Archive for August, 2009

James Garlow’s Heaven and the Afterlife Worth Reading

Heaven and the Afterlife - GarlowYesterday, on my personal blog, I posted a review of James Garlow’s Bethany House title, Heaven and the Afterlife. Sometimes we see a title and leap to conclusions as to what it’s about and where it might best be shelved in our stores.  This book far exceeded my idea as to its content.   I wrote this review with both my regular blog readers and Christian Book Shop Talk readers in mind.

This title offers a variety of possibilities however, and each frontliner should — at the very least — familiarize themselves with the table of contents.  You might want to stock this book in a couple of sections.

To read the review, click here or on the product image.

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Nelson Blogger Promotion Backfires

August 31, 2009 1 comment

Hot on the heels of successful promotions in the blogosphere for Andy Andrews and Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson invited its blog book reviewers this morning to review the forthcoming title by Donald Miller, A Million Miles.

Sadly, they underestimated the popularity of Miller among bloggers.   Writers like him — or Brian McLaren — are a perfect fit for those who blog, and blog book reviews currently drive a lot of sales in an 18-35  target audience which represents the future of Christian book sales.

Nelson only allocated 250 copies of the book, which were gone 20 minutes after the 8:00 AM EDT announcement.   West coast bloggers never had a chance.

Then, to add insult to injury, they suggested everyone else should order a copy on Amazon.    Amazon.    Not “pre-order from your local Christian bookstore.”   Amazon is their automatic default supplier.   (Copies of the e-mail will be forwarded to you upon request.)

So now, among bloggers, there are the “haves” and the “have nots.”  Maybe some, like my own, won’t bother mentioning the book at all.

But don’t worry, faithful bookseller.   You will always be one of the “have nots.”   You take the risk, order the product, pay the shipping fees, hold it until the street date, hang the poster, create the displays, pay the invoice; and through your product choices and sales effort the whole marketing machine — no matter how good the media reviews — either succeeds or grinds to screeching halt.

But you don’t get a review copy, either.

No problem.   You can always order one from Amazon.

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The Nearsighted Bookworm

nearsighted bookworm

Here’s a tip about a blog both you and your customers will appreciate.   Janis covers an about equal mix of the latest fiction and non-fiction.    Blogs like this help you as a bookseller and the people you serve to make informed book choices.   Click on the image above, or click here; and bookmark the site for frequent visits.

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CMC – Cook Merger: One Year In

August 27, 2009 Comments off
Canadian Stores:   Tuesday, September 1st marks the one year anniversary of the sudden sale of the assets of CMC Music to David C. Cook.   The sale was greeted with mixed reactions.   On the one hand, in a country where the efficiencies of consolidated distribution matter, there were positive expectations, especially the ability to streamline ordering of books, cards and music.   On the other hand, CMC was, hands down, the country’s finest marketing and distribution system, covering about 85% of the Christian music available.    How has the merger affected your store?   Has it worked out the way you expected?    Comments can be sent ahead of time to a special mailbox set up at epistle[at]ymail[dot]com and if you wish to comment anonymously, simply indicate that with your comment.
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Regent College’s John Stackhouse on the Need to Preserve Good Bookstores

August 25, 2009 1 comment

Theologian and academic John Stackhouse devotes his August 25th blog post to the hot-button issue of buying from Christian and theological bookstores versus online sources.

This is an article you will want to read and perhaps forward to people in your community or sphere of influence.    It is perhaps the best apologetic for Christian stores that I have read to date.


john_stackhouseWe pay to have books right there on the shelves to buy now, not in a few days or weeks.

We pay to have books available to pick up, inspect, and decide about purchasing in a way websites can never emulate, no matter what cool features they add.

We pay for the wisdom and taste of professional theological booksellers who pick out the good books from the many, many bad ones. (Anyone up for some serious religious book buying at Barnes & Noble or Borders? At Wal-Mart?)

We pay for staff to advise us on what else might interest us on a topic, and also what might interest Uncle Fred or Cousin Wilma or Nephew Barney or Reverend Betty for a birthday or graduation or study leave or retirement.

We pay for information on why a book is not currently available, and perhaps on other ways of getting it (e.g., from the U.K. when it’s not available over here, particularly if it’s been published under a different title elsewhere).

We pay to be able to return things easily and confidently.

And we pay for the serendipity—not a trivial thing—of coming across books we never knew existed and for which we would never have thought to search on a website.

Read the article, “Good Bookstores, If We Ignore Them, They’ll Go Away”  by linking here.  (Click on the underlined section.)

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Christian Humor and Satire Yields Variable Sales

It’s a tricky section in most Christian bookstores, if you even have the section at all.   Last year, one of my managers removed A Field Guide to Evangelicals by Joel Kirkpatrick, saying she thought it was “inappropriate.”  Then, just last week, a customer returned a copy of 101 Things To Do During A Dull Sermon purchased the day before — the Kregel reprint of the old Youth Specialties book — because “it wasn’t what I thought it would be.”   Hmmm.   More recently, we invested in I Did It His Way, Thomas Nelson’s collection of the religious-themed B.C. comic strips by Johnny Hart, because I still think this genre needs to be there.

Garrison Keillor - LutheransSo while I’m recognizing that this can be a touchy department in some stores, today I am excited about Life Among the Lutherans a collection of 28 stories taken from radio monologue scripts by Garrison Keillor (Augsburg – hardcover 23.99 US/ 29.99 CDN).

Subtract the Lutheran-specific references, and you’re still left with an insightful look at small-town church life that only an insider can provide.   Keillor avoids major doctrinal subjects and instead looks at the sociology of church attendance and participation.

Plus, you’ve got the huge following that “A Prairie Home Companion” has each Saturday afternoon/early evening on National Public Radio.  One might even be tempted to file his work next to the Gaither product — no doubt there is a huge overlapping audience.

We’ve carried a few of Keillor’s previous titles in our remainder section and they did sell.   But last Christmas, audio product by him sold even better.

You can read a full review — the longest book review I think I’ve ever done — with excerpts from the book — at my personal blog.   (Double-click on the underlined section to view.)

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Ingram International / Spring Arbor Adds Document Fees

August 24, 2009 1 comment

If you didn’t receive it on Friday, watch your mail this week for a pink invoice from Spring Arbor / Ingram International.    Stores in Canada are receiving notice that the company plans to charge $0.50 U.S. per document, including invoices, statements and possibly backorder reports, replacing the documents currently being mailed.

The pink invoice shows the charges but then credits them back.   Stores are told they must sign up for electronic documents immediately, though no deadline is given.   The credit covers July invoices, there is no indication whether August invoices will be credited.

The implications of this are huge if a store doesn’t comply.   If you order ten items by Flashback or iPage, and…

  • four items ship from your primary warehouse
  • three items ship from your secondary warehouse
  • two items backorder from your primary warehouse
  • one item backorders from your secondary warehouse

…in their terms, you are looking at four documents or $2.00 U.S. in charges.   This is on top of flat-rate shipping charges, and short discounts for suppliers who are not short-discounted with other distributors.

Why not just sign up for the service?   Well, of course you should, and you had better, but the change is being touted as an environmental concern, when in fact, both you and your accountant are going to want hard-copy, paper invoices.   You’re going to have to print them at your end, and sadly, modern printers run costs as high as $0.22 for a single document.    So you’re NOT saving the environment, they’re simply passing on THEIR COSTS to YOU.

Some are suggesting that it’s just a matter of time before the company also starts charging for telephone calls to their order entry and Bible hotline services.   Currently, stores must provide account numbers before operators will answer even basic questions not requiring a look-up, and now must also key in their account number before using the automated Access service.

Enough is enough.     Canadian Christian stores currently have an excellent alternative in STL Distributors.    It’s time to start using this option and recognize that the era of Spring Arbor has come to an end as a practical alternative for stores in our market.

UPDATE:  When you actually sign up for the service, and only then, are you told that the fees are effective August 1st, which is 25 days ago.    No other printed notification at all.

Bible In Binary Code

August 21, 2009 1 comment

Bible in Binary

The creators of this were jesting, but you can almost picture yourself selling this to a computer geek customer you know.

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Brian Doerksen: Canada’s Gift to the World of Worship

Doerksen - Make Love Make WarIf you haven’t already, you should order some copies of Brian’s Make Love, Make War: Now is the Time to Worship (David. C. Cook) to display prominently under “new releases.”   Then buy some extra copies for your music department.   And then a couple more for your biography department.   Or do a display with his CDs and the Today DVD.   Then recommend it to various worship personnel from your local churches, as well as people who’ve purchased his music.  (Also another market:  People with special-needs children.)

I’ve never finished a book in a single day as I did with this one.   Check out my review at my personal blog, Thinking Out Loud.

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If I Could Change A Few Things About My Suppliers…

A couple of days ago, in the post “Can’t Live With, Can’t Live Without;”  Lando Klassen from House of James bookstore reminded us that we need to take our suppliers as they are.

Isn’t this like our personal lives too- some of our relatives and friends may bug us from time to time by their actions, words and habits. Just like our suppliers. At House of James in Abbotsford we have decided to try and accept our suppliers as they are and work around the things that bother us. Now that does not mean we never talk to them about our frustrations but we are trying to keep a positive attitude realizing that change comes slow and sometimes simply wont happen.

I wrote back:

Good attitude… they are what they are; a lot of which has to do with their history…I wish there were more ways suppliers could see further inside each others’ operations, in ways they can’t sitting across the aisles at conventions.

Without being too critical, or too nit-picking; and realizing that this rundown on top Canadian suppliers is lost on our increasing number of U.S. readers, here’s my vote for things I would change:

Augsburg Fortress – More product lines.  Yes, there are a some minor irritants, but the company is well-positioned to do more; and it would mean I would order more often.

David C. Cook – More generous discounts on key backlist (like FDI’s “Never Out” list);  radically overhauled phone system; wholesale website; bestseller information; backlist promotions.  (And small package shipments; which was to have been fixed by now…)

Foundation – Overhauled title search system on website; greater price and discount consistency.    The candies/chocolates are always a nice touch, though.

HarperCollins Canada – Sometimes the whole “ship days” thing can be frustrating, and we need more online resources; but otherwise, not much to complain about.   The general market industry in Canada doesn’t vote them “Supplier of the Year” so frequently without reason.

Ingram – More flexible shipping costs on larger orders; the flat rate thing really penalizes people placing larger orders.   More intuitive search engine.  More bestseller data available without subscription cost.

STL – Greater depth of inventory; ten times more scanning of product images on website; otherwise a very impressive operation, fair policies, rapid website, a variety of good website features.

Anchor – Reduced freight costs.

Thomas Nelson – This is a case where — despite trying to be as ‘green’ as the next guy — I really miss print catalogs now and then.    They’ve survived trying to ship direct and got through the GST muddle.

Family Treasures – About a hundred new products.   The ‘novelties’ sector of the market is still viable in some stores, but the existing products are starting to look very old.   But I realize this improvement would come at a price.

Sperling Church Supplies – (this one is subjective) – Accurate parcel packing and follow-up on customer service issues/adjustments.

Random House of Canada – Not much.  Good, efficient operation with a separate Canadian website, well-informed staff willing to go the extra mile on inquiries.

Pearson Canada – A trade list/mailing for Christian stores would be helpful.

Hachette Book Group – Backorder management and order tracing is abysmal.  The “throttling” of releases like The Shack seems so unnecessary when a store is only ordering 5 or 6 extra copies.

Don Folwer Distributing – The 50% conversion on the dollar is excessive; and the customers all know it.

Karver Distributing – Nothing, really; a fair way of doing importing; wish they had other lines.

Steeple Hill – Just once I’d like to get a comprehensive order form of all the Christian product available; but the website covers this well.

Book Depot – A lot of Christian accounts are finding that the price of Christian remainders has increased a lot over the past 18 months.   Some Nelson product is only 60% off.

Universal Designs – I miss being able to place small orders as when they had distributing in Canada; and (this is subjective) paid about $80 too much the last time the dollar took a swing.

Word Alive – n/a – don’t use

Wood Lake Books – n/a – don’t use.

Crown Video – n/a – don’t use

all suppliers – Don’t just think of reviewers and radio stations when you’re giving away free product.   It’s the bookstores that pay your bills.   It’s bookstore staff that enjoy reading books.   Do the math…

What do you think?

Are there suppliers I missed?

Is this sort of thing helpful or too contentious?

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Free Book – But Will Customers Pay For It?

free bookI like creative merchandising and marketing as much as anyone else.  The more radical the better.   But in my own retail environment, I’d be concerned about copies of this book walking out the door.  As in, not paid for. And putting a price tag on the front cover would seem to undermine the creativity of the cover itself.   What do you think?     The asterisk leads to the words at the bottom, “Nope.  Sorry.  Not that Kind of Free.”     The book, a 238-page paperback about freedom in the Spirit, by Brian Tome releases from Thomas Nelson in January at $14.99 US.   I’m sure stores will move a lot of copies!  But will they scan a lot of copies?

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Can’t Live With, Can’t Live Without

Here’s what it looks like as a formula:


There are some suppliers you can’t live with. It always seems adversarial. The walk always seems uphill. You can’t help think there should be more joy involved in bringing new products into your store.  You don’t relate as colleagues on the same mission.

But you can’t live without them. There are the source for that item. It’s a relationship built out of necessity. There’s certainly no love involved, not that there ever is business.

It’s frustrating.

I usually tell people considering getting into our industry that we have the best authors, the best products, the best staff members and the best customers.   The supplier network is the variable link in the chain.

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