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Archive for March, 2010

Steve Green Album Independently Distributed

Checking the daily Top 100 on Ingram, it’s not unusual these days to see veteran Christian tenor Steve Green’s new album, Love Will Find a Way beating out The Shack or Francine Rivers’ new book, or even (on the weekend) the new Karen Kingsbury.

That’s because the CD is being independently distributed with Ingram seemingly the sole trade distribution source.    The album has been tracking in the top ten on the Spring Arbor list (the Christian part of the Ingram title database) for a couple of weeks and occasionally has hit the # 1 spot.

Products will track higher on the overnight listings if there isn’t also distribution through a publisher, which means that titles such as this one, or titles contracted through Ingram Publisher Services, will show hotter numbers than is reflected in the ECPA lists.

Carpentree and Comfort Candles from Cherison

Don’t you just love the alliteration in the title of this article?

Several years ago, one of our employees was reading an advertisement for wall décor back when there were print editions of Christian Retailing magazine.   I contacted the supplier in question — Carpentree — to see what arrangements they had for distribution in Canada.

Not receiving a reply, I informed my employee that we couldn’t get the brand.

Then, just two weeks ago, in the process of tracking down a gift line — Comfort Candles — I found out that Cherison Enterprises in Vaughan, Ontario (you can see the peak of the roller coasters at Canada’s Wonderland) also distributes Carpentree and has for many years.

Now I really wish Carpentree had answered the e-mail at the time.

We ended up meeting with sales rep Mark last Monday from 10 AM to noon, and at some point early in the afternoon on Tuesday I got a call that my order was ready for pickup.   That’s not exactly normative in the giftware industry, but when you’re a bookstore accustomed to the speed of the book and music industry who also happens to sell giftware, it’s a very appreciated efficiency.

We didn’t get to Toronto until Friday.    Because we entered off Highway 400 and came in the back way — most people enter off Jane Street — we missed the large sign for the company and found ourselves at the rear of the building just as a large truck was backing in and blocking that sign.   I got a few blank stares when I told them, “This place is rather hard to find.”  (It really isn’t.)

However, that crisis passed, and check-in revealed 100% picking accuracy, no damaged pieces (that we’ve seen so far) and one manufacturing problem with one of the candle holders that we might be able to fix ourselves.

For a Christian retail store, the key to both Comfort Candles and (especially) Carpentree is their choice of texts.   The Comfort people had a few pieces with scripture verses that were definitely not King James Version (thankfully) but I never did get around to figuring out which translation they have used.   (It was one of their candles — just called “Faith” — that got us interested in tracking down the line.)   As the above photo demonstrates, the gift boxes they use are the finest.   We noticed that another store with this line displays the boxes next to the product, or even in-box, which isn’t normally done in the gift industry.

Carpentree knows exactly what they’re doing when it comes to texts.   There is a healthy mix of gift industry “standards” and a few Bible texts I haven’t seen on frames, plaques or wall art before.  The price range was the widest I’ve seen, with coaster sets you can sell as low as $4.99 (CDN) all the way to framed art pieces in the several hundred dollar range.

The fill rate was just a bit over 50%. There’s a vast inventory of SKUs with Carpentree alone, and the peek I got at the Cherison warehouse showed a huge distribution capacity, but I wouldn’t expect them to carry everything.

Our backorders have been promised in 3-4 weeks, by which time I’m expecting sell-through will have created more display space.   Actually, I prefer to have a larger order arrive this way; and this time around, I’ll know exactly where I’m going when I go to pick up!

www.cherison.com

www.carpentree.com

Upper photo – Comfort Candles; lower photo “As For Me” from Carpentree



Retailers and Wholesalers Assume Responsibility for Credit Card Chargebacks

If your point of sale terminal says the transaction is authorized, that settles it, right?

Not exactly.   These days, it’s possible for fraud artists to replicate both the appearance of the card and the information on the magnetic stripe.

Enter chip cards.   The new wave of credit card requires more sophisticated card reading equipment and an up-to-date PIN which of course, the customer can change from time to time.   (Some banks suggest changing the PIN annually.)

So the next phase in the credit card processing journey is one that will see retailers and distributors who don’t opt for the new equipment fully liable for chargebacks starting in October, 2010.

For distributors, who now process a lot of wholesale business by credit card (mostly for fear of not getting paid at all, or waiting a long time in a slower economy) the chances of this happening are fewer, since the customers are known to them.    There’s a kind of “arms length” relationship, although a greater number of these transaction are done by telephone where a card is never actually handled.

But for retailers, who largely don’t know every customer walking through the door, the consequences of not switching over to the new equipment could be disastrous.

The problem is that the processing companies are not being upfront if the new equipment involves an automatic switch to VISA DEBIT or MAESTRO processing (when it arrives) of debit card purchases.   As we’ve mentioned here before, the switch involves paying a percentage, whereas currently debit card transactions are handled by INTERAC, a non-profit organization which is actually investigating the possibility of converting to for-profit status.

The company that my store processes through, CHASE PAYMENTECH, has promised to keep the rental rate for our equipment at the “affinity rate” provided by membership in the Canadian Association of Independent Business (CFIB) but the letter avoids the debit processing question entirely.

We’ll have to do some investigating, because once installed, the costs of switching back to Interac have proved too high for some stores.

Ontario Minimum Wage: $11.00 in ’11?

Despite its meteoric rise, there are still people not satisfied with Ontario’s new minimum wage which reaches $10.25 as of Friday morning.    According to this Toronto Star story from two years ago,

“The poverty line right now is $10.25,” said New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park).

She plans to introduce a private member’s bill this week calling for a minimum wage of $11 hourly within three years.

“This will be the battle cry – $11 in 2011,” she told the Star.

This raises the question as to whether or not Christian bookstores will be forced to switch over to a volunteer labour paradigm.   Currently some stores use limited amounts of volunteer help, while others have an even mix of paid office staff and volunteer frontliners.    Still others use family members who work without pay.

The latter is the model this writer is most familiar with, having worked every single hour our original store was open — for seven full years.    To this day I am not on the payroll of Searchlight Books, taking only what’s absolutely necessary from a “retained earnings” account which was so pathetically small two years ago, that rather than owing me money, I currently owe the account.

One thing is certain, the Ontario Liberal party continues to send a strong anti-small-business message in each succeeding budget or policy announcement.

$11.00 in 2011 will eliminate more jobs in Canada’s most populous province and create more poverty than it will solve.

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Previously Published As

Don’t you wish they provided the information more freely?

  • Philip Yancey’s The Skeptic’s Guide to Faith is actually a reprint of Rumors of Another World
  • John Ortberg’s Know Doubt is a repackaging of Faith and Doubt
  • Donald Miller’s “newest” Father Fiction is a slightly revised edition of To Own A Dragon
  • John Eldredge’s Fathered by God is really a re-do of The Way of the Wild Heart
  • Dee Henderson’s Kidnapped is a repackage of True Courage
  • Liz Curtis Higgs’ Unveiling Mary Magdalene is the same as the still-requested Mad Mary
  • John and Paul Sandford’s Transforming the Inner Man is a kind of mash up of bits from Transformation of the Inner Man and Healing the Wounded Spirit
  • Max Lucado’s Cast of Characters is the book equivalent of a Greatest Hits album with a ‘tossed salad’ of excerpts from other titles
  • Lynn Austin’s God and Kings originally bore the series title, Chronicles of the King
  • Michelle McKinney Hammond’s How to Be Found by Mr. Right sounds like, but isn’t a sequel to Ending the Search for Mr. Right
  • Andy Andrews’ soon-to-be-released The Heart Mender was first published as Island of Saints
  • John McArthur’s A Simple Christianity was once titled First Love
  • Adrian Plass’ Silver Birches first appeared as Ghosts
  • Joseph Girzone’s Joshua and the Shepherd was formerly simply The Shepherd
  • Cloud and Townsend’s How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding was published as Boundaries: Face to Face in a rather rare example of “un-branding” from a series.

What titles did we miss here?

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The Power of Print Marketing

Today’s item is something I think is — from a retail perspective — an extremely frustrating trend taking place in our industry.   If you’re on the publishing, distribution or wholesale side of the equation, I hope you’ll take a minute to forward the link for this article to others in your organization.

A few minutes ago a note was passed to me dated March 1st, informing that another supplier, “in an effort to be more environmentally friendly and reduce costs” was going to a paperless system for new release sheets, monthly product summaries, and core must-have inventory lists.   They are not the first to do this, and they certainly won’t be the last.

Allow me also to state for the record that I am totally opposed to waste, in fact in our store, if the information contained is not trade-sensitive, every one-sheet and promotional announcement is recycled as scrap paper or as inventory “flags” for special product.

Still, it raises some serious issues.

First, if we believe in the power of print — we’re booksellers after all — then we need to also believe in the power of print marketing.   I can honestly say that my purchasing from one particular supplier has decreased in the absence of print catalogs, and my ability to sell Bibles to customers from a catalog has gone from 100% to 0% with that vendor.     So whatever is being blamed on “recession” or “slow economy” in their boardroom may simply be a consequence of a marketing shift.   We are, at the end of the day, print people in a print business.

Second, the offloading of print responsibility for essential forms and information (or invoices, which is another subject altogether) to the retailer is simply (a) creating the possibility the local store will forget or won’t bother, or (b) driving up the retailers’ costs.    Last time I checked, some companies were giving away printers because there is so much profit to be had in toner or inkjet cartridge refills.    Even converting most files to black-and-white, we’ve been aware of a significant increase in costs as supplier after supplier demands we do the printing at our end.   Consciously or sub-consciously, we’re also aware of who it is driving up our costs.   But this raises an interesting consequence, namely…

Third, we have been accustomed to an industry where a significant percentage of the MSRP has been attributed to marketing costs.   The catalogs were especially elaborate, but floor displays have also vanished over the years, being replaced with endcap displays which are far cheaper to produce.   Promotional bookmarks, bag stuffers, etc., were once far more common than they are today, and I’ve already vented here about the scarcity of review copies to all but the top tier stores and the elite among social media.

Therefore, we should be seeing a decrease in MSRPs, right?

I really appreciate being able to pick and choose what information I absolutely “need” and what would have otherwise constituted “junk mail” in a former era.   But there’s a middle area here as well, and on behalf of the authors, artists, contributors and creators, it bothers me that the publishers are no longer making that extra effort.

If we’re all going “green” then I think the local stores are entitled to a little of the other kind of green flowing in their direction, and toward the consumer as well.

~Paul Wilkinson

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Paying the Ultimate Price for Posession of Christian Literature

This version is highly condensed from the original.  To read the entire story, click here for the Right Side News site.

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 23 (Compass Direct News) – Islamic militants in Somalia tracked down an underground church leader who had previously escaped a kidnapping attempt and killed him last week, Christian sources said.

Abdi’s death adds to a growing number of Christians murdered by Islamic militants, but his was distinctive in that he was not a convert from Islam. An orphan, Abdi was raised as a Christian.

Sources said the militants prohibited his body from being buried, ordering that it be left to dogs as an example to other Christians. Al shabaab, which is fighting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed, has embarked on a campaign to rid the country of all non-Muslims.

The transitional government in Mogadishu fighting to retain control of the country treats Christians little better than the al Shabaab extremists do. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia (Islamic law) that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.

Having learned that there was a Bible and Christian pamphlets inside, the angry militants stormed the house in…as a warning to those who dare possess any Christian literature, sources said.

“Since there is no law and order in this country, there is no one we can turn to for protection,” said the owner of the house, who requested anonymity and has relocated to another city. “But we know that we’re covered with the blood of Jesus Christ.”

An eyewitness told Compass that after the looting, the extremists …locked the doors before setting it on fire. At the time of the attack, there was one New King James Version of the Bible, along with some copies of Christian pamphlets that had been printed off of the Internet, according to sources.

They said they did not know who leaked information about the existence of Christian literature in the house.

Islamic militants have displayed an unusual brutality in hunting down suspected converts to Christianity, with leaders of the underground church movement being executed as a means of discouraging others from joining the growing church.

Original source at CompassDirect.org, story link.

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A Lighter Moment…

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Nelson Music is Deja Vu All Over Again

First, Jarrell McCracken recorded “The Game of Life” a spoken word recording that also marked the beginning of Word Records.

Then the company spun off a book division, Word Publishing.   That company was later sold to Capital Cities a media division of ABC.

Then in 1992 Thomas Nelson purchased Word Records and Word Publishing.

Then the company they purchased split into two divisions, with Word Entertainment being sold to Gaylord, and Word book division being later renamed W Publishing.

Over the years, the company purchased Sweet Publishing (rebranding the Everyday Bible as the NCV), World Bibles, and other companies before being bought out itself and becoming a private company.

The Thomas Nelson name has a long history, going back to 1798 in Scotland, but to those of us in Canada, it’s hard not to think in terms of “Nelson-Word.”  Though others distributed Thomas Nelson books in Canada over the years — including G. R. Welch and R. G. Mitchell — the corporate culture of the two publishers synergized* best in the “Nelson-Word” years.

So the announcement today that the company finds itself back in the music business, releasing as its first project an album by Women of Faith, is hardly earth-shattering.   Maybe what’s more surprising is that it took this long.

For those of us Canada, as Yogi Berra said, “This is like deja vu all over again.”

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*Synergized — It’s a verb if you say it is.

Jellyfish Labs Product Availability

Since we’ve been a bit frustrated trying to buy Phil Vischer’s two What’s In The Bible DVDs domestically in Canada, we thought we’d take a run at bringing them in from the U.S., albeit at a higher price.

STL has had product for a couple of weeks now, but when you go to check out your shopping cart, it says “Market Restricted.”   Ingram/Spring Arbor simply doesn’t have the product.  There’s no discount information and no expected date, and the product won’t backorder.

Strange way to launch a new product line.

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Hole in Our Gospel

This book by Richard Stearns (Thomas Nelson) has already received many positive reviews.   Here is a promo video from the author.

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Tim Stafford on the Future of Publishing

Seems like everybody who has a blog or a YouTube account is pontificating about the future of the publishing industry this month.   I’ll save you the time checking out most of the crystal ball gazers.

Here’s one of the better commentaries, which really asks the question, “What do publishers actually do?”   According to this writer, not much besides provide endorsement.

But you can read this for yourself on Tim Stafford’s blog. Many of you know Stafford from his articles in Campus Life and collaboration with Philip Yancey on The Student Bible NIV.

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