for ISKCON News on Feb. 5, 2011
Despite a dire economic situation in the U.S., the North American branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust—ISKCON’s publishing arm—saw sales soar last year, its best since 2004.
Selling over $1 million worth of books on Krishna consciousness, the company, established by ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada in 1972, saw a thirty-two per cent increase in sales since 2008.
The BBT’s best years were 1973 to 1977, each of which yielded sales of around $4 million worth of books. Of course, there were many variables to instigate this success which have changed since, explains Sura Dasa, who has served as the accountant for BBT North America since 1988.
“Srila Prabhupada was still with us, and there were only two BBTs—one in India and one here in the US, from which we supplied books to Europe and Australia,” he
says. “Later, however, they formed their own divisions and today we have many BBT divisions, including Northern Europe, Australia, India, and Mediterranean. So the overall sales of books are more spread out.”
Sales were at an all-time low in the late eighties and early nineties, when Sura became accountant for the BBT, dropping to $694,402 in 1993. From 1995 to 1998, however, they shot up to their highest since Prabhupada’s departure, reaching $1,358,479 in 1996.
“Certain GBC members were pushing book distribution, and serious, dedicated men and women were distributing spiritual literature,” says Sura. “In Los Angeles, lots of people were becoming devotees and turning into sankirtan soldiers very rapidly.”
But recently, from 2006 to 2008, there was a serious decline in book distribution, which Sura feels is mainly due to lack of emphasis on the service by ISKCON temples and the GBC. Now, however, things have picked right back up, and are looking very positive.
“Rupanuga Vedic College’s Traveling Sankirtana Party, led by Paramesvara Prabhu, and Vaisesika Prabhu’s transcendental team in San Jose, California, are leading with their valiant efforts,” Sura says. “Sales have also greatly increased in St. Louis, San Diego, Toronto, and the North Carolina-based book distribution project Benediction Moon, directly due to temple leaders and GBC members getting involved in book distribution. Krishna consciousness is a personal philosophy, and when the persons of authority get seriously involved in book distribution, amazing things happen and sales increase by leaps and bounds.”
The BBT itself also does its part in increasing sales. “When sales are up, the BBT can print more freely—especially once we are over $1 million,” says Sura. “Then we can print all of Srila Prabhupada’s titles and have a very healthy stock of mass distribution books. We also work with the parties to try and increase their sales and give them the titles, covers and pictures that they want on the books.”
Sura feels quite confident that sales will improve even more this year, in 2011.
“Sales this January were already up over last year by twenty-six per cent,” he says. “Paramesvara’s Traveling Sankirtan Party has increased by two more men and Vaisesika Prabhu has some very exciting expansion plans. Meanwhile, L.A. is reorganizing to have more traveling sankirtana parties, and the rank and file temples are doing their level best to maintain and increase.”
He concludes, “If Lord Krishna is kind and Srila Prabhupada is pleased, we hope to get back to the inspiring sales of 1996 and beyond.”