Archive for July, 2013

New Yorker Magazine: The Book Isn’t Obsolete

The article that appeared here on Friday has been fleshed out into a much larger piece at Thinking Out Loud with full quotations and the addition of a piece from New Yorker Magazine that seems to be responding to what appeared in Salon.

Be sure to check out Where are the Book Reviews? Where are the Books?

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Is Amazon Poised to Self-Destruct?

A writer at Salon proposes that Amazon is about to choke off some of its own air supply, as the company’s role in the “discovery” process of the books it sells is as little as 6%. Simply put, Amazon needs “shelf space” to exist. And publisher cutbacks means the company might not have new titles to sell.

Read the whole article here.

HT: Foundation Distributing’s Twitter feed.

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Parody is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

The gang at InterVarsity’s multimedia division, twentyonehundred productions, like to have fun with graphics every week.  A few months ago, they came up with this familiar looking album cover spoof:

Meh Worship

Click the image to see full-size.

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Single DVD Introduces 12 Authors and Teachers

You have small group customers with three small groups doing the same curriculum, but one of them had to cancel one week due to illness and another is two weeks behind. So the problem is, how do you fill in the space for the groups that are ahead?

Your have churches that find the glut of DVD study resources a bit bewildering and want your individual leaders to be able to select their own studies, but the challenge is, how do they gain familiarity with the different authors, pastors and speakers? 

You want your staff to really to get better acquainted with the authors and speakers whose products you sell, but an army of part-time staff with other jobs and family commitments can’t invest the time in product knowledge. Is there a fast track to getting to know some of these pastors and Christians leaders without traveling to conferences? 

You have individuals who aren’t part of a local church but want to engage in study curriculum. How can one person afford to access DVD resources?

Best of Small Groups DVDEnter a product from Henderson Publishing called The Best of Small Groups. This weekend I’ve been watching and listening to Volume 1 in the series. (Volume 2 is now also available.) The DVDs contain 12 samples — the full first week’s episode — of a number of DVD curricula from a variety of producers and publishers and can also be used with a study guide that is sold separately or available in a single copy in a packaged edition with the DVD. Brett Eastman serves as a host creating continuity for the series through is introductions and closing comments for each one. The actual DVD presentations range from 16 minutes to the dramatic story of 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, which is 38 minutes.

Some of the videos are recorded before a live audience, some are shot on location, one is done like a Christian talk show format, but all represent the finest Bible teachers including Francis Chan, Kyle Idleman, Max Lucado & Randy Frazee, Chip Ingram, Randy Alcorn, Erwin McManus, John Piper, and others.

The “cut and splice” nature of the product means there are some mis-matched audio levels, and not all the material is going to be of interest to every group, but generally speaking, this is a resource that deserves much broader recognition.

A Volume 2 of this product is now available, though some of the names of the teachers on that one will be new to all of us. Even if someone is not involved with small group ministry in your church, this product represents excellent value-for-money in terms of inspirational teaching and getting to know some great writers and speakers. And opening a copy for staff development or instore play is certain to pay dividends.

Why I’m Asking to Be Removed from Faith Today’s Mailing List

Dear Faith Today / Evangelical Fellowship of Canada:

As you know, I’ve been as supportive as I can of EFC in general and Faith Today specifically, as I am able to be with the limited financial resources at my disposal as a Christian bookseller. I have bought advertising, contributed material to articles, and assisted in the distribution and awareness of the magazine. I think the voice of EFC is needed both on Parliament Hill and in other parts of the public square.

As a bookseller, you’d expect me to be quite pleased with this month’s 4+ page feature, What We’ll Be Reading on the Dock This Summer.  Normally, anything that advocates for books and reading is in my corner.

But the preponderance of Amazon links throughout the article — and elsewhere in the magazine — were the proverbial last straw. The issue of online sales aside, these referrals weren’t even to a Canadian competitor. Faith Today is doing what so many Christians are doing worldwide, and joining in the declaration of Amazon as the default distributor of books, period; and we’ve written elsewhere how the values of the founder are not shared with many Evangelicals.

I hope you understand therefore why, for the time being, I need to withdraw my support. You simply don’t get how much it hurts.

Paul Wilkinson.

Heard and Seen

  • Christian Retailing posted a summary of an article by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) nothing a pickup in sales for religious paperbacks as eBooks delcine:

    Halting a trend, faith-based publishers reported a 0.6% decrease during the first quarter of 2013 in religious e-book sales compared to the January-March period last year, according to the latest figures available from the Association of American Publishers (AAP).  In the same date range, religious hardcover sales were down more than 7%, with sales of nearly $71 million. In contrast, religious paperback sales experienced a nearly 4% increase during the year’s first quarter versus January-March 2012, with sales of $44.5 million.

  • Author Bryan Davis wrote a guest post for the store blog of House of James bookstore in British Columbia.  Check out Stretching Young Readers.

      “I believe in stretching young readers. They can take it. In fact, they crave it. When they get to the end of the exercise, they feel its value and the rush of spiritual adrenaline. They don’t want to be insulted by the finger-wagging of simplistic stories that tell them what to do or not to do. They want to feel the inner passion of heart-felt conflict and see how it works out in lives that they care about, even if they are fictional.

    But that’s what good stories do. They stretch us beyond what we normally think we can achieve, and we need to remember that young people are often far more flexible than we might realize. We just have to be sure to help them stretch in the right direction.

New Book is a warning for Christian Bookstore Managers

I always complain when a new box of Baker samples arrives for my staff that there is very little in non-fiction titles. This time around there was only one, but it’s a book that should be required reading for bookstore staff, owners and managers.  If you feel that your primary market is Evangelicals and your primary products are for Evangelicals, you need to know which way statistics for this group are trending, particularly if you live in an area where there are some large churches that appear to be growing in leaps and bounds. The overall growth in your city or county may be illusory.

The Great Evangelical RecessionThe Great Evangelical Recession by reporter-turned-pastor John S. Dickerson describes the challenges that the Evangelical church faces over the next few years. It’s a message that we’ve been hearing in Canada recently through the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Hemorrhaging Faith report, which I covered in this article; and also a recent Pew Research Forum report which I discussed here

The full title is The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare. It’s possible that the American reference in the title drove my fellow-Canadian retailers away from considering this title — it released back in January — but I am now convinced it is must reading for pastors in your area who are concerned with church growth as well as the issue of the voice Evangelicals have in the wider society.

The book has twelve chapters, six deal with isolating the particular challenges faced by Evangelicals, and six offer hope and direction. In the first six, of particular concern to us as bookstore owners are (a) the fact the numbers of Evangelicals in the U.S. are being greatly inflated and (b) the fact that the generosity of each successive generation of ‘givers’ is rapidly declining, affecting the financial health of local churches.

The second point is critical to our industry. If local churches are cutting staff and budgets, that should be a red flag for us that discretionary spending for the type of resources we sell are also being affected, and also that being able to offer competitive pricing becomes more critical. The statistics in this section alone are staggering. For an industry already reeling from various changes, this is not a good news report.

I’ll have a more consumer focused review of this book at Thinking Out Loud later this week.

Publisher marketing:

Warning of an impending evangelical crisis, third-generation pastor and award-winning journalist combines quality research, heartfelt hope, and practical application for the purpose of igniting the church toward a better future.

Send The Light Ends Free Freight Program for Canadian Stores

Send the Light Canadian StoresIt was bound to happen sooner or later, but for stores conscious of their bottom line, later might have seemed better. Send the Light distribution is terminating its free freight program for stores in Canada, a program that offered 1-3 day service on orders of 15 units or more with 100% of shipping charges deductible if stores paid by the 10th of the following month.  Stores used the U.S. supplier to access thousands of books from small publishers, including some that are exclusive with Send the Light through its Advocate Distribution subsidiary; as well as getting titles where the Canadian distributor was out of stock, or the customer needed it yesterday. The company allows retailers to receive parcels containing a wide variety of product in a single box including everything from Bibles to jewelry to apparel to auto emblems.

Instead, borrowing a page from Ingram (Spring Arbor), the company is going with a flat rate surcharge of 6%, but ending the short discount that has existed on products from Baker Book Group (Bethany House, Revell, etc.) and Tyndale House.

In a letter to stores on Monday, Send the Light Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mark Phillips announced the new arrangement takes effect on Friday.

When your gross margin after expenses is only 8-10%, a 6% surcharge from any supplier is going to effect your store’s viability. The shorter discount on Baker and Tyndale kept us loyal to David C. Cook Canada and Foundation Distributing respectively, though our Tyndale ordering is only a fraction of what it was 2-3 years ago. It also made Ingram — with an 8.9% surcharge in our case — a supplier of last resort. So now while we might again be inclined to help a customer with a rush order of Cook and Tyndale product — or any title for that matter — through Send the Light, it now matters little if they don’t have it but Ingram does. In fact, the differentiation between Send the Light and Ingram for us now disappears into a 2.9% variance.

(Obtaining your regular stock through U.S. suppliers however in some cases violates the Canadian distributors’ distribution rights and Christian Book Shop Talk is not herein suggesting this practice. If you don’t like it when your customers buy from Amazon, it’s the same principle: We need to keep a strong Canadian distribution channel.)

Not addressed in the letter was the issue of early pay discounts (1%) or whether or not there remains any incentive for Canadian stores to pay on time, as accounts had to be settled by the 10th of the month following to deduct the freight.  Requesting clarification on this, in a followup letter to us, Send the Light Vice President Terry Draughton simply restated the change is only in terms of the surcharge, therefore one must infer that invoices will be printed with full freight costs, deductible if paid within terms.

This is a developing story. Updates will be added here later in the week.

Supporting Local Causes

Bookstore owners are constantly asked to put up posters, donate merchandise, or otherwise get behind locally based Christian ministry projects. We have about nine parachurch organizations in our community, and we both personally and as a bookstore endorse six of these. When we’re asked to donate to broader community programs we explain that our particular mandate is to church-based or church-related organizations; that the population at large will give to the more popular causes, but only church people will give to causes that identify boldly as Christian-centered.  At the same time however, I’ll mention the large contribution that one local church — which we happen to be part of — recently made to things like the MS Walk and Habitat for Humanity. 

Some days we feel if anyone needs a fund raising banquet or a tag day it’s us.  We regularly support things where the ministry staff receive — no exaggeration — eight to ten times in salary what we’re drawing from the bookstore.

Still, some of you are in larger communities, and it must be difficult to decide who to help; especially when three or four converge in a single week looking for golf tournament prizes, silent auction  items, and outright cash donations. We try to use a complex formula consisting of questions like (a) How widely known is the organization? (b) How great and urgent is the need? (c) Who else is on board? (d) How able is the constituency benefiting by this able to help themselves or secure their own support?

Here’s another formula to consider:

“We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside… but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

~ Martin Luther King Jr., from “A Time to Break the Silence” (sermon, Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967) 

So how do you deal with requests for support?

Helping Fiction Customers Organize Their Library

This tip is not new to many of you, but an avid fiction customer reminded me of this recently. A simple address book (which you can also sell the customer) can be used to list fiction books by author’s last name. It’s small, easily updated, and the customer can take it to the store with them to compare with books on the shelf. It’s a perfect record-keeping system that never crashes and never needs batteries. It also saves the customer (and you) the time to deal with returning a book already owned.

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Flashback: Christian Book Shop Talk – July 2010

Three years later, I still have the book in this story; I keep it sitting next to my desk as a reminder…

Meeting the Demands of Print on Demand

The book is 63 pages long. The actual content begins on page eight. That means the book is actually 56 pages.

But it’s only printed in the middle of each page. Over 50% — at the top and bottom — is white space.

That means the book is 28 pages, when compared to most other trade size paperbacks.

The Canadian selling price is $23.95 (with a short, 20% discount). That’s nearly $1 per page.

The book is To Understand Each Other: Classic Wisdom on Marriage by Paul Tournier, published by Westminster John Knox Press.

The customer canceled.

I’m stuck with the book.

But I’m sure you have your own stories to top this one of excessive price demands by publishers of print-on-demand or facsimile reproduction books. Since many of the publishers are using the same source, Lightning Print International, there should be limits on pricing; although some will argue that in capitalism, the price is the highest the traffic will bear. And some will insist I got off lightly compared to other POD product.

And someone will want to post a comment saying I should have found out the page count ahead of time, or taken a deposit.

True. Or I could just stop doing this at all moving forward. You don’t get to “order” things in a grocery store, and right now, that retail model is looking increasingly appealing.

Hey, if anyone needs a copy of this book, let me know, okay?

Flashback: Christian Book Shop Talk – July 2009

Bookstore Has Eleven Sections Just on Romans

If there’s eleven sections just on Romans, imagine the size of the rest of this two level downtown store!

Romans 1

Romans 2

…Okay, truth time. This is a Montreal, Quebec general-market bookstore, not a Christian bookstore; and Romans en français means ‘fiction.’ But wasn’t it fun for a minute to imagine a bookstore that big? Well, maybe a seminary library.

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