Six years ago, book distribution in North America was in the doldrums, with devotees working alone and only $700,000 remitted to the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust from 41 temples.
But in January 2012, all that changed. ISKCON North American leaders unanimously agreed to work as one book distribution team with a collective goal. They also applied a number of principles tried and tested at book distribution laboratory ISKCON Silicon Valley. The move saw remittance to the BBT triple to $2.1 million by 2016, with 71 temples participating.
So the natural next phase was to scale up the same basic principles – including teamwork, clear goals, statistical analysis and ABS (Always Better Service) – to a worldwide level.
BBT trustee and book distribution strategist Vaisesika Das, who helped to mastermind the North American shift, is working with leaders around the world to make this a reality. He began with two presentations to ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission (GBC) in February of 2017 and 2018, during their annual meetings.
Devotees at Colegio Bhaktivedanta in Mexico get inspired to go out on book distribution with Vaisesika Das
Vaisesika launched the plan for a One World Team with a message that at first may seem counter-intuitive: “Be dissatisfied.” In 2017, he said, the Gideons had shared 91.8 million copies of their Bible, while Jehovah’s Witnesses distributed 210 million books. In contrast, the BBT had only distributed 8.5 million books worldwide.
He encouraged devotees to shoot for “a higher goal than you think you can attain,” and reminded them how Srila Prabhupada thought big, writing “We must expand more and more unlimitedly” in a May 1976 letter to the GBC.
The first improvement Vaisesika proposed was in the way book distribution is measured. He proposed a system to measure worldwide book distribution by totaling the dollar amount spent at each regional BBT around the world to buy Prabhupada’s books.
The next step was to see the ISKCON world not only as separate temples each distributing books on their own, but also as a “One World Team” with one team goal.
Distributing books in Toronto cold, Christmas 2017
“When we emphasize individual scores, some people naturally excel,” Vaisesika explains. “But when we emphasize the team over the individual, then the masses want to go out. People who can’t naturally do as well as others, especially in the beginning, are encouraged to go out, because they feel like they’re contributing to the team. And a lot of people each doing a little bit is much more sustainable than a few people doing a lot – which was the old model.”
Over the past five years, there has been an average annual growth of 3% in dollar remittance to the BBT worldwide, with $10.1 million remitted in 2017. The new team goal will be a 10% increase in 2018. Every year after that, another goal will be set. It’s a system that has worked for North America, which increased 20% in 2013 and 2014, and 10% every year since.
The GBC has unanimously agreed to move forward with the One World Team plan. But how will they make sure temples all over the planet are on board, and keep them on track towards the goal?
“We have a team of devotees around the world who are responsible for book distribution in their areas, called the Global Sankirtana Leaders Team,” says Vaisesika. “The BBT Marketing Department will keep in touch with them and create reports to send to the GBC. The team will also meet regularly to discuss how the goals are going in each area, and share best practices to benefit from each others’ experience.”
Bhaktin Radhika Mehta distributes books in Mumbai, India
The BBT Marketing Department will also use statistical analysis to see which temples are not doing so well and to help them. In 2017, for instance, just three temples – ISKCON Silicon Valley in the U.S., and Delhi and Mumbai in India – accounted for 20% of the total remittance to the BBT, with over $500,000 each. Meanwhile nearly half of the temples in ISKCON remitted either less than $5,000 in the year, or nothing at all.
The exciting part is that with just a little encouragement and direction, these temples can make dramatic increases. To give a North American example, in 2012 ISKCON of Laguna Beach devotees were only distributing 450 books a year. After adopting the new model, they increased their goal to 5,000. They then promptly beat that goal three times over, ending the year with sales of 14,500 books.
Vaisesika and his team of experienced book distributors are set to help temples worldwide achieve similar goals. Interested devotees can contact ISKCON Silicon Valley and Toronto, Canada to find out when to attend their regular Sankirtan Orientation Sessions (S.O.S). Both Toronto and ISV are also sending some of their best book distributors out to spend a weekend at various temples around the world and train their congregations.
“Because the whole community gets trained at once, these sessions can make a dramatic difference, changing your book distribution trajectory overnight,” says Vaisesika.
Happy customers in the UK
If neither of these options are convenient, devotees can read Vaisesika’s book “Our Family Business,” which details all his tried and tested techniques. Many have already started their own successful book distribution programs with only the book as guidance.
One of the first things these different methods of training emphasize is that the local leaders of your community must have a consensus that book distribution is a priority. Vaisesika Das explains why.
“Books are containers for idea seeds that spill out into the minds and hearts of people and can start an ideology,” he says. “Throughout history, world movements have been initiated through literature distribution. The American Revolution was sparked by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet ‘Common Sense.’ The idea of natural selection, now practically ubiquitous, began with Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species.’ That’s why Srila Prabhupada said, ‘Print as many books in as many languages and distribute throughout the whole world. Then the Krishna consciousness movement will automatically increase.’”
Srila Prabhupada himself prioritized book distribution, saying many times, “This is our main program. All other programs are secondary.” And when listing it as his seventh purpose for ISKCON, he wrote that through distributing books we would “achieve [all of the other] aforementioned purposes.”
A team of book distributors in Johannesburg, South Africa
With book distribution prioritized, devotees can then apply a series of new practical techniques.
These include Monthly Sankirtan festivals, fun weekend events where the whole community gets involved; Go Matsya, in which devotees distribute full sets of Srimad-Bhagavatam; Sastra Dana, in which people donate books for others to distribute; and Smart Boxes, which sell books by themselves using the honor system.
There’s also kids’ sankirtana, corporate book distribution; Motel Gita; foreign language cards, which increase your book distribution capacity by 33%; and Kirtan Oasis mini festivals with book stalls. Effective sankirtana teams also use tech tools like Whatsapp groups so that each devotee can keep in touch and get inspired by what their fellow book distributors are doing.
Last but not least, there’s the four laws of book distribution: your sadhana must be strong; you must get books; the more you show, the more you sell; and you must organize.
“Let’s beat the Gideons and Jehovah’s Witnesses! Let’s set world records for the amount of religious books distributed every year!” Vaisesika says. “By organizing ourselves and keeping book distribution as a priority, the effect can only be positive. It will have a systemic effect on ISKCON, on our self-esteem and our world-standing.”
“And,” he adds, “As Srila Prabhupada indicates in his seven purposes of ISKCON, it will have a concomitant effect on all the other very important purposes of ISKCON as well. A rising tide rises all ships!”
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