’ Stan Lee had created a new Christian realm for comics?

Host of the Day1 radio network


Every time I hear Stan Lee’s famous battle cry, which in Latin means ‘Higher!’ I wonder: “What If …?” Long-time Marvel fans will recognize that as a classic comics series from the 1970s in which Stan Lee invited fans to dream of what might have been: Like the inaugural issue, What If … Spider-man Joined Fantastic Four?

I wonder: What If … Stan Lee had launched his line of Christian comics?

Outlandish? No! In fact, I had the honor of collaborating with Stan on plans for the series. The project never reached the stage of mock-up drawings for reasons I will explain. And, if you’ve never heard this story, that’s not surprising. Most of what is known about Stan Lee’s religious sensibility is that he believed in a benevolent God, was ambivalent about his own Jewish upbringing but had drawn many of his own core assumptions from religious realms. His all-too-brief foray into Christian comics is not mentioned in any of the main biographies of the man.

But I think it speaks volumes about the way Stan Lee saw the world—and the way so many people grapple with the deepest questions of faith and meaning.

So, let’s start with the most basic spiritual questions: Why are we here? How shall we live in this turbulent world? And, in the end: What matters? They sound so simple, yet they’re so hard to answer in real life.

When M. Scott Peck tried to answer those question in his now famous The Road Less Traveled, he started with three words: “Life is difficult.”

Mel Brooks needed only two: “Life sucks.”

And therein lies a realm shared by religion and popular culture these days. When I was younger, I would have described it as “a realm shared by religion and comic books”—but now comic books have expanded to dominate our popular culture from TV series to the world’s most popular movies and cultural icons.

I’m proud to say: I saw all that coming years ago. You see—I’m a comics geek, a Marvel Zombie, as the Marvel Comics cover recreations by my friend Lyle Tucker that hang in my Day1 office attest.

If this idea is new to you, let me quickly recap.

Think about Superman, who came from beyond with the power to save humanity, and whose early comic-strip adventures stressed overcoming the oppression of the weak with righteous justice.

Or consider the Amazing Spider-Man, whose powerful motto is, “With great power there must also come—great responsibility!” That line appeared in his very first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15. It was a virtual paraphrase of Luke 12:48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

From Amazing Fantasy No. 15.

From Warlock to Thor, from Galactus to the Silver Surfer, examples of religious themes and characters in comic books are unlimited.

While thinking about all this, I ran across a fascinating bit of dialogue by Stan Lee in Captain America No. 101, pages 17 and 18, as Cap and his arch nemesis, the Red Skull, battled in typically rambunctious Jack Kirby panels:

Cap: “Not even the Sleeper will save you from paying for the crimes you’ve committed against humanity!”
Skull: “Humanity—bah! Men were all born to be slaves! They’re not worth your idiotic concern! Why should you care for them when they don’t even care for each other? Look around you! The world is consumed by greed, crime, and bigotry! Men are no more than animals, unworthy to—unhh!!”
Cap: “Tyrants have always scorned their fellow humans! But still the race endures—while the despots fall! And those who would grind us underfoot—can never hope to keep us from reaching our eventual destiny!”
Skull: “Can’t you see?? You’re an anachronism! You belong in the dead past!! The world—has no more use—for idealism—!”
Cap: “It’s you who are wrong!! The only true reality lies in faith—and in hope! The world is still young—the future lies ahead— It’s you who have outgrown the dream— You who are blind to the promise of tomorrow!!”

A few issues later, in Captain America No. 105, our flag-waving hero becomes an even more explicit evangelist as he battles Batroc (a French villain, as if you can’t tell from his dialog!) while a deadly bomb ticks away (page 20):

Cap: “Now out of my way, mister! I’m gonna try to reach it… and de-fuse it… or die trying!”
Batroc: “Die! Zat is a most unpleasant word! And, if you fail… even Batroc will be among zee victims! Zee bomb is yours, mon ami! My so-great speed will take me to safety… while you stupidly risk your life for zee undeserving masses!”
Cap: “There was another who gave his life for the masses… many centuries ago… And though he was the wisest one of all… he never thought of the humblest living being… as undeserving!”

Clearly, bad guys generally have a hopeless opinion of humanity and are out only to save their own butts—and maybe make loads of money and oppress some people in the process. Captain America, on the other hand, embodies the religious ideal of truth, justice, self-sacrifice, altruism, and hope.

‘Maybe the Red Skull was right after all?’

Unfortunately, Captain America’s brand of righteous optimism has virtually disappeared in today’s comic books, which frequently feature anti-heroes whose moral code consists only of self-protection and greed, let alone violence. So maybe the Red Skull was right after all?

This absence of altruism in comic books troubled The Man himself, Stan Lee, during the heyday of his ill-fated internet venture, Stan Lee Media (SLM). Sure, some of the work he did the last decade or so of his life may have veered a bit from this righteous ideal at times (I’m looking at you, Stripperella!). But in the spring of 2000, I heard through the internet grapevine that he was thinking about launching a line of, believe it or not, “Christian comics.” So I contacted SLM to see if I could help, sending my resume and a copy of a devotional book I’d written, with a cover letter explaining clearly, unequivocally, and of course humbly why I should be the one to help them out with this unusual project.

More than just waving a ‘Jesus Flag’

To my utter astonishment, I soon got a phone call from Stan’s then-Vice President for Creative Affairs, Tony Pastor (who was frequently heard as a voice on animated TV series and the son of a popular Big Band leader)! Tony explained that Stan—despite his being a self-proclaimed non-practicing Jew—had a long-held dream of creating a “Christian comics line” populated by heroes possessing strong moral codes and perhaps even a supernatural connection with God. He said they weren’t interested in “raising the Jesus flag,” but didn’t want a secular approach either—they hoped to employ some sort of middle ground approach, not unlike the “Touched by an Angel” television series. They had a distributor lined up and the series would be “widely marketed.”

Naturally, I was jazzed! The opportunity to work with Stan Lee on a comics series that reflected my own beliefs? Unbelievable! It was a dream come true.

The new line would be founded upon one character Stan created, a super-powered angel named Gabriel. He’d written a plot for the first story that Tony sent to me for my thoughts. Since this character was Stan’s property, I can’t go into details, but a whole line of comic books would eventually spring forth. I sent back a four-page review with comments regarding this supernatural character and the page-and-a-half plot Stan had written, as well as some questions to discuss and possibilities to explore for the expanded line.

Tony called back soon after to tell me that he and Stan were blown away and wanted further ideas regarding SLM’s Christian comics line. So, of course, I did, sending a several-page proposal. Summarizing the discussion Tony and I had had, I wrote, “Our goal is to develop a line of comics products promoting positive values, personal faith, biblical truths, and strong morals through compelling characters.”

I explained that—at least so far in the comics industry—there were secular comics and there were “Christian comics.” The former dealt with life without a foundation of faith and, in order to avoid offending anybody, secular comics had pretty much ignored God. On the other hand, most so-called “Christian comics” tended to be so narrowly focused that they ended up preaching only to the choir, so no matter how good they were, the majority of young people wouldn’t give them a second glance.

“It makes sense for SLM to lay claim to a middle ground—creating and producing adventures based on a biblical worldview without preaching a chapter-and-verse theology,” I wrote. “This approach would promote belief in God, the example of Christ’s life, the reality of supernatural conflict, strong moral values, and an altruistic lifestyle. Our stories would be fully compatible with the Bible and religious tradition, but without painting ourselves into a corner theologically. The goal of this approach—a goal that’s urgently needed today—is to open young minds to the reality of God, to build a strong case for faith and morality by example, without being preachy or dogmatic. It can help launch youth of all ages on a quest for truth and a personal relationship with God.”

I suggested that this “middle ground” be wide open, so that the products could be used by a range of religious denominations and faiths, from conservative to mainline. I added, “Perhaps Stan himself has already provided the impetus behind this product line with his famous battle cry, ‘Excelsior!’”

My proposal concluded: “Stan Lee’s comics and characters actually played a major role in helping me form my own morality and values. It’s time to return to that approach—yet with characters and stories that appeal to the sensibilities and interests of today’s youth.”

Of course I had loads of questions about how it would all actually work, and unfortunately this project frequently went to the back burner of SLM’s various activities at the time. But Tony would call every month or so through that summer, assuring me that Stan “adored” my proposal and thought I was the guy to make this happen.

The next step was a conference call with The Man himself. In the meantime, Tony wanted more thoughts on distribution, which I provided in a follow-up memo. I wrote, “It’s vital that we pitch this as Stan Lee’s baby. To tell his story of concern about the lack of appropriate role models in youth-oriented entertainment. To share his dream of creating compelling, entertaining comics for children and young people, based on a foundation of faith in God, biblical truth, positive morality, and supernatural reality.”

Before long we had that conference call—and there I was on the phone with my hero, Stan Lee, to talk about everything. He was just about ready to go for it!

And then, crickets.

The last contact I had with Tony Pastor was in November 2000. If you are a true Marvel fan, you can hear the ominous music rising with the mention of that particular month. By December 2000, SLM had imploded in the larger dot-com bust that claimed so many internet enterprises at the same time. My dreams of working for Stan Lee died with SLM’s tragic demise.

In a December 2000 email to me, just after SLM collapsed, Stan wrote that he hoped to restructure his company and bounce back again in the next few months, adding that this “Christian comics” project is “dear to my heart.”

Alas, it never happened. But one nice outcome of all this was the opportunity to correspond regularly with Stan for many years afterwards, up until he passed away a few years ago. Anytime I dropped him an email, he would respond almost immediately with positive encouragement.

Stan also invited me to come visit him at his new film and television production company, POW! Entertainment, the next time I was in Hollywood—and, while attending a religious media conference there in January 2005, I gladly took him up on that offer, and enjoyed our brief time together immensely. (See the photo below.)

Can you imagine how my 10-year-old self would have felt if someone had told me that that would ever happen?

Care to read more?

DISCOVER THE INSPIRATION OF DAY1: Day 1 with host Peter Wallace is the voice of the historic Protestant denominations. Through sermons, blogs, and video & audio resources, Day 1 proclaims God’s hope for a hurting and divided world. Formerly “The Protestant Hour.”

ENJOY PETER’S NEW BOOK—A GENEROUS RECKONING: Come back soon for David Crumm’s interview with Peter Wallace about his new book of daily inspirational reading, A Generous Beckoning. That is scheduled as an upcoming Read the Spirit Cover Story, so please stay tuned if you already are signed up for our weekly email updates about new stories. If you’re not getting our free email reminders, please click on the link in the top right of our website. Meanwhile, you can go to Amazon right now and get your own copy of this new book that’s terrific for reading during Lent—or anytime throughout the year. (And, for comic book fans? There are several meditations in the new book that mention the history of comics.)

Col. Clifford Worthy asks, ‘Are Americans’ Bindings Breaking?’

A PROPHET OF UNITY—Like the ancient prophets, retired Col. Clifford Worthy has used his life to call for a return to the values that unite us as Americans, including a strong focus on the men, women and children among us who require special care. When his memoir was launched, a huge crowd gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit to celebrate Worthy’s long life and his influential storytelling in The Black Knight.


EDITOR’s NOTE—As we move through a week of anxiety in America that none of us have experienced at least since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks two decades ago, we are offering an eloquent appeal—you might think of it as a classic Psalm crying out for help and hope—from one of America’s true heroes: retired Col. Clifford Worthy, the oldest living Black graduate of West Point at age 92.

“I’ve been writing poetry for years—sometimes just to have fun about something that amuses me and sometimes to express much more serious concerns about what’s happening in our world,” Col. Worthy told me this week. He was describing a remarkable 3-ring binder that he sent to my home—a folder that held dozens of his poems, which he invited us to share occasionally in ReadTheSpirit magazine. On the very first page of that binder was this new poem he wrote as a personal appeal to Americans to remember our deepest values.

Col. Worthy has faced fear many times in his life, whether confronting dire crises in his own family or warfare in the deadly jungles of Vietnam. He never wavered, as he described in his memoir The Black Knight. His courage stems from his laser focus on values that were engrained in him at West Point—duty, honor and country—all resting on a bedrock Christian faith that has sustained his family through generations of life-and-death challenges.

“I can’t think of a more timely poem to share with readers in this election week,” I told him, then I asked, “Col. Worthy, when you end this poem reminding us of the ‘Glory Road,’ how do you hope readers will understand that phrase?”

He replied that anyone from his faith tradition will know he is pointing to values taught by Jesus—”a road that leads toward fulfillment as we follow the sometimes very difficult path laid out for humanity by Jesus. I like that phrase we’ve used for so long—the ‘Glory Road.’ It’s where we live out these values together. I think we need to be reminded that we share deeper values like this. We’ve got to stop attacking each other. We’ve got to find a way to come together again.”

And here is Col. Worthy’s poem for America—

Or, as Col. Worthy lays out these themes in his poetry, here is:


Are Americans’ bindings breaking?


Author of The Black Knight

Why are Americans’ bindings breaking?

Why does the national character writhe in dishonorable pursuit?

Why is the hope-sump hemorrhaging?

The political spectra refracts into blinding bitterness.
The American Tories tout exclusion by hawking establishmentarianism to justify loveless fences.
Shamelessly they front Jesus as a prop for political footings.
The East corner of their lips eulogizes family values
Even as the West side of those lips embraces spewers of hate.

Rightist religionists rightfully proclaim, “God is Love!”
On Sunday.
While venomously attacking God’s creatures on Monday through Saturday—
Belying the compassion they had just expressed.

Promotion of self-serving labels assigning good and evil and drawing lines:
Lawbreakers wax into heroes.
Money wins no matter the pain.
Ignoble legality muddies moral waters.

Racism in the halls
Racism in the boardrooms
Racism in the cities
Racism in the cemetery—
Racism leaches the land.


Partisan effrontery:
Dizzying the truth.
Invasively abusing the guaranteed freedom.
Thumbing noses at the greater good.

Inept leadership in highest places is endorsed by smirking scalawags—
And the people suffer.

Folk of every making have forgotten how to blush.
Making mockery of One Nation Under God.

All trade beauty for ashes.

Jesus knock is unheeded.

Who still travels the Glory Road?



Care to learn more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Get a copy of Col. Worthy’s life story, The Black Knight, for yourself—and order more copies for friends and loved ones on your holiday shopping list who are especially interested in stories from our U.S. armed forces. There are many themes in this illustrated memoir, including the challenges Col. Worthy and his wife faced raising a special needs son in an era when professional help for such families was in its infancy.

Clifford Worthy, the great grandson of slaves, was one of the few African-American men of his generation who was accepted and excelled as a Black Knight of the Hudson, a traditional nickname for West Point cadets. Col. Worthy describes his journey to West Point, the many challenges he overcame both in his family and in the U.S. Army, including service in the front lines of Vietnam.

Rick Forzano, former Head Coach of the Detroit Lions praises Col. Worthy’s memoir and his example to all of us. “He has fought his way through virtually every stage in life with his faith in God giving him the necessary strength and courage,” Forzano writes.

And more?

GET IN TOUCH! At 92 and with the distinction of being the oldest living Black graduate of West Point, Col. Worthy receives many requests to appear on podcasts, plus radio, TV and newspaper interviews. He considers each request and has accepted many invitations—so his voice and storytelling already is a popular part of the national conversation. Would you like to get in touch with Col. Worthy to make such a request? Email us at [email protected] 

Still more?

Col. Worthy’s life, his memoir The Black Knight and his poetry are rich in references to African American traditions in family and faith—including essential shared experiences like The Great Migration and centuries of Black church and family reunions. If you are not an African-American reader, you will experience his writing at a deeper level if you also have a copy of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s 100 Questions and Answers about African Americans.



Creative Connections: Why do we still publish books on paper?


In addition to our long-standing magazine, ReadTheSpirit, our staff runs a prolific publishing house, known by many readers as “ReadTheSpirit Books” but actually doing a wide range of business now as Front Edge Publishing.

We’re a cutting-edge team of software and publishing professionals transforming what it means to produce a “book.” In contrast to the standard, time-consuming processes that still dominate in Big Five publishing houses, we have automated major portions of the editing and page-design process that leads to publication in e-editions and paper books.

That’s why many of the authors and indie publishers who meet with our publishing house staff begin by asking: “Paper books!?!”

Then, we hear: “You’re creating the next wave of publishing systems through Front Edge, but you’re still producing ink-on-paper books? Why not just skip ahead to e-editions? Isn’t that the future?”

The simple answer is: No.

We explain—with lots of industry evidence—why paper books are rebounding as the most important segment of American publishing. Yes, e-editions are a vital segment, as well, and no effective publishing campaign is complete without both paper and e-editions. That’s our specialty at Front Edge, we produce all formats of a book from a single “source file,” making our books highly flexible and adaptable for various audiences, updates and even for special events. We’ve got a wide range of data lined up to make the case for continuing to focus on paper—backed up with all e-editions.

Then, we opened the latest issue of the magazine of the Independent Book Publishers Association and found an eloquent summary of this trend. So, in this latest Creative Connections column, we share this brief passage from the magazine. IBPA contributing writer David Wexler writes in part:

FIVE YEARS AGO, if you asked what percentage of publishers’ sales would come from digital books compared to print books in 2016, what would you have said? Fifty to 80 percent would have seemed a reasonable answer. In 2011, the great recession was still roaring and Borders declared bankruptcy. Kindle sales were skyrocketing and the industry was abuzz with the specter of major disruption. Apps were the shiny new object, and we seemed to be moving toward an increasingly digital world of books.

That anticipated digital dominance has yet to materialize.

The Nook never took off as the Kindle alternative—neither has the Kobo eReader, Google Books, or the iPad, although they all have their relatively small audiences. The industry average for digital sales is roughly 25 percent of all US book purchases. In the past year, many publishers reported declining digital sales while overall print sales are increasing. Publishers Weekly in its Jan. 1, 2016, edition quotes a Nielsen BookScan report showing a 2.9 percent increase in 2015 print sales over 2014 on top of a 2.4 percent increase in 2013. Also according to PW, this is the first decline in e-book sales since the introduction of the Kindle in 2007. The technology infatuation may be ending, and younger readers are trending away from “e” and back to print.

Then this next conclusion by David Wexler is something that our Front Edge team wholeheartedly endorses. Again and again, meeting with authors and organizations that hope to produce books with us, we find that “writing The Book” on a subject is still highly revered in our culture. Wexler writes:

Similar to e-books, print books are portable and accessible, but they are also more tangible and have managed to maintain a higher perceived value.

Thank you, IBPA! Thank you, David Wexler! We have just added your conclusions to our growing body of industry data that we share with new individuals and groups approaching Front Edge for publishing solutions.

Creative Connections: Publishing an e-book is easy, right?


Once upon a time, Amazon introduced a handy little device called Kindle. And ebooks lived happily ever after …

No, that’s not how the story ends. But this tale lies at the heart of the question: So, how easy is it to publish an ebook—and then keep it on sale?

The Kindle era dawned in the autumn of 2007 and, coming on the heels of Apple’s introduction of the iPhone that summer, publishing tidal waves seemed to rise and crash toward the shores of an all-digital future. Kindle owners were given handy email addresses to upload their own texts to their devices.

In the future world, everybody could be an ebook publisher, right? For a while, the horizon seemed rosy. Soon, Kindle apps popped up on smartphones and nearly every other digital device flooding the market. Playing catchup in this global trend, Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook two years later. By 2010, the Kobo had arrived, which became closely associated with the Borders Group bookstores. And, those were just a few of the digital-reading options flooding American shores!

Some industry analysts were heralding the end of print books as the primary means of publishing manuscripts. The giant Borders chain flailed around with various marketing ideas. But Borders crashed and closed its last stores in the fall of 2011—still in an era when it looked like these digital books just might turn print books into an endangered species.

But then—something surprising happened.

The ebook craze leveled off and actually began to decline. Today, industry analysts refer to that roughly five or six year period after 2007 as “the digital scare.” Today, ebook readers still account for a very large minority of the total books sold in the U.S. Most books sold are ink on paper.

Today, authors can’t hope to reach their entire audience without publishing both in print and e-editions.

The dream of an easy pathway to e-publishing for anyone dipping a toe into publishing for the first time has become more of a nightmare of constantly changing standards and the rising and falling fortunes of various digital devices. These are turbulent seas, even for publishing professionals. A first-time author may successfully create and upload an ebook for a device such as the Kindle—but there’s no guarantee that a glitch in the author’s files, or a looming shift in standards, won’t knock that book out of the market—leaving the author clueless about what went wrong.

Sure, most astute writers still can load an ebook into a Kindle—assuming the book doesn’t include multimedia elements that don’t fit the Kindle’s operating system.

But navigating the waters of ebook publishing in a professional way takes experts who closely follow the industry and the ongoing shifts in standards.



TOUGH TIMES FOR NOOKBarnes & Noble sent a shockwave through its customer base in early March, 2106, by announcing the shut down of services in the UK. The Great Britain version of Nook’s website suddenly announced: “Effective from March 15, 2016, NOOK will no longer sell digital content in the United Kingdom. The NOOK Store on NOOK devices sold in the UK, on the UK NOOK Reading App for Android, and at will cease operation.”

A column in Digital Trends reports: “The U.K. site’s closure comes a little over six months after B&N shuttered its European branches, leaving only the U.S. site and apps in operation. The Nook site and associated apps will close for business in the U.K. on March 15, and details on how to migrate away from the Nook apps will be sent at the beginning of April.

If you don’t own a Nook, reading that news is likely to sound—well, flat out ominous about the device’s overall future. This kind of dramatic retrenchment leaves customers around the world wary of investing in a device that seems to be crumbling, or at least on shaky ground.

PRINT BOOKS RISE; EBOOKS DECLINE—You’ll find this conclusion reported across publishing-industry news outlets in spring 2016. None of the experts are predicting that ebooks will vanish. These devices remain a widespread and popular reading choice for millions of readers. But, it’s clear that print books will continue to be the dominant format for delivering books in the foreseeable future—and, to reach the entire spectrum of readers, both print and e-editions are required.

Here is one snapshot from Publishers Weekly (PW) in a column published for subscribers to the magazine in early 2016:

What is going on with e-books? As 2016 dawns, what’s driving a decline in trade e-book sales is one of the big questions hanging over the publishing industry. In December, the Association of Annual Publishers (AAP) reported that sales this past August dropped 3.7% compared to August 2014, and trade e-book sales are on pace to post a yearly decline. According to AAP Statshot figures, adult e-book sales from publishers that report to AAP were down 4.5% through the first eight months of 2015 compared to the same period last year. Total trade e-book sales (which include children’s and YA titles) were down 11.1% in the eight-month period.

That PW market analysis goes on to argue that the overall American experience in digital reading is moving from the trendy excitement of its introduction in 2007, through the flood of additional reading devices and dramatic changes in ebook pricing—into a mature new phase in the ebook market. That means ebooks are here to stay as a major method book buyers like to enjoy reading—but ebooks won’t swallow the whole publishing industry.

PUBLISHERS AND BOOKSELLERS WARY—Millions of ebooks continue to sell and many companies are working on the next wave of digital delivery systems and changes in standards that affect anyone trying to publish ebooks. But corporate leaders in the publishing industry are nervously juggling their digital strategies. That’s what is happening at Barnes & Noble in spring 2016, sparking anxiety about that company’s future.

Here is another snapshot of the industry that PW sent to subscribers. This news report opens with “weak financial performance” at HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster in late 2015 due to lower-than-expected ebook sales. Then, PW turned to Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music who pointed out that the publishing industry overall is strong and sales of print books continue to grow in a number of genres. Then, Reisman continued in the PW report:

“We believe people are recognizing that books are a part of our lives that we will keep a part of our lives.” She also noted that e-book sales have leveled off. “I think what people are saying is e-reading is not going away—we continue to participate in that market—but increasingly, people are using it for certain things, like when they’re flying, or when they can’t carry books around. Other than that, people seem to be happy reading their print books.”

Creative Connections: Glimpse the whole world via IARJ

Here’s the dilemma each of us faces since the introduction of the iPhone and other super-powerful smart phones a decade ago:

I think I hold the whole world in the palm of my hand! Look! There’s my Google-Earth icon! But the truth is—the Google gods are geniuses at learning your local preferences and shrinking your world to the size of your neighborhood. Want pizza tonight? Type “pizza” into Google—and you’ll never hear about the wonderful pizza at a cafe overlooking the world-famous Piazza Navona in Rome. Google knows you want pizza now and lists pizza places near your home.

The same thing is true with global news. Even if you use the powerful Google News search screen—Google knows you want journalism in your native language and you probably want stories “close to home.” You have to intentionally switch over to advance search options to force Google to show you the work of journalists around the world.

Is your vision global? Lots of long-time ReadTheSpirit readers would say: Yes. You certainly do want to glimpse the whole world when you’re looking for news about religion, holidays, the role of faith in food and film—and other kinds of cross-cultural issues.

Now, a solution is emerging, thanks to two veteran journalists who work with the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ). They are Elisa DiBenedetto and Larbi Megari. Elisa is based in northeastern Italy and has reported over the years from Afghanistan, Lebanon and Kosovo. Her specialties include religion, cross-cultural issues, immigration and gender issues. Larbi Megari is based in Algeria and has reported for newspapers and television. His specialties include religion, cross-cultural issues, economics and politics.

Both Elisa and Larbi speak multiple languages and are sought-after teachers and experts in their fields. They also are core staff members at the IARJ. Their newest project is a special IARJ Twitter feed that is becoming a must-follow source for tips on great news stories around the world.

How you can help …

Elisa and Larbi just began this Twitter feed—so ReadTheSpirit is reporting on it as the project gets off the ground. In fact, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm is actively consulting with Elisa and Larbi to help this particular Twitter feed become the kind of must-follow resources that will serve growing numbers of readers around the world.

Please, take a moment to visit this Twitter feed and simply click “Follow.”

Creative Connections: Why we don’t do Apps


For nearly a decade, the team at our publishing house has closely followed the rise and fall of new media. That includes pursuing own original research, developing unique new publishing software and analyzing trends both in the U.S. and around the world.

With the introduction of the iPhone and Kindle in 2007, we immediately saw the need for publishing solutions to quickly and flexibly produce books in all formats—print and all digital formats. We closely tracked what is now called “the digital scare” or “the digital tsunami”—the period from roughly 2008 to 2012 when publishing experts thought print books might be extinguished by e-books. And we celebrated the industry-wide declaration in the wake of that “scare” that the future of publishing is producing books in both print and e-editions. More than half of all books sold in the U.S. today are in print—but there’s no way to reach an entire audience of readers if all formats aren’t available.

Want to reach readers? You need all formats.

So why don’t we do Apps?

By 2008, we were hearing everywhere we turned in this industry that Apps were The Future. In fact, Apps might replace all other forms of media delivery, we heard from some national experts. This focus on Apps was part of the “digital scare” that hasn’t received a lot of attention until now.

Our Publisher John Hile sensed the danger in leaping into Apps as early as it began. At a major publishing-industry conference in New York City in 2008, organized by O’Reilly Media, media movers and shakers appeared in session after session lauding the boom in Apps as a delivery system for literary, educational and other content-based material.

After a lifetime in software development, John’s verdict as the conference closed was: “We need to follow this closely, but building Apps isn’t our specialty. We have to be careful about mission creep. I think the heart of this transformation in publishing is understanding XML-first systems so we can deliver books in all formats—and quickly change and revise those books from a single-source file. That’s where we need to spend our time.”

Flash forward eight years. Bottom line: John Hile was right.

A very important overview report about the plight of Apps was just released by Publishing Perspectives, an international magazine that covers trends in the industry. If you read the entire report, you’ll find several reasons Apps are an endangered species as a delivery system for the kind of content that really belongs in a “book.”

Among the problems:

The Big Squeeze—Apps that provide red-hot games, easy photo sharing, video streaming and daily services like weather forecasts and driving tips now dominate the available space and time for most users. Think about how you use your own smart phone or iPad: You check email, maybe do a little Facebook or Twitter, play a level or two of your favorite game and glance at tomorrow’s forecast. Along the way, you might text a friend. When is the last time you fired up a content-based App like the countless Apps launched to explore everything from the world of Charles Dickens to the history of dinosaurs or a course on the culture of tea?

A Never-Ending Fixer Upper—Hate home repairs? Well you get the idea. Apps keep changing along with the operating systems for digital devices. This means someone has to ensure that the App’s roof isn’t leaking, the furnace hasn’t blown out and the interface isn’t flat-out busted. The whole idea turns out to be a nightmare for developers and users.

Flexible Books Are Better—Now that books can include everything from multimedia extensions to cost-effective color interiors—and it’s possible to flexibly change books in all formats—books are back as the central delivery system in the worldwide publishing industry.

Do you enjoy reading on your smart phone or other hand-held digital device? Millions do. But the solution for millions of readers is simple—either use a Kindle or a Kindle-like App. So, some Apps truly do dominate the global market. Our publishing house routinely delivers all new books via the Kindle format—and Nook and iBooks and Google’s bookstore. But the dream of home-grown content-based Apps springing up from every author and publisher? It’s fleeting. Next time you’re in the App store, just try to find the cool Charles Dickens Apps that were produced for his 2012 bicentennial.

Want to hear about the decline of content-based Apps from an expert? Here’s an example of one industry veteran quoted in the Publishing Perspectives overview:

“When the iPad launched,” Dean Johnson of Bandwidth says, “the first thing we all did was purchase quality Apps delivering a visually impressive interactive experience. Why? Not because we felt a sudden urge to expand our horizons and demonstrate our literary prowess, but to fill up an empty vessel. A $600+ tablet was hard to justify if you had nothing compelling on it and in the early days most consumers didn’t really know why they needed one, just that Steve Jobs had said so. …

“Fast-forward a couple of years and familiarity hadn’t bred contempt, but it had defined the platform. Most consumers were using tablets to watch films, catch-up TV and YouTube, play games, browse social Apps and search the web. Most publishers never invested enough in design, storytelling, App development and even marketing, and you just can’t do this if you’re not fully committed.

“The days of the big paid-for App are numbered. I salute the perseverance of publishers but we stopped flogging the dead horse a few years ago—it’s the main reason we work with big brands, including automotive, fashion, film, TV and music labels.”