for ISKCON News on Jan. 28, 2012
North American Book Distribution Minister Vaisesika Dasa encourages a devotee during one of ISKCON Silicon Valley's Monthly Sankirtan Festivals
At the recent 2012 North American Governing Body and Temple President meetings in Dallas, Texas on January 13th, Book Distribution Minister Vaisesika Dasa had some exciting news for the more than sixty leaders from across the US and Canada in attendance.
Distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books in their countries have increased by 23% in the past year, he reported. 714,334 books have been distributed, and $959,689—very close to one million dollars—has been collected.
Over $200,000 of this came in from the Rupanuga Vedic College Travelling Sankirtana Party, led by Paramesvara Dasa under the guidance of Danavir Goswami. Traveling cross-country, the team is one of the biggest success stories in North America, distributing at universities and following the Warped concert tour during the summer.
Consistent dramatic success in 2011 has also been recorded in Vaisesika’s base of ISKCON Silicon Valley, Toronto, Washington D.C., and Laguna Beach, as well as many other temples.
In Toronto, devotees have consistently increased their distribution each year for the past three years, starting with just a few thousand books in 2008 and passing out no less than 35,000 last year. In Washington D.C., devotees started the year with a goal of 5,000 books, increased it to 10,000, and then soared far past it to reach 28,000.
A devotee distributes books to store owners in Silicon Valley
The most dramatic jump, however, was made by the Laguna Beach temple, after temple president Tukarama Dasa and other leaders invited Vaisesika in March to help organize their book distribution efforts.
Meeting with the temple board, Vaisesika found that their goal for the year had been only 450 books.
“Under the pressures of being a temple president, and managing our community, book distribution had slipped to the back burner of our priorities,” says Tukarama.
Vaisesika promptly requested the board to increase their goal to 5,000, assuring them that they would only have to make a few small adjustments. Immediately, they agreed, excited at the possibilities.
Making book distribution the center of their temple’s focus transformed many of the Laguna devotees who had never distributed books before and thought they couldn’t.
“They were feeling the same kind of ecstasy of being connected to Lord Chaitanya’s movement that I felt when I first joined ISKCON many years ago,” Tukarama says.
Laguna Beach didn’t just reach the 5,000 book goal they had set for themselves—they nearly tripled it, ending the year at sales of 14,500 books. And for 2012, they’ve set a goal of 20,000, which they’re confident they’ll once again soar beyond. All this from a starting point of only 450 books.
Toronto devotees celebrate after reaching their goal of 35,000 books in the year 2011.
“It was the fun of it that really inspired our community,” says Tukarama. “Vaisesika teaches devotees that success is meeting a few people and leaving them with a good impression. The experience of sharing Krishna consciousness in a non-pressured environment just inspired our devotees—it really was a mystical transformation of our temple’s enthusiasm. Now our congregation wants to distribute Prabhupada’s books in their local neighborhood while their spouse grocery shops next door. It’s amazing.”
Much of the success achieved by Laguna and the other top temples of last year has come from applying innovative techniques developed by Vaisesika at what some might call book distribution’s laboratory, in Silicon Valley, San Jose.
“Just as there’s a formula for making really good cakes and pies, similarly there’s a formula for success in book distribution that’s fun, easy, can be used anywhere, and gets consistent results,” Vaisesika says.
One of the most powerful techniques that’s a part of this formula is the Monthly Sankirtana Festival. Held on one weekend every month, it’s a fun outing for everyone in the community, avoiding any pressure on individuals, and instead based on the principle of a lot of people doing a little bit.
Another is Full Set Distribution, wherein devotees display full sets of Srimad-Bhagavatams or Chaitanya-Charitamritas, sell them, and then install them with a special ceremony in the customer’s home. Last year, Washington D.C. topped the list of temples in full set distribution, by selling sets to all the guests who attended set installations.
A Toronto devotee wraps up warm to distribute books
“One devotee even set a goal to approach every single home in her 3,000 house residential area with full sets,” Vaisesika says.
For those who are just starting out with book distribution and prefer a more passive method, there’s the Smart Box, an attractive book display that’s set up in stores and other public places and allows the customer to simply take a book and give a donation through the honor system, without the need of an on-site book distributor. This has also been a hit in 2011, with some temples establishing up to 100 Smart Boxes in their area.
Then there’s Sastra Dana, where books are donated by supporters to book distributors, who then place them for free in locations such as hospitals and libraries. There’s also ISKCON Prison Ministry, which has sent around 5,000 donated books and 1,540 Back to Godhead magazines to deeply appreciative inmates in the last year; and the Motel Gita Project, which has placed 110,000 Bhagavad-gitas in motels across the US and Canada to date.
Finally there’s e-books: the new technological kid on the block. It’s well-known that the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, publishers of Srila Prabhupada’s books, has already started making this new format available online. But at the North American Temple Presidents’ meetings, Vaisesika announced ISKCON Silicon Valley’s recent production of the first ever distributable e-book, a beautifully packaged Bhagavad-gita disc that can be loaded onto an iPad, Kindle, iPhone, or any other e-reader device.
Devotees chant in downtown Toronto as part of their Monthly Sankirtan Festival
Vaisesika says that with all these innovative methods, book distribution in North America has been on a steady upward trend in the past five or six years, and 2012 looks set to be the year when the dam will break.
“At the Temple Presidents’ meetings, I suggested to the leaders that rather than only working as individual teams all over the country, they establish all of North America as one team, with a collective goal,” he explains. “That will make all the difference.”
This suggestion was unanimously agreed to, and a collective goal of a further 20% increase in 2012 was decided upon. Furthermore, the BBT pledged to publish the goal and send it out to all the temples in North America, who will then work together cooperatively to reach it.
If the goal is reached, it will mean a remittance of $1,152,000 for the BBT this year. And one million, according to Vaisesika, is the magic number.
“When the BBT get a million dollars or more remittance during a calendar year, they hit a point where their finances become much more liquid, and they’re able to print a lot more different editions of books, and spend extra money on funding projects,” he says. “This is an important part of their purpose: Srila Prabhupada established that fifty per cent of the money from book distribution should go into printing, and the other fifty per cent to temple construction.”
The BBT are sticking to this strategy. At the Temple Presidents’ Meetings, North American BBT Trustee Svavasa Dasa reported that the North American division of the BBT is the largest donor, among all six International BBTs, to the International ISKCON Construction Fund. This is the primary contributor to the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, at ISKCON’s international headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal.
“The BBT is the goose that lays the golden eggs, and it needs to be fed,” Vaisesika says. “So we should all feed it a little more this year, through book distribution. After all, dissemination of transcendental knowledge is our family business.”