September 18, 2012 // Local

Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor, looks to the future

What is your view of what the second century holds for OSV?

Erlandson: The challenge for anyone in publishing these days, secular or Catholic, is that it’s such a fast-changing industry right now. From top to bottom every aspect of technology, distribution channels, how content is packaged — all that is changing. We’re all living through it in different ways whether you’re at Random House, The New York Times, Our Sunday Visitor or Today’s Catholic. In one sense, just predicting what it will be like in five years will be a challenge. If you go back to when I first started here in the fall of 2000 I’m not sure if Google was even up and running then. We were using things like AltaVista, other search engines. You Tube, Wikipedia, iPads, you name it, it didn’t exist in that time period — e-Books, Kindle, people were still wondering whether Amazon was going to survive. Digital books didn’t exist; we were getting used to podcasts. The technology in just the last 12 years has been phenomenal. It’s like a world being created wholly anew. So in looking forward I would say where it’s going as an industry, customers want to be able to receive the information they want and need in the format they prefer. The customer is king; that has always been true but it’s clearly true now. And that puts enormous pressure on publishers to provide it in different formats.

Has overall readership of a hard copy in hand declined?

Erlandson: It might be moving in other areas — the web site starts growing, other diversity. One thing we’ve tried to come up with is hybrid or different formats, maybe print. For example, one of our most successful product lines now is pamphlets, which are very old fashioned really. Archbishop (John F.) Noll used to write pamphlets all the time and now we’ve brought them back. But because they’re concise, extremely flexible, it’s not a big commitment on the part of the person reading it. We put an extraordinary amount of effort into our pamphlets but the result is an easy-to-use tool. Our readership of pamphlets probably dwarfs everything else.

Is it hard to predict the future due to all the new things coming along?

Erlandson: In terms of technology, distribution channels and products I think it’s really hard to predict. What won’t change is that we want to serve Catholics in the pews. We want to be of service to the Church. We want to reach active Catholics and help form them in their faith, inform them about the world and defend the Church when it comes under attack. Those parts of Archbishop Noll’s mission won’t change and the audience won’t change either. We recognize there are all sorts of other Catholics — intellectuals, theologians, people who have wandered away from the faith or are uninterested in the faith. You have people who are not Catholic who need to be evangelized. But our focus first is the active Catholic, because all those others are reached, but we know the Catholic in the pew, in a sense, is where the new evangelization is a great message combined with Archbishop Noll’s vision; because the new evangelization is about renewing Catholics and recommitting Catholics to their faith, and from that you go out into the world. And that part will always be true and I cannot see that changing.

Do you measure all of the various devices you use to reach your audiences?

Erlandson: We do measure web traffic and sales, such as e-Books — we have 145 available. In terms of e-Books, up to this point, that’s been a question about workflow and technology because you have to have it available for the iPad, the Kindle and the Nook.

Do you see any of this technology being standardized eventually?

Erlandson: I hope so in one sense. There are a lot of issues in the technology including pricing and revenue sharing. I think we’re going to see some changes over time. It will be interesting to see if it’s a PC/Apple analogy or if it’s Beta/VHS analogy. What’s interesting now is to see the battle between Amazon and Apple, and also seeing the battle between Google and Apple. For the next two to five years I think those will be kind of interesting battles to watch because it will have a lot of impact on us. On one hand, diversity makes it more complicated for us. On the other hand, if one dominates, what happens to competition? So the jury is out. Just like the lawsuit between Samsung and iPhone, the consumer could end up losing, terribly!

How do you make it known when you introduce a new product?

Erlandson: That’s a really good question. We have four apps we’ve introduced in the last several months. We’re tending to use email and web channels as the primary source and we’ll do some space ads, and we do a lot with social media. In fact we have one person now whose full-time job is managing social media. Again, one more thing that completely did not exist at all in 2000.

Would OSV be considered a national or world-wide company?

Erlandson: We’re primarily national, but if you go into the bookstores near the Vatican you’ll find our books. We distribute in England, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, so our books circulate and the magazine goes to other places and into Canada, but the vast majority of our business is in the United States.

Now that’s just the editorial side and does not include the envelope business, correct?

Erlandson: Offering envelopes is another huge area, which is the United States again. We are the largest Catholic producer of Church offering envelopes. We do about 600 million envelopes a year. We have three shifts a day, five days a week.

Would you say that area is more predictable in terms of the future?

Erlandson: Yes. We’re phenomenally successful right now. Logistically, it’s extremely complicated. We’re mailing out envelopes to millions of people’s homes across the country and we have to time all those mailings so that the October envelopes come at the right time in September, for example. The technical expertise is actually phenomenal. In addition to that, we offer electronic funds transfer. Actually, there are three components to our company: there’s the Publishing Division, which includes Huntington and Orlando; Offertory Solutions in Youngstown, Ohio; and then there’s the OSV Institute.

Since you mentioned the Institute, let’s talk about OSV’s contributions to the diocese over the years. Any idea of what the total amount would be?

Erlandson: Not really, but when you look back at everything Archbishop Noll did, for example, you go the Basilica in Washington, D.C., and his statue is there, and his name is there because he basically saved that project. And I think that’s true throughout northern Indiana since his diocese extended all the way to Gary. The number of places he impacted included a number of churches during the Depression that were saved from foreclosure because he was using OSV funds to help pay the mortgages. No one kept any records of those things. But if you look at OSV contributions I’d say that with both Bishop (John M.) D’Arcy and Bishop (Kevin C.) Rhoades some of the biggest ones were the funds for MacDougal Chapel (now called St. Mother Theodore Guérin Chapel on Cathedral Square, Fort Wayne); the restorations of the cathedral and the chapel; we’ve contributed money to the University of Saint Francis; and to purchase the (Archbishop Noll) Catholic Center. And what I think we should take pride in, if we take pride in anything, under Bishop D’Arcy’s leadership being able to fund Education for Ministry and the Master’s Program. We were able to help the diocese build up an entire cadre of well-educated high-school religion teachers, directors of religious education and catechists. And that is a very tangible way of handing down the faith. I think Archbishop Noll would have been most proud of that program.

Aren’t there a number of scholarships funded by OSV?

Erlandson: Yes, we’ve given more than a million dollars to each of the four (Catholic) high schools to pay for scholarships in two different ways. One was on behalf of Bishop D’Arcy and the other was to commemorate the memory of William Newell, vice chair of our board of directors. In looking at just the last 10 years the number is about $16 million to all sorts of different programs in the diocese, including the Christ Child Society and Women’s Care Center. And we’ve done some work with the ACE and ECHO catechist programs at Notre Dame as well as a fair amount of funding for other Notre Dame projects. And most recently we provided some funds for Hispanic leadership meetings — the list goes on and on.

Anything you wish to add in conclusion?

Erlandson: Our Sunday Visitor will continue to function as a bridge, seeking to represent the fullness of the truth in its witness to society. That means following the lead of the Holy See and the bishops, and defending the teachings of the Church consistently and across the board. The unofficial motto of Our Sunday Visitor is “What the Church teaches and why.” Today, more than ever, it is important for Catholics and for society to see that the unity of Catholic teaching is hinged on the dignity of the human person and on the witness of Jesus Christ.

 

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