The distribution of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual books has seen a major resurgence in North America in recent years.
Inspired by the positive signs of increase he saw in 2010 and 2011, veteran book distributor and “Sankirtan Strategist” Vaisesika Das attended the January 2012 Temple Presidents’ meeting in Dallas, Texas with a mission: he suggested that ISKCON North America distribute books as one team with one common goal.
For 2012, he proposed that this goal be to increase book distribution nationwide by twenty per cent, which would be calculated by remittance to Srila Prabhupada’s publishers the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT).
The temple presidents unanimously agreed. And with a clear goal, a sense of purpose was born amongst many ISKCON communities across North America. Throughout the year, devotees vigorously applied strategies Vaisesika had recommended.
By the end of 2012, ISKCON North America not only reached but surpassed its goal, with an incredible twenty-five per cent increase. Combined, devotees sold 825,075 books and collected $1,127,879, compared to 714,334 books and $903,613 in 2011.
This year, in 2013, ISKCON North America is shooting for another twenty per cent increase, which would result in end-of-year remittance to the BBT of $1,353,455.
Distributing books at a Pumpkin Festival in California
So far, it’s looking good, although Vaisesika says that “everything will be decided” during the December book distribution marathon.
Of course, devotees have been working hard throughout the year, applying Vaisesika’s strategies and coming up with their own ingenious ways of distributing books.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, devotees introduced coupons for free small books at their Rathayatra Festival, which encouraged many people to take one and buy a big book too.
In Denver, Colorado, devotees recently set up a training center for brahmacharis where the celibate monks are trained not only in scripture and temple etiquette, but also in book distribution. Part of this involves going out on the streets to distribute books daily -- resulting in a major increase in distribution.
In Gainesville, Florida, the Krishna House next to the University of Florida has been encouraging its residents to distribute books. In New Goloka, North Carolina, devotees recently started an organized “sankirtan” party which is going strong. And in Laguna Beach, California, where book distribution rose 1,000% in 2011 and another 33% in 2012, they’re aiming for an increase of at least another 20% in 2013.
Meanwhile perennial stalwarts Los Angeles and ISKCON Silicon Valley continue to set examples for others. And Rupanuga Vedic College’s Traveling Sankirtan Party, based in Kansas, is still one of the biggest book distribution successes in North America.
Distributing books in Silicon Valley
Other notable communities include Toronto, Washington DC, San Diego, Baltimore, Chicago, and Boston. Then there’s the Motel Gita project, which is steadily increasing. Operating nationwide, it ships as many as 20,000 Bhagavad-gitas at a time and places them in hotels and motels across the country.
Meanwhile, making sure that all of these communities’ ideas don’t remain isolated, members of the North American Sankirtan Leaders’ Team (NASLT) meet monthly by conference call to share best practices.
“We actively work on developing tools that everyone can share across North America to increase book distribution,” says Vaisesika.
One of the broadly shared ideas that has worked well at temples across the continent is that of distributing books at events. Devotees sign up as active participants at special events in their cities, rent a space and use it to present books to the public.
To keep devotees inspired about distributing books, Vaisesika travels around the continent from his base at ISKCON Silicon Valley. In fact, he visited no less than fourteen different temples last year.
Vaisesika firsts visits those temples who are most interested in increasing their book distribution. He starts working with each one over the phone a month prior to his visit. Upon his arrival, he holds a book distribution seminar on Friday evening, a practical training session on Saturday morning, and then a Monthly Sankirtan Festival (MSF) on Saturday afternoon that usually involves a large amount of devotees. Recently in Chicago, for instance, ninety-two devotees participated in an MSF.
Distributing books in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury
“The hardest part is troop movement -- moving so many devotees from one place to another takes a lot of planning,” Vaisesika says.
Of course, his motto, “encourage the heck out of everyone,” makes things a little easier. And Vaisesika tells everyone that there’s no expectation: once they get to their spot and touch the pavement, they’re done for the day, and everything after that is extra.
“Once devotees do go out and see for themselves that people everywhere are craving spiritual knowledge, they get their own impetus,” Vaisesika says. “They feel for themselves that book distribution is connected to the internal potency of the Lord. That’s why I always say the hardest part of sankirtan is going out -- because once you’re out there you don’t want to come back!”
Devotees across North America will become even more absorbed in book distribution than usual this month, as they try to reach this year’s planned twenty per cent increase during the “Prabhupada Marathon.”
Some specific strategies will be used to distribute more books in December. For example, devotees will frequent downtown shopping areas, which are particularly popular during the holiday season. And as Gita Jayanti, the day the Bhagavad-gita was spoken 5,000 years ago, falls on December 12th, December will be promoted as Gita Jayanti Month.
“Devotees will go door to door to both homes and businesses, and show people a clip from a CBS interview we did about the Motel Gita project,” says Vaisesika. “We’ll then tell them that we’re doing a special drive to sponsor a certain number of Bhagavad-gitas by the end of Gita Jayanti Month. Instead of selling one Bhagavad-gita at a time, we’ll get people to sponsor full cases of Bhagavad-gitas for $108 each. And they’ll be placed in motels and other locations.”
With this year’s efforts looking set to have a positive outcome, Vaisesika is already thinking about next year’s goals. This time, rather than another percentage increase, he plans to focus on more qualitative goals.
“We’re going to innovate on the goals so that they don’t become stale or rote,” he says. “We’ll look at a variety of goals that will be fresh and will stimulate the minds of devotees nationwide, so that it doesn’t just feel like we’re pushing for numbers every year.”[ book-distribution ] [ book-review ]