Archive for March, 2009


It must be hard to keep coming up with new book covers…

C.S. Lewis book Totally Looks Like Twilight book


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Ontario Christian Camps Reeling From School Year Realignments


SPRING 2010 Update:  This is a 2009 article.   Some of you are arriving here from an internet search engine looking for information about Christian Camps.   Unfortunately, the largest organization of this nature, Christian Camping International, does not list its member camps on either its US or Canadian websites.   Useless, really.  We would suggest contacting a local church that has a paid youth ministry staff member for recommendations.

While Ontario merchants and shoppers got 15 months to phase in a new Harmonized Sales Tax, school boards are giving tourism and hospitality operators — including residential camps — only five months to deal with a new start date for the school year.

Traditionally in Ontario, school always began the Tuesday after Labour Day.   This year, because of the way the calendar falls, some boards are starting a week early, while others are sticking with the traditional date.  Toronto has stuck with the traditional date.

In our community, the public and separate boards have each made a different decision.   This is a very high tourism area with one of the best beachfronts anywhere in Canada.   This could mean families from Toronto will arrive only to find no lifeguards on duty at either the beach of the adjacent pool.

This got me wondering how Christian camps are dealing with this issue.   I contacted seven early today, with this reply from Michael Ankenmann, executive director of Camp Mini Yo We best summing up the issues in this response:

This is quite problematic for us.  We had our 2009 schedule set and published in June 2008 according to the standard school year starting the Tuesday after Labour Day.  We need that lead time to prepare and to publicize our programs. We have had contracts with some of our suppliers in place that long as well.  It will potentially mean a loss of a week of ministry and significant revenue if the Boards start early.   The Ontario Camps Association has lobbied the Education Minister to direct the School Boards to follow the traditional schedule.  A change such as some Boards are suggesting should only be made with a much longer lead time.  We are hopeful that the Education Minister and indeed the Premier will take leadership and set the situation straight.

Here is another from Shelley Vanderschuit, director of finances for Camp Iawah, an interdenominational camp north of Kingston, ON.:

It’s going to be a while before it’s all settled out.  We’ve decided to cancel camp programming the week before Labour Day.  We didn’t feel we could wait for the final decisions by the school boards—they don’t have to publish until May.

Mike Greenfield at Camp Widjitiwin (Muskoka Bible Conference) also weighed in:

At MBC & Camp Widjiitiwin we did plan a ten week summer, assuming that students would go back after Labour Day. We have staff who will have to leave early putting us in a position of trying find good qualified leaders for the last week of the summer. I also have campers who come every year to the teen week you mentioned that won’t be able to attend now. It means scrambling to fill one week of a summer position that is already confirmed.

If the schools had talked about this a year ago or we would be in a different place, having known what the school year would be. It frustrates me that we are doing this so late and over just two days they cannot fit into the post Labour day time line. There also should have been some pubic consultation. And it should all be standardized.

This is a real crisis for these ministry organizations. Sadly, the outcome camps are hoping for may be out of reach.

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Ontario Decides to Keep Books Tax Exempt

sales-taxThe provincial budget announced today in the Ontario Legislature keeps the exemption on books from the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax to be introduced in that province in July 2010. Children’s clothing and footwear and a select grouping of health and hygene products will also be subject only to the federal portion of the GST, meaning merchants dealing in these commodities will still have to program their point-of-sale terminals for two taxes.

Under the HST, merchants will be able to claim input tax credits for the provincial portion of taxes involved in a variety of cost factors. Currently, exemption is only available on items specifically purchased for resale, or for items “wrought to” a resale purchase, such as bags and receipts.

The GST on books remains however. It is said that Canada is one of a small number of jurisdictions that taxes reading material. In the EU, there is a push on to tax books, newspapers and children’s clothing. Britain, a member of the EU, but with its own currency, estimates that exemptions there save households about 4% of their annual spending, representing about £30 billion.

Ontario merchants currently receive a 4% rebate of provincial taxes collected as a “handling” compensation. The HST is structured like the GST and offers no such compensation.

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ESV Study Bible is ECPA’s “Book” of the Year

esv-study-bible…and there’s no arguing the impact that the ESV Study Bible had this year.   But last year’s winner was a Karen Kingsbury title; the first time the award went to a woman writer and to a work of fiction; and the year before the top prize went to an audio Bible.

Should we be concerned here.   What happened to good old “Christian Living” titles?    Here’s a link to the USAToday report on John Calvin’s influence 499 years later; which in turn links to the ECPA winners list.

I liked this comment at USAToday best:

The publisher of the ESV Study Bible maintains that the doctrinal content of the book is “balanced,” but there’s no denying that it is clearly biased towards the Reformed/Calvinist position in many places. That theological position very much dominates Christian publishing as well as Christian content on the internet. Its followers are prolific, given to much prose, many words, long debates. Sometimes their Calvinism seems to overshadow their Christianity and at other times their Calvinist agenda seems militant. Perhaps followers of Arminian doctrine, including large numbers Wesleyans, Pentecostals, and Charismatics are more about doing their faith than talking about it.

That said, given the ability to filter out biased commentary, the ESV Study Bible is still a great resource to have in your home. There is nothing else like it. But it is a curious thing that for three years now a “regular” Christian-living title has been unable to capture that top spot in the ECPA awards.

So if it were up to you, not including the ESV Study, what would be your pick for Christian book of the year?

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More Things Studied on the Road

We eventually did make it to some bookstores.   Here’s what we noticed:

Borders Bookstore, Chambersburg, PA

  • 3 sections Bibles
  • 4 sections Christian non-fiction
  • 3 sections Christian fiction

Barnes and Noble, Florence KY

  • 3.5 sections Bibles
  • 6 sections Christian non-fiction
  • 4 sections Christian fiction

As you can see, there were clearly three sections to these stores.   Barnes and Noble had some subheaders, but basically, despite the number of sub-categories we use in our Christian stores, these stores stuck with three basic sections.   Of course, both gave much shelf space to a variety of other religions and philosophies.   While both stores had sale sections in other categories, neither had a sale section for Christian books.  And obviously, Christian fiction carries a lot of weight in these stores.

Family Christian Stores, Florence KY

  • The first shelf of each category was a ‘top sellers in this category’ feature shelf with those titles face out.
  • Absolutely great loss-leaders which the staff made sure that I noticed.
  • Exclusive products made for Family Christian Stores and not available anywhere else.   These are different from the exclusive products made for Christian Book Distributors and not available anywhere else.   What are we independent Christian bookstores, chopped liver?   Hey Zondervan, how about a product just for us?
  • The SuperSaver fiction from NavPress and Tyndale mentioned in the previous blog post.
  • Absolutely amazingly friendly and knowledgeable staff.
  • A surprisingly low amount of shelf space given to modern worship, especially when compared to the gospel section (albeit a mix of southern gospel and urban gospel) and the vast contemporary artists section.   It’s possible that by putting some top artists (Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, etc.) in contemporary that this accounts for some of the difference; but the modern worship section was very, very thin by any standard.   Maybe it’s a regional thing there.   But we’ve noticed contemporary sales have picked up proportionately here, too.
  • Did I mention the very friendly staff?

Why We Can’t Let Tyndale and NavPress Win This Fight

Most Canadian Christian stores know that our book prices have to be constantly adjusted to be equivalent with the U.S. price, but have no understanding as to why this is this the case.   The reason is simple:  Authors have literary agents and these literary agents are trained as lawyers.   Many years ago they insisted on changing contracts which had read “…XX percent royalty on the U.S. selling price on all sales within the United States;” to read “…XX percent royalty on the U.S. selling price on all sales within the United States and Canada.”

Or something like that.    Very few Christian distributors can pinpoint when the change actually happened or why exactly.    Even though we are a distinct country and even though we do enjoy the occasional ITPE (International Trade Paperback Edition) and even though several years ago Word Canada (when it was in Vancouver) was allowed to bring in British paperbacks of several hardcover commentary series; the point is that legally we and the U.S. are one single entity as far as publisher contracts and author royalties are concerned.    There is no distinction between Canada and the United States and if someone were to dare to challenge any restrictions on fair distribution in Canada — through a class action lawsuit for example — the weight of law is clearly on our side.    American publishers can’t — even without free trade issues entering into this — treat its domestic market as distinct, but then demand the same royalties in the “foreign” market that is Canada.    Which is it?   Are we foreign or domestic?    If we’re foreign, let’s set fixed prices for our books that conform to our own demand levels and price expectations.

Returning from Kentucky, we stopped at a Family Christian store there and discovered that there is a really good deal on right now for U.S. stores featuring fiction titles from NavPress and Tyndale.    Product regularly sold at $12.99 – $14.99 is on sale for $4.99 and $5.99.   Great titles.   New authors.   Excellent themes.   Superbly designed covers.

And none of it available here.   What gives?   We’re a first world customer when it comes to being charged the U.S. rate for the books, but a third world republic when it comes to getting some decent marketing incentives and programs.    Are Christian bookstore owners allowed to say that this leaves some of us somewhat ticked off?

Tyndale and NavPress:  You can’t have it both ways.    If you don’t give us the SuperSaver pricing and don’t want to introduce those authors here; then don’t expect us to buy them at full price, and don’t expect us to help you introduce any other new authors for that matter.    We’ve put up with your country’s pricing grid and had to do without the British paradigm to which we are more culturally aligned when it comes to consumer preference.    We don’t have the resources you have in your country to promote these authors, so give us a break.   Don’t think we’re not going to find out when you have SuperSavers running on your side of the border while extracting top dollar from us.

Zondervan:   Thanks for getting it right.   The fall fiction promotion has continued longer than we expected and is introducing new readers to authors like Robin Lee Hatcher and Jane Peart every single day.    A great price point and a free display to match.   Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Canadian bookstores:    Don’t let Tyndale and NavPress win on this.   Be a constant thorn in their flesh until they give us the same deals on both sides of the border; because legally, as far as their publisher agents are concerned, we are indeed the same country.

Postscript:   I am getting this “out there” at risk to my own relationship with these publishers.   I am going to receive threats that “If you don’t remove that article…;” etc., from the parties concerned.    Frankly, I don’t care.   There is a principle at issue here and it’s about time somebody stood up for principles instead of letting these publishers just walk all over us.     The default answer doesn’t always, always, always have to be “no.”

UPDATE:  Last week,  I received an “explanation” on this from a representative of the third party in this equation, who I deliberately decided not to mention.   The line of logic was so full of holes and so out of line with the way this works at Zondervan that I didn’t bother dignifying it with a reply.   But if you’re reading this, please know that I can update my Zondervan promotional display one unit at a time, and anyone knowing those ISBNs can order the same deal product, as little as a single unit, on both sides of the border.  Why does everything have to be an ‘all or nothing’ commitment?

Bloggin’ On The Road: Some Random Thoughts

  • There’s nothing like travel to remind you of the dos and donts of customer service.   I now have two choices:  I can be infected with the apathy I’ve been putting up with for the past five days, or I can make up my mind to show I really care the next time I’m serving someone.
  • Yesterday we visited Andy Stanley’s Buckhead Church and Connexions Bookstore in Atlanta.   You can read about that trip at my regular blog, Thinking Out Loud, linked at right.
  • Otherwise, this has been a true vacation.   There are a couple of  Parable stores in Atlanta somewhere, but not near us.   No Lemstone.  No Family Christian.  No Lifeway.   At least not according to the local phonebooks in the hotel.   Hard to believe, actually.   A few independents, though; it’s not a complete wasteland.
  • Local restaurants here have ceded coffee sales to Starbucks the way Christian pastors and leaders have ceded Christian book sales to Amazon.   One restaurant admitted that they can do black coffee, but haven’t had milk or creamers in the fridge for about 3 months.   Our hotel has coffee makers in the room, but only supplies for decaf.   Mrs. W. is not happy without her coffee.
  • Baker and Spring Arbor are getting ready to ship The Secret, the new book from Beverley Lewis.    But it has a street date.   I told them I would be willing to abide by the street date under covenant, but not under contract.    Wonder if our copies will arrive ahead of time…
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ITPEs — A Canadian Store’s Best Friend

Several months ago I shared with an executive at Hachette  Book Group in New York the secret known all too well to our friends at Zondervan and Thomas Nelson and to a lesser extent, Gospel Light and Tyndale.   International Trade Paper Editions (ITPEs) are a necessity in a country caught between the British paradigm and the American ‘first editions in hardcover’ paradigm.  Or are we just basically cheap?

At  issue was Joyce Meyer, who possibly needs those hardcover revenues to pay for her jet airplane.   (Fairness compels me to mention however that Meyer just became the first of six TV ministries under investigation to become certified by the ECFA, a financial watchdog organization.)

But now the issue moves beyond Meyer, who obviously isn’t interested in boosting her international sales.   In a few weeks, Ted Dekker will release his first fiction title, The Boneman’s Daugter, with Center Street, and right now, there’s no ITPE on the horizon.   Will Canadian stores stock the title nonetheless?   Experience says that customers north of the 49th Parallel would rather wait for the lower price.

Random Acts of Information

  • PEOPLE IN PLACES YOU’RE NOT EXPECTING THEM — Bill Hybels as the Commencement speaker at ORU?   Michael Tait of DC Talk joining the Newsboys?   Both are true.   Check out my personal blog and then link to the stories here.
  • THE REALITIES OF SMALL TOWN CHRISTIAN STORES — I often speak of Cobourg and Brockville, ON as being small town markets, but there are people faithfully serving in markets smaller than ours.  Yesterday I spent about 40 minutes visiting with Betty who 14 months ago started The Rock Christian Books in Napanee, ON.   She has a good selection of books for the size of her market, including some good bargain items.   When traveling, it’s good to take a few minutes to encourage other stores, or perhaps, be encouraged.
  • SHACK SALES HAVE PEAKED — Yesterday, The Shack didn’t make the top 100 at all on Spring Arbor.    Daily demand can be more widely variable than weekly or monthly statistics, but Love Dare seems to own the top spot now just about every day.
  • gpsTELL ME WHERE YOUR STORE IS, BUT DON’T GIVE ME DIRECTIONS — We got the 2009 brochure last month for Elim Lodge, a Christian resort north of Peterborough, and there, below the traditional directions, were the GPS coordinates.    Do you know the GPS location of your store if someone asks?   According to CapeLinks, my Cobourg store is -78.1727202,43.9758635,0    Hmmm.   Try giving that out over the phone…   Our Brockville store is -75.6896582,44.6017947,0 — I’m gonna need a big piece of paper to write that next to the phone.  Does your church know their GPS address if someone asks?
  • STUFF CHRISTIANS LIKE MARKS ONE YEAR — Take a break now and then from the busyness and enjoy this site if you haven’t already.   In one year, it’s become the #3 Christian Blog according to Church Relevance’s list of the Top 60 Christian Blogs.    Ever insightful, Thursday’s post dealt with the way we crane our necks toward the sound booth when the audio gets messed up at church.   BTW, reading blogs is a good window into future trends and somewhat younger customers.
  • TALK POINTS 1 — In your area, are people saving or spending?   Are you feeling the effects of the economic downturn or is it business as usual?
  • TALK POINTS 2 — Are there pastoral vacancies in churches in your area?   Do these transitional periods have any impact on the mission of your store?
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Compassionart: How Our Efforts Can Change the World

compassionartAll day today I had the Compassionart demo playing. It’s what we would call a “various artists” album raising money for Compassion and more than a dozen other charities.  (It’s really more of an “ensemble cast” album, though.)

I grew up with long-play, vinyl records. I still like to be holding a lyric sheet and jacket in my hand when I listen, but with compact discs, I can rarely read the lyrics, even wearing my new glasses. Between that, deliveries, phone calls, customers, loading my car for a delivery to our other store and the fact I was working alone today; I don’t think I heard a single note of any song on that album. It was simply “background” to a busy day.

But tonight I put the companion CD into the DVD player and it was a whole different story. I don’t get to industry events nor do I go to concerts, so I don’t get to see the “real people” side of the many artists we carry. It’s refreshing to see them as people, not performers.

On the other hand, as a worship-leader, I know their material and styles individually. So there was a sense of being among friends. It was fun to just kick back and relax just as they kicked back and relaxed in that large country estate in Scotland over a year ago. I will pay much more attention to the CD tomorrow, having watched the songs being crafted.

This is a CD/DVD that we can endorse with confidence. It’s an example of how our industry — shaky as it may be right now — can make a difference in our world.

For my more general review of the album on my personal blog, click here.

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Why The Internet Will Never Replace Printed Catalogs

If you’re looking for funeral bulletins, isn’t “funeral bulletin” the # 1 most logical keyword search?


I also tried in the plural form, and as the title, and without the supplier-specific search.   Also tried funeral by itself and bulletin by itself.    Also tried to fill two orders for Easter bulletins with numbers off the Broadman and Holman site.   Nothing.  Nada.

Tried to find a book at the same time using an author search: Viola, Frank — which Ingram accepts. When I simply typed Frank Viola it worked. (I was tempted to say en francais, viola – it worked.)

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The Promotional Flyer That Never Ends

Several years ago we visited James MacDonald’s Harvest Bible Chapel in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.   Not knowing much about their ministry, I thought they were based in Elgin, Ill., so we went there but he was at Rolling Meadows, Ill.   So the next year we went there, which is where the ministry was based, only James was at Elgin.   (Oddly enough, Elgin is now the “main campus.”)

Anyway, while we were there, we picked up a brochure which defines a number of “must read” books every Christian should read in their first five years of Christ-following.    This is a great list.    I don’t agree with the placement of every title, in terms of what stage it’s best for reading, but there’s no denying that it’s a great recommended reading list.   I keep meaning to photocopy the thing for some customers, since I can’t find it online.  (And if anyone knows where to get it, I’ll post the link here for sure.)

This week we’re kicking off the Foundation Spring Flyer, and our plan is to keep the flyer running for the maximum possible:  Nine weeks.   We’re also going to overlap the 72-Hour Flyer at some point in the middle.

But I wish we had a flyer we could run even longer.   A generic flyer introducing both new Christians and seasoned believers to some of the truly great Christian backlist.    I know that the industry functions primarily on frontlist, but what store wouldn’t want to stock some great titles if there was additional marketing support and good price points as well.

I’d run that flyer for six months at least, or maybe make it the promotional flyer that never ends.

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