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Archive for October, 2010

Phil Vischer, Vegetable Animator, Nails It

October 29, 2010 1 comment

I write this blog daily with the assumption that many readers are also trade people who subscribe to the Monday and Thursday updates from Christian Retailing magazine.   So I try to avoid redundancy with what they cover.

But this one is too good for anyone to miss.    Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, tells it like it is.   Times are tough right now, but maybe, ultimately, in the greater scheme of things, that’s better.

Do not miss this.   You’ll need 24 minutes and turn your speakers up loud.   And thanks, CR for posting this.

“The party that was the CBA in the 1990s may have ended, but our call to ministry has not. The world’s need for the gospel has not… Welcome to the new CBA.   We travel light…   We’d rather see the Holy Spirit moving with us than Wall Street.”

To hear Phil’s St. Louis ICRS address, Click here.

New Title from James Rubart, author of Rooms

October 28, 2010 2 comments

I think sometimes our industry looks a little too far forward and books that are more current in the minds of consumers are off the radar for booksellers.   So I try to include book trailers for things a little closer to release dates.   But this January release, Book of Days couldn’t wait, since this is a new title from James Rubart, author of Rooms (B&H Fiction), a title many of us are seeing considerable action on right now.

Postscript: For a good article on book trailers in general, check out Michael Hyatt’s recent blog post.

The Lack-of-Information Age

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about wanting to leave a legacy of promoting  reading as opposed to just promoting my own retail venture.  Blogger Zach Nielsen at Take Your Vitamin Z had a link last week to this post by blogger Seth Godin

Many people in the United States purchase one or fewer books every year.

Many of those people have seen every single episode of American Idol. There is clearly a correlation here.

Access to knowledge, for the first time in history, is largely unimpeded for the middle class. Without effort or expense, it’s possible to become informed if you choose. For less than your cable TV bill, you can buy and read an important book every week. Share the buying with six friends and it costs far less than coffee.

Or you can watch TV.

The thing is, watching TV has its benefits. It excuses you from the responsibility of having an informed opinion about things that matter. It gives you shallow opinions or false ‘facts’ that you can easily parrot to others that watch what you watch. It rarely unsettles our carefully self-induced calm and isolation from the world.

I got a note from someone the other day, in which she made it clear that she doesn’t read non-fiction books or blogs related to her industry. And she seemed proud of this.

I was roped into an argument with someone who was sure that ear candling was a useful treatment. Had he read any medical articles on the topic? No. But he knew. Or said he did.

You see a lot of ostensibly smart people in airports, and it always surprises me how few of them use this downtime to actually become more informed. It’s clearly a deliberate act–in our infoculture, it takes work not to expose yourself to interesting ideas, facts, news and points of view. Hal Varian at Google reports that the average person online spends seventy seconds a day reading online news. Ouch.

Not all books are correct or useful. Not all accepted science is correct. The conventional wisdom might just be wrong. But ignoring all of it because the truth is now fashionably situational and in the eye of the beholder is a lame alternative.

I know this rant is nothing new. In fact, people have been complaining about widespread willful ignorance since Brutus or Caesar or whoever invented the salad… the difference now is this: more people than ever are creators. More people than ever go to work to use their minds, not just their hands. And more people than ever have a platform to share their point of view. I think that raises the bar for our understanding of how the world works.

Let’s assert for the moment that you get paid to create, manipulate or spread ideas. That you don’t get paid to lift bricks or hammer steel. If you’re in the idea business, what’s going to improve your career, get you a better job, more respect or a happier day? Forgive me for suggesting (to those not curious enough to read this blog and others) that it might be reading blogs, books or even watching TED talks.

As for the deliberately uninformed, we can ignore them or we can reach out to them and hopefully start a pattern of people thinking for themselves…

…Zach then followed up a few days later with this video embed of well-known Baptist minister Al Mohler on his love of reading…

Random Notes for Monday

  • Sixty days to Christmas; count ‘em.  Only about 52 selling days if you’re closed on Sundays, and most of us are.
  • Had a few conversations off the blog this week with both consumers and fellow-retailers who are frustrated trying to look up product on supplier websites and having to sidestep the mountain of e-books out there.  You see the title and you see the product image, but is this the hardcover or the paperback or the study guide or the large-print edition or the audio book or the e-book?   (At least the audio book is a different aspect ratio, but some sites force everything to conform.)
  • Anybody with an axe to grind about Bible translation will be online at Bible Gateway next Monday looking up the verses in the new NIV which support their pet doctrine.    Since perfection isn’t possible in this life — especially where translation issues are concerned — I expect the fur to be flying on blogs by about Tuesday.   The good news:  Pastors will be able to quote from the translation by the following Sunday sermon; even though the Bibles themselves won’t hit the stores until March.
  • New York City pastor Timothy Keller is back with Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, a hardcover from Dutton, a publisher that may not be on your radar.   Make sure you’re stocked on this one for next Tuesday’s street date.
  • For my Canadian readers, you’d think this one would be a no-brainer, but in fact, the Canadian Bible Society has been out-of-stock on French-English bilingual Bibles for quite some time now.   Finally, the shipment has arrived combining Francais Courant with the Good News Bible.   New Testaments, too.
  • Here’s an idea I’ve been kicking around with a couple of people at very different departments at Thomas Nelson, but it applies to all publishers’ products.   Got damaged books that are being written off without a return requirement?   If you’re not going to read them yourself; as long as they’re somewhat presentable, pass them on to someone who does reviews either online or for a church newsletter.
  • I’m told there are a couple of counties in England where for awhile, Anglican vicar G. P. Taylor’s Shadowmancer trilogy outsold J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter titles.   Now the author has released YHWH: The Flood, The Fish, and The Giant, a retelling of 20 Old-Testament stories.   305 page paperback from Authentic Media.   Definitely be dropping review copy hints on that one.

A New Kind of Battle for the Bible

Since it’s been a ‘lighter’ weekend here at Christian Book Shop Talk, I thought I’d include this longer piece from a blogger who I discovered over the weekend, Daniel Jepsen.   This piece repeats things I know you’ve heard before, but it’s helpful to see this through the lens of people who don’t work in the Christian book trade…

Coming of age in a fundamentalist church in the 70’s left one feeling a little like a Titanic passenger who’s made it onto the life boat: Yes, it’s kind of cold and cramped in here, and no, we don’t know here we’re going, but at least it’s not down. Not smug, just relieved, we looked forward to being air-lifted by the rapture.  In the meantime, all sorts of fun could be had in the lifeboat if you knew the games.

The favorite (besides skirmishes with other life boats) was to discern (not judge) the fruits (not the lifestyles) of our fellow passengers.  Standard criteria included the biggies, such as hair length (for men) hem length (for women) and whether they had to look up Amazing Grace and Just as I Am or knew all the verses from heart.  My favorite criterion was simpler:  What kind of Bible did they carry?  Not the translation, mind you.  You would no more bring in a Bible written after 1611 into our church than you would carry a copy of The Satanic Verses into a mosque.   No, we looked at the type of King James Bible.  If the person clutched a pew bible or plain, standard issue KJV, you could be sure they were a newbie or a slacker.  If they lugged a Thompson Chain-reference, you labeled them studious and serious.  A Schofield indicated true piety, because the Pastor used it.  For most all of us, these were the only real choices. Of course you also had a huge choice of binding (“leather of bonded leather, sir?”) and of colors (“And will that be black, burgundy, or dark blue?”)

My, the times have changed.  The new convert checking out the bible section of your average Christian bookstore or website today finds herself like Imelda Marcos with a $100 bill at a shoe convention.  They all look good, but which do you take home?

These are actual Bibles for sale at Christianbook.com, and I will let the reader decide if we are really so religious in this country we need all these permutations, or if the marketers have gone a little crazy on us (and no, I am not making these up):

  • The Veggie Tales Bible
  • The Faithgirlz Bible
  • The Soldier’s Bible
  • The Grandmother’s Bible
  • The Duct Tape Bible
  • The Busy Life Bible (“Inspiration even if you have only a minute a day”)
  • The Journaling Bible
  • The Chunky Bible
  • The God Girl Bible (only in “snow white”)
  • The Wisdom and Grace Bible for Young Women of Color
  • The Waterproof Bible
  • The Pray for a Cure Bible (in pink)
  • The Divine Health Bible
  • The Wild About Horses Bible
  • The Fire Bible

I will stop here.  I haven’t even gotten to the study bibles.  Or the teen Bibles.  Or the Brides/wedding bibles (14 listed including a “Groom’s Bible” with a striped tuxedo cover).  In all, the website listed 4229 items under “Bibles”, though, of course, this is only because you can order your “Life in the Spirit Bible” or “Seek and Find Bible” in all kinds of bindings and colors.  Some of the bindings:

  • Hardcover
  • Padded Hardcover (why?)
  • Paper
  • Vinyl
  • Metal (why again?)
  • Leather
  • Premium Leather
  • Calfskin leather
  • European leather
  • Leatherette
  • Leatherlike
  • Leathersoft
  • Imitation leather
  • Bonded leather (this is to real leather what particle board is to real wood)
  • Premium Cromwell bonded leather (no idea)

And you want color?  We got color:

  • Raspberry
  • Melon
  • Razzleberry
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Caramel
  • Espresso
  • Toffee
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Glittery Grape Butterfly
  • Plum
  • Lavender (with flowers!)
  • Black Cherry
  • Distressed Umber (?)
  • Mocha/aqua

This, of course, is in addition to the usual suspects (black, red, brown, etc…).

Looking at the two lists, one is forced to conclude two things.  First, the people who make these really, really like leather.  Maybe they own cattle futures.  Second, they must have been pretty hungry.

Now, all this could be passed over with merely a snicker if not for two nagging questions.

First, does the proliferation of Bibles marketed to a certain demographic divide the body of Christ?  An incredible number of these bibles are targeted at women, kids, men, grandparents, African-Americans, Latinos, etc….  Shouldn’t the scriptures of the Cosmic God force me to think in cosmic terms, not just apply it to people in my life situation?  Don’t versions like these re-enforce the walls of division that should be torn down? Does Galatians 3:28 mean nothing here?

Second, does the proliferation of what I call “gimmick bibles” cheapen or trivialize the word of God?  Suppose a young couple gets married, and receives 3 or 4 wedding Bibles including, of course, the Precious Moments Bride’s Bible. What do they do with these?  Don’t they just sit on the shelf or rot in some box?  Are these Bibles intended to be read and obeyed, or are they just a pretty, but meaningless, gift? Or suppose I give my brother in law, who loves hunting, The Holman Sportsman’s Bible. This treasure comes in a woodland camouflage cover (no, I’m not kidding), and non-reflective page edges that, we are told, “won’t scare away game”.  The ad description promises, “in addition to the full text of the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation, The Sportsman’s Bible contains numerous devotions written for hunters and fishermen…”  Also included are special sections on, “Setting up a Ground Blind” “Tree Stand Safety”, etc…Will a gift like this not encourage my brother in law to think of the Bible as some sort of personal self-help book?  Aren’t we already losing that war without the Christian publishers giving the other side ammo?

When Jesus comes back, I wonder if instead of turning over tables He doesn’t torch a few printing presses instead.

~Daniel Jepsen; source blog link

What Books Do for a Child’s Imagination That Computer Games Cannot

October 23, 2010 1 comment

from Bil Keane’s popular cartoon, The Family Circus

 

Friday Frivolity

Most of you don’t have a blog of your own, and don’t realize the hidden responsibility of moderating comments.   This one was left here about 48 hours ago.   I’m not sure how someone could confuse Christian Book Shop Talk with the daily Christian television show, 100 Huntley Street.

Hello to all!
I love your program..

I wish that the Episode of 2009 would be deleted off the internet ....
........ I think it is enough already! 

My question:  A short time ago I mailed a cheque in - this was for a
 "Hut" to be built for a family of 4 in Africa .......... I was happy
 to repond to this request .... Is it possible to get a picture of
the "Hut".  It would be a reminder to me that in my own small way
I made a difference.  

p.s. I did get a call from 100 Huntley Street thanking me which
I appreciated.

Blessings to you all
Sylvia

I suppose if she wants a picture of a hut, we could always send this:


Categories: Uncategorized

The $5 Christian Book Sale

In what is described on its website as a “limited opportunity,” two new discount Christian book stores have opened up in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota which promise that every book in the store is $5.00, with Bibles and reference books at 30% off.  The store is also selling bestsellers at 30% off.  Both are in mall locations and open mall hours which includes weeknights until 9 PM and Sunday openings.

The stores are a venture of Outlaw Sales Group, a business incubator with a focus on publishing products also located in Minnesota.

A frequently asked questions page on the bookstore site indicates both stores will close on December 31st.

Sounds like some well-meaning person is simply siphoning sales away from the local Christian bookstores there at the most critical time of the year.   When January rolls around, this flash-in-the-pan bookstore will disappear into history.  Better to pay full price for a service that will be there when people need it.

This Isn’t a Career Choice or Calling for Many Frontliners

…and other observations from today’s diary…

# # #

Sorry for not posting anything earlier, but today another employee announced her resignation.   Actually, our newest employee.   The one whom we invested much time and energy in training.  And passed on some other good people in order to hire.

She didn’t give the real reason.   She gave a reason, but the general consensus around here is that she’s not telling it straight.   She says it was nothing any staff member or customer said or did.

Her last regular day will be October 29th she says.   Not even two weeks no weeks’ notice.  Isn’t that required as one of the few obligations played on an employee in a employment agreement?   Not that I would ever give her a reference.   I asked her to extend it by one week when a former staffer will be relocating back to the area, but she said no, her mind is made up.

She mumbled something about me being disappointed.   I told her that disappointed is not the word.

…I believe she would have made a good longtime employee, and I defend our screening and hiring process.   But these filters and processes are not 100% guaranteed, and in light of what happened today, she may be sparing us from something worse.

# # #

One of the things about being the boss is you’re not supposed to make the mistakes you’re always telling everyone else not to make.   But it appears that on Tuesday night — a shift I was working alone — I didn’t check that the settlement of our electronic sales happened properly.    Today’s clerk was way over her total, and in checking the Debit/VISA/MC settlement, it appears that it “failed” due to a “comm error.”

No loud noises.   No bright red indication on the tape.   Nothing particularly noticeable on the screen.

Now we have something else to check every night, just to make the shutdown procedure one step more complicated.

# # #

Apparently one of the Celebration Greetings cards distributed in Canada contains a panorama of the American flag and best wishes to troops serving their country.    I realize that I may not have studied the catalog closely in selecting this title, but honestly, I shouldn’t have to.

Don Fowler Distributors, the Canadian distributor for Celebration aka Prayerworks aka the Christian branch of Leanin’ Tree should never have imported this title into Canada.   It really shouldn’t even be on their order form.

Mind you, I probably won’t be buying from them anytime soon.  Customers are starting to notice that the math on the $2.50 U.S. /$3.75 CAN means they’re paying 50% more at a time the Canadian dollar is flirting with parity.  In 2008, the Alberta-based company made concessions, but this time around they flatly refuse.

We’ve decided this is our last restocking order for that rack, which will be converted in January to a line of budget cards.

Thomas Nelson Named as Crystal Cathedral Creditor

“…and if you’ll write to me this week and enclose your best ministry gift, I’ll send you a copy of my latest book absolutely free!”

While most booksellers know the frontlist book market, and most know a little bit about the remainder market, most Christian bookstore owners and managers are relatively ignorant of the premium market.

Simply put, the premium market is the place where books are bought and sold to ministry organizations that need a premium, or an offer, which is usually given away to donors.   Because of the publicity that the print or broadcast offer brings to the product, the books are usually sold to ministry organizations at something close to manufacturing cost, and are usually sold sans royalties.   Prices ranging between $1 and $2 are not uncommon, depending on the publisher.

That’s the only explanation I can think of for how it is that yesterday’s list of the Crystal Cathedral’s creditors — published now that the church has entered into Chapter 11 protection — would include $200,219 (USD) owing to Thomas Nelson.     Yes, there may be a few author purchases of more current titles not covered under the premium market arrangement, and yes, the church does operate a bookstore; but I’ll bet the rent there are some premiums included in there as well, and at the prices suggested, that can represent a lot of books.

For a list of other creditors, click here for the list as published at the Orange County Register.     For more details, click for this story at Thinking Out Loud publishing concurrent with this blog post.

Major Criteria in Choosing A Supplier

October 18, 2010 2 comments

I think we should all reconsider our priorities when deciding where to do our wholesale shopping.  Normally, we ask questions like:

  • What is the breadth of products available?
  • What are the terms?
  • What are the shipping arrangements?
  • What is the turnaround time?
  • What about returns?

But I think we’re all missing an important one:

  • Do they have good people?

In other words, are their staff intelligent, insightful people?  Are they compassionate and understanding?

Often times the answer is “no,”  although it often takes many months to find this out.   Many of our suppliers simply did not do well in the hiring process.  Many others don’t offer ongoing training.

…I believe in our industry we’re dealing with a number of “bests”

  • We have the greatest products by the finest authors and artists
  • We have great staff at the retail level in many of our stores
  • Our customers — a lot of them good ‘church people’ — represent the nicest people in our communities

No, the weak link(s) in our industry is (and has always been) in the supply chain.

Suppliers and Distributors:  Don’t rush to fill that vacancy.   By waiting an extra week you might find yourself the ideal candidate who isn’t even on your radar right now.   Don’t settle for anything but the best.

Christian Bookstores Minister to the Whole Community

Last night I attended a fundraising dinner for our local Youth for Christ chapter.   After the event, I got into a conversation with a woman who is friends with another Christian retailer, and I noted that her friend’s large store, major market experience is not dissimilar to our own experience in two smaller markets.

Connecting the dots between what I do doing the week, and the event we were attending, I suggested, “They don’t have fundraising banquets for Christian bookstores;”  adding that our stores — mine and her friend’s — are ministries that affect the entire community, but the financial responsibility for keeping it going falls squarely on the shoulders of, in our case, one single family.

I could say it isn’t fair, and perhaps in the larger scheme of someone’s idea of justice it isn’t; but it’s also business and I knew the parameters going in.

I do have to say that I was a bit jealous of YFC.   Here was a large group of people rallying around a particular ministry venture to offer encouragement, prayer and financial support.    I’d like to see any of those things right now.  Sometimes, our unique calling is completely misunderstood, and you just want someone to, at the very least,  listen.

The culprit in this case is the paradigm.   Most of us follow a retail business model — there are also a few non-profits among us — but in our case, by not accepting a salary, my wife and I don’t fit the usual definitions of what a normal retail business looks like.

# # #

I also had to laugh this week at a comment one of my staff members received from a customer who said she wouldn’t be back because the store is too cluttered.  (Which is very true right now.)   It struck me as somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if people like here would buy things, we would reduce our inventory and it would be less cluttered.

I do take the remark seriously, and we’re very sensitive to our current overstocked position; but it seems to me that if a customer is going to boycott the store, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Personal Finances and Charitable Giving

October 14, 2010 5 comments

Several years ago, an acquaintance told me that the reason I hadn’t taken a holiday in many years was because, after spending all my waking hours organizing the affairs of my business, I had nothing left with which to organize a vacation.    He said that this is true among many self-employed people who make decisions all day about work, but can’t do the same at home.

I took it as a personal challenge and we enjoyed a pleasant time away that summer.

Another area that often gets neglected is in personal giving.   In a way, we’re giving all the time through our support of church events and through church and pastoral discounts.  It’s easy to assume we’ve done our bit, though our annual income tax return may not reflect that to the same extent.

I am assuming here that most people reading this attend and are involved in a local church, and that systematic giving is already happening there.   You may even be relieved of the that concern through pre-authorized checks or pre-authorized credit card donations.   But what about the “offerings” beyond the “tithe?”

I wrote about this a couple of years ago and suggested many different options.   If you know the feeling of pulling together all your receipts for the April tax deadline, only to find you don’t have very many, you should read that post again.

While most of us have an awareness of the financial needs of various churches and organizations in our cities or towns that would rival anyone else’s awareness; I want to focus on one this time that I think should be close to the heart of any Christian bookstore owner:  Bible translation.

Maybe you see the work of the International Bible Society or the American Bible Society (or Canadian Bible Society) as “competition” when they send out direct mailing pieces to your local churches; but I think we should remember that there should be no true competition in Christian ministry.

Let me offer another possibility:  Wycliffe Bible Translators.   I think this is an organization that any bookseller should support in principle and in prayer, if not financially.   The Bible section is the core of our stores, and while we enjoy a glut of translations, formats and editions; in other parts of the world over 2,000 language groups still wait for a complete New Testament.

In many ways, the dearth of available scripture portions in those parts of the world is the complete antithesis of the stock in our stores.   Supporting organizations like Wycliffe helps us do something to balance the scales.

Furthermore, we have the historical record where Bible translation has been the forerunner in bringing general literacy to a tribe or nation, with all the benefits that involves.    It’s a win-win situation for which people who sell books — of any type — should have the highest appreciation.

Click the Wycliffe image for more information about this mission.   For Wycliffe Canada, click here.

Lifeway Continues to Walk Tightrope Between Principle and Profit

October 13, 2010 1 comment

Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Only in the case of Lifeway Christian Resources, it goes:  Love the profit to be made from the sale of each book, hate the theology.

This time around, Christian musician Shaun Groves has brought the issue of Lifeway’s “warning” notices back to the surface.    In a must-read piece, he begins with the story of trying to purchase Donald Miller’s latest at Lifeway, seeing the consumer advisory notice, and electing instead to purchase the book across the road at Barnes and Noble.

LifeWay warns Miller’s readers to exercise discernment because it believes his books to be inconsistent with historical evangelical theology in some way, yet instead of refusing to sell them, LifeWay chooses to profit from what it alleges to be heresy(ish). That seems a bit like Nancy Regan going into the crack business. “Just say ‘No.’ First one’s free.”

But more odd is how LifeWay is defining “historically evangelical theology.” Actually, I’m not sure how they’re defining it.

What definition both condemns Donald Miller as a heretic but approves the writings of Joyce Meyer and John Hagee?

Yes!   Finally!   Someone is saying what needs to be said here.   Groves goes on to ask,

Is “historical” Christianity the stuff that happened after Constantine…or after Calvin…or is it after D.L Moody?

And what historical evangelical theology is communicated by paintings of cottages printed on mousepads, and t-shirts that print scripture pulled from context across an American flag, or keychains or romance novels minus the sex?

Again, you’re encouraged to read both the boldness of Groves’ analysis and also the humility of his conclusions, by clicking here.

Where does this leave the rest of us?

My take on this is that ultimately, we in retail either trust our publishers or we don’t.   If the name Baker, or Nelson, or Zondervan, or Harvest House appears on the spine and the title page, you need to trust that both their acquisitions department and their editorial staff believe the product is worthy of their endorsement.

But if you can’t trust those publishers, then don’t carry any of the products.   That’s right.   Don’t carry any of them.   Not one.   In fact, better to just limit yourselves to just the products in your own publishing family:  Broadman, Holman, Lifeway… and nothing else.

Though I’m not sure about the last one.    As a conservative Evangelical, the prospect of Beth Moore teaching the Bible — i.e. to a mixed audience — may be a bit un-Biblical.   Maybe they could start by reconsidering their own products.

Or consider the other possibility.

The publishers themselves tell Lifeway, “Hey, you don’t trust us, fine your account is closed.”   Yes, I know what you’re thinking, that would never happen for a dozen reasons, but mostly because it’s way too radical. To which I respond: Is it any more radical than sticking disclaimers all over your product?

Related post 8.23.08 at Thinking Out Loud

CT Notes Yancey Title Pre-Release Outside the U.S.

In an article more likely to be found in Publishers Weekly or Christian Retailing, Christianity Today published an online piece about the decision to launch Philip Yancey’s What Good is God? outside of the United States.

FaithWords is poised to release Philip Yancey’s What Good is God? on October 19, bolstering the launch with an array of national advertising, online promotion, and social media interviews.

However, the U.S. publicity push lags behind Yancey’s first related appearance—a book signing at Livraria Cultura in downtown São Paulo on September 6, the day the title released in Brazil. Ten days later, Hodder & Stoughton released the book in the United Kingdom.

continue reading here

For my own review of the book itself, click here.

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