Archive for December, 2009

Faith Looks Up

December 31, 2009 1 comment

Sometimes we can be ministered to by our own products.    As I was thinking of something for the last post of 2009, I was drawn to this piece on the cover of the Spring 2010 Abbey Press gift catalog.   It’s not on their website yet, so I had to scan it from the cover.  I think it applies:

  • Sorry looks behind
  • Worry looks ahead
  • Faith looks up
  • Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest ~ Matthew 11:28

I wish all of us in Christian retail God’s blessing, and an extra dose of wisdom and direction in 2010.

~Paul Wilkinson.

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Augsburg-Fortress Liberates “Lost” Multnomah and Waterbrook Titles for Canadian Distribution

Most Christian bookstores in Canada have never seen the book pictured at left.   It’s the visual edition of The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennon Manning, though the original version of the book may have also eluded stores north of the 49th who don’t have an Ingram account.

The issue was the absence of Canadian pricing on the back covers.   Price labeling at the store level is rare in the general market, though it’s de rigeur in Christian stores in Canada.    If your store tried going direct to Random House of Canada, your phone representative would say “no Canadian rights” while your invoice would read “market restricted.”

However, with a two-pronged attack both from Augsburg-Fortress and this blogger, this unnecessary situation was corrected a few weeks ago.    Norm Robertson, sales manager for Augsburg, suggests that we’re looking at as many as 60 new titles, none of which have been available from a Canadian supplier.

Random House of Canada — the distributor of record for Multnomah and Waterbrook, through whom product must pass through to Augsburg for the CBA market — uses “locked in” prices for our market, based on what was printed on the back of the book.   HarperCollins, on the other hand, floats prices with the changes in the dollar, as do Christian book market distributors Cook and Foundation.

Author royalties are generally made based on the U.S. SRP, unless other arrangements have been made for Canada.  (It’s been suggested the Canadian Christian market will not survive this practice again if the gap between the two currencies widens as it was earlier in the decade.)

Ragamuffin Gospel – Visual Edition (9781590525128/$14.99US paperback) is an example of a backlist product that shows continued strength that could do well here with the right display placement.   (Historically, the thing that separates Christian bookstores from general market book retailers has been the strength of our backlist.)   Because this is ‘newsworthy’ and because we were involved with this project, as soon as Norm has a complete list we’ll post it here.   It will be interesting to see what products we’ve all been missing over the past few years.

What should you do if a title you want for your store is trapped in bureaucratic red tape?   Your best leverage is to work with authors’ agents.   Brennon Manning’s agency had no idea that one of his signature titles was embargoed.

John Ortberg Title Swap Unexplained

No, Zondervan, I didn’t get the memo.    In fact, I can’t remember the last time a supplier sent me anything resembling a newsletter outlining anything they’re doing as a company.   If I’m lucky I get catalogs.    Most publishers I deal with didn’t even bother to send out notes this year announcing holiday closures.

Which brings me to this:

Apparently the first book, Faith and Doubt, published in hardcover in 2008 underwent a subtle title change to Know Doubt for the 2009 paper edition.

I have at least one customer who would like an apology.   And so would I.

One day, Mr. Publisher, you had a conference room meeting where you decided this title change would be a good idea.   But you didn’t let anybody else in on it.   Presently the two greatest “authorities” used by Christian booksellers to get reliable information — Ingram and CBD — do not contain this little tidbit of information; although in fairness, this blogger left the info on a review that’s sure to get CBD’s attention, even if it gets me kicked off the approved reviewers’ list.

I just don’t want to see more people get hurt.

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McNally Robinson Files for Bankruptcy

December 29, 2009 2 comments

Canadian general market book retailer McNally Robinson filed for bankruptcy today with the intention of restructuring its present four stores into two locations, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.    The closing of the upscale Toronto location in Shops-at-Don-Mills is surprising as the location only opened eight months ago and by virtue of its size, was a kind of anchor tenant for the newly-created retail village.   The closure is not a good sign for developer Cadillac Fairview, a company whose forté has been enclosed shopping malls.

Read the full story at The National Post.

Christian distributors had minimal exposure this time around, with Augsburg and Foundation owed in the range of $750 each and Cook and Thomas Nelson owed in the range of $1,600 each — however the CBC News site reports that presently:

  • HarperCollins Canada is owed $472,793.
  • Random House of Canada is owed $449,381.
  • The Penguin Group is owed $298,365.
  • Raincoast Books is owed $272,067.
  • H.B. Fenn and Company is owed $241,031.
  • Simon and Schuster is owed $176,554.

Additionally, Ingram International is owed $18,099.

The company filed documents showing more than $2M (CDN) in losses during the 2009 fiscal year.    Read details on this at CBC News.

Photo is from CBC News page, showing the surviving Winnipeg, MB location.

The company website refers to a New York City location which was not mentioned in any of today’s stories online.

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Today As It Appeared From My Viewpoint

  • The banks were closed
  • There was no mail delivery
  • All my suppliers were closed


  • We were open

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Merry Happy Christmas Holidays

The comic Retail by Norm Feuti is the only syndicated comic strip devoted entirely to what we do each day!

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New Online Search Tool Locates Christian Fiction

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), an 1,800 member organization with 19 chapters in 14 U.S. states, has created a new online search tool, FictionFinder which provides detailed searching on titles and authors within the Christian fiction genre.   Each book is listed according to several criteria which can also become part of a search, as shown in the sample below:

To read more about the launch, visit this Examiner online article.

FictionFinder is free to use, but visitors can also register in order to save preferences for future visits.   To see the site, link here to and click on “books.”

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Regrets? I Have a Few!

This is the time of year people are beating themselves up over the things that went wrong in 2009 and hoping 2010 will be different.   Today on Thinking Out Loud, my personal blog, I’m reviewing Regret Free Living by Stephen Arterburn (Bethany House).   You can link to that review here.

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STL (UK) Broken Up and Purchased By Koorong, Kingsway, CLC and Others

December 21, 2009 3 comments

While the UK division of STL won’t continue in its present form, the various pieces of the company have survived, including retail, publishing, music publishing and distribution; through a negotiated arrangement with other companies, including the Australian Christian retail company Koorong (some stores and the Authentic and Paternoster publishing interests), CLC (other stores) and Kingsway Music (buying Authentic Music).

Read the whole story here at The Christian Bookshop Blog.  Then click the header to scroll back through previous stories.

The way the UK Christian ‘industry’ came together as a community to maintain the availability of Christian product for their public has, in my opinion, no parallel in North America.   As they say over there, “Good on ya.”

Also, a reminder to our North American readers that this concerns the UK operations only.   It’s business as usual for STL in the U.S.

See also our November 24 story, and the original November 18th story.    Logo illustration is from STL USA.

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Christian Retailers Live in Four Worlds

While you can’t compartmentalize all of life, Christian retailers recognize that their lives overlap on at least four distinct worlds:

  1. The world of faith.  Anything that happens in the world of  “religion” should at best matter or at least be of interest; especially trends in the broader Christian world: authors, churches, theology, etc.
  2. The world of business.   We are a leading edge indicator of how the economy is doing.   We need to understand that, and managers need to also live in the world of management and leadership.
  3. The world of the arts.   We sell books.  We sell music.  We sell movies.   We sell wall décor.   We sell tableware.    Those five areas gives us an interest in any developments in the arts and even popular culture as a whole.
  4. The world of retail.   Much of the “money velocity” taking place in our economy happens in the retail environment, which is always changing.

Christmas gives us much opportunity to pursue #4; to get out and see what our fellow-retailers are doing.    Even if it’s not a conscious process, we can’t help but learn as we visit other forms of retail organization.

~Paul Wilkinson

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Christian T-Shirts Rip-Off Copyrighted Logos and Advertising Tag Lines

This appeared today at the Religion page of USAToday:

American retailers sell about $4.6 billion worth of Christian products annually, and some are spoofs or spinoffs of commercial logos or brand names. Many such goods are illegal, trademark attorneys say, but companies often are unaware their names are being copied or don’t put up a fight for fear of being labeled anti-faith.There are “iPray” hats to wear while listening to your iPod, and the logo for the popular “Rock Band” video game was tweaked for a Christian necklace with a pendant shaped like a guitar pick. Preachers are even in on the act: They can buy materials for sermons based on popular TV shows including “Lost” and “Survivor.”

Imitators include Christian versions of the Subway restaurant logo, the “got milk?” advertising campaign, and the “intel inside” sticker that’s on millions of computers.

Trademark attorney Michael G. Atkins of Seattle said legal parodies of commercial trademarks are protected under the First Amendment, but such religious products generally don’t fall into that category.

“You could take Microsoft and change their logo around to make fun of Microsoft, and that would be legal,” he said. “But I can’t use the Microsoft logo to promote my Christian theme because there’s no real connection there. That’s illegal.”

Continue reading here…

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Bookstore Reviewers: Hidden Participants in the Publicity Agenda

As someone who has pushed hard to increase the visibility of the retailer in the promotion and publicity agenda — in other words, to see fellow retailers get the freebies usually allocated solely to print, broadcast and online media — I am now going to appear to argue the opposite case; but trust me, this is all compatible with earlier statements I’ve made.

As a bookstore owner, I’ve actually been reviewing books for a long time in the e-mail newsletters that preceded my blogging days.   I would simply remove a book from the shelves and take it home and read it; except for the few that I did not wish to own, and then I would read about three chapters from each of four or five copies, to preserve the ‘new-ness’ of those books.  (I believe anything more than three chapters and you’ve essentially ‘bought’ the book.)

Since I don’t do — and don’t believe in — trade shows, this manner of getting past the covers was the extent of my product reviewing modus operandi.     Rarely did I even see sales reps, let alone get promotional product from them, with Zondervan being the much-appreciated exception.

The success of megablogs like Tim Challies’ — who is more than willing to read hundreds of books per year — didn’t escape the directors of marketing at various Christian publishers, who then made a point to include social media such as (but not limited to) blogs, in order to get the word out on their new titles.

The problem is, there are lots and lots of blogs out there, some of which poll respectable numbers.   Plus, the people reading these blogs are actually reading them, as opposed to print publications who can tell you how many copies they printed, but not how many sold; or how many paid subscribers they have, but not how many of those actually read each article (or advertisement.)

As a blogger, I started getting in on free product myself, and while my combined 600 readers per day was very modest compared to the top 100 Christian blogs, I was very grateful to get the product, and felt my dual role in the bookstore would result in both increased visibility for that product, and sell-through based on my recommendation.

But, alas, as I said there are a lot of blogs.   Earlier this year, Thomas Nelson ran a teaser campaign where blogs could post a link to a customized mock-site in which Donald Miller pretends to claim that the blogger in question co-authored his book.   Unfortunately, nobody tracked who was participating in that, or what kind of traffic they produced, and when it came time to dole out the actual books for review, they went on a first-come, first-served basis to whoever, regardless of readership or past commitment to the earlier marketing project.

That is symptomatic however of a much greater problem.   As I said, there are many blogs out there, and as the number of available book copies started diminishing, I found myself reading fewer books.   Instead of reverting to pulling copies of the shelf at my store, I found I had been somewhat spoiled by the free product, with the result that my number of books reviewed in the fourth quarter dropped dramatically from what I did the rest of the year.

Then there’s the issue of publishers not working together with bloggers to hit a home run when it comes to maximizing publicity.

Twice this year, I was given to understand that my personal blog would be hosting some book giveaways from Hachette Book Group.   I provided them with a confirmation of the quantity of books, and reiterated my request for a review copy.   I figured that the review and the start of the contest should occur on the same day, right?

I figured wrong.   The review books never came.   So when I was offered a third contest, I mentioned that the first two contests never happened, and was told that this was my fault somehow, I should have just presented the giveaway irrespective the review OR the book’s release date.    That’s not exactly maximizing the promotional effort, is it?   Maybe I’m just too old-school to want to just randomly give product away with saying more about what it is, and why everyone — not just the 5 or 6 winners — should want to read this book.

To wrap this up, I said that I would tie this to my earlier statements concerning retailers.    All these promotional and review opportunities that are being somewhat squandered — in my opinion anyway — represent copies of books which should be in the hands of you, the retailer.   Because ultimately, you and I have the greatest control in determining whether or not a book succeeds or fails.

I never did pick up the new Donald Miller title.   I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but hardly any copies of it have sold at my stores.    Makes you wonder.

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