Archive for August, 2010

Canadian Dollar Continues Trend Downward

The Canadian dollar reached an 8-week low today, closing at 0.9378 US according to the Bank of Canada exchange rate site.

Because Canada is increasingly seen as an extension of the U.S. book market, prices of most books are indexed to the U.S. dollar price.   Wholesalers and individual stores have to watch the rate trend carefully, as goods are usually priced when they arrive, but invoices are not settled until up to 45 days later; longer for wholesale distributors with extended terms.

A falling dollar could mean higher prices by Christmas, a situation especially critical if advertising flyers have already been printed.  Books sold in other countries outside the U.S. are often printed domestically, with retail prices based on manufacturing cost plus a negotiated royalty.


Calgary Pastor’s Book Strikes a Responsive Power Chord

It’s not every day I learn about a Canadian author’s book from CNN, but that’s what happened on August 20th, when CNN ran this piece about Calgary pastor John Van Sloten’s The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything.  You can read that piece online at CNN’s Belief blog.

My next step was to check out the pastor himself at his church’s website, where I learned more about the book, and ended up mentioning it in last week’s link list at Thinking Out Loud.    You can read more information at the book’s page at New Hope Church.

That began some off-the-blog correspondence with the result that I can now report that Canadian stores who wish to test the waters with just a few copies, can now backorder copies at Ingram/Spring Arbor.   (Though stores closer to Alberta, or those wishing to commit to greater copies might talk to John directly.)  For U.S. stores, the Ingram connection makes the title much easier to obtain.

The ISBN is 9781592554959 and while the CNN article is more colorful than the publisher blurb; here’s how the book is summarized:

What do the music of Metallica and Bach, the film Crash, and stories about Batman have in common? According to author and pastor John Van Sloten, God can speak through all of them if we’re listening. Out of his own often startling and sometimes wrenching journey of discovery, Van Sloten shows how God can speak to us through anything and everything heavy metal music, R-rated films, sports, and even the latest fashions. This book might just change the way you hear God’s voice and how you live in today’s world.

The 250-page book is $14.99 US at Ingram in paperback from Square Inch; and $18.99 CDN from John’s site.

Keeping Up With New Artists

Check out some of these artist websites:

Each one of these web pages will help you (and/or your music buyer) get to know artists your customers are hearing on Christian radio.

It’s interesting that while publishers are keeping busy sending out review copies of books to social media (such as blogs) I’ve never seen a blog carry a review of a Christian album that had been sent to them for review purposes.  All the albums reviewed here and at Thinking Out Loud were actually purchased as demos from our own store to review.

Thanks for help finding these artists to 20-The Countdown Magazine.

The Giant’s Actual Measurements

It’s worse than we thought.   The giant is pretty big.  And the giant is affecting a number of retail sectors, not just we booksellers.

Hitwise is a company that tracks search engine term and internet traffic.   I learned about it through reading the book Click by Bill Tancer (Collins, 2009) this weekend.   Very insightful.   Search criteria can provide us with information that traditional market surveys often took months to gather.

Dutch Blitz Sells, Why Not Rook?

Wikipedia nails it in the first paragraph:

Rook is a trick-taking game, usually played with a specialized deck of cards. Sometimes referred to as “Christian cards” or “missionary poker”, Rook playing cards were introduced by Parker Brothers in 1906 to provide an alternative to standard playing cards for those in the Puritan tradition or Mennonite culture who considered the face cards in a regular deck inappropriate because of their association with gambling and cartomancy.

Growing up, my parents were part of a Rook Club consisting of other Evangelical couples, all of whom jokingly referred to the game as “Baptist Bridge.”   While, as in Bridge, trick-taking matters, it does so only to the extent that one captures “counter cards” such as the 5, the 10, and the 14; although there are different variations on the rules, some of which involve using the 57th card in the deck, the rook card.    The bidding tends not contain the nuances of information found in a regular bridge game.

So given its history, why is it so hard to purchase Rook in a Christian bookstore when card games like Dutch Blitz do so well?

Part of it is simply that no distributor has ever seen this as a challenge worth taking.    Interacting with other industries can be tricky, especially when you’re not at all interested in an entire product line.   For that reason, it can be daunting both to wholesalers and individual retailers, especially if the company principals have no previous history with the game.

In our case, it took two years.   A local toy store owner — who also happens to be a Christian — promised me over and over again that she would include a box of 12 Rook decks on her next order, and pass them on to me at her wholesale cost,  but simply never did.    This story repeated over and over again until the owner of the Canadian educational store chain Mastermind offered me a case at a short (30%) discount.

Some of our customers recognized the game right away and wanted to update their current card decks; others required an explanation.   But now I’m sold out again and find the process of getting another case or two rather onerous.

Which is too bad.   I feel like I’m cutting my customers off from a viable piece of Christian culture.    Maybe one of my distributors with more buying power will read this and decide it’s worth stocking this little curiosity item.

Do you have obscure merchandise you’d like to carry in your store but find the process of obtaining it too complex?

Read more of the Wikipedia article about Rook here.

Using a Store Facebook Page

The internet is changing.   Whereas once, you had to have a web page to establish identity online; many stores desired a different kind of communication with their customers and started a store blog, often linking to it from the main website.

Increasingly, businesses are discovering the value of having a business page on Facebook, at the same time much more online communication happening is taking place within Facebook.

So…does your store have a Facebook page?

No stranger to the online world, I decided to look into this by checking out who is using Facebook well, and that took me to Christian Book Store and Supplies in Merritt Island, Florida; a store that I can say truly “gets it” when it comes to using this particular medium.

If you ever had a million things you wish you could impart to customers passing through your store, this is the way to say it.

  • New titles posted as they arrive
  • Reminder of a contest deadline
  • Notification that a group study resource has arrived  (that could save a lot of phone calls!)
  • Reiteration of store policies and programs
  • Specials posted as they arrive or are marked down
  • Announcement of an author book signing
  • Informing that a department (boxed cards) has just been restocked
  • Previewing — and building excitement for — upcoming releases

…and that was just what I could see from August.   Amazing!

Content Management Systems (CMS) like blogs, Facebook, and other kind of social networking sites don’t require a programmer or webmaster.   This is available to you FREE anytime you want to start.   You could also post:

  • mini-reviews of product
  • upcoming concert information
  • invitations to book discussion groups
  • help-wanted notices
  • changes in hours during the Christmas season
  • welcome new clergy in town; best wishes to pastors moving on
  • etc!

Once again, check out what this store in Florida is doing and ask yourself if you couldn’t use this particular level of communication.

The Cultization of Calvinism

After this published this morning at Thinking Out Loud, I got told that it really had too much book-industry perspective not to appear at Christian Book Shop Talk…

It happened again yesterday.

My son got a package in the mail from the Christian camp where he did a four-week leadership training course, containing a magazine and other resources.

John Piper was on the cover of the magazine, there were advertisements for Crossway Books and the ESV Study Bible, a couple of references to Mark Driscoll, a reference to the Together for the Gospel conference. And many such clues that this was not really a mainstream Christian publication.

I’m okay with that. I told him he should make an effort to read every article. I’m glad the camp took the time and expense to send it to him, along with an encouraging personal letter from the two directors of his leadership course. We actually worshiped in a Christian Reformed Church just two weeks ago.

But it was another reminder how there are different clusters of people, belief and thought; and how, just as Calvinists of previous generations were somewhat segregated by Dutch ethnicity, today New Calvinism has emerged as a dominant (especially online) cluster.

Some of you probably like the word cluster over the word cult, but in fact, any identifiable group fits the dictionary definition; the problem is that we’ve tended to use it in the last 30 years or so as an abbreviation of false cult, which is another matter entirely, usually involving unique books and writings considered to be divine, and often the presence of private compounds and Kool-Aid. However, of the eight definitions of cult at, only #6 indicates “a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.”

The decision by the largest online Christian book distributor to set up a separate site just for people of Reformed doctrine is another example of this. The company has massive buying power, and has a large share of the Christian book business, but surveys revealed it was seeing only a trickle of commerce from Calvinists because they preferred to buy from their own sites, where presumably materials are carefully filtered. The larger company had no choice than to do that filtering.

But this is something that neither Charismatics nor Catholics have ever propelled them to do. The Charismatic and Pentecostal world — as any visit to the Elijah List site will confirm — has its own authors and a large supply of its own worship music, distinct from the mainstream worship we hear on Christian radio.

But Calvinists are readers, and as the blogosphere indicates, many are also writers, though a good percentage of the bloggers employ more of a ‘cut and paste’ approach to content generation. (With, I might add, a great overlap into another emerging subgroup, the Academics. American prosperity has permitted large numbers of U.S. Christians to enjoy advanced and continuing education, but much of the writing, as Acts 18:15 and 2 Tim 2:14 reminds us can consist of quarreling about words which leads to strife. See also this post.) On the other hand, other brands (or cults!) of Christianity tend to be more about about doing which is why the internet has, just as one example, a critical shortage of Salvation Army bloggers, as I noted in back in May ’08.

But because of the fragmentation taking place, I suggested to the senior editor of Christian Retailing magazine that instead of just having Charismatic and Catholic specialty bestseller charts, they should also have a Calvinist or Reformed specialty list each month as well. Really, if they’re going to do the former two, they might as well do the latter. But what if he takes my advice?

The result would be distinctively Reformed shelves in Christian bookstores (which probably already exist in some) where Calvinists could browse the shelves untainted by titles which disagree with their views. And what is the result of that?

The larger picture is that it takes Reformed people and Reformed literature out of mainstream Evangelicalism, and takes mainstream Evangelicalism out of the Reformed sphere of awareness. It increases compartmentalization; a kind way of saying it advances what I’ve termed here the cultization of Calvinism, which, I would think from God’s perspective at least, is rather sad.

What is, in a discussion like this, the better part?

I believe one of the healthiest dynamics of Evangelicalism has been the cross-pollination that takes place through inter-denominational dialog (Br. – dialogue) and worship. Instead of conferences where only one theological brand is raised, we need to encourage events in which a variety of voices are heard. Instead of bloggers posting blogrolls where they are afraid to list someone who is outside their faith family, we need to be familiar with the much wider Christian blogosphere. Instead of encouraging Christian young people to only read certain authors and one or two particular Bible translations, we need to encourage them to study the wider compendium of Christian thought.

Basically, we need to avoid situations where our personal preferences lead to being cut off from the larger, worldwide Body of Christ.

Paul Wilkinson

Display Suggestion That Connects With Catholic Customers

Thursday, August 26th marks the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa. You can combine biographies of her life with books about social justice, including Shane Claiborne’s titles or books by or about Dorothy Day.

Would You Hire This Guy?

August 24, 2010 1 comment

Phil Groom who writes the UK Christian Book Shop Blog (always linked here in the sidebar) was told a month ago that his own position as manager of the book shop at the London School of Theology (LST) was becoming redundant.   Not one to take these things too hard, he had some fun on his personal blog with a piece titled,

Tears of Joy in Northwood as Deranged Christian Bookshop Manager’s Ten Year Reign of Terror Draws to a Close

TEARS OF JOY were shed in Northwood yesterday as news broke that Phil Groom, Bookshop Manager at London School of Theology, had handed in his notice. Hearing the noise from the street outside, our undercover reporter sneaked in to interview staff and students who were celebrating raucously in the corridors.

“He’s definitely insane,” said one student, who did not wish to be named. “He entices people into the shop with special offers then sells them something completely different. I came to LST with a healthy bank balance but by the time I’d visited his shop I had a massive overdraft and was walking with a limp caused by the weight of the books I ended up carrying. And that was just after the first day!”

“He’s a heretic,” said another. “I asked him a question about the Bible and he said, ‘It’s all true apart from the bits they made up.’ Then I asked him to to help me choose a book about the parables and he recommended Hans Christian Andersen. I said, ‘But that’s a book of fairy tales,’ and he told me to read between the lines. Then I asked him about the resurrection and he said, ‘Which resurrection?’ Finally I asked him about the story of Creation and he said, ‘That’s right, it’s a story.’ Every question I asked him, he dodged.”

“He was the biggest source of temptation in my life,” said a member of staff, who also requested anonymity. “It was terrible: I’d walk into the shop, planning to offer him some words of encouragement, but I’m sure he saw me coming because as I approached the counter he’d whip out a newly published book that was exactly what I’d been looking for. It was impossible to leave without buying it!”

“It was his jokes that were the killer,” explained another staff member. “Him and that other guy, Nick Aston, they sparked off one another. It was worse than the two Ronnies. You couldn’t hold a sensible conversation with them when they were on duty together.”

So why did he quit? No one knows, but rumor has it that he’s going to be working in a supermarket part-time terrorizing the general public in much the same way as he used to terrorize the LST community, and when he isn’t in the supermarket he’ll be drinking coffee and working on some top secret web development projects.

Giving Something to Your Sunday School Class

This exchange didn’t actually take place recently, nor did it actually follow the exact script below, but this is where I’m at when it comes to Sunday School teachers and Christian Education directors purchasing novelty items…I’m all ready for them!

Customer:   I’m looking for something to give my Sunday School class on the first week; maybe some pencils or something…

Me:  You know, kids are pretty high-tech these days, they’re not really impressed with pencils anymore and we’ve kinda stopped ordering them.

Customer:  Well, what does that leave?   How about some rubber stamp things, or stickers; or one time I got bookmarks with smiley faces…

Me:  You know, forgive me for saying this, since I don’t know you well, but maybe you should just give them you.

Customer:  I’m sorry.  What was that?

Me:  Maybe you should just give them yourself.   Pour your life into them.  Spend time listening to their stories.   Invite them over to your house a few times.

Customer:  Okay.  I get that.  But I really felt I was meant to come in and buy something here today.

Me:  And so you should.  Invest in your own spiritual development.  Build yourself up in God’s Word, and then, out of the overflow, you’ll have so much more to give your Sunday School students.

Customer:  Like what?

Me:   I don’t know.   It will be different for each person.  But something that challenges you to get deeper into Bible study, deeper into prayer, deeper into global missions, deeper into witness.

Customer:  But that doesn’t directly benefit my Sunday School class.

Me:  Actually it does directly.   As you are being moved deeper into grace and deeper into knowledge; as you are being moved toward the cross; your kids will pick up on that spiritual momentum.   It’s the best gift you can give them.

Self Help

Bookstore Customer:  “Could you direct me toward the self-help section?”

Bookstore Clerk:  “I could, but that would defeat the purpose.”

From The Banner, August 2010; magazine of the Christian Reformed Church

Smuggling Bibles Into China: Still Needed?

Christianity Today has a one-page article on this subject which you can read in full by clicking here.  While many Christian products — especially Christian Children’s board books — sold in North America and western Europe may indeed be “Made in China,” all this printing activity isn’t meeting the needs in the country itself.  Here some highlights:

One important fact to remember about Bibles and China is that China is still a restricted nation. The Communist government seeks to control Christian activities, including Bible distribution. Yes, China has changed and is changing. But don’t let pictures of American preachers or presidents in large, ornate churches fool you into thinking that all of China’s Christians are free. They are not.

As you read this, Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan is serving out a three—year sentence at the Qinghe Detention Center of the Haidian Sub—Bureau in Beijing. His “crime”: printing and distributing Bibles without the government’s permission.

Another important fact to remember is the sheer size of the Chinese church. In a closed—door discussion in 2008, one Chinese government official estimated China’s Christian population at 120 million.

China’s government—approved Bible printer, Amity Printing Company, boasts of printing “close to 56 million Bibles” since its first print in 1987. But in light of the growth of China’s church, that means that in 23 years Amity still hasn’t printed enough Bibles for half of China’s Christians to have one. Its website says it exports Bibles to “more than 60 countries,” and shows pictures of Bibles in English, Spanish, and Braille. So how many of those 56 million Bibles are in Chinese and still located in China?