Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Karl Keating's Kind Fundraiser on Dave Armstrong's Behalf (September 2013) / Dave's Thoughts on His Recent Rough Financial Stretch



Karl Keating, the "father " of the modern apologetics movement, and head of Catholic Answers, the largest Catholic apologetics organization in the world, undertook a thoughtful effort on his personal Facebook page (public material that anyone could run across) to help me raise funds in September 2013, in conjunction with my own fundraising drive. Here are his words from that post:

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HELP ME SEND A FINANCIAL “CARE PACKAGE” TO A FELLOW APOLOGIST

I’m talking about Dave Armstrong (pictured with Jimmy Akin in 2004). Dave has been a fulltime apologist for years, working out of his home as a one-man operation. He’s done much good for thousands of people, but he’s broke. I don’t want to see him broken.

At his Facebook page Dave has posted an appeal for financial help. He’s trying to raise $7,500, but, frankly, his family needs much more than that. I ask you to join me in putting together for them a financial “care package.” My plan is to collect checks which will be sent to Dave in a batch.

I’ll start off with a check for $500 from my personal funds. I’m asking you to pony up too. I’d like to see us gather several times $7,500 so Dave can continue his good work for the Church.

Before I tell you the mechanics of my plan, let me tell you about Dave.

WHO IS DAVE ARMSTRONG ANYWAY?

Dave and his family live very abstemiously in a suburb of Detroit. His wife homeschools their four children and so isn’t able to be employed outside the home. Dave can’t look to income from public speaking because, frankly, he isn’t a good speaker. That’s not where his talents are. They’re in writing. He’s written 40 books so far (most of them being revisions of things he’s written on his blog). Only nine of his books have been published by regular publishers, mainly Sophia Institute Press but also Catholic Answers. The remaining 31 books are available digitally at Dave’s blog. 


[Dave: actually, all are available in paperback at Lulu, and are also sold in paper and e-book form at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and iTunes]

Dave never has been able to support his family through book sales alone. This is the way he puts it: “The majority of my income is derived from book royalties: my own hard work and the sweat of my brow, but that’s not enough to completely support my family. The apologetics market is but a tiny niche in the bookselling arena. If such a book sells 10,000 copies, it is considered a bestseller in apologetics. I’ve accomplished that five or six times. But if you add up those royalties (often only as low as, say, $1.50 per book sold), it's not much money.”

WHY ROYALTIES AREN’T ENOUGH TO LIVE ON

It certainly isn’t much money. Let’s say those nine books sell, on average, a total of 10,000 copies apiece during their lifetimes—about five years for most books. That’s 90,000 copies. At $1.50 royalty income per copy, that’s $135,000 over five years, or about $27,000 a year. Dave’s digital books may not sell even 500 copies each in their lifetimes.

I can’t see how his income from book sales can reach even $35,000 annually. And keep in mind that the royalties from his nine printed books may be far smaller than even these numbers, since most of those nine books were published years ago. His book income, which represents the majority of his income, could be as low as $25,000 annually—for a family of six!

Dave has had to supplement his fulltime apologetics work with side jobs. For years he worked a large newspaper delivery route. Another stint was as a seller of used books. For three years he moderated the website of the Coming Home Network, until that ministry’s tight finances resulted in his being laid off in 2010. I know he has taken other low-end jobs to make ends meet.

HERE’S MY PLAN

Dave infrequently makes pleas for financial help. This is only the third time he’s asked for assistance in thirteen years. That tells me his family is hurting.

If you can join me in writing a check for Dave, please follow these instructions exactly:

1. Make out your check to “Dave Armstrong.” Do NOT make it out to Catholic Answers, because your check will be forwarded by me directly to Dave, and he won’t be able to cash it if it’s made out to Catholic Answers.

2. I won’t open your envelope. I’ll forward it unopened to Dave. I’m not interested in who gives how much. I’m just interested in seeing that help is given.

3. Mail your check to this address:

Dave Armstrong Fund
c/o Karl Keating
Catholic Answers
2020 Gillespie Way
El Cajon, CA 92020

4. Put your check in the mail by September 13. That’s Friday of next week. It’s okay to postdate your check if your checking account needs to be replenished. Just put a sticky note that says “postdated” on the check so Dave won’t try to cash it too early.

5. Once all the checks have arrived here, which should be by September 18 or so, I’ll put them in a large envelope (or, I hope, a box!) and send them to Dave.

6. Your gift won’t be tax deductible, which means you’ll be entitled to extra brownie points for your generosity.

That’s about it, except that I’d appreciate your letting other folks know about this fundraiser.

(I wish this appeal could be kept secret from Dave, but I couldn’t think of a way to do the appeal on the sly. I’m sure he already knows about it, which means I’m going to be stuck with his effusive thanks. I just hope he doesn’t get mushy. I hate mush.)


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[further comment by Keating]  Dave spends most of his time helping people online, not writing books. No doubt if he devoted his time to book writing he'd be able to do fine, but he thinks his calling extends beyond just book writing (as does mine, as does yours). Unfortunately for him, his main work pays virtually nothing.  

[this is incorrect. The bulk of my time now is spent writing books. My financial problems are explained by a comment of mine, below, made in a second thread on Keating's Facebook page, in reply to a friend who said that my "business model" could be improved, and would be by resorting to utilizing print-on-demand publishing] 

My Own Thoughts on Recent Financial Difficulties

Okay, let's get some facts straight here. [Name] is a friend who is trying to help. That's not in question. I appreciate it (and of course, Karl's thoughtful fund drive tremendously) But the facts of my situation have been distorted. To fix somethin' you gotta know what's going on in the first place.
"the old school business model itself is obviously unable to allow Mr. Armstrong to feed his family."

This is untrue. I have fed my family (of six) just fine all along. As I stated in the first post of my fundraising drive, we pay all our bills, have good credit, don't even use credit cards. We take a nice vacation every year, which includes four western trips (from Michigan), from 2006-2011. Granted, we camp, take our own food, etc., but we still do it, and it costs some money.

I also noted how I've only had to overtly solicit donations three times in almost twelve years. That's amazing enough, seeing that virtually every Catholic apostolate raises funds regularly, and considering that I am not on TV, rarely on radio, and don't do talks.

The "old model" was serving me just fine; i.e., until President Obama and his brain-dead economics came around. That cost me my part-time job at the Coming Home Network (which had already been cut in half a year or so earlier). That reduced my royalty rates from Sophia (five books now) by 40-50%. I used to be able to live for several months when those came in. Now I can't. It made the value of my house go down to half of what it was when we bought it. It's not the "old model" of bookselling that is the problem; it's the old model of socialist economics.

Low royalty rates are not the problem (though I'm not nuts about them, either); it is reduced sales in a tiny market because of the economy. I was getting by great in the tiny market, mostly by the "old school" -- till all this happened. I was, however, also selling e-books on my own and making about $500 or so on an average month. But I had to sell them dirt cheap: 10-for-$25 and so forth.

I got into the new ePub thing a few years ago, and started cranking out more books at Lulu, which is print-on-demand, with a higher royalty rate. I get $5-6 per paperback if someone buys one of my books at Lulu. I get a great percentage of e-book sales (I think it's 70%). I have all those books available as PDFs for $2.99, ePubs for $6.99, and also $6.99 for Amazon Kindle, Nook Book, and iTunes books. So I've done plenty of the "new model" -- perhaps as much as any apologetics author has. All my 40 books but one (New Catholic Answer Bible) are digitalized.

But this hasn't brought me back to where I was five years ago, and it is (besides the funky economy) because of what Karl has said: A-D-V-E-R-T-I-S-I-N-G and marketing. I can't do that with my Lulu books because I haven't had extra money to do so. My mistake was thinking that volumes of books and e-books would be the answer to regain what was lost. It hasn't been. I've done both as much as anyone can in the last three years.

The most money I have received from any of my writings is from my pamphlet with OSV. I continue to receive almost $2,000 a year from that thing (that probably took me two hours, max, to write), and it came out in 2002. Of course, the New Catholic Answer Bible is my best-selling book of all and I receive no royalties at all for it. I probably would have made $25,000-30,000 or more by now if it had been a royalty contract. I would have been rich if I had received a dime for every sale of Surprised by Truth, but I did my story for free. Name exposure, anyway . . .

It also should be said that it helps tremendously for a book to be listed in major "external" catalogues. I have several of mine listed at Catholic Answers and EWTN and other "big" places. That has to help. So my Sophia books from 2003-2004 are still selling well, in their tiny market.


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[more of my thoughts]:

In early 2011, after losing my CHNI job, I understood the economic reality, and decided to crank out books to try to create more income, and cultivate Facebook and Twitter. I was doing remarkably well up till that time. Several of the books I decided to write, in 2011 and afterwards, were accepted for publication, virtually without editing, so I was making wise choices in subjects.

The main (overwhelming) factor in my difficulties is the lousy economy. Even my older books with Sophia are still selling well, relatively: often I have three in the Amazon Top 100 for Catholic theology. It's the overall sales decline to due the economy that has killed me: 40-50% reduction in my Sophia royalties.

So I was doing very well, especially from 2007-2010 (by our standards of how we choose to live: paying all our bills, paying off credit cards and not using them, taking nice trips every year, etc.), then the economy wrecked the whole trajectory.

With my 31 Lulu books, I do get $5-6 royalties on the paperbacks, but it doesn't matter much because they sell so few (and that is the advantage of the "official" publisher). Thus, it all goes back to advertising. If I am able to do more of that in the coming year, it should pull me out of the slump I'm in.


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