Changing the Supplier/Retailer Partnership

Back in the day, it was common for retailers to have two different contact people at their wholesale distributor contacts. One was their actual sales rep who would visit anywhere between two and six times per year, depending on the account size. The other was a telesales rep who would fill in the blanks between sales rep visits with specials and problem-solving.

The point of these reps was to get as much of their company’s product into the retail stores and then, with displays, magazine advertising and mentions on Christian radio and television, the books would sell themselves.

That’s not the case today.

It occurred to me this week that what I would really love to have is, for lack of a better word, an equipper who would keep me saturated in YouTube book and movie trailers as well as the HTML elements I’m always ranting about needing, that I can use on Facebook, Twitter, the store’s website and the store newsletter. This person would not be driven by getting product into the store, but in making product awareness happen; to boost sales of the products I’ve already committed to, as well as those that myself and my staff have not yet stocked, or may not know about it.

Today I watched a video trailer at for a movie titled Chasing Grace. The video was posted back in November, 2014 and has only had 1,100 views. The movie is in stock now at David C. Cook with a May 3rd, 2016 release date. I clicked one into a cart. Some of the themes look dark and there’s a scene in the trailer where a man puts a gun to his head. Not for everyone, I guess. But I wouldn’t have heard of it without the trailer. If I choose I can put the trailer on FB, though I’m not likely to promote a film where I only have a single copy stocked. And the latest advice is that retailers keep to one FB post per day, so I have to be careful where to use that. But still, it’s great to be able to see the product.

An equipper would provide retailers with the new media tools they need to know what to stock and how to market it.

Earlier this week I took a screen shot of a page from of a $64 book on learning Biblical Greek. I sent it to only two pastors who are doing a kind of ‘Greek club’ once a month, and one of them ordered the book. It’s that easy! But it’s a sale I wouldn’t make without media resourcing.

And to save you looking, here’s the trailer for Chasing Grace:


A Book Which Booksellers Themselves Should Examine

If it’s true that Evangelicals drive the Christian bookstore industry, then a book like this is useful not only to interested customers, but the bookstore owners and managers themselves…

A few weeks ago at Thinking Out Loud I reviewed a book by Canada’s own Brian Stiller, Praying for the World, in which the author provides a wealth of information about world conditions based on his extensive travel and interaction as a former Director of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale College and Seminary, and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance.

Evangelicals Around the World - Thomas Nelson - Brian Stiller editorBrian is actually at the center of another recently-released project, this one also global in its perspective and one which also deserves to be in every church library and on several coffee tables as well. He serves as general editor for Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2015), a collection of over 50 essays and reports from almost as many different writers, each with a particular expertise on their given topic.

I’m not sure who it was, but about five years ago, I read a blogger making the point that we need to make a stylistic change from small-e evangelical to capital-E Evangelical. Of course, Evangelicals came of age long before that. Most people you ask will reference Jimmy Carter, the born again President, or the birth of Billy Graham’s ministry.

But in the book, the roots of Evangelicalism are traced back to 1521, followed by an exhaustive history of the contributing streams to the movement from the 1700s to the present. There is a chapter defining the core beliefs of Evangelicals, their commitment to world missions, their interactions with other denominations and religions, their role in urban ministry, their involvement in politics, their approach to environmental issues, their sensitivities on gender-related issues, their relationship to the similar-sounding word evangelism, and a chapter I personally found interesting, their appreciation of and contribution to the arts.

The authors of each section also include a well-chosen bibliography for those who wish to pursue any given topic.

Halfway through, the book’s focus becomes regional with a look at Evangelicals in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. While the articles about these regions continue the detail of the earlier articles, there is the addition of demographic charts which help paint a clear picture of where Evangelicals rank in different countries, both among Christians in general, but also the general populace.

Particularly challenging is an article on the future of the Evangelical movement, how it will be identified and the type of people who will define its ranks; though that essay needs to be qualified in light of the regional analyses.

Evangelicals Around the World is a hardcover reference book; 422 pages, $34.99 US; but its topical scope exceeds the bounds of academic textbooks. Rather, if you are part of the movement and want to know your roots; or if you are an outsider who wants to learn more about this particular expression of Christianity; this is certainly the definitive work on this subject worth owning.

Free Samples Whet Appetites for Christian Books

5 Ways to Get Customers As Excited About Books as You Are

That water looks so good... and getting your customers to satisfy their thirst for Christian reading isn't rocket science when you know a few tricks.

That water looks so good… and getting your customers to satisfy their thirst for Christian reading isn’t rocket science when you know a few tricks.

by Paul Wilkinson

There’s a saying that “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink;” to which the response is, “True, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.”

Getting customers — and people you would like to see return as customers — into the books you stock is always a challenge. These days, it seems like there are so many things competing for our attention. But there are some things you can do:

YouTubeI’ve mentioned this before but I’ll say it again. Let a customer listen to N.T. Wright or Francis Chan, and they will literally hear those authors in their heads as they are reading. I’ve directed many customers to an obscure clip from Chan titled “Balance beam” many times. These links create familiarity and intimacy with the authors and drive customers back to get their books. Of course, there are also book trailers. I wish the publishers would help us find out about them better, and have something to direct our customers to find them.

MagazinesMost stores say their magazine program is dying or has already died, but these resources were great for allowing people to read excerpts and reviews of current products. We’re currently doing a giveaway program with Faith Today magazine from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, to help people who want to be better connected stay in the loop. Our regional Christian newspaper, The Christian Herald, contains book reviews in each and every issue. For stores still playing the magazine game, Relevant, Christianity Today, various women’s magazines and Focus on the Family are examples of periodicals that can drive sales, though with Focus you’re competing with their in-house product sales.

Church LibrariesMany stores see the local church libraries as competition, but nothing could be further from the truth. Besides being among your best customers, they get people excited about books, authors and series, and I like to encourage some of the local church librarians to make sure the library is frequently mentioned in the announcements or the bulletin. With one or two churches, I’m going to take some pictures of the library myself, send them to the church office, just so they have an image to go with a mention in the weekend announcement slides, and mid-week e-mail blast.

Thrift ShopsSomeone made a point of tracking me down when Bibles for Missions opened a store in my town, to inform me that this would spell certain doom for my bookstore. Quite the opposite. People get a couple of titles in a 4-book set and come to us hoping to find the rest. I don’t have room to start a used department, so I see the thrift store as complementary to what we’re doing in the retail bookstore. Besides, the book departments at Value Village or The Salvation Army are testimony to the fact that book reading is alive and well.

Excerpts OnlineI recently asked an author for 6 or 7 paragraphs from his recent book. You would think I had asked for a share of his royalties. Publishers and distributors and literary agents couldn’t make it happen. I just don’t have time to transcribe from each and every book, or I would; and I can’t copy and paste excerpts from fuzzy .pdf pages. Christian publishers are totally dropping the ball on this one and they don’t get it. Fine. I understand that budgets don’t allow for printed samplers anymore. But it costs nothing to post sample chapters and then let retailers know where the heck they’re buried online. It’s the bookstore equivalent of handing out samples at the grocery store or Costco. Give me a little bit on a toothpick, and if it tastes good, I’ll probably throw the package in the shopping cart.

  • Another way publishers can help retailers with HTML elements for store newsletters, store websites and store Facebook and Twitter pages. But we’ve said that over and over again here. And here.

Some Positive Changes at Send The Light

stl_distribution_logoTwo announcements this month at Send the Light (STL) that are of interest:

First, there have been changes to the free freight program. For Canadian stores, the 20-unit book free freight program is now showing as also available with a 30-unit total order:

  • If your order contains at least 20 shippable units of books & Bibles the whole order will ship Payment Free Freight. (Shippable means that out-of-print and no-longer-carried items do not count towards the number of units.)
  • If your order contains at least 30 shippable units of any mix of products then the whole order will ship Payment Free Freight.

(I should add that as of this morning, my own account cart was still showing as needing X number of books or X dollar amount, which is actually a mixing of the new U.S. and Canadian offers. I’m assuming they will tweak this as time goes on.)

Second, they appear to be adding the Great Value Books inventory to the main warehouse. An email this morning took me to this link, where the first tab takes you to specials at up to 92% off.

In light of developments this month at Ingram/Spring Arbor, this is certainly positive news. It’s nice to see a supplier reaching out to help stores and not hinder our mission. If your store isn’t purchasing from STL, now is good time to open an account.


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Book Price Conversions: US to Canadian Dollar

On Monday the Canadian dollar closed at its highest value since October.

In general, I think a good rule of thumb should be: If a supplier took their time before modifying (increasing) prices to reflect the exchange rate realities, we need to cut them some slack now that the dollar is moving in the other direction.

On the other hand: If a supplier was very swift to change their prices when the dollar was rising, it is incumbent on them to be equally efficient in making adjustments now that things are heading in the other direction.

Suppliers: You know who you are.

img 041116

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First Editions

Moses Paperback

Author Leonard Sweet tweeted this tonight, but didn’t mention a source

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Setting Boundaries with God

The problem is… when a website devoted to humour and satire doesn’t put the dates on their blog posts, you’re never quite sure if something was meant for April Fools, or if it was just another day! Click the title below to read the full article at source or forward it to your staff.

‘Boundaries With God’ tops new book releases

Boundariew with GodNASHVILLE — Henry Cloud and John Townsend have taught people how to have boundaries in their marriages, friendships and workplaces. Now they are teaching people how to have boundaries with God.

“Our research keeps showing that people feel vulnerable in a relationship with an all-powerful Being,” says Cloud. “Thankfully, God has given us a choice. We can set boundaries in this key relationship and let him know what we are comfortable with.”

A relationship with God presents a “natural power imbalance” because one party is so much more powerful than the other, Cloud says. Boundaries are the biblical solution.

“It was God who said, ‘Draw near to me and I will draw near to you,’” Cloud says. “That’s an invitation to draw the boundaries where we want them. God makes that okay. He respects the limits we put on him based on the gift of our free will.”

One woman who was part of their study said she enjoyed growing closer to God but didn’t want him directing her finances.

“I’m just not ready for that,” she says. “I grew up poor and make a good amount of money now, which gives me a real sense of confidence. I think God respects that, so I put a boundary there.” …


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Emotionally Healthy Bookstore

Emotionally Healthy series

I always find it interesting when we get interest in backlist titles that is characterized by two things (a) There isn’t any media that we know of driving the sales, and (b) The people making inquiries seem to have more than six degrees of separation.

Such is the case right now with the Emotionally Healthy series of books by Peter Scazzero, published by Zondervan, pictured above. Full disclosure: I haven’t sold or stocked the leadership title, but I’m starting to wonder if we should carry that one as well.

We’re in a small town, so significant numbers are, well, significant. But I never know if, like the picture on the cover of the first book, I’m seeing all the demand we’re going to get, or if we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

(The image above is sized for Facebook, so feel free to use it on your store’s page.)


Website and Facebook Graphics Anyone Can Make

We’re currently running The 72 Hour Sale on an HTML-only basis. In other words, we’re not even doing the handout. This has presented some challenges, not the least of which is getting the information out to our customers without overburdening their email or mobile device with the graphic elements. We’re also giving out cards containing the website address for the full flyer, but for some it takes too long to load, and others don’t have Adobe and don’t understand how or why to obtain it.

So we’re breaking up the sale periods into smaller units and introducing new products every day on Facebook. This means ‘cleaning up’ the flyer images, which means ridding them of interference from overlapping items on the same page. This takes time, so I set a 5-minute limit on any one element, and in some cases it shows.

You can also do this by scanning pages of print catalogues you receive, or taking screen shots of product on display on supplier websites. The program of choice I use is Irfan View; which is a free download. It’s not as sophisticated as the Movie Maker program I bought my wife — which I needed for the new cover of the 1GN album — but allows for various types of image editing. But the actual patchwork editing for these was simply done in Microsoft Paint. (Check out the girl’s head closely in the third shot below; remember, I set a 5-minute time limit.)

Some were simple crops, but others involved touch-ups. If you’re doing the sale, feel free to use these on Facebook.

Perhaps this is the Moment - 72

Mom Stuff - 72

What Did Jesus Say

Puppies and Guppies DVD - 72

IGN - 72

My Time With Grandma

I have more of these I can send you by email, or you can steal them from my store’s Facebook. If there’s a supplier website image you’d like to adapt for Facebook, send me the link and I’ll email you the finished product for free, provided I can use it on mine as well. You’re on your own for adding captions.

In an ideal world, suppliers will start supplying these graphics elements more frequently as well as with every sale promotion like this one. Here’s two more:

Wildflower DVD - 72

Chonda Pierce DVD - 72

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Ingram Suspends Full Trade Discount to Small Stores

Ingram announcement

March 31st represented the annual culling of the herd at Ingram, better known in the Christian market as Spring Arbor, as stores failing to purchase $5,000 in 2015 had their trade discount reduced to 30% on books. If you’re looking for a notice you missed, it may be because the announcement appeared as a “service alert” posted on the right hand side of iPage that you had to click to read in full:

ingramDear Valued Ingram Customer,

As with any business, Ingram must closely monitor our expenses and make adjustments when needed so we can continue to provide the speed, accuracy, and support that you’ve come to expect. Sometimes, as our costs decrease, we have been able to pass that savings on to our customers.

However, to cover increased freight and operating costs, we’ve found it necessary to explore and evaluate our discount structure. On March 31, 2016, all accounts that fell below $5,000 in net sales for 2015 will have a new discount structure of 30% on all regular discount items. Please note, this discount applies only to regular discount titles, regardless of quantities purchased or order method. All other items such as video, short, audio, etc., will continue to be discounted as they have been. Also, Ingram does review each customer’s account sales annually and offers volume discounts based on net annual purchases.

We truly value your continued business and appreciate your understanding in this matter. Please contact your Ingram sales representative or call Customer Care at 800-937-8200 if you have questions about this new discount structure.


Ingram Content Group

So once again, it’s survival of the fittest. They didn’t even wait until April 1st, the policy is now in effect. Once again, I have some opinions on this, some of which I shared last year at this time.

  1. Small stores often get large orders. The bookstore owner or manager in a small market who works to get a 100 copy order gets no reward for their efforts. All other distributors base the discount on the size of the order, an approach Ingram has constantly resisted. I have orders currently holding from a couple of publishers waiting for me to add a few more titles. I have no problem working with that constraint. Send the Light’s minimum is 20 books. I understand why they instituted that and it’s not that hard for me reach their quota. As I said the last time this happened, I probably use some of my university publisher accounts once every 2-3 years, but my legitimacy and entitlement to a trade discount is never challenged.
  2. Ingram is a victim of their own system. Yesterday I received a $3.99 booklet from them. I have no idea why they do this or how they can afford to. When I placed my first iPage order, I was told to “click DC Pairs and where it says ‘hold/release’ click ‘release.'” I did what I was told. If I could change this, no one has ever told me what ‘hold’ signifies or how it would help save costs at their end and save the planet. They say they are “constantly monitoring expenses.” Uh…no, I don’t think so. If they streamlined their operations at their end, such as merging backorders or running multi-order invoices, they would not have to penalize small stores like yours at your end. Relatively speaking, this is all about shipping costs. The actual picking costs are minimal by comparison and the cost of a small store using the website is infinitesimal.
  3. Ingram already ships to addresses buying less than $5,000. In this case I’m referring to the host of individual consumers whose orders to companies like Chapters are fulfilled through Ingram. I feel like when I do place a larger order, I’m indirectly subsidizing the inefficiencies of Ingram’s costs in filling orders for online competitors.
  4. This shouldn’t apply to Ingram Publisher Services accounts. When Ingram is the exclusive distributor of a particular imprint, they are making money twice over. For a small store, they are the only game in town, and even if you approached the publisher directly and were willing to pay any importation costs, that publisher is contractually bound to Ingram as its exclusive warehouse distributor. Personally, I find scaling back the discount with respect to those publishers somewhat reprehensible. 
  5. Canadian stores were forced to scale back. Christmas season purchasing from the U.S. was greatly curtailed when our dollar crashed. With Ingram, accounts are settled by credit card on the 15th of the month following, so there was the added variable of not knowing what Canadian prices to set because no one knew how low our currency was going to fall.
  6. Ingram has other options. They could change the minimum order on iPage from 10 to 15 items or set a dollar-value minimum. They could change the “low” discount threshold from $2.99 to $3.49 or $3.99. They could adjust discounts on hardcovers as Send the Light did. They could modify discounts on publishers where they feel they are being squeezed. They could scrap the “cascade” system and have stores meet a 10-unit minimum per warehouse. They could scrap the minimum order altogether and change it to a minimum shippable. (The last two involve some major system reprogramming changes, but this is about saving shipping costs, right? And the price of oil is going to turn around eventually and courier fuel surcharges will again go up.)

In my community, a large, general-market bookstore is closing today. We put the word out to our customers that we would happy to take their orders on a variety of different subjects; not knowing our access to full margin on those items might be restricted. (At least I can do Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin/Random House.) It’s more possible now that a store in my position (or a store that finds itself being given some larger orders) would have no problem meeting that $417 per month average. 

If you don’t know what your purchasing from them was in 2015, a phone call may be in order.

Sadly, for stores now facing a shorter discount, their relationship with Ingram vis-a-vis dollar volume, has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It should be about the order, not a store’s performance in 2015.  

Update: I want to make clear that while this is partly personal, I just think this particular strategy is bad policy. It’s bad for bookstores, bad for publishers, bad for authors and really bad for Ingram itself, since it simply makes everyone angry.

If my account is a drain on their bottom line, then they should put structures in place that force me to consolidate orders, or higher minimum orders.

In our Christian product sales sector of the larger market, people are often well-networked and vertically integrated. So if I’m talking to a new publisher or a new author and they have a choice between Ingram Publisher Services and Advocate Distribution Services, I think it’s obvious which one I’m going to recommend.


Steven Furtick: Honest About Brokenness

Un(Qualified) - Steven Furtick - Waterbrook PressThe title of Steven Furtick’s 4th major book release (Un)Qualified is taken from a YouTube clip he watched where the person being interviewed was tersely dismissive of Steven’s ministry. One word. Unqualified. I would have been hurt. Insulted. Devastated. But instead, he decided to own it. Apart from Christ’s help, none of us is qualified. The book is an invitation to embrace our weaknesses instead of denying them.

In 2010 I reviewed his first book, Sun Stand Still and in 2012 I reviewed his second book, Greater. Those two form a set, dealing with Elijah and Elisha respectively. In the intervening years, I had forgotten how engaging Furtick can be when he confronts such narratives. I was only planning on reading a couple of chapters — I hadn’t specifically requested the book — but his unique take and quirky sense of humor soon won me over. Consider:

The Bible takes time to point out that, despite being twins Esau and Jacob were polar opposites. When Esau was born, he was red and hairy. I’ll withhold my comments about how his parents must have felt when one of their long-awaited sons came out looking like a baby Chewbacca. Esau grew up to be an outdoorsman and a hunter. He was tough. He was rough. He could skin a buck and run a trotline. The star of the original Duck Dynasty.

But Jacob? The Bible says he was a smooth-skinned, quiet man who liked to stay among the tents. Translated, he may have been a mama’s boy. He may have been more into HGTV than ESPN. (p. 140)

The book — full title (Un)Qualified: How God Uses Broken People To Do Big Things — is so much more than Steven Furtick’s quirky sense of humor. This is a voyage into self discovery. How God uses broken people.

Often our greatest influence is birthed in our deepest suffering and brokenness. Our education, our eloquence and our intelligence are helpful, but they aren’t nearly as relatable as our weaknesses. We touch people around us because of the pain and humanity we share.

I realize that not everyone can or should be trusted with the details of our weaknesses. The goal isn’t to parade our problems, wearing our weakness for the world to see. But as we learn to be vulnerable with God and the right, trusted people we discover that every weakness, properly processed, contains secret strength.

Think about the last time you broke down and cried in front of a friend. It might have felt uncomfortable. It might have embarrassed you. But I bet that moment of vulnerability did more to win the person’s heart and cement your friendship than any other experience you’ve shared.

There is something about weakness that opens hearts. It disarms the defensive. It softens the suspicious. It endears the indifferent. (p. 112)

Another complication of brokenness is that we often create an alternative edition of ourselves; a false persona that we carry with us into the world that is totally fake. Among other cautions, Furtick offers: “God can’t bless who you pretend to be.”

In this his 4th book, Jacob, Moses, Gideon and others (and more of Jacob) come under the microscope. Bible narratives are brought to life as never before, and there is practical advice on every page. My recommendation is that Furtick’s readership probably skews young. This would be a great gift to someone in his under-40 demographic. But I enjoyed it, also.

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Thrift Stores Banning Rapture Fiction?

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about a new Christian news satire site, The Babylon Bee. This story ran today and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you (just like I couldn’t resist the buzz pun.) Remember, I did say this is satire.

Thrift Stores, Landfills No Longer Accepting Rapture Fiction



ALEXANDRIA, VA—A spokesperson for the Salvation Army Family Store confirmed Wednesday that the popular line of thrift shops will no longer be accepting donations in the rapture fiction genre. “We have enough Left Behind books to pave the parking lot,” the representative stated in a press release. “Our store managers have been instructed to turn away any donations of fictional works set in or around the time of Christ’s return, on sight. We simply cannot afford the liabilities involved with the upkeep and storage of teetering towers of books describing the fiery wrath of God on the earth from the perspective of one-dimensional characters. And don’t get me started on the film adaptations.”

This announcement comes as a blow to the millions of Americans looking to offload their rapture fiction after just last week being hit with the news that the nation’s public landfills would no longer accept the same books and videos. The new governmental regulations, taking effect the first of the month, place tighter restrictions on the quantities and types of motor oil, electronics, batteries, high-density polyethylene, and apocalyptic novels the nation’s junkyards will accept. While the laws are tough on hazardous chemicals, there is now a zero-tolerance policy on doomsday fiction.

So what is a family with dozens of Left Behind books and their spinoffs to do? “Recycle!” a waste authority manager told us. “These kinds of books make great paperweights, kindling, bird cage liner, and even a conversation piece for your entryway.”

Items being considered for next year’s ban list, according to an anonymous source within a top ecological agency, include heaven-tourism books, WWJD bracelets, and Steven Curtis Chapman cassettes.


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