From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Cokesbury Music Service offers bridge for churches, publishers

Date 05 Feb 2001 12:02:55

Feb. 5, 2001  News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - Staff members of the United Methodist Publishing
House's music department were in a planning meeting three years ago when
executive Bill Gnegy made a telling observation.

As choir director in his local church, Gnegy said, he knew each year that 80
percent of his budget would not go to Cokesbury, the Publishing House's
retail arm. The reason, he explained, was that he had to go outside
Cokesbury to find the print music - particularly anthems and musicals - that
his choir needed. The United Methodist Church, which counts prolific hymnist
Charles Wesley in its lineage, had no outlet for providing such resources to
church musicians.

During that meeting in 1998, the idea for Cokesbury Music Service began
taking shape, according to staff member John Oliver, who became manager of
the new unit.

Launched in July 1999, Cokesbury Music Service provides a bridge between
United Methodist musicians and sacred-music publishers. Instead of calling
individual publishers for material, church music leaders and musicians can
call the Cokesbury service, which works with the publishers. The service
tracks down the music, gives the customer the convenience of dealing with
one bill instead of several from different publishers, and also offers a
discount - typically 20 percent - because it is a volume purchaser, Oliver

"We have really tapped a need there," he told United Methodist News Service.

Starting the service was a logical step toward Cokesbury becoming a
one-stop, full-service music provider for church music leaders, said Gnegy,
the Publishing House's music resources director. "We thought it made sense
because so many churches were used to dealing with Cokesbury for everything

The service specializes in providing anthems, vocal and instrumental
collections, keyboard music, hand-bell music and tracks. It works with a
wide range of publishers, including Abingdon, Alfred, Augsburg Fortress,
Beckenhorst, Brentwood-Benson, Carl Fischer, Concordia, E.C. Schirmer, EMI,
Genovox, GIA, Hal Leonard, Hope, Lillenas, Lorenz, Maranatha!, Praise
Gathering, Theodore Presser and Word. It also supplies the gamut of other
music needs -- bells, robes, choir folders, jewelry.

Cokesbury Music Service's success in the past year and a half has exceeded

"We had a membership goal and we had a revenue goal, and at this point,
we're blowing both of those out of the water," Oliver said.

The free membership program, which includes regular e-mail newsletters to
customers, was introduced to give customers a sense of belonging, Gnegy

When the service began, it had a membership goal of 625 members by July
2000. "By the end of the fiscal year, we had 1,400," Oliver said. Today,
membership stands at 4,000. "I would like to see us have 10,000 members in
five years," he said.

The service posted $325,000 in first-year revenues. That fell short of its
target of $500,000, but Oliver views that first year as one of
experimentation. This year, with current revenues at $320,000 and Easter
still ahead, Oliver is confident about making the music service's budget
goal of $410,000. At the current rate of business, the music service will
reach the $500,000 mark by July 31, he said.

For the first six months after the launch, the music service focused on
building its business within the United Methodist Church. Now it is reaching
out to other denominations, particularly the Presbyterian Church (USA),
whose publishing house has endorsed the music service. The music service's
customer base is about 85 percent United Methodist, 12 percent Presbyterian,
and 2 to 3 percent other, including some Catholic congregations, Oliver

The next frontier market is nondenominational churches, which are growing in
membership, he said. They typically use a lot of blended and contemporary

"Our focus right now is trying to keep our finger on the pulse of shifting
expectations in the field of worship in the mainline churches," Oliver said.

Change is occurring in worship styles and delivery of music. With the music
itself, research shows that worship styles are becoming more blended in
local congregations. Meanwhile, electronic technology is changing the way
the industry delivers music. "Before long, churches are going to be able to
download music off the Internet," Oliver said.

"The music service has to be nimble enough to respond to a decreasing print
market and an increasing electronic market," he said. Looking ahead five
years, he sees the music service being a leader in the electronic delivery
of sacred music.

Despite the Web's growing popularity, Oliver believes the telephone will
remain the basic format of maintaining relationships with customers for the
foreseeable future. 

Callers are likely to talk to one of two music service representatives -
Cindy Butterworth or Jennifer Gomer. "There's a personal touch there that we
don't want electronic formats to ever replace," said Oliver, who handles all
of the e-mail and some of the calls from customers.

That personal touch can involve going beyond simply making a sale. A woman
from Naperville, Ill., called Oliver last year searching for a specific
piece of music that would help her and her husband feel more at peace with
the recent loss of their baby girl. She had been unable to find it, even
after contacting its publisher, and finally contacted Cokesbury in
Nashville. Oliver tracked the song down and learned that it was only
available through the songwriter. The woman was able to obtain a copy, and
she wrote a letter of gratitude to Gnegy for Oliver's help. The letter could
have been written about any of the music service's representatives, Oliver

Tracking down music has become a niche for the music service, Gnegy said.
"We can find almost anything."

People interested in using the service can call its toll-free number,
1-877-877-8674, or go to online.
# # #

United Methodist News Service
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