Given that’s Sunday, I wasn’t going to post anything here today, but on my general blog, I decided to take the subject we looked at yesterday and expand it into a general survey of things I want to discuss there in a future article. If you want to weigh on this I’ve closed comments here, but there’s a link in the closing paragraph here that will get you there if you wish to say something, either as a regular reader or in your capacity as a Christian bookstore manager, owner or employee.
…I need to ask for your help with something I’m working on for a future article; and this possibly applies more to those of you who have been a Christian for a longer period of your life, or even grew up in the church.
I want you think about a Bible in physical (print) form that you once owned, or that you own now, and ask if you have any reservations or feelings about one or all of the following questions. (i.e. pick one and focus on it, or attempt to answer a few…)
- Is it okay to leave a copy of the Bible lying on the floor? (Either flat or upright.)
- Is it okay to have your Bible in a stack of other books with other books piled on top of it?
- Is it okay for stores to sell Bibles in damaged condition? (Especially if pages are slightly torn?)
- If a Bible becomes damaged, what is the proper method of disposing of a Bible? (Regular garbage / recycling / never dispose of … Consider the possibility of water damage if your home is flooded, for example.)
- Parents: Do you lean toward letting your kids use their Bible at whatever cost to its physical condition, or do you encourage greater reverence for the physical copy? (Keeping it in a special place, etc.)
- Finally (here’s a tricky one) what about underlining, circling, highlighting or the current fad of coloring in Bibles; is that appropriate? *
I don’t get a lot of feedback here despite the number of readers, but I really need your help on this one. Please use the comments, not the contact page, so everyone can see your response. And feel free to share the short-link for this article http://wp.me/pfdhA-8HS on social media. (Tell your friends it’s an open-ended survey about the care and feeding of Bibles.)
* The coloring Bible samples were already in my picture file; please don’t focus entirely on that particular question.
Please note that this article contains several keywords which may result in WordPress adding advertising below which does not originate with Thinking Out Loud or Christianity 201.
As a store which sells a high percentage of outlet-priced merchandise, I’m all for hurt books if it saves the customer money, though we try to focus on recent remainders and publisher overstock which is in good condition.
To me, Bibles are another matter altogether. I don’t mind some scuffed covers or dinged corners, but when it comes to the actual text, I don’t think there should be any issues. I recently ended my relationship with Book Depot entirely over the condition of two children’s NIrV Bibles we received. I wrote about that on November 21st, and we haven’t made a purchase since, which is most unusual for our store. The picture below shows one which was used (see the underlining) and one page which was quite torn (which I’ve highlighted by placing something dark underneath.)
Recently we did a sale of some slightly damaged NLT Bible inventory from FDI. You do get some interesting things in there. The LifeWay security tags are a good example.
There was one Bible (that we’ve found so far) which totally crossed the line. One page wasn’t properly trimmed. That’s fine, we often do this ourselves and make a note on the price tag so the customer knows going in what they’re getting. But this time one page was ripped into the text. This is God’s word we’re selling, isn’t it? I think at some point the retailer needs to be able to say, “I know I agreed to buy ‘slightly damaged’ but this isn’t what I was expecting.”
Furthermore, what do I do in that case? Do I tape the page with invisible tape? Or let the customer work it out to their satisfaction. Do I try to take a profit on that item? Or just sell it for cost? Or do I just offer it to a staff member to take home for free?
So back to the question, should stores sell damaged Bibles? I remember when I worked for the Canadian Bible Society, they had very rigid policies on what they would allow to go out the door. I think the other suppliers should take a cue from what they do. Even remainder marks on Bibles bother me in ways they don’t on other print literature. So what do you think?
If you also bought the FDI deal and did a rather hasty check-in, you might want to get a sales associate to go through the boxes and sleeves more carefully and find issues before your customers find them.
It’s very easy to fall into the mindset in which the metric of a successful customer interaction is what happens at the cash register. While ministry can only take place when the business is viable, I believe God will bless the balance sheet where He sees a true love for customers taking place.
This morning I woke up thinking about this old hymn. If it’s familiar to you, take some time to refresh the lyrics; if it’s new to you check it out.
Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
making the sorrowing glad.
Make me a blessing,
Make me a blessing,
Out of my life
May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.
Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His power to forgive;
Others will trust Him if only you prove
true every moment you live.
Make me a blessing…
Give as was given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.
Make me a blessing…
This was sent off the blog to my personal email and I asked if we could share it here; permission which was granted provided the writer remained anonymous. I haven’t taken the time to edit it; I’ll just copy it exactly as it appeared.
To be honest, today’s Christian books rarely attract my attention. Yes, that probably IS because I am older. BUT, so many of today’s Christian books, in my experience and conversations, seem to be targeted at and read more by Pastors, church group/cell leaders, deacons and elders, and Bible College/seminary students, or they are categorized for women, men, marriage, families, etc. True, the topics are ones I have been reading for decades (just updated!) and not to say I don’t have anything else to learn, but my walk with the Lord is deeper now, and I gained much from them in the past. Now I spend more time reading books by the ‘old saints’ – Tozer (do you know how many he has written?!!,) Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Henri Nouwen, Amy Carmichael etc, plus Richard Wurmbrand (he has written a huge number, also). And missionary saints’ stories of the past, who actually were sacrificial, evangelistic, plowed the fallow ground and made converts. Maybe I am old fashioned, but these books have changed and challenged my life and walk with the Lord, and continue to. Many of those younger than me probably wouldn’t even recognize some of those names.
Yesterday I shared with you the article at Thinking Out Loud that dealt with the general challenges facing bookstores with respect to language and literacy. Today I want to explore a few situations with which readers here are more familiar which appears there as a Part Two to the other piece.
Times are a lot tougher than in the past. Millennials struggle to find jobs and wealth creation is not as it was in the days of double-digit interest rates. The R-word — recession — is occasionally mentioned; some say we’re moving into it, some say we’re in it, some say we’re in recovery. Christian bookstores could have reason to claim immunity for the following reasons:
- In full out economic depression, people turn to religion.
- Also in depression, people turn to entertainment. While the book industry doesn’t have the same profile as movies, music and television, it is most definitely a subset of the entertainment industry.
So why have so many Christian bookstores closed? As with yesterday’s article, I haven’t taken the time to cite studies and statistics, but trust me on some things I can offer anecdotally.
First, we mentioned the various time pressures, distractions, and diminishing attention spans. I would argue that this has led to decline in the traditional devotional reading time. Bill Hybels has tried to give this new life by christening it with a new name, Chair Time. I wrote about that in February, 2016. Curling up with a good book and building a personal library are becoming rare activities. The only way to ensure people have contact with books at all is sometimes to have small groups or home groups which are essentially book study groups. That doesn’t always happen however. Many house groups use church-provided outlines or small study guides related to DVD curriculum they are watching. I do like the traditional book groups, especially in the sense in which they provide accountability (to cover the chapters for the next meeting.)
Second, I think the problem is self-perpetuating. Focus on the Family did some studies a decade ago on the spiritual influence the Dad has in the home, citing things like church attendance over time. I would contend that a generation is arising that has never seen their fathers sitting in a chair reading and when I say reading here, I would settle for the Sears catalog or Sports Illustrated. Many homes no longer receive a newspaper; and I understand that, you can read it online. But online reading is very personal. I could be doing anything online now: Checking the weather, balancing my bank account, posting a social media status update, watching YouTube videos, playing an online game, reading a serious article, or writing for my blog. But when someone sits in a chair reading, they are very obviously reading. Kids need to see this modeled for them as a life component every bit as normal as brushing your teeth.
Third, I believe that leadership is not setting the pace. In the retail store where I hang out, we see Sunday School teachers, we see worship team members, we see small group leaders. What we don’t see is elders, deacons, board members. Sometimes I will visit other churches and I see the names of these people printed in the church bulletin and I don’t recognize any of those names. We even had an instance of a pastor who we were told on good authority did not use his book allowance in ten years. (The man was incredibly arrogant and probably felt he knew all there was to know.) There are a few exceptions to this, but many people are chosen to serve their church in this capacity because they are business owners or executives who are successfully managing the company they work for and are considered wise enough to run the affairs of the church. Maybe they’re too busy to work on their own spiritual formation. That wasn’t the case with Stephen however. When The Twelve needed to create another tier of leadership to do the everyday running of things, they chose, “a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.” (The solution to this is pastors who buy the books in bulk they want their elders to study and then give them out as required reading.)
Fourth, the stores need traffic generators; they require a constant hit bestseller to pay the bills. The Left Behind series accomplished this. The Shack brought people to the stores to both discuss and purchase the book. The Purpose Driven Life did the same. (I know there are people here who aren’t fans of these three examples, but they make the store sustainable for people looking for a classic Spurgeon commentary, or something by Tim Keller, or an apologetics resource.) Even on the non-book side of things the Gaither Gospel Series DVDs provided that traffic. These days, whenever something takes off in the Christian marketplace, Costco and Barnes and Noble are quick to jump into the game. Conversely, it doesn’t help when major Christian authors experience moral failure. The publishers occasionally offer products exclusively to the Christian market, but they only do this for specific chains (Mardel, Parable, Family Christian, etc.) not the independent stores who so desperately need this type of support. You have to be inside the stores to see other products you might wish to read or give away.
Finally, we’re not presently seeing a spiritual hunger. People are not desperate for God in North America and Western Europe right now. We hear reports from Africa or South America, though it’s hard to really quantify what is happening when there are often fringe movements or revivals based on extreme Charismatic doctrine or a mixture of Biblical Christianity and local animistic beliefs. In my early 20s, I remember hearing a Christian speaker say (quite tongue in cheek) “We don’t need the Holy Spirit, we have technology.” There is a sense in which this is true. It does remind me of the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but you can put salt in his oats to make him thirsty.” We have to find ways to instill that hunger for reading in our local congregations. Pastor recommendations of books from the pulpit are the most significant factor driving customers to make purchases or place orders. Another way the technology can be made to work is by providing chapter excerpts for people to sample; but publishers are very reluctant to do this, for reasons which escape me.
In conclusion, all the factors mentioned in the previous article are impacting bookstores in general, these factors listed here are some things that concern me about the Christian market in particular.
Your observations are welcomed either in the comments or directly by email.
Your comments both on and off the blog as to how your stores did in December got me thinking. I presented a summary of this on my regular blog on Sunday and used it as a springboard to a column which ran today on the erosion of the English language in general. It follows below, and the second half of it, which deals with issues unique to the Christian market will appear tomorrow.
There are some widely circulating statistics suggesting that in North America, western Europe and perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well, for the first time ever we’re seeing a generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents and grandparents faced; in other words, after better nutrition and medical knowledge have allowed us to live longer for years, suddenly it appears the numbers have peaked for both males and females.
On top of that, we’re also seeing a major decline in economic expectancy. Millennials are struggling to find jobs and the prospect of amassing enough wealth to secure their retirement years has somewhat vanished.
I would argue that parallel to all this we’re also seeing a major decline in literacy, or at least literacy as we have previously understood it or measured it.
There are a number of reasons for this, but all related to the personal computer revolution of the past 20 years. This isn’t a technical revolution, because the technology has been around much longer, and it’s not really a computer revolution for the same reason. Rather it’s the effect of personal computers being a part of every home, or even every individual. In the Fall of 2009, Finland became the first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right and by the summer of 2010, every person was to have access to a 1Mb connection.
I’ve written elsewhere about how computers and the internet have accelerated social change and how we’ve basically lived 4 decades worth of shifting paradigms in just 20 years. Today however we want to focus simply on language.
The simple answer to the question, “Why aren’t people reading books like they once did?” is easy.
- We don’t have the time. We’re spending all our free time with our devices, or more specifically, screens.
- The small screen in our pocket associated with our mobile phone
- The medium screen be it a desktop, laptop or tablet
- The giant screen in the living room be it Plasma, LED or LCD
- We don’t have the money. We’re using up all our discretionary spending money on the same screens.
- monthly phone bill and data plan overages
- cable or satellite television
- home internet connection
- streaming services
- software bundles
- accessories, extended warranties, virus protection, etc.
That is all fairly obvious.
We’re also seeing some other things at play at the same time.
- Spell-check – You don’t really need to know how to spell a word anymore since the computer corrects it for you. Grammar-check is also slowly improving.
- Texting – This is the reduction of the English language in the extreme.
- Emojis – This is the reduction of written communication in the extreme.
- Acronyms and Initialisms – I hope you’re taking this article seriously and not ROFL or LOL.
But there are also other factors beyond what’s happening online:
- The end of cursive writing – They don’t teach cursive script in many (if not most) schools now. I would argue there’s something different about what we write when confined to individually printed letters. But this is a moot point when you think about…
- The end of handwriting, period – If you’re of a certain age and are right-handed, and you look toward the end of your middle finger, there’s probably a callus there from many years of penmanship. Today, most kids spend far more hours keyboarding than handwriting.
- The increasing emphasis on numeracy over literacy – Your ability to process numeric data is increasingly more vital than your way with words.
- The diminished need to learn – It’s no longer necessary to know anything as long as you have mastered search and can locate the information needed. Unfortunately however there is a less sense as to the expected answer one is looking for, or a healthy skepticism as to whether or not the source is trustworthy or accurate.
The technology has also inflicted more damage to traditional reading:
- Shortened attention spans – I don’t understand the psychological ramifications and I’m sure much ink has been given to this in professional journals and forums, but simply put, there’s something about the technology that has made us restless resulting in the often-seen response, “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read).
- Increased distractions – One person well when they said something along these lines, ‘The problem with the internet is there are too many off-ramps.’
- Dependency on rich text – I am referring here to our inability to follow a sustained argument through a lengthy paragraph. Rather we have become dependent on the use of italics, bold face, subheadings, bullet points, pull-quotes, and even (horrors!) underlining, color and enlarged fonts. (Yes, guilty as charged here.)
Next, there is the particular challenge of eBooks:
- When they were first introduced, eBooks were offered at a substantial discount. The problem with this is that when you only spend 99-cents, or get the book for free, you don’t really have any investment in it. Many people would read a chapter or two, figure they got their money’s worth and never finish reading. This concerns me on several levels:
- It strikes me as cheapening reading, diminishing the value of the author’s worth.
- For some, it was all about the downloading experience; loading the device with titles for which the person had no intention of reading
- It grossly inflated eBook sales which signaled a death of print which never happened.
- The side effects of sore eyes and headaches caused by the devices turned some people away from reading.
- It made it more difficult, if not impossible to loan a book to a friend.
- When someone really loves a book, they will tell five friends, of which only one (at most) will be another eBook reader; the other four will try to get the book in print. But to love the book they have value it and finish reading it.
- The side effect of cheap eBooks and the introduction of the Amazon discounting paradigm created a perfect storm, wherein print books were more widely discounted, which cheapened the value of printed books and also resulted in a climate where people were not finishing reading what they had started.
Finally, as noted above the technology afforded the possibility of online sales which bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar store.
- The Amazon paradigm — the company itself and various copycats — created a situation whereby books were shipped directly to a customer’s door, thereby creating a situation where people were less likely to interact with physical books in a retail store environment. Choices are made from a store which really has no filters and where obscure publishers can buy placement in ways unknown before the Amazon revolution.
- Sometimes customers got burned. The book didn’t materialize as what was suggested in online.
- Other customers took to using the traditional bookstore as a showroom for the online seller. They would check it out in a local store, but purchase it cheaper from the online vendor. This was (and still is) a source of great frustration for bookstore owners, many of whom didn’t need another reason to throw in the towel.
…Well, that about covers it, right? Not quite. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the particular issues which face bookstores more familiar to some readers here, Christian bookstores; the topic we originally set out to answer.
Feel free to engage the comments section (here for other store owners to read, or at Thinking Out Loud to respond to the article in general) to suggest things I may have missed. These notes are from many years of doing this extemporaneously and I may have omitted some things. If the omission is serious, I may update the text at both blogs.
This notification, posted several weeks ago on the website of Koinonia Christian Books in downtown Victoria, BC was brought to our attention last night.
Unfortunately the notice doesn’t copy/paste, doesn’t re-frame, and doesn’t shrink with Ctl-. So we’ll hope you can click on this and read it full size, or read it at this link. If you’re a regular reader here who is considering this type of ministry opportunity and you have the mobility to move to the west coast, pray about this possibility and contact the owners for details.
Any advertising you see below this point did not originate with Christian Book Shop Talk.
…Djenane Najmanovich was working for the government when she heard a “holy voice” telling her that she was meant to act on her and her mother’s ambition to open a business. Her personal life was busy when she left her job, but in April 2016 she heard God’s voice urging her once more to get down to business.
“With confirmation and a lot of prayer He confirmed, ‘Go,’ so we [she and her mother, Jeannine Pierre-Charles] went for it,” explains Najmanovich. “I don’t have a background in marketing or business, so I wouldn’t know anything about business, but He made it happen.”
They began planning in April and opening day came on August 24, 2016.
Holy Voice Coffee-Bookstore and Gifts offers a selection of books in English and French, apparel, music, and gift items, such as cards and mugs. The café’s menu offers lunch items, pastries, coffees, teas, and Caribbean fruit punch. The food and beverages served at Holy Voice reflect Najmanovich’s Caribbean background.
Another service Holy Voice offers is counseling. Najmanovich’s educational background is in counseling, so she gives customers the opportunity to come to her for support…
The story doesn’t mention, but more information is available at the store’s website.
Allow me to say at the outset, this is entirely subjective. Your experience may be different, and if it is, feel free to respond in the comments section.
- Word Alive (especially considering the U.S. origin)
- Parasource (I hate abusing the rush service, but it really helps and they never ask questions)
- Foundation (some orders take several days to process, but if we really need it rushed, they come through)
- HarperCollins (a factor of geography more than anything)
Conversion on U.S. Dollar
- HarperCollins (as low as 1.25 on some items right now)
- Parasource (especially w/ respect to Baker/Bethany House)
- Word Alive
Everyday Discounts or Help With Special Orders
- HarperCollins (but we buy non-returnable)
- Parasource (always willing to work with us, even when the church is asking us for help but they’re order isn’t exactly huge)
- Word Alive (at least with respect to special Canadian pricing on selected items)
Invoicing and Statements
- Foundation (consolidation of orders on a single invoice just makes sense)
- Parasource (2nd, but see next category)
- HarperCollins (separate packing lists and statements are a bit of an environmental disaster; not to mention the postage mailing the invoices from Pennsylvania)
- Word Alive (impossible to figure out sometimes)
- Parasource (it urgently needs an upgrade on the search side, but it’s the best we have for this category; the online statements and invoices make it a clear #1)
- we don’t use this function from other suppliers if such exists
- HarperCollins (a bit of a no-brainer since the warehouse and the printer are one)
- Parasource (impressive considering the learning curve since the Augsburg acquisition)
- Word Alive (rated 3rd because the database is so limited; too many “extended catalog” items)
- Foundation (running just a tad too lean for our liking)
Condition of Merchandise; Accuracy of Picking
- Parasource, Foundation, Word Alive all tied (computers eliminate errors in the pick/check/pack/ship process)
- HarperCollins (you never know what you’ll find inside the box)
Special Discount Offers
- Foundation (telesales; at least one email per day, but they all get opened)
- Parasource (the current restock offer is an example of deals which are equitable for all accounts)
- HarperCollins (those quarterly extra 3% offers have low minimums and can be split among many orders)
- Word Alive (none offered)
Product Line Awareness
- HarperCollins (for stores like ours, they have 3 lines – HarperOne, Zondervan and Nelson – it’s always been the same; plus we always get a complete sales presentation for each cycle)
- Parasource (didn’t hear about Destiny Image, and the gift lines come and go, but overall we know their product range; really miss print catalogues, though)
- Foundation (a basic core list of publishers is represented but there’s also a rotating list of extras including overstock from Book Depot which often duplicates HarperCollins titles; new release order forms are often lacking author info)
- Word Alive (this rating could change as their new online “New Releases” section has been fixed and is now working properly)
Website/Social Media Marketing Support
- This category includes HTML support for Facebook and store home pages. Everything we receive we get from the Twitter feeds of the individual publishers; not from the Canadian distributors
- We sometimes link my personal blog in our customer newsletters, social media or even the website. The number one thing we’re looking for is book excerpts we can quote or link to. Very difficult to find however when it comes to review copies for the blog or sample copies for the store:
- Parasource and Harper Collins tied for # 1. (Both companies always willing to provide review copies for the blog if requested; and those manuscript editions are great collector’s items and make us feel special… In 17 years I’ve only ever received three things from Foundation, the book How to Smell Like God which I didn’t read, a used copy of The Gospel of John board game, and a defective copy of the ESV Study Bible which I received basically because I heard everybody was getting one and I shamelessly begged)
Doesn’t Market to Our Church Customers
- Word Alive (at least not to our knowledge; Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, maybe)
- HarperCollins (true they’re part of Your Church Zone and have that Church Source program but we’re not seeing much direct impact)
- Parasource (only rated 3rd here because I know this is a major issue for other stores where they’re concerned)
- Foundation (in the past they would refer VBS and curriculum inquiries to the nearest stores including ours, but they kinda invade our territory every summer when they do a 6-week book shop at the Pentecostal Camp that totally misses what that market requires.)
- For us, a total tie for #1 between Mark Hildebrand at HarperCollins and Norm Robertson at Parasource; each of whom I would happily call friends (and they’re listed that way only because it’s alphabetical!)
For some of us, a 2016 P&L statement is still several months off. We have to get through wrapping up the 4th quarter report; employees will need T4 forms and then the inventory has to be compiled manually. But the sales results are in.
We were up 2.4% overall, but that might have been higher if it weren’t for the fact December dropped. Furthermore, I had to make a quick bank run yesterday afternoon to basically borrow a small amount to cover a shortage on something that had to be settled that day. In retail, one shouldn’t be borrowing on January 9th. Then I calculated that if December had simply gone up by the 2.4% that the year did overall, the difference was exactly equal to the amount I was short; one of the final payments for 2016.
2.4 isn’t great. We have a friend who owns a toy store who reported many double-digit monthly increases this year. Her business is for sale and frankly, it looks more promising than ours, but she’s asking a lot for 28 years of goodwill in the community.
So friends, how was your year?
I’ve sold this Max Lucado devotional several times. The author has instant name recognition. Each of the 365 devotional readings has a scripture verse, a story and some practical application at the bottom. A little light for some perhaps, but exactly what others are looking for. I’ve especially sold it to men. The cover has more of a masculine feel, I guess; especially in a market where so much is geared for Becky, the stereotype female customer. I’ve had good feedback from people who bought it for their husband or someone in their teens, 20s or 30s.
However, each time I’ve sold one of these for an adult, I’ve had to hand-sell it. The reason: Thomas Nelson makes no allowance in its book categories for students or young adults, which is the target market. That category designation isn’t available I suppose. But for every copy I’ve sold, we’ve had other customers who passed. Or the two who were buying it for a student, but got me to put some type of sticker over the offending word, Juvenile.
This is true of other Thomas Nelson products, but I don’t remember this particular problem with other publishers. It’s counterproductive. Better no category. Or Devotional.
Have you had a similar experience with this or other products?