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Augsburg Publishing And Fortress Press To Merge Under New Church

April 25, 1987 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ When three major Lutheran denominations convene April 30 to affirm their merger and elect a bishop, they will also move to consolidate two of the nation’s five largest Protestant publishing houses.

Augsburg Publishing of Minneapolis and Fortress Press of Philadelphia will unite to become the $55 million-a-year publishing arm of the new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Augsburg, the larger and richer of the two houses, belongs to the Minneapolis-based American Lutheran Church.

Fortress, whose business includes selling church and clergy supplies, belongs to the Lutheran Church in America, based in New York.

Consolidation of the two non-profits is called for in the merger document adopted by the ALC, LCA and St. Louis-based Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, which has no publishing house.

The three denominations claim a combined membership of 5.3 million people, 1,045 of whom have been invited as delegates to the ″constituting″ convention April 30 to May 3 in Columbus, Ohio.

Delegates to the convention will select an 18-member board for the new ELCA publishing house and the board will pick its executives at the end of June. The new publishing house won’t begin operations, however, until 1988.

″We have a thicket of issues to get through to consolidate these houses,″ said Albert E. Anderson, chief executive officer of Augsburg since 1970. ″And when we’re through, that’s going to be a real strong publishing house.″

Augsburg, with 415 full-time employees and distribution centers in Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Los Angeles, Seattle and Minneapolis, had sales of about $32 million last year, Anderson said. Unlike Fortress, which has operated with some debt, revenues at Augsburg usually have exceeded expenses by about 5 percent, he said.

″We have sufficient financial reserves to consolidate these two publishing houses without incumbrance to the church or without borrowing money,″ Anderson said.

One of the unresolved issues of the merger is where to locate the divisions of the new company.

″That’s a question still left to the new management,″ said Robert Endruschat, president and chief executive officer of Fortress. ″Wherever it is, it will be one enterprise operating in two locations.″

But Anderson said he is sure most of the publishing will be done in Minneapolis, where Augsburg operates a printing plant staffed with union employees. Fortress has no printing plant.

″This will become the center for publishing for the new church,″ Anderson said. ″But that’s as far as we’ve gone. There will always be a presence of the publishing house in Philadelphia because there is an enormous amount of loyalty on the East Coast for that Philadelphia location.″

Anderson said the bulk of the editorial staff will be located in Minneapolis, with some books handled out of Philadelphia and some magazines edited in Chicago and published in Minneapolis.

Augsburg specializes in educational, worship and other congregational books and literature for Lutheran laity, while Fortress is strong in books used by theologians and seminary students.

″We complement one another very well,″ Endruschat said.

He said the majority of sales at Fortress are made in ecclesiastical supplies, including church interiors, clothing for ministers and religious crafts for the home.

″I would expect that that’s the kind of operation that would continue in Philadelphia,″ Endruschat said.

Fortress, with sales of about $23 million last year, has erased most of its debt, but it still operates with a line of credit ranging from $500,000 to $900,000, Endruschat said. Fortress has 14 retail outlets in the country.

The new publishing house is to ″be responsible for the publishing, production, and distribution of publications to be sold to accomplish the mission of this church,″ according to the merger document.

The job includes the money-losing venture of publishing religious magazines and a church periodical, Anderson said.

Of the five largest Protestant publishing houses in the country, Augsburg ranks third and Fortress ranks fifth, said Lowell Almen, editor of The Lutheran Standard, the official ALC magazine.

Combined, the two publishers may edge out the United Methodist Church’s Abingdon Press of Nashville, Tenn., to become the second largest Protestant publishing house in the country, Anderson said. Broadman Press of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville is the largest, with sales of about $155 million last year, he said.

The Augsburg-Fortress merger, like other corporate marriages, may result in job losses. But Anderson and Endruschat say they don’t know for sure.

″I would say there will be attrition and consolidation,″ said Endruschat, whose company employs about 335 workers.

″Obviously you have to reduce the duplication.″ Anderson added.

Both men said they are candidates to head the new publishing company.

End Adv April 25-26