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Archive for July, 2009

Could an Extra Computer Help You Sell More Books?

This is Sarah Bolme’s second guest post here.   She is the author of the award-winning book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace now in its Second Edition. Sarah is also the director of Christian Small Publishers Association (www.christianpublishers.net). She has a blog at http://marketingchristianbooks.wordpress.com

Could a Computer Help You Sell More Books?

By Sarah Bolme

I recently visited a large church in my neighborhood. It was interesting to see that this church hosted a desk in the corner of the foyer with a computer on it. The computer was there for one purpose: to allow the members and visitors to the church to browse the church’s website (it did not allow users to go to any other website).

My first reaction was, “Why does the church provide this access to their website when the people who would use this computer are already in the church where they have access to print materials telling them what is happening?”

But after considering it, I thought, “What a great idea! Hook an increasingly tech-savvy population into learning more about the church by offering the website free in the foyer to anyone who wants to view it.”

Always thinking about marketing and selling books, since this is what I do for a living, my next thought was, “What a wonderful tool this could be for Christian bookstores.”

If a church has a dedicated computer in its foyer for members to view its website, why couldn’t Christian bookstores have a dedicated computer in their store for customers to browse book videos of Christian books?

Most publishers are now creating book videos to promote their books. Book videos are basically movie trailers for books. These short promotional videos show the reader what a book is about by engaging the viewer through multiple routes (sight, sound, and emotional impact).

A new website, www.ChristianBookVideos.com, has positioned itself as the aggregator of all the book videos created for Christian books. This website currently hosts 300 promotional book videos (with more being added every day) for Christian books by all the major Christian publishers.

ChristianBookVideos.com could be a great tool for Christian bookstores to engage customers and potentially sell more books. Bookstores could set up a computer dedicated to this website and customers could view book videos for fiction and nonfiction books they might be interested in purchasing right in the store. While browsing www.ChristianBookVideos.com in the store, they will most likely view book videos for other books and decide to purchase additional books; increasing the store’s sales.

Better yet, stores could select a book video of the day (or week) and have the computer remain on that page so customers can start viewing the video with a single click.

If a church can use a computer dedicated to surfing its website to keep members and visitors engaged, why couldn’t a Christian bookstore use a computer dedicated to showcasing books to encourage customers to buy more books?

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Gone Fishing? Not Quite

I’m not sure exactly what type of “territory” Jabez wanted God to enlarge.   Back then, territory was a very literal term, so we generally assume Jabez wanted more land.

What does that mean to a Christian bookseller?   It might mean asking God for a bigger store, or more stores in more cities.   To a publisher it might mean signing more authors or seeing bigger numbers on sales of existing authors.

For me, it means enlarging my sphere of influence.   I don’t want to score points by being successful as much as by being effective.

So after 34 years, it’s always nice when an author, agent, publisher or distributor asks my opinion on something; and, in case you haven’t noticed, I do have opinions.

This summer at camp, my youngest son learned that there is (a) knowledge, (b) understanding, and (c) wisdom.    Most people who tap my brain do so for my knowledge of the Canadian market tempered with an understanding of how things work at the wholesale level.    I’m not usually seen as the go-to person on wisdom.    Just one of the lowly frontline retailers, I guess.   Everybody loves me as long as I pay my invoices within terms.

It has been 20 years since I was actually paid a long series of consulting fees in this industry; ironically it predates my time owning my own retail stores.    So I should be better at this by now, right?

Wish I could tell you more at this point…

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Three Product-Types Our Industry Needs

Currently, we are in desperate need of three different commodities:

  1. We need more products that are directed solely at non-Christians, without any hope of seeing residual sales from the Christian market itself.   We need items that are designed to be passed on, given away, etc. written in language for the secularist and packaged appropriately.
  2. We need more products that are designed for certain life occasions, but not the seasonal type occasions that quickly come to mind.   We need things you would give to someone has they face specific issues or reach certain milestones that aren’t already on the radar.   Staff need to know the intention of these products and where to shelve/find them.
  3. We need more products that are sold in multi-packs with the express intention of bulk distribution.   4-packs.  6-packs.  10-packs.   Carton quantity packs.   SuperSavers.   Promotional pricing.   Direct-to-overstock pricing.   It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as it’s affordable.    Supply and demand dictate that the increased volume will compensate for the lower dollar margin.

Agree?   Disagree?

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Vulnerability in Ministry

After he was the pastor of our church, he went to a church several hours west of us, but later returned closer to pastor yet another church.   That made it possible for us to go back for occasional Sunday morning visits.   At the end of one of them, he walked up to us laughing saying, “You guys were my illustration this morning.”

Now, having just sat through the service, there’s something unsettling when a pastor tells you that you were the illustration in  a sermon having to do with faithfulness in marriage.   Especially when the only stories in the sermon you can remember were about unfaithfulness.

It turns out then when our first son was born, Dave, our pastor, phoned and said he wanted to drop by and see the baby.   When he arrived, my wife let him in, and got our boy out, and then Dave, noticing the house was quiet, asked, “So what’s Paul doing?”

“He’s out;” my wife replied.   Pastor Dave was horrified.   He had made it his ministry goal never to be alone in a house with a woman who was there alone.   This time around, he had just assumed that I was going to be there.   I was out running errands.   I had seen the baby before.  I had seen Dave before.   I’m not sure I even knew he was coming.

We never gave it a moment’s thought.   I trust Dave completely; then and now.  But he didn’t forget that day.   Ten years later, he was using it as a sermon illustration about the safeguards pastors have to put in place to keep their ministry above suspicion.    Many pastors won’t close the door to their office when counseling a member of the opposite sex.    Really, these safeguards are all good sense.

I was thinking about this over the past few days.   Recently, I had a visit from a young woman I’ve known for several years.   She was a student in my class when I taught at a Christian school.    During the nearly two hours that she was in the store, for some reason, nobody came into the store, even though the door was unlocked.

“Did you change the ‘open’ sign?” I asked her.   We both thought it was funny.   The phone didn’t even ring.   I looked at the window to check the sign.

I worry a lot about our female staff, especially younger ones, when they’re working the store alone, which they usually are.    Smaller town stores don’t often do night openings, so at least I don’t have that to worry about; though in late November, all December and early January, we’re locking up after dark.

But our male staff, including myself?  Other than the possibility of robbery or assault, I’ve never worried the way my former pastor worried, because there is usually always people coming and going from the store.

I’m posting this today because I think it’s something that store owners, managers and staff need to be aware of, the way that pastors are.  A continuing commitment to integrity demands it.   Do you have safeguards in effect in your business to protect staff from false accusation — of anything — when they’re working alone?

Our personal and business reputations are riding on us keeping from the very appearance of anything suspect.

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First Time Novelist Signs With Zondervan

The local media in Erie, PA is excited for Deborah Vogts, author of Snow Melts in Winter. Read the step by step story of her climb to being published by the leading Christian publisher here.

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Grand Rapids is the Closest Thing to Mecca for Evangelicals

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — God must live here.    Everybody goes to church, and for those in the evangelical publishing biz, the HQ of many of our favorite publishers are right here in one town.

You’ve got Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, and Eerdman’s, just to name a few.   The CRC (Christian Reformed Church) is headquartered here, too; and I think that Radio Bible Class (the Our Daily Bread people) makes their home here.

I once suggested to a large Christian retail trade magazine that they put together a vacation guide of sorts together for people who want to take the family on the road, but still ‘drop in’ on some of their suppliers.      I still think it would make a great article.   Upper Room Books in Nashville rolled out the red carpet for us once, while just around the block, Word Records has no such welcome mat if dealers drop by.

Here in Grand Rapids, arriving on a Saturday raised no expectations, but I know from past experience that you can’t get past the receptionist at Zondervan without an appointment.    The spirit of post 9-11-01 security is alive and well there.   Guess they wouldn’t want you to accidently read a chapter of Karen Kingsbury’s next novel.

I’m told that P. Graham Dunn in Ohio does a nice tour if you give them some warning; but we’re usually running late when we drive by.    The people at Gaither Studios in Anderson, IN said they would have gladly shown me the studio if a major session was not likely to take a break for several hours.   The bookstore was worth the stop.

One of the warmest receptions I ever got was from Sparrow Records, when they were in California in the late ’80s.   A tour yes, but they also asked meaningful questions about how we were reading the ever-changing Christian music market.

I’d still like to visit Ingram in Nashville, if only for the sheer size of the operation.

So… today’s questions are:

  • if you’re a store, what supplier’s have you ‘dropped in’ on, and what kind of reception did you get?
  • if you’re a supplier, publisher, distributor, etc., what’s your company’s attitude on dealers dropping in?

In any event,  I encourage you to visit Grand Rapids sometime, if only just to breathe the same air as those who make and market some of our industry’s best loved products.

Chicago Tribune Covers Christian Fiction at ICRS

Click anywhere inside the box to read the whole story…

Tribune Article

Bookstore Has Eleven Sections Just on Romans

If there’s eleven sections just on Romans, imagine the size of the rest of this two level downtown store!

Romans 1

Romans 2

…Okay, truth time. This is a Montreal, Quebec general-market bookstore, not a Christian bookstore; and Romans en français means ‘fiction.’ But wasn’t it fun for a minute to imagine a bookstore that big?   Well, maybe a seminary library.

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Website Links

  • Some of you subscribe to Christian Retailing and weren’t able to read the story about Thomas Nelson sitting out the convention.    I asked them for the corrected link and you can read their story here.
  • Steve Bell is one of Canada’s foremost Christian recording artists, who chose many years ago to handle all his own product distribution through his label, Signpost Music.    Here’s his new artist website.
  • Publisher’s Weekly highlights the top books of the first half of the year showing Shack at #1 for fiction; but be sure to see the mention of Love Dare in the final paragraph; it finished 8th for non-fiction.  Here’s their summary of the stats.
  • Back to the convention for a minute:  There was a day when CBA events existed in obscurity, but no longer.   If you’re on Yahoo or Google news, you’ll find stories coming in hourly, such as this one.
  • Because this site is read by industry people, I want to share something from my own blog about a vision I have for taking worship leader Fred McKinnon’s Sunday Setlists to a larger audience:  A radio audience.   You can read my proposal here.

Christian Bookstores Vacate Downtown Cores

While on holidays, we discussed the idea that Christian Bookstores have followed the megachurches out to the suburbs.   The problem is:  Which suburb?

While the downtown business center of any given city is bustling with office workers and tourists, at night these people spread out in any one of eight different directions, N, NE, E, SE, etc.   So if your downtown bookstore heads out to the Northwest suburbs but you had customers who lived in the Southeast, what happens?   Do they revert to online ordering?

Admittedly, the parking is better; the rents are better; the stores are new and clean looking.   But who is left to do outreach to the inner city business community by day?

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The Shack Still Strong

USAToday reported today (07/09) that The Shack was the number five title overall for the second quarter of 2009.   What makes this more remarkable is that the four titles higher on the list are all by Stephenie Meyer.   Absent her titles, Shack is number one.

On weekly sales, it was still number twelve on the USAToday list.

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Parable Store in NH Rates Full Marks

Today we visted Concord, NH; and I dropped in on the Parable store there.   I’m not the CR Mystery Shopper, but if were, this one would have got full marks in every category.

The gift section was a thing of beauty.   The books were well organized and complete.  There were a number of Parable-only products (grrr!) and some NavPress sale fiction we can’t get in Canada (double grrr!).   If I were a retail customer I would have picked up the Yancey book on prayer for $14.99 hardcover.  Still not sure why American Christian retail stores include The Jonas Brothers in their music department.

Everyone down here is getting ready for ICRS in Denver.   They were amazed when I said I’ve never been — in 34 years in the business!

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