Archive for November, 2012

Wal-Mart Canada’s Religious Books are Mostly Hachette

November 30, 2012 1 comment

Ask any cross-border shopper and they’ll tell you that Wal-Mart Canada is not the same as Wal-Mart in the U.S. That’s fortunate for Christian booksellers in Canada whose product lines have heretofore been ignored by the Canadian version of the department store. But just in time for Christmas, even smaller-market stores now have a defined ‘religious’ shelf or two in their book department offering Hachette Book Group (FaithWords) titles such as Paul Young’s Crossroads, the latest Joyce Meyer hardcover and trade paper conversion and the latest Joel Osteen; along with a few variants of Paul Young’s The Shack (though not the original title).

The problem for Canadian Christian booksellers is that they’re offering these at 30% off. At my stores, we believe it is better to keep the relationship and make a few pennies on each sale than to lose both. Therefore we’ve done this:

Price matching


Fixtures, Inventory for Sale

I am convinced that even though the trending is continuing away from brick and mortar Christian bookstores, they will always exist. It just might be in different forms, and the people who were combining coffee bars with bookshelves may have actually been setting the tone for what is needed moving forward.

I currently own two stores. One is setting record high sales levels, the other record low sales levels. Similar markets. Similar inventory. My Cobourg, Ontario store is cramped and crowded with product, but people — though not everybody — seem to like shopping there. Our Brockville, Ontario store I think has viability provided (a) it transfers to local ownership and (b) it becomes a social ‘hub’ for the Christian community with the addition of coffee, tea, juice, muffins and sandwiches.

We’ve kept Brockville open all year partly as a mission and partly because I just didn’t hear God telling me it was time to walk away. But we can’t sustain the expense through 2013. It’s been probably the world’s longest going-out-of-business sale, mostly because I kept hoping it wasn’t closing down.

But now we need to sell the fixtures or find a buyer in the next 30 days. They’re nice fixtures. The inventory is mostly red-tagged sale items which we’re prepared to let go at 60% off the lowest marked price if someone takes it all. It’s mostly books and Bibles; we’ve run out just about everything else.

I know this blog is read by people who have an interest in the industry but are not presently involved. Here’s your chance to jump in with both feet. Relocating the Brockville store to Ajax-Pickering, Oshawa, or Peterborough would also make a lot of sense. These are markets where a Christian retail presence is greatly missed. Here’s a chance to own a start-up inventory and some great retail shelving in turn-key condition; plus we’ll hold your hand as you get started for as long as you need.

CBD Increases Category-Killer Tactics

November 28, 2012 1 comment

With the bestselling book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp on sale at Christian Book Distributors (CBD) for $5.99 on Tuesday — 65% off list — some retailers are giving up hope on ever being able to woo back customers lost to the online sellers. Booksellers in the general market lament ‘the Amazon factor,’ but for Christian retailers, CBD is the elephant in the industry. The Voskamp deal is part of CBD’s 20 Days of Christmas special, and there was no limit on how many copies could be purchased at that price.

(A retail store in Canada, using CBD as a wholesale source would, even with the 25% shipping cost to Canada, end up getting a 56.25% discount. At the $200 mark, CBD freight to Canada drops to 20%, leaving a net 58.0% discount.)

Does CBD have to go that deep to capture market share? Obviously they think so, but they wouldn’t be able to do this without the blessing of both publishers and authors. Authors? Yes, these deep discount events generally involve a reduced author royalty, something literary agents agree to on behalf of the authors.

The publishers involved know full well that the discounting is killing the brick and mortar retail environment.

Meanwhile, Paul Young’s anticipated sophomore title, Cross Roads, is being offered at 60% off for three days this week. (Canadian retailers, using CBD as a wholesale source, would be getting 50% on this title.)

The best alternative for retailers is to find the titles that aren’t on CBD’s radar — local interest titles and independent publishers — and feature those instead.

Critics Continue to Run Amok

I always find it deeply disturbing when a magazine like Christianity Today can’t find a top dozen Christmas albums within the confines of Christian music and has to show its esotericism and eclecticism by recommending the likes of Cee-Lo Green. So here we have another list from them for 2012 which is, I’m sure, musically hip but probably spiritually lame.

  1. Josh Wilson – Noel
  2. Tracy Thorn – Tinsel and Lights
  3. Celtic Woman – Home for Christmas
  4. Mandisa – It’s Christmas: Christmas Angel Edition
  5. Jason Gray – Christmas Stories
  6. Jill Tracey – Silver Smoke, Star of Light
  7. KEM – What Christmas Means
  8. August Burns Red – Sleddin’ Hill
  9. Francesca Battistelli – Christmas
  10. The Polyphonic Spree – Holidaydream
  11. Stephen Curtis Chapman – Joy
  12. Cee-Lo Green – Magic Moment

In an ‘also-ran’ list of five more, Canada’s Steve Bell gets a nod, albeit after one for Rod Stewart. Sigh!

We live in a world where integrated music companies can see the crossover potential of sales from one environment to another; so I think we can safely say that if the powers that be thought the titles on this list that are foreign to most of us should have been offered in the Christian bookstore environment — and/or its online counterpart — they would have been.

I’ll stick with my Steven Curtis Chapman, thank you.


Jesus Calling: Books That Speak for God

While sales are brisk, there are some critics of the format used in the popular Christian bestseller, Jesus Calling. Most concerns have to do with the author, Sarah Young, for lack of a better phrase, putting words in God’s mouth. But she’s not the first to do this; consider:

  • God Calling – A. J. Russell / Two Listeners
  • Come Away My Beloved – Frances Roberts
  • His Princess – Shari Rose Sheppard
  • 66 Love Letters – Larry Crabb

and numerous Charismatic titles that are written with a prophetic voice.

Has the controversy surrounding this title touched your store, or are you and your customers unaware of it?

Distributor Working in a Vacuum

Sorry, but I can’t get that line out of my head that we discussed here last month; the customer service rep at Send the Light who told me, “Our buyers don’t talk to retailers.”

In some distribution models, where everything from a particular vendor is at least listed exhaustively — i.e. nothing in the catalogs is not in the distributor database — it’s some irrelevant; but with a distributor like STL, where the inclusion of titles from publishers is totally hit-and-miss, and where vendors are set up to accommodate one-time special orders but there is no follow-through for more recent releases; to not have dealer input to better exploit those existing vendor relationships is foolhardy.

Frankly, I think the underlying spirit of this situation is going to someday be their undoing; and I say that not because I wish them ill, but because I simply want to be able to look back on this post and remind them they were warned.

Send The Light is simply not as “on top of” what’s taking place with their suppliers as Ingram/Spring Arbor, who, it should be noted, have an option on each product page for dealers to provide corrections to every element of information on that page. And I can tell you from much firsthand experience, Ingram makes corrections to bibliographic details within 24 hours; and inquires forwarded to buyers through customer service reps produce either written or phone responses each time.

When prices are wrong, when three out of four titles in a series are listed but one is missing, when wrong author attribution is given, when an obscure title is having breakout success; that’s the kind of input distributors should crave, not automatically reject.

The problem for Send the Light is that if they don’t list it, they’re losing the sale; or worse, inexperienced bookstore frontliners are telling customers that the product is completely unavailable, which isn’t true.

It Happened Again Today

Nothing says “get lost” like having your communications to a supplier returned as spam. It’s the kind of public relations blunder that can set back several months of goodwill.

Categories: Uncategorized

Educating Your Customer

The people who still choose to shop in brick and mortar stores do so because they appreciate the service. I believe that part of that service is educating your customer; however, sometimes we’re too afraid to lose what little customer base we have left, so we aren’t as outspoken as we need to be.

Yesterday we had two customers who were looking for youth products that they’ve used in the past. One was a 2006 resource. In youth ministry terms that’s not just a long time ago, that’s forever ago. But the other customer wanted a 2002 title. So I did my best to explain that while there are a few products that last a little longer, for the most part you want something that the teen will perceive as current. This might involve browsing the store or allowing us to use our expertise to locate something suitable that we can bring in, with no customer obligation.

Neither person would have any of it. Both were determined to keep looking around until they found a store that still had their pet product. I’m guessing they’ll give up around 4:00 PM on December 24th.

The lesson — and I am guilty of not doing this — is that we need to order student products in conservative quantities and mark down youth resources in a faster time frame than we might do for other items in the store.

Products for tweens and teens simply have a shorter shelf life.

But we also need to educate our customers as to why this is; and help them to see the products through teenaged eyes.

A Must Have Resource for Every Youth Worker and Sunday School Teacher

November 20, 2012 1 comment

If you know anyone who is responsible for teaching the Bible in Children’s ministry, youth ministry, small group leadership; or someone who is simply wanting to get it right when it comes to their parenting responsibility in leading their family in their daily devotions, The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible by John Walton (Crossway) is an essential resource.

John Walton, professor at Wheaton College and his wife Kim Walton, a longtime curriculum user, developer and evaluator work through 97 Old Testament narrative stories and 77 New Testament stories in light of: Lesson focus, Lesson application, Biblical context, interpretive issues, background information and mistakes to avoid.

It is the final section for each entry — mistakes to avoid — that is where this book shines. Too many times we’ve been subject to teaching which put the emphasis in the wrong place, missed the greater context, or simply went off down the rabbit trails of story details. Often these misguided teaching foci proliferate or are passed on from church to church or generation to generation.

“If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name. Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God’s Word as given by the inspired authors. If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don’t know the difference. We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God’s authority to what is really only our own idea.” (p. 25)

This is a book for Christian educators to keep on the shelf as needs arise. It deals exclusively with narrative passages; for example, in the New Testament, there are no entries after the book of Acts except for the lone one that covers all of Revelation.

Because it’s a Bible reference product, you might not read it sequentially, although you certain could take that approach. But as a reference tool, I didn’t attempt to read it all; the copy I have is actually on loan; and the publisher is one whose products are not likely to cross my desk. The Bible Story Handbook was published in 2010 and retails in paperback for $24.99 U.S. It’s a great gift for a Sunday School teacher, youth pastor, or anyone with love for teaching the Bible to kids, teens or adults.

Postscript to Christian Book Shop Talk industry types: I tried to find out if other bloggers have done much with this title and there is a real dearth of online reviews and mentions, which is surprising given Crossway Publishing’s affinity to the “new Reformed” crowd who saturate the internet with blog after blog. To me, this is one of those great titles that has fallen through the cracks and is worthy of a second look by buyers. Also, re-read the first paragraph for tips as to where you could shelve this book in your store… I see at least four potential categories.

New NIV Transcends Target Market Categories

Quick, hands up everyone who knows what an infographic is?

In an age of decreasing literacy, bullet point communications and 140-character tweets, a new generation of readers has emerged who want cut-to-the-chase study notes which entice through the use of diagrams and color. If you read blogs to any degree, you’ve encountered the world of infographics. (We ran some most recently at Thinking Out Loudhere and here.)

But an infographic Bible?

Well, not exactly. The text in the NIV Quickview Bible is left entirely intact, and set in a very clear sans-serif typeface that Zondervan has, I believe, heretofore only used on its Textbook Edition. I’m always somewhat cynical about the marketing of some of these new variations on Bibles, but this one drew me in very quickly.

Here’s another way of marketing this: What The Quest Bible is to the NIV Study, the Quickview is to The Quest. (Did that help?)

Who is it for? The publishers are careful not to restrict potential here. Definitely students, teens, tweens, twenty-somethings. But really anyone, especially those tech-savvy people who are familiar with this format. The same people who enjoy the Rose Publications pamphlets which distill information to essential facts. It’s definitely not an application, study or devotional Bible; just a text edition with some added features that I believe will pique the interest of people looking superficially at the text and cause them to want to dig a little deeper or feel they have or are gaining ‘ownership’ of the text.

NIV Quickview is currently available only in hardcover, and it would make a great edition to purchase in classroom sets for the church, or for homeschooling, or as a gift for a student away at at college. Click the image below to learn more in a one-minute video.

Apology Twenty Four Years Later

November 14, 2012 3 comments

While I’ve never done work for Mitchell, Cook, Foundation, or Augsburg-Fortress, I have been privileged to do contract work for wholesale suppliers on six occasions, while at the same time owning a retail business of my own. One of these was a music marketing position with a distributor that was based in Burlington.

My job was to basically create product awareness and have input into the wholesale buying at a time when Christian music was going through some rapid changes. But eventually, all the marketing in the world is useless without the follow-through of sales.

I was asked to take a physical survey of what wasn’t moving in the warehouse and then create a few packages that could be sold to unsuspecting dupes retail store owners. Reluctantly, I agreed and I spend all my credibility capital selling the packages which quickly cleared the warehouse shelves.

Problem was, I was good at this. Too good. I was next told to sell the package — the same package — again, and again, and again, even though it was no longer clearing the warehouse shelves but creating a giant backorder nightmare, and causing some stores to cancel once they saw the shape of what they were getting.  Eventually, product arrived to fill the packages, but I’m sure that 90 days down the road, when the returns started, the warehouse was worse off than before.

This was mostly “C” list cassettes and CDs, and in slower moving categories at that. A few items with black-and-white packaging, and a couple of music items that nobody even bothered to shrinkwrap.

Sixteen weeks into the job, I quit. And no sooner did I quit than another music company offered me a position with them.

But I never apologized.

So, if any of you that have been in the business a long time are finding this story registers with something in your memory, all I can say is, I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to say, “This product is a mixture of some very hot upcoming titles and a very large amount of what is mostly crap that these same dealers, when confronted with these products individually, have already passed on.” (Now I need to apologize to the artists we represented; oh well…)

I wasn’t assertive enough back then to say, “This is completely self-serving; all we’re doing is looking out for our wholesale operations, we’re not doing any service to the stores that are taking this product in good faith; we’re not helping them grow their businesses.”

Funny what a paycheque makes you do.

So, if you’re out there; I am truly sorry.

Tyndale Continues Action Against U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services

“Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish.”

With those words, senior legal counsel Matt Bowman of Alliance Defending Freedom launched Tyndale Publishers suit against what is generally known as The Conception Mandate, requiring religious institutions provide contraception and abortion related services through health insurance.

“The Mandate illegally and unconstitutionally requires Tyndale to violate its and its owners’ religious beliefs, and it subjects Tyndale to heavy fines and penalties if it chooses not to violate those beliefs,” reads the suit in part.

Read more at The Christian Post