A Bridge to Global Bookselling
Scientology—for many, it may conjure up thoughts of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Kirstie Alley or Lisa Marie Presley, the Church of Scientology, some controversial discussions and media headlines, or the man behind the religion, L. Ron Hubbard. But for very few does it elicit images of state-of-the-art digital printing machines, conveyer belts that criss-cross a 276,000-square-foot building, a stash of 35,000 miles of paper, or an inventory of millions of L. Ron Hubbard books awaiting shipping to any of a number of countries around the world. Perhaps now it will.
The publishing arm of L. Ron Hubbard's collection of writings and lectures, Bridge Publications, is, according to the company, the world's largest, all-digital print-on-demand publishing house. The Los Angeles-based company has the capacity to bind some 6,000 books every hour, totaling more than 1 million per week. It can manufacture approximately 250,000 transcripts each day, and CDs of the Scientology founder's lectures at a rate of 1 million each week. And all this from inside its headquarters, spanning one city block on Olympic Boulevard.
The company has focused on building custom solutions that maximize automation with state-of-the art digital printing and binding machines. It controls production from printing to binding to order fulfillment and distribution—and virtually every component of the line, according to the company, is "all digital" and automated, right down to a computer that tracks inventory. As orders are filled, reprints are automatically triggered so Hubbard's book titles, transcripts and audio CDs are never out of stock.
Here, Blake Silber, Bridge Publications' president—who took the helm in 2009—shares his insights into the company's history, revenue picture, marketing strategies and much more.
Book Business: How much of your revenue is from print books?
Blake Silber: … Income from books has averaged 33 percent of our total income, while Audio Visual products (including CDs and DVDs) constitute 67 percent.
BB: Do you sell downloadable audio?
Silber: Yes, we currently have eight audiobooks on iTunes in several languages, and they are also available [for download] through Audible.com.
BB: Can you share some history on the company and its growth?
Silber: … The history actually began soon after the release of Mr. Hubbard's watershed 1950 work, "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health." To meet the growing demand throughout the United States for more titles, the first publishing organization devoted exclusively to Mr. Hubbard's works was established in 1951 in Wichita, Kansas. The following year, Mr. Hubbard moved his offices to Phoenix, Ariz., and the publishing operation followed. … Publications were also soon emanating from London and Philadelphia houses.
In 1955, Distribution Center Inc. was established in Silver Spring, Md. Located [close] to the Founding Church of Scientology of Washington, D.C.—where L. Ron Hubbard then served as executive director—this facility provided Mr. Hubbard's books and lectures across five continents. [The company relocated and expanded several additional times], and in 1981, it was reincorporated as Bridge Publications Inc.
… [Ten years later], the manufacturing and distribution divisions moved to Bandini Boulevard in Commerce, California … where we later installed our first digital press. Then, in 2006, the one-room print shop expanded into a full-scale, digital-book-manufacturing plant.
In June 2009, … Bridge Publications brought all functions together in one location: a 276,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles. The new building houses our state-of-the-art, digital, in-house book and compact disc production facility, a fully automated distribution center as well as administrative offices to oversee the promotion, marketing and sales of L. Ron Hubbard's nonfiction materials.
BB: Does Bridge publish books from other authors?
Silber: [No.] With over 5,000 writings and 3,000 recorded lectures published in multiple languages, the volume of demand for [L. Ron Hubbard's] works means his materials comprise the full scope of our publications. For example, the book "Dianetics" has now sold over 21 million copies alone.
BB: What are your main sales outlets?
Silber: We sell and distribute materials through the thousands of Scientology organizations and groups around the world, as well as all major bookstore chains (Barnes & Nobles, Borders, etc.), online retailers (Amazon.com, BN.com, etc.), and direct to the public through our website (BridgePub.com) and direct mailings.
BB: What are your primary marketing methods?
Silber: The biggest method is word of mouth. The people who read "Dianetics" and "Scientology" books write [to] us about their often life-changing stories. We share these through our websites and mailing lists, as well as with the Scientology organizations and groups. … This, in turn, generates further interest in L. Ron Hubbard's materials. We recently upgraded and expanded our website, which now includes video success [stories] and videos describing the contents of each book.
We are international in scope and have marketing campaigns running … in a number of South American countries. …We also have new distribution partners and campaigns upcoming for Taiwan and Korea. We attend many international and local book fairs …, and this is the most successful method of generating foreign distribution.
For first-time buyers … our introductory books or DVDs are most successful. For people who have already purchased a book from us, there is a codified "Materials Guide Chart" that gives a route to study all of Mr. Hubbard's materials. People then purchase their next materials and move through all studies … to assist them in all areas of life.
BB: Has social media played a role in your marketing efforts?
Silber: Some, in terms of mailing lists and newsletters, but while we have plans to, we have not yet ventured heavily into this arena.
BB: You sell reference books (e.g., "The Scientology Handbook") in two ways: $100 for the 968-page hardcover book or 19 individual chapters, or booklets, for $5 each. What have the results been?
Silber: More people buy the booklets to begin, as [each booklet] address a specific area of life, such as marriage, communication, etc. Often they will purchase two or three different booklets at once. The hardcover is most often purchased after a person has a little more experience with the information … and wants to study all subjects covered in the volume.
BB: You also publish in many languages. Are foreign rights sales a large part of your business, or do you retain rights to all foreign-language versions?
Silber: Bridge publishes nine titles in 50 languages, eight audiobooks in 16 languages, 18 hardcovers in 16 languages, and thousands of lectures also in 16 languages. We do print runs … anywhere between 50 and 20,000 copies, depending on the language.
With the implementation of our digital printing facilities, we are able to supply any quantities of any titles in any language, and have … since 2007. With this in mind, we retain all rights in foreign countries.
BB: Are you growing or planning for growth in e-books?
Silber: We are currently formatting our titles for e-book [publication], and we definitely plan to make these available.
BB: How many employees do you have in what locations?
Silber: We have over 175 employees in one location at our [Los Angeles] headquarters. We also have offices in New York; Toronto; Mexico City; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Tokyo, Japan; Sydney, Australia; and a sister company in Copenhagen, Denmark, that publishes L. Ron Hubbard's books in the United Kingdom, Europe, CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States], India and the Middle East.
BB: What makes Bridge successful?
Silber: … Putting in a full in-house digital manufacturing plant allowed us to complete a massive undertaking to release all of Mr. Hubbard's [in multiple languages]. This … created a dramatically increased demand for his materials. … This, along with our ability to reach the public in countries that never had access to Mr. Hubbard's works before, has fueled the recent success of Bridge.
Guiding our success is that we use and apply the materials we publish to [run] a successful operation [and produce] quality materials. For example, a book titled "The Problems of Work" by L. Ron Hubbard contains principles and tools for personal and work-related success. As a result, Bridge has won over 20 industry awards just this year for the quality and production of our materials. This includes being a two-time winner of the Progressive Manufacturing 100 award (best in "Operational Excellence" 2010 Category), as well as winning the Premier Print Benny Awards and the Gold Ink Awards.
BB: What are the biggest challenges you face?
Silber: We are constantly working to further cater to the increasing worldwide demand.
BB: What is your average initial print run? Has print-on-demand played a role in inventory management?
Silber: The average print run is about 5,000, but this varies depending on the title and language. Digital printing enables us to fill demand, be it 50 copies or 20,000, and all with the same cost to us and our customers. [It] allows us to maintain a "shelf quantity" of all needed titles, and only print and supply based on demand. BB