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Archive for September, 2009

The Impossibility of Reducing Stock You Purchased

September 29, 2009 1 comment

I’m convinced that it should be someone other than the buyer who reduces product that didn’t sell.

As a buyer, I know why I bought that product in the first place, I know how useful it might be to the right customer, and I’m still amazed that it didn’t sell.  I bought it on the basis of the product quality or the author’s previous successes or my trust in that publisher.   I thought it would meet a real need in my store’s product mix.

But the fact remains it didn’t sell.   A hard-nosed employee would slash 30-40% off it; far more than the 15-20% I am reluctantly applying.

To do otherwise would be to admit that I was wrong.

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Publishers Doing Christian Retail Without Christian Retailers

September 24, 2009 2 comments

walmart bibles 1I usually don’t reiterate things you all have read earlier in the day on the Christian Retailing website, but I think today’s reaction to Zondervan’s decision is fairly significant.

If you missed it, the article leads off:

Zondervan’s recent announcement of an exclusive Bible line for Wal-Mart stores has prompted complaints from Christian retail supporters disappointed by the move.

Then there’s a few comments gathered after the original story broke yesterday, such as:

“Thanks Zondervan,” wrote John Samuels. “Now there’s one more reason for customers not to visit their local Christian bookstore this Christmas season. When we’re all out of business, is Wal-Mart going to sell the rest of your repertoire?”

Carol wrote:

I don’t like this either but I have to ask everyone else who doesn’t like this. Are you shopping at Walmart? It’s hard to take a stand if you are feeding the beast. Am I shopping there? Nope. I haven’t for over 5 years. I haven’t missed anything except for not being able to say how much I hate going to Walmart. And that’s ok with me. I would just like to encourage everyone to do the same thing.

Steve wrote:

I’m sorry but packaging can not effectively help a person make an complete, informed buying decision on a bible “so that consumers can walk away feeling confident that they have put the right Bible in their cart.” Who are they trying to kid… I know they don’t believe that!

walmart bibles 2And Frank the first commenter, wasted no time jumping in with:

Thanks Zonder, thanks for helping out the little CBA stores – I’m sure that Wal-Mart sales people will be able to really serve the customer looking for bible studies.   WOW – I think there’s a knife in our (CBA) collective back!!!!!!

On today’s post, Judy wrote:

I don’t care what Zondervan says. It’s all about the money. Veggie Tales did the same thing. If it wouldn’t of been for the small Christian bookstores they would be nothing. Only after the big stores thought they could make some $$$ did they take them on. And in Walmarts usual fashion under sells us all. You are right. Soon none of us will be around to offer OTHER Christian products. But that seems to be the way of this world right now.

While my own comment might have been a bit extreme, I thought Judy really nailed it, even if it seemed a little conspiratorial,  and added:

Judy makes some good points in her comment.   It’s not just Zondervan.  The meetings that go on in the back rooms and board rooms of the major publishers have resulted in one strategy and that is to end the long-term relationship and the existence of the Christian bookstores we have come to know.   They have already factored in the closing of ALL such stores in their scenario of what the future looks like.

They’ll do this new kind of single-title marketing with key vendors like Costco or Wal-Mart and they’ll sell other lines through Amazon, but there won’t be backlist or peripheral catalog items.   Authors with something to say will go with independent print-on-demand technology, not the imprints of major publishing houses.

Cross-Site Product Searching for Customers

One of the first rules of any internet search is that, Every search parameter you can control you must control. With many different websites using search algorhythms, the rules that produce the most efficient searches on one site may produce the greatest number of setbacks on another.   With some sites, “less is more;” the fewer search terms you introduce, the better your chances of getting what you want.   With others, additional search terms speed your quest.

Another frustration of online searching is that some sites allow you to “refine within results;” that is, narrow it down using additional category or product type tags; while other sites don’t.

But probably the biggest frustration of using the technology as we have it, is that we’ve come to expect certain types of information, and when we can’t get our hands on that, we find ourselves doing what I call, for lack of a better term, cross-site product searching For example:

  • NT5288558you go to one site because it’s the one that offers you online SPEED and gets you the basic information quickly;
  • you go to another to get the product ANNOTATION, to see if it actually contains the content or the revised edition the customer is hoping for;
  • you then go to another that has product IMAGES because the customer wants the red one, not the blue one;
  • and then you paste the IBSN/UPC/EAN into yet another one, because that’s the supplier you really want to order it from, to check their INVENTORY LEVEL.

Ouch!   That’s a lot of copying and pasting.   It’s also consuming vast amounts of time, but you’re doing it because you’ve come to expect that this sort of information is going to be available. (Can you imagine doing this in the days before the internet, or worse, in the days before supplier toll-free numbers?)  Furthermore, the customer has come to expect that you have or know this information also.  (Don’t expect a “thank you.”)

It would be nice if every wholesale website offered you all these features:  SPEED, full ANNOTATION, clear IMAGES, and instock INVENTORY.   Links to other products by the same author(s)/artist(s); other items in the same series; other print formats; etc., are always helpful, too.  But for now, even with the best sites, you find you’re constantly playing the game I call “control-C, control-V.”*

So how you do deal with the avalanche of information that is now pouring out of the little wire and onto your computer screen?

*Moving ISBN/UPC between sites=Ctrl C for copy; Ctrl V for paste

Categories: Uncategorized

Glo: Taking the Illumina Concept to the Next Level

gloSporting HD video and graphics and taking interactivity in Bible software to a new level, the Glo Bible is just days away from release from Zondervan.   Suitable for Bible college students, individuals and families with young children, this is a product you’ll want to promote to a variety of customers.

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Francis Chan Introduces Forgotten God

Forgotten GodHere is another video introduction to a current Christian title.   Personally, I feel a lot closer to an author when I can access material like this.

I’ve also done a short review of this book today.   You can check that out on my personal blog by clicking here.

RSS readers need to visit the blog for today’s and yesterday’s YouTube clips.

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Shane Claiborne Introduces Follow Me To Freedom

Follow Me To FreedomThis is Shane Claiborne’s new title, with co-author John Perkins, published by Regal.   Shane explains on this video what both are trying to accomplish with this new release.

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Are Blank Pages The Latest Trend?

Is it just me, or are you also noticing that many trade paper and hardcover Christian books are containing an increasing number of blank pages?

blank pagePart of this has to do with layout. Publishers and designers like the conformity of having new chapters begin on an odd-numbered, right-hand page. But others are deliberately including a blank leaf (on both sides) even where not needed for that reason. Of course, this also increases the page count.

I noticed this with Fearless by Max Lucado (Nelson), and again with the book I’m currently reading, Forgotten God by Francis Chan (Cook). What’s more, both of these are $14.99 US titles that might be $13.99 with Harvest House or Baker, with more actual content. (I realize that a veteran like Lucado commands a higher royalty, but that royalty is based on retail price, so the argument becomes circular.)

If I could send a message to our publishers, it would be this: Make sure the customer is getting good value for their money. If you drove to church on Sunday and the sermon was only ten minutes long, wouldn’t you feel shortchanged? So does a customer who purchases a book out of a felt need only to find it comes up short on delivering all that it could.

I’m not saying Lucado comes up short — I enjoyed the book — and I won’t finish Chan for another hour or so, but with customers, the perception is the reality.

And that’s before even considering the environmental implications.

T-shirt from zazzle.com

Don’t Judge a Book By Its 1200 Covers

September 18, 2009 1 comment

Rick WarrenAs far as the book industry is concerned, Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren is the number-one, all-time, best-selling, non-fiction hardcover book in history.   Period.   So you can see why everyone is excited about this November release, The Hope You Need (Zondervan).

Well, not everyone.   Certainly not at the blog, Church Marketing Sucks — yes that’s the name of it and don’t laugh, it was recently rated the 11th most popular Christian blog.

Their point of view, as outlined in this post, concerns Rick Warren’s decision to open the book jacket design up to a $5,000 competition, what graphic designers refer to as “spec work.”

Unfortunately, it’s not such a sweet deal. For the hundreds of designers who spent hours of time on your project, it’s a total loss. These kinds of projects communicate that their work is of little value.

As a double whammy, it’s not a very sweet deal for you, Rick. The quality of work you get is going to be sub-par … because the designers didn’t have the benefit of a working relationship with you the client where they could be privy to all the ideas, expectations, insights and everything else that goes into making a creative project work. In a nutshell: You’re not getting the best work because you’re not valuing the worker.

While the mechanics of getting a book to press don’t often register with booksellers, you really should read the whole article, and if for some reason you can’t then you really MUST have a look at the 1200 contest entries.*  You have to wonder why, given the success of its predecessor, a book that is this important is being put through this bizarre tendering process.

You’ll never look at a book cover the same again.

*That’s about 1,200 as of 1:00 PM EST today.   When first drafted, this article was called, “Don’t Judge a Book By Its 140 Covers.”   A lot changed overnight!

**SEPTEMBER 20, UPDATE:  As of the close of the contest they received over 2,900 entries.   They’ll stay posted online until at least October 2nd, by which time Warren and Zondervan will have to make a decision; unless the ‘winner’ is simply paid off and the cover was already determined.   Sorry for being cynical.

What’s Your Damage Tolerance?

During the last two weeks I’ve purchased 40 boxes of hurt and damaged books from publishers.    I usually like to choose my sale books on a title-by-title basis, but there are a few publishers whose products I trust, and I have the added advantage of having created a network of stores who share product, each one of us desiring different types of books that come in such shipments.

Going through hurt book boxes is like going through your neighbor’s trash.   (You do that, too; right?)

One thing I’ve discovered this time around is that my tolerance for product damage is entirely too high.   I may complain about many things, but doing returns is way down the list of options.   I actually put up with a lot.

It amazes me how my suppliers really don’t teach their shippers much when it comes to doing their job.    Maybe it was the two years I spent running a warehouse for InterVarsity Canada in the late 1970s, or maybe it was preparing international shipments for the Canadian Bible Society in the early 1980’s, but I think I know a thing or two about what it takes to ship parcels safely.

And I’m available for seminars, kids’ birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.

Recently, I noticed a distributor had invested in new boxes complete with their name boldly printed on the sides.    But a quick comparison to the trim size of most of their books reveals the new boxes to be about 1 cm too narrow.

Then there was the shipment from Nashville today.   The boxes that this particular book publisher uses are just too thin for international shipping.   One book was a mess, but rather than complain, I just marked it down our standard 15% “cover damaged” discount.   Another delivery late yesterday afternoon was left at the door with one of the boxes completely split on the side; a welcome invitation for anyone to help themselves — and for the paperwork to blow away.

Then there’s the distributor who insists on ramming smaller books down the sides, totally bending the covers in the process.   I tried discussing it with their warehouse staff, but they keep having to hire new people, so the lesson leaves with each employee.

Then there’s the boxes which split because they were never meant to accommodate the weight packed into them.   (Ya gotta read them little specifications in the circle on the box bottom, shippers!)   Even when these boxes arrive intact, I’m always wondering who the superhero is that’s going to lift them for us.

But I digress.   The books in the shipments I received showed that apparently, a lot of you have a lot of time on your hands to do a lot of nitpicking.   But have you weighed (pun intended) the cost of sending all that stuff back?   Even if you have considerable quantities of damaged product, and/or the distributor pays the return freight,  it still takes time and energy to repack everything.

I’d rather have suppliers who trust my judgment call on this, and will issue credits.   Not 100% of my cost; just enough to reduce the product to a price where everybody’s happy.

And hopefully, many of the Bibles and study books are going to be severely worn out over their lifetime, so that the little corner dents and other “momentary light afflictions” won’t seem all that important.

On the other hand, a $100 Bible should be in pristine condition, as should something being given as a special gift.    So each situation requires its own call.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ponder Publishing: One Year After the Meltdown

September 17, 2009 2 comments

In the last post here, we marked the anniversary of the RGM shutdown.  One of the hardest hit companies on the receiver’s list was Ponder Publishing, a small youth ministry publisher based in BC, whose entire inventory was locked up in Mitchell’s warehouse.

On the anniversary, Cindy posted this comment to our original, Nov 10th story:

Ponder did manage to survive the above circumstances, and is now based in Hamilton, ON. Books are currently being distributed through David C. Cook, and they are always looking for new authors.

We rechecked the website and Ponder is now promoting itself as offering a blend of traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Categories: Uncategorized

One Year Anniversary of R. G. Mitchell Bankruptcy

September 15, 2009 4 comments

R. G. MitchellIt didn’t shake the world like September 11th, 2001; but September 15th, 2008 left some Canadian Christian retailers remembering where they were when they heard the news.

Following the bankruptcy of Blessings — the largest chain in the country — and the closure of CMC — the largest Christian music distributor in Canada — came the sudden closing of both R. G. Mitchell wholesale and the eight stores of Mitchell Family Books.   Around the same time came word the largest individual store in the country, Christian Publications in Calgary, would close its doors and those of two of its three satellite locations.

mitchell logoThe Mitchell situation sent U.S. publishers scrambling to find new distribution arrangements while at the same time reeling from losses that would never be recovered, many of them six-figure losses and one which was seven figures; and at the same time dealing with a domestic economy that was in deep recession.    It also left many people who had lived and breathed the Christian book industry out of work, only a handful of whom found employment in other facets of Christian book retail and distribution.

The liquidation process took about eighteen weeks and while some retailers were able to take advantage of the situation, others either could not or chose not to.    In addition to publishers, all types of companies and individuals contracted to do business with RGM also took a loss; though oddly, many of the smaller suppliers to the Canadian industry were not on the receiver’s list because RGM’s retail stores didn’t do business with them.

Only one of the former Mitchell Family Books retail stores performs the same function today, re-christened as Michael’s Family Books in Pickering.   But many feel the new Faith Family Books in Scarborough is a resurrection of the MFB flagship store in Willowdale, albeit with an entirely different retail philosophy.    The western part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been the hardest hit, as events took place in an economic climate that wasn’t conducive to retail startup.

This writer was offered the Kingston store by the receiver, but the facility was just too large to maintain business viability in shifting times.   Currently, the entire city of Kingston is served by a small outlet with a history of sales to the liturgical church market.

The publishers who struck new arrangements tended to do so along doctrinal lines.   It wasn’t surprising to see Baker/Bethany go to David C. Cook where Bethany had been before, along with doctrinally conservative Moody, Kregel and Broadman.   Westminster JohnKnox Press and Abingdon are a good fit for historically Lutheran Augsburg-Fortress Canada who traded Concordia with Foundation’s Multnomah/Waterbrook.    Foundation picked up Harvest House, NavPress, Tyndale and Gospel Light; but both they and Cook jettisoned smaller lines in order to take on these larger ones.

HarperCollins Canada appeared to sit on the sidelines watching the whole thing unfold from a distance, even though they have a history of negotiating beyond the U.S. Collins family, and have what sometimes appears to be infinite warehouse capacity.

Thomas Nelson decided to go it alone, servicing the Canadian market the way STL and Ingram do, with direct shipping from Nashville.   TNI took the greatest hit on the RGM closure and probably once so bitten, is now twice shy.

Some say that the division of the old RGM product lines leaves us with a healthier, more balanced wholesale market in Canada.   Others miss the streamlining of one-stop shopping that existed before — forgetting of course that Foundation and Cook and Augsburg already had other important lines.

There is no doubt however that the current situation leaves Cook as the dominant player in the Canadian market, but that was fairly well decided on September 1st, 2008 with the CMC acquisition.

Canadian retailers:  What are your thoughts one year later?

Tools of the Trade

Nothing is more frustrating than damaged merchandise.   Here’s a few tricks that may help you minimize damage when it happens and/or save the cost of returning stock to suppliers when it’s received in damaged condition.

  1. Masking tape.    Dab a little bit about ten times in rapid succession on the sticky bits that remain when the book you received contained a price tag from another store.
  2. Cigarette lighter fluid.    For heavy duty application removing anything that doesn’t want to come off surfaces like resin picture frames or CD shrinkwrap.    This is an art as well as a science, and you want to store the stuff in a very safe place in the store.   (You might even want to buy it out of town!)   Use on books should be restricted to laminated covers until you know what you’re doing.   Never use nail polish remover.
  3. A white pencil eraser.    Removes marks on leather-like surfaces such as Bibles, Bible cases or journals.   If you use a pink one — as is found on the end of a pencil — it will transfer the pink color to the item.   A white pen eraser will remove ink from some surfaces as well, though ink on Bibles — especially white ones — is deadly.
  4. A guillotine.   Don’t buy one of these.   But your local printer has one and will usually do you a favor and trim the bottom 1/8th of an inch off the bottom of books that have been subject to some damage.   (Note, if someone has been over-aggressive in putting remainder marks on books, this technique also works, but removing the marks as a matter of course is really cheating the system.)
  5. Book binding glue.   This is my next purchase.   There’s a woman in town that does Bible restoration and I’m going to ask her where she gets her glue because I’d rather fix the books myself when the binding splits than send them back.   Especially those economy New Testaments.   But I probably wouldn’t do it on Bibles; I’d either send them to her or return them under warranty to get them fixed or replaced by the pros.

So what tools can’t you live without in your store?

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