Christian Retailing magazine is conducting a short survey of its readers and one of the questions really got me thinking. I tried to re-enter the survey to get the exact wording, but was unsuccessful, but it was something like, “Which most determines the success of a product?” Two choices:
- strength of the artist, author or brand; or
- felt need in the marketplace
I’m still thinking about that one. I checked off author/artist awareness as the greater determinant, but I did so with great regret as the value of product shouldn’t be personality driven.
UPDATE: The exact wording is/was: “Are your purchasing decisions weighted more by the brand strength of an author/artist or by the felt need in the market?”
Christian schools in Canada are no strangers to direct marketing fundraising programs by companies such as Scholastic. So it’s no surprise that a Christian distributor, David C. Cook Canada should be trying a pilot program for SEEDS, featuring Christian books from “a wide variety of Christian publishers.” The program is completely invisible online, but we were able to get the following from the newsletter of a Christian school in Hamilton.
Needless to say, not every retailer is thrilled with this latest development. As one said, “Many of the items in the flyer, when you take into account the 25% that they give back to the school, are below our cost.” Another wrote, “They’re not actually selling this product to the school — a faceless institution — but the individual families who attend the school many of whom are already our customers.”
As distributors get more desperate to retain jobs, you can expect to see more of this type of thing; but the distributors fail to take into account that retailers are facing similar challenges from eroding markets. There is only so much consumer capital available and only so many products that people feel they need to purchase.
Distributors and retailers should not expect to maintain the status quo, but neither should they poaching sales from each other.
UPDATE: We now have access to the actual flyer and the cover materials that went with it. If you wish to see a copy, please request it on your store’s email address using the contact page on this blog.
While a book recommendation from the pulpit by a pastor is probably still the highest form of endorsement, appearances on Christian television probably drive the greatest number of bookstore requests, followed closely by Christian radio.
Years ago, an appearance on The 700 Club or Benny Hinn guaranteed that customers would flock to the stores looking for the book or resource in question, but today, with so many different programs available on so many cable, satellite and online channels, it’s harder to isolate a single program as having the greatest influence.
Furthermore, many of today’s televangelists have product of their own, some of which is sold only through their websites and call centers. I would wager to guess that overall, about half of this product is never made available to trade booksellers, or if it does, it often exists in different forms or is packaged in different configurations.
An example of the latter was the Gaither Gospel series, where for years, customers who ordered the VHS (and later DVD) got the cassette (and later CD) free; a deal booksellers couldn’t match. Another would be a ministry offering a book in paperback while retailers can only access the hardcover.
Ministry organizations purchase books by other authors in what is called the “premium” market. The pricing is similar to remainder pricing, but publishers are counting on the media exposure for the title in question to drive other requests through other vendor platforms.
In Canada, the daily Christian talk show 100 Huntley Street is probably the most powerful vehicle for book promotion, followed closely by James Robison Life Today and on radio, Focus on the Family. But finding out ahead of time who is going to be a guest or featured author on those programs can be a challenge, though in fairness, Focus once published a monthly tip sheet for retailers giving the entire month lineup in advance.
In the case of someone like Benny Hinn, the titles were often obscure Charismatic products sold only through independent distributors such as Anchor, STL and Spring Arbor, which would sell out quickly, provided the ministry hadn’t already bought out all existing stock. Today, it’s still possible to see hourly tracking of wholesale suppliers running out shortly after the program airs in key markets.
This week, we saw requests from J. Warner Wallace’s appearance on Huntley, but not Kari Jobe or Candice Cameron Bure. You can see previous guest listings at this page on their website and there are some insights into future guests in their subscriber magazine.
So…what drives product requests in your store?
Call it that tough Canadian resolve that helps us get through a long winter; but according to this infographic at scribd, when we start a book, we finish a book. Click the image to see other stats.
If it’s true, as some suggest, that we’re watching the implosion of our industry, then there is a very real sense in which your “going out of business” sale starts today. Some of you wonder why we’ve stepped up our discounting in a market where it really isn’t necessary; but the fact is, we have massive amounts of inventory for a town our size, and even if we’re still conducting business as usual 18 months from now, we have to start looking at reducing inventory now, not at the last minute.
For several years we’ve been offering a program called Web-Match to our retail customers. It started out just for churches, then we added individuals buying items in quantity, and then offered it across the board on any quantities. Customers would e-mail us the URL for the website offering what they considered the best deal and we would match it. Better to make a little and keep the relationship than to lose both the relationship and any benefit.
Now we’re trying something new. Customers who like to play the smartphone game while they shop will be playing into our hands. They just need to show us the online price, and we’ll match it, 90% of the time. The offer is subject to the same terms as WebMatch, which gives us some control over what websites comparison pricing is drawn from.
Our test day is tomorrow, Tuesday April 22nd. We’ll let you know how it goes. The same day, we’re also offering church and ministry organization staff a chance to choose any discount from our April calendar. Many of these people can’t get into the store on a specific day, and this makes it easier for them to choose their bargain.
Have your store sales been slower during the first quarter this year? Part of the reason might be the large number of faith-focused movies: Noah, Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven is For Real, Irreplaceable, and more forthcoming this year including Mom’s Night Out releasing early in May.
When you factor in tickets, popcorn and possibly parking or paying a babysitter, many of your store customers may subconsciously — or consciously — feel they’ve met their Christian media obligations for the entire calendar year. Or maybe movie nights have simply drained their pocketbooks.
Furthermore, the brain becomes hardwired to accept visual media as a substitute for written media. Watch enough movies, and that becomes your habit; you find yourself checking the theater listings instead of wondering what new book titles or music albums have released.
Don’t get me wrong; I am happy to know that the message of these films is being taken to a much broader marketplace — some say that theaters are the new sanctuaries — and I’m not forgetting the eventuality that these films will be available for sale in my store on DVD. I’m just saying that this is another competitive force which is distracting attention away from what are the latest book or CD releases that we need to consider, and yet another reason to temper our buying and restocking impulses.
The OneNewsNow.com website of the American Family Network (Don Wildmon) is charging Waterbrook Multnomah with “deception” and ‘selling their souls for mammon’ in the publication of what they see as a gay-friendly title. And that’s just the headline of the story. The book in question is God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines.
A strongly-worded article attacks the publisher, the author, and the author’s organization, The Reformation Project, which states its purpose as, “…we strive to create an environment Christian leaders will feel the freedom (without feeling forced) to take the next step towards affirming and including LGBT people in all aspects of church life.”
Part of the article’s contention is that by releasing the book under the Covergent imprint, the company is masking the association with Waterbrook Multnomah, when in fact they all share the same staff. A teaser for the article on another page states, “Christian publisher Multnomah playing a shell game by printing counter-biblical books under another name.” The article also links this to the recent public relations disaster at World Vision, which also hinged on the question of being both gay and Christian and working for a ministry organization.
You can read that article here. (OneNewsNow uses code which prevents us from copying and pasting any of the actual content. Strange. Never encountered this before.) The article has also appears at RenewAmerica.com
Publisher marketing for the $22.99 (US) hardcover includes an endorsement from Rachel Held Evans, and continues:
As a young Christian man, Matthew Vines harbored the same basic hopes of most young people: to someday share his life with someone, to build a family of his own, to give and receive love. But when he realized he was gay, those hopes were called into question. The Bible, he’d been taught, condemned gay relationships.
Feeling the tension between his understanding of the Bible and the reality of his same-sex orientation, Vines devoted years of intensive research into what the Bible says about homosexuality. With care and precision, Vines asked questions such as:
– Do biblical teachings on the marriage covenant preclude same-sex marriage or not?
– How should we apply the teachings of Jesus to the gay debate?
– What does the story of Sodom and Gomorrah really say about human relationships?
– Can celibacy be a calling when it is mandated, not chosen?
– What did Paul have in mind when he warned against same-sex relations?
Unique in its affirmation of both an orthodox faith and sexual diversity, God and the Gay Christian is likely to spark heated debate, sincere soul searching, even widespread cultural change. Not only is it a compelling interpretation of key biblical texts about same-sex relations, it is also the story of a young man navigating relationships with his family, his hometown church, and the Christian church at large as he expresses what it means to be a faithful gay Christian.
No, it’s not “likely to spark heated debate;” the heated debate has already begun.
But the watchdog websites fail to realize that in their total disdain for the book, all they succeed in doing is drawing more attention to it. That’s how we found out. And by not allowing us to copy and paste any of their content, their arguments and concerns are lost to people who don’t click through; meanwhile the publisher marketing blurb gets a free ride.
UPDATE: World Magazine in an article titled Can a Divided Publishing House Stand? points out that this is the same publisher that owns John Piper’s Desiring God. Meanwhile, Charisma Magazine titles their article A Shameful Day in Evangelical Publishing.
Following our report here two days ago about Gospel Light selling Regal Books to Baker Book Group, the Publisher’s Weekly story indicates that Gospel Light is retaining the Regal name; the titles will be assigned to Baker, Bethany and Chosen without creating a new division.
…Under the terms of the deal, Baker will acquire Regal’s backlist, frontlist, and forthcoming books, some 625 print titles, Dwight Baker told PW. “The Regal brand will remain with Gospel Light, so we will not add to our divisions. Regal works will be folded into our four trade divisions–Bethany, Revell, Chosen, and Baker Books.” … “From an editorial perspective, we would have difficulty distinguishing Regal from our current trade divisions anyway, so this agreement does simplify matters,” he said.
This sounds similar to InterVarsity Press’ (IVP) acquisition of Biblica Books, where all the titles were reassigned IVP 978083 ISBNs.
Read the full story at Publisher’s Weekly.
Yet another one…
In the world before Amazon, both Christian bookstores and their mainstream counterparts faced off against the aggressive discounting of the Doubleday Book Club. The company became a powerhouse in 2000 when it merged with Book-of-the-Month Club and operated 17 different specialty clubs including crafts, sci-fi, cookbooks, kids books and Crossings, a club dedicated to Christian books with advertising in a variety of Christian magazines.
Crossings printed its own hardcover editions. The sign-up agreement stated, “Member editions sometimes reduced in size to fit special presses.” Most people thought it referred to the trim size of the books, but “size” can also mean word count. Sometimes charts and images were excised as well; so the disclaimer could have read, “Member editions are sometimes reduced in word count to appease literary agents to whom we are paying lesser royalties.” Okay, maybe that would have been awkward. There were stories of minor characters being deleted from fiction works, and when a publisher whose material we could access (Inspirational Press) decided to publish a 3-in-1 book by Barbara Johnson according to a similar paradigm, we were told the completed book was delayed while the equivalent of 100 pages were cut; approximately 33 pages per title in the omnibus.
The thing that irked Christian bookstores was the sign-up incentive. In the example shown above and below from 2007 — which really isn’t that long ago — customers got a NKJV Study Bible plus three books of their choice for only 99-cents. The minimum obligation from that point was easy to reach, and some people would then cancel only to rejoin months later and get more 99-cent hardcover books.
Needless to say, some booksellers were thrilled when Doubleday entered receivership. If you’re new to our industry, you’re probably glad you missed that particular form of competition, but alas, we’re not out of the woods just yet. The Doubleday Book Club has resurfaced online; you choose two books for $5.99 and receive a free gift as well; then you need buy only two more. Will a religious book division be far behind?
Footnote: Crossings produced a number of imitators, some specializing in books for pastors and academics, and some, like the club operated by Word almost indistinguishable from their Doubleday counterpart.
Baker Book Group announced today that Gospel Light Publishing has entered into an agreement to the assets of Regal Books to Baker, in order to concentrate resources on its curriculum, VBS and Christian Education product. Regal publishes current authors Dennis Rainey and Gene Getz, and classic writers Henrietta Mears and A.W. Tozer. The company has a large roster of writers with strong name-recognition among Evangelicals.
Both divisions of Gospel Light are currently represented in Canada by Foundation Distributing, while Baker Group Book — which includes Bethany House Publishers — is distributed in Canada by David C. Cook.
Full press release at Baker Book Group.