To The Customer Service Staff at HarperCollins Canada: Thanks and Best Wishes

Although no one appointed me spokesperson, on behalf of all the Canadian Christian bookstores you have helped with our Zondervan book and Bible product over the years, I just want to say a big Thanks for all the great customer service we have received. I’d like to list all your names, but I’m sure I would forget some, but each and every one of you has always been so willing to serve us.

I know when the phone rings at your station, you never know when it’s going to be one of those Christian stores, but you always showed respect to the Zondervan product line and to the staff of our various stores and even to the sometimes confusing Bible database. On the blog, I get to hear from dealers across Canada, and everyone’s dealings with the Customer Service team have been positive. (Well, except when you told us something was import-to-order, but that’s not your fault!)

For what it’s worth, yes, we really believe all the stuff in those books; well most of them, anyway. They may have just titles and ISBNs to you, but the products you sold us are powerful and they changed lives. The books you shipped us comforted hurting people, helped heal marriages, aided people in recovery, and helped children and teens gain some positive values. But the real power lies in their source, all those NIVs and other Bibles you supplied us with over the years. (If they offer you a last chance to purchase product, I hope you’ll pick up a basic NIV, a Quest Bible or even a copy of The Voice.)

More than anything, if over the next few years you find yourself in a bookstore and you happen to spot the Zondervan logo on a title or two, I hope you’ll think of those titles as old friends. You never know when you just might need to look into one at a deeper level.

Thanks again, and best wishes for the future. We’ll miss you guys.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Big Box Bookstores Lack Depth in Christian Section

I wrote this to appear today at Thinking Out Loud, never realizing how it would tie in with the closing at Faith Family Books, or that the couple in the story would have been locked out at Faith even if they had arrived earlier in the day…

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Saturday night around 6:30 PM we dropped into a Chapters store. The Chapters and Indigo stores are the Canadian equivalent to Barnes and Noble, and whether I’m in Canada or checking out B&N on holidays, I love to hang out in the Religion section and see what conversations I can initiate.

This time it was a couple whose son was being baptized the very next day in the church where I was baptized many years earlier. They were looking at a couple of Joel Osteen books and when I tried to steer them away from those, they didn’t actually need much convincing. They immediately commented on the somewhat random assortment listed under ‘Christianity.’

“Why is Deepak Chopra here?” they asked.

“You could always move them around the corner;” I offered. I like to keep my options in these stores open, so re-shelving books isn’t in my repertoire.

Anyway, instead of just scanning the shelves out of personal interest, I tried to see it from their perspective and said to myself, “Okay, if we were standing in a Christian bookstore right now, what would I suggest to them?”

And then I hit the wall.

First, so much of the inventory on these shelves was new releases. There wasn’t much in the way of recurrent, perennial Christian books. The strength of the Christian book market has largely rested in the strength of what is called its ‘back-list’ titles. By this I don’t mean the classic writers who are now deceased, but rather simply the best books of the last 25 years. Some earlier Yancey titles. Experiencing God by Blackaby. The Lucado series on the crucifixion and resurrection. Even more recent stuff like Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield and the first two Case for… books by Lee Strobel were missing. (Having the classic writings of Andrew Murray, A. W. Tozer, Spurgeon, etc. isn’t a bad idea, either. The Lumen Classics series would be a good fit at low price points.)

Second, there are so many books which simply did not belong in that section at all. I saw title after title that was completely foreign to me. To sort this out you need two things. One would be an awareness of the publisher imprints on each book and a knowledge of who’s who. The other would be a combination of discernment and plenty of time to study each book carefully. Obviously trusting the publisher imprints is faster, but if it’s a truly special occasion — say a Baptism gift — you do really want to take the time to get the best book.

Given their son’s age, I decided to go for younger authors. I’d just watched the live stream release party for Judah Smith’s newest, Life Is _____; and then they had Jefferson Bethke, the guy whose launch was tied to a YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion.” But then, a book that seemed almost out of context: Radical by David Platt. I told them a bit about the book, and Platt and the Secret Church movement, and even though I don’t usually align with Calvinists, I said I thought this was the best choice overall. I left before they made their final decision.

…We learned later in the week that the reason this family was in the store at all was because the nearby Christian bookstore had just closed permanently. A friend of a friend was supposed to do a book signing and release party that day and had arrived to find the doors padlocked. These (for lack of a better word) “secular” bookstores are all that many communities have now, but finding the book you need is a major challenge.

The publisher reps who visit these stores are no doubt aware of strong back-list titles that would work, but the bookstore chains’ buyers are under orders to buy only the newest titles. To get their foot in the door, publishers need to be constantly re-issuing the older titles in new formats, but it’s hard when their orientation is to what’s new and forthcoming.


The picture is a Barnes and Noble store; it was found online and believed to have been taken in March of 2013.


If a search engine brought you here because you are interested in the Faith closing, please click this link.

When You Simply Can’t Compete

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings DVDThe Canadian dealer cost price on Exodus: Gods and Kings is $28.26 at David C. Cook, and when you do the conversion at Send the Light (STL) it’s more or less the same. Meanwhile, Walmart Canada has it for $19.99, 29.3% less. You would do better to buy them there if you wanted to resell them. But the best thing would be to either (a) tell your customer to wait, the price will be coming down soon; or (b) refer your customer to Walmart hoping they appreciate the honesty and you doing them a favor.

Categories: Uncategorized

Toronto’s Largest Christian Retailer, Faith Family Books Closes

Faith Family Books and GiftsCustomers on Faith’s mailing list received this notification earlier today:

It is with great regret that the owners of Faith Family Books & Gifts must announce that we are closing our McCowan/Milner store.

We have been blessed to be able to serve you the Christian community in Toronto during very difficult and constantly changing economic conditions. After starting the business 6 years ago, we were immediately caught in the maelstrom of a significantly declining book industry with diminishing profits and sales due to the surge of internet and e-book purchases. We were able to endure 4 years of expected start-up losses but then at the end of 2013 we were hit with the unexpected ice storm and polar vortex storm that nearly crippled our business. This was followed immediately by very significant health assaults on all three owners throughout 2014. The stress of maintaining this business has taken a toll on our financial and physical health from which we have not recovered.

We looked for new owners to take over the business but none were found. So after much prayer and the realization that we are no longer able to sustain further losses, we the owners are forced to close down our operation starting immediately.

We are grateful to ALL OF YOU for your partnership over the last 6 years. We pray that God will rise up new owners who will start another Christian store to serve you our customers in the future. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you and we promise to keep you informed of further developments of our store closing.

Thank you from all of the staff, management and owners of Faith Family Books & Gifts.

It’s not known at this time what the plan is for the disposition of remaining assets at the store, which consist mostly of store fixtures. Reports are that vendors with product on consignment were able to get their merchandise before the doors closed.

Remaining stores within Toronto itself include Cornerstone on Finch W. at Yonge, Agape Christian Marketplace on Steeles east of Highway 400, Atwell Books at Catch the Fire (the former Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship), Crux Books on the U. of T. Campus for academic books and the Canadian Bible Society store on Lawrence west of Victoria Park (which carries mostly Bibles); plus at least three Roman Catholic stores: Broughton’s, Joseph’s Inspirational and Daughters of St. Paul;  and a couple of stores operated by the Evangelical Chinese community with product in both Chinese and English. 

We checked out Chapters in Scarborough on Saturday night, but the product mix there consisted mostly of new releases with little back-list. More on that in this column.


Were you a Faith customer? In addition to our regular readership of people who work in the trade, this column is also going to attract consumers in the GTA who are now hearing about Faith’s closing. In addition to the stores listed in the article, there are a number of stores outside the city limits which we didn’t mention, including stores in Newmarket, Barrie, Mississauga, Oakville, Bowmanville, and my own outlet store in Cobourg (about an hour east Toronto). Generally, it’s the larger cities where Christian stores are closing, this year alone including Langley BC, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and now East Toronto. But small town stores continue to serve customers in places like Cobourg, and also Perth, Haliburton and the large network of twelve stores in Western Ontario operating under The Gospel Lighthouse banner in a mix of large and small towns. These stores need your support.


Postscript: I know a number of consumers and churches in the GTA might feel at this point it’s time to simply give up, and surrender to A–zon. Before you do, be sure to read this information.

Family-Run Cottage-Industry Business Caught in Family Christian Drama

I’ve been subscribed to the comments on Steve Laube’s original articles about what’s happening at Family Christian, but felt that this particular one was worthy of being seen by a larger audience. In the long list of companies owed money from FCS, this story is far from unique. Many of these mom-and-pop type business were no doubt thrilled to play in the big leagues with a chain such as Family Christian Stores, but could not have imagined the risk.

I have been a vendor since 2013. I would like to give my perspective. I started my business 9 years because our oldest son, who was going through cancer treatment needed much care. I was a music teacher at the time, and started my handcrafted soap business in the hopes I could take care of our son and bring in some income to help my family. It has been a tough road, but I have worked hard to try to make a profit and build my business. I make all of my natural soaps and skin care in my home studio.

FCS came to me early 2013 wanting me to make product for their stores. This was very exciting. Even though they have extremely demanding terms, and wanted deep discounts, I took the risk to help my business and my family. I have made and packaged over 14,000 bars of soap since. I provided soaps for the fall and Christmas holidays 2013, 2014, and Spring/Summer order recently.

My husband and I hand delivered the most recent orders at the end of January, and another on February 6. I got an email with the bankruptcy notification less than a week later. I had no idea exactly the magnitude of what it meant. I was never contacted by my buyer. Surely FCS knew they were going bankrupt when placing the order in October, and then receiving it in January and February! When I emailed my buyer, he said, “Sorry about this, but you will not be paid for the delivered products”. I was floored. I contacted a friend who is an attorney and was shocked to learn there is basically nothing I can do. And then I learn they will not let me have my products back….and then I see them being sold in stores! That is theft, is it not??

I made and packaged this product with my own hands, hand delivered, and purchased displays required of me. They have $20,000 worth of my soaps and displays. I am devastated. My tiny micro-business is not only in trouble, now, my family is affected, as well. I have a small cushion to pay my business bills for a few more months. Without the money owed to me that I was counting on, I will not be able to keep this business going. Because I am a LLC, my personal finances/assets are not protected in this kind of situation. I stand to not only lose my business, but much more. I am angry, in shock, sad, and devastated. I am working hard to scramble around to try to bring in other streams of income.

Flyer Foibles and Catalogue Conundrums

Spring Catalogue 2015Like some of you, we’re getting ready to unleash the Spring Catalogue, the first of a series of cooperative ventures between David C. Cook and Foundation Distribution. We were hoping to hold back another week, but we see there is considerable Easter-themed merchandise on one page, which makes that page a bit of a throwaway in just a few weeks. Mother’s Day titles might have timed out better.

So just a few general observation from someone who normally does the Send the Light (STL) Catalogues.

  1. A lot depends on perspective. If you see the purpose of a catalogue to get traffic back into the store, you need price inducements. If (like us) you see the purpose of a catalogue as showcasing merchandise the customers might never notice, then price is less critical. The STL pieces always feature merchandise at list price.
  2. The two companies approach pricing (and wholesale pricing) completely differently. Overall, I’ve always preferred the FDI approach, and this one offers a full margin on every single piece of theirs with a bonus on the initial order. But the DCC merchandise mix resonates more with my customers, so they’ll get more reorders from us.
  3. Augsburg-Fortress has only two titles. I wish there was more support for the little guy, they have some good stuff. Apparently the way I’ve been told it works is that they submit product as a recommendation, but it’s the catalogue producers who decide what makes the cut.
  4. The 10% off and 15% off coupons on the back page were a surprise. (I guess I haven’t done these Canadian catalogues in a while.) We’re going to have a post a list of restrictions. In preparation for the end of music loyalty coupons, we have a parallel music promotion running, and so CDs are going to have to be one special or the other.
  5. Why is Foundation selling Thomas Nelson and Zondervan remainders? It would seem to me that those particular catalogue slots would be better used building the Harvest House or NavPress or Tyndale brands. Hope Book Depot gave them a good deal.
  6. Many of the $11.99 DCC titles simply don’t leave much margin. I’ve had a few discussions with them on this, and will leave this for another time. But honestly, any retailer who sat down with a calculator would have to question the wisdom of basically giving away product from established authors and series. (Cook’s philosophy is to “split” the margin with the dealer, but existing margins are actually not an equal split and never have been; the distributor discount leaving a narrow margin which is offset by volume and the efficiencies of not having to listen to Mrs. Meandering’s 30-minute story about her last doctor visit. So any “splitting” should be proportional, at least in my humble opinion.)(Also perception is important; an item that’s regular $18.99 on sale for $12.99 is seen by the customer as 12/18 or one-third off. Dropping the extra dollar is completely unnecessary.)
  7. The Buy-2-Get-1-Free boxed card thing is going to have be amended in my store somehow. The way they’ve structured the margin means there is still a comfortable 43% when someone buys two boxes, but if and only if the customer picks up merchandise which was specifically bought for the sale. In our store, boxed cards are a carefully monitored staple. We had more than adequate stock when this aspect of the catalogue was spring on us, and I don’t have room to create two boxed cards sections. And customers have a knack for cherry-picking the best items. Again, I’m not sure why we would want to discount something that is a church-supply staple. If they must, I’d rather see two or three dozen card boxes featured. I can’t afford the giveaway, but I can’t afford to take down my existing merchandise for a few weeks, either.
  8. Some of the HarperCollins Christian Publishing titles that were picked seemed to have been chosen because someone (either DCC or FDI) had related audio book rights.
  9. The “Owl” themed merchandise is an odd choice, given the Charismatic customers who believe the birds to be demonic. We had some similar products in a past STL catalogue. We didn’t stock them and nobody ever asked for them.
  10. There are no regular prices. Given the Canadian dollar fluctuation, perhaps this was necessary. But watch your FDI invoices for list price inconsistencies. The book Veggie Town Voyage (which is actually a Zondervan title) bears a U.S. price of 7.99 bit their invoice claims it lists for $14.99. Fortunately it’s on sale for $6.99 and yes, we’ve contacted them on that one.

So no, I won’t be signing up for any summer or fall or Christmas pieces. We need a new paradigm.

The Virtues of Booksellers

Surprised by Oxford - Carolyn WeberThis January blog post was just brought to our attention and references a store in Oakville, Ontario that we’ve known over many years. The author is Carolyn Weber, author of the 2013 Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir (Thomas Nelson). Carolyn spoke this morning at the chapel service at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto. We thought it was in keeping with the spirit of the piece if booksellers themselves got to read it, but better yet, why not send her some link love by clicking the title below and reading it at her blog, Pressing Save.

Virtues of Booksellers

In our increasingly digitalized world, we often overlook the bookseller. Folks who run bookstores with care and from passion are an increasing rare breed. They should be cherished and supported, for there is so much they do beneath the surface of things to stoke the thoughtful flames of culture, and to keep us all connected across pages, years and minds.

Over tea the other evening with my dear friend, Mary (“Muffy”) Chester, who runs Good Books Christian Bookstore in Oakville, Ontario, I was reminded at just how gifted booksellers are. Mary has to read people like she reads books. All sorts of both kinds come into her store: she must absorb, address and sift through each. Like books, readers too come as the genuinely inquisitive or antagonist defensive; the seekers of beauty and truth, or the lost and despondent. In an instant, she must match book to buyer, and discern who could use what – whether a book should be a challenge, a tonic, a balm or a blast, or perhaps, some or all of these. Unobtrusively and without judgment, she must tailor a text, seek a story that suits. She also must discern whether to enthusiastically push or subtly suggest. She must know her wares, and be wary of the knowing: always being open to the larger conversation of the history, and context, of ideas. The bookseller sits at the hub of circulating life changing insights. And so, she sits, too, where business and ideas intersect, showing us what so much of the world is, if not all: compatibilities masking as opposites.

To borrow Shelley’s term when he spoke of the poet, a good bookseller (one who loves her trade, the craft and the reader) is “the unacknowledged legislator of the world.”

Shortly I will have the good fortune, Lord willing, of meeting Rick and Susan Lewis, who manage Logos Bookstore in Dallas, Texas. Rick Lewis is an ardent supporter of authors, even across the miles. It is people like Rick who make authors like me want to write. They help you trust the process of properly raising a book once it has been birthed. They are doing good work, for good purposes, and it encourages and uplifts one to be a part of it in some small way.

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly understand the conveniences of clicking through Amazon. But no matter how sophisticated technology may become, there are two things that it will never be ever to emulate, I am sure: 1.) the true meeting of minds and 2.) the smell of books.

My husband’s and my favourite date is to stroll a bookstore, leisurely and together, preferably with coffee in hand (though taking particular care in the rare books section). The only other person I do not mind speaking with on such a romantic outing is the bookseller. Call me old fashioned, call me silly or , but clicking items into my cart while at home in my jammies sitting next to my beloved in mutual distracted silence just does not have the same escape from self-absorption effect.

Bookstores are hallowed ground.

And so booksellers must be humble, too, subverting their egos, tastes, even their admonitions and hesitations, to what they deem to be best for the reader. In this sense, they are far superior to the authors themselves.

Case in point:

Recently I admitted to my binging on Elizabeth Goudge. Her City of Bells came to me via my dear friend Laura Baker, and if there is one thing that is certain in life, it is that a book from a friend’s hand is bound to be a blessing (wow, there’s a lot of alliteration in that last sentence – nothing like a good strong “b” to bring into being the beauty of books!). In Goudge’s delightful novel about the tranquil air of Torminster and her engaging character sketches of the town’s people, the kindly and wise old Grandfather (whom I adore, as he is believing and yet believable, and someone l would like to grow more to be – there’s that loaded “b” again … ) has a conversation in a bookstore with his young ward, the winsome Felicity. In speaking of those who dedicate their lives to the provision and distribution of good words, Goudge writes:

“A bookseller,” said Grandfather, “is the link between mind and mind, the feeder of the hungry, very often the binder up of wounds. There he sits, your bookseller surrounded by a thousand minds all done up neatly in cardboard cases; beautiful minds, courageous minds, strong minds, wise minds, all sorts and conditions. And there come into him other minds, hungry for beauty, for knowledge, for truth, for love, and to the best of his ability he satisfies them all … Yes … It’s a great vocation.”

“Greater than a writer’s?” asked Felicity.

“Immeasurably,” said Grandfather. “A writer has to spin his work out of himself and the effect upon the character is often disastrous. It inflates the ego. Now your bookseller sinks his own ego in the thousand different egos that he introduces to one to the other …. Yes …. Moreover his life is one of wide horizons. He deals in the stuff of eternity and there’s no death in a bookseller’s shop. Plato and Jane Austen and Keats sit side by side behind his back, Shakespeare is on his right hand and Shelley on his left.” He paused for a moment while Felicity took Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights gently away from him. “Yes. Writers, from what I’ve seen of them, are a very queer lot, but booksellers are the salt of the earth.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Word of God

Word of God in Print

Categories: Uncategorized

Canadian Content Count

The CRTC announced last week that they are changing the Canadian content regulations for television. Bookstores have no such quota here, but they do in other countries.

Today we handed Paul a piece of paper and told him to walk around the store and write down the names of every Canadian author he could find. Now we’re wondering if he missed anyone? To qualify the authors had to be in stock and remainders didn’t count, since the goal is to support Canadian writers, and they don’t get royalties from remainders. Also, the definition of Canadian was left a bit loose. Some authors are Canadian by birth but now live and work in the U.S. Others were born elsewhere but their principal ministry today is based in Canada. Also, Paul is oblivious to the fact that 24-feet of his store fixtures is dedicated space for fiction, so apologies to Janette Oke and others. The list is in no particular order.

  • Ann Voskamp
  • Drew Dyck
  • Bruxy Cavey
  • Joe Amaral
  • Emily Wierenga
  • Ken Sigamatsu
  • Joe Boot
  • Lisa Elliott
  • Eric Wright
  • Roseanne Kydd
  • Sarah Tun
  • Tim Day
  • Rick Apperson
  • Sarah Bessey
  • Lee Beach
  • Judi Peers
  • Diane Lindstrom
  • Greg Paul
  • Alan Roxburgh
  • Tim Huff
  • Mark Buchanan
  • Brian Stiller
  • James Beverley
  • Sheila Wray Gregoire
  • Colin McCartney
  • Marv Penner
  • Henri Nouwen
  • Phil Callaway
  • Clarke Pinnock
  • Grant Jeffrey
  • John Bowen
  • Charles Price
  • James MacDonald

(If Paul missed some that were in his store, we’ll add it; if not we’ll still leave it in as a comment.)

Niagara Region Gets Fresh New Store

It’s every retailer’s dream. To get a new start with a fresh concept in a different location, but not risk losing the customers you already have by opening just steps away from your previous venue. That’s what Heritage Christian Book Store in St. Catharines, Ontario has done with an official grand opening scheduled for this Friday and Saturday. Fazal Karim of The Christian Herald visited last week and described the store as “4400 sq. ft. of wonderful Christian bookselling space. Very nicely decorated, well planned, with a full cafe and side stage.”1 The store is located in the Grantham Plaza at 400 Scott Street where it has been since 2003. Pictured below, the Café, a section of the book and gift area, and the side stage area and the Dayspring display.2

heritage new store 2

heritage new store 3

heritage new store 1

heritage new store 4

 

 

1 Thanks to The Christian Herald for additional reporting.
2 Pictures from the store’s Facebook page.

The Significance Behind the Symbols

Bible Signs and Symbols - Baker Books

Categories: Uncategorized

Jean Vanier Wins $1.7M Templeton Prize

With a strong Canadian connection, you probably caught the news on Thursday of Jean Vanier being awarded a $1.7M Templeton Prize.

Jean VanierJean Vanier, a Canadian who launched an international network of communities for mentally disabled people, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize worth $1.7 million for affirming life’s spiritual dimension.

The U.S.-based John Templeton Foundation announced the award on Wednesday in London, calling him “this extraordinary man” whose message of compassion for society’s weakest members “has the potential to change the world for the better”.

read more at CBC news.

While Vanier has 22 book titles listed at Ingram — his top 3 titles are all from 2014, followed by From Brokenness to Community and the 10th anniversary edition of Becoming Human — the thought occurred to me as I watched the news story was that this also, albeit indirectly, shines the spotlight on Henri Nouwen, who has 167 products listed at Ingram, bestsellers being Return of the Prodigal Son, In the Name of Jesus (a leadership book) and Life of the Beloved.

While customers may want to know more about Vanier, both authors have titles which look at the issue of how society regards the developmentally challenged.

Incidentally, before her life turned in a different direction, Corrie Ten Boom worked with the developmentally handicapped in her native Holland. She wrote about it the small book, Common Sense Not Needed: Bringing the Gospel to the Mentally Handicapped available from CLC for only $4.99 US. Her book is one of very few (besides Nouwen and Vanier) that deal with this particular topic.

Vanier is also featured in the Vision Video documentary The Heart Has Its Reasons.

 

 

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