Archive

Archive for October, 2015

Products that Cheapen the Word of God

I Can Do All ThingsOn the one hand, I realize there is some humour at play in this 8 x 19″ wall sign that only Christians could get. I can imagine a person saying this in jest in a conversation.

But on the other hand, I think it really diminishes the verse in scripture alluded to, perhaps even mocking it. Why pay $20 US to hang this on the wall, when you could just get a plaque that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” instead?

Furthermore, a quick check of this verse on Bible Gateway shows that not one English translation uses God in this particular part of the phrase. Was it changed from “Christ” to “God” so the creators could claim it does not allude to the Philippians passage? I don’t think so. Another one in the same product line says, “God made coffee and it was good;” clearly alluding to Genesis 1.

I also think the product line in question is actually more telling; it is admitting that coffee has become the thing that many worship. Has anyone thought through how this impacts a new believer walking through our store gift department, or someone who has not yet crossed the line of faith?

So if you find this cute or funny, that’s fine; but I don’t want to know that any of you would actually carry this item.

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Mainstream “Christian” Publishers Lack Social Media Contacts

I have to hand it to Baker Publishing Group and HarperCollins Christian Publishing: They understand the Christian market intimately and have excelled in using bloggers to help get the word out about their products. I’ve said this before, and it’s with a mix of appreciation and bewilderment, but I have received more review books in the past 5 years of blogging than all the previous 35 years in retail put together.

Looking back, I would have liked to have balanced those two publishing groups out with a few more InterVarsity titles, but I understand their need to network through more academic writers.

With Hachette (FaithWords), Simon & Schuster (Howard) and Penguin Random House (Waterbrook) books have been few and far between. I held out the greatest hope for Hachette, who were also offering us blog contests with one book winner on each side of the border (in one case) or three book winners in the U.S (in one or two other cases). Publishers don’t seem to be doing that as much anymore. We also had promised titles from Hachette which never showed up (as we did with Tyndale House; otherwise not mentioned here.)

I noticed that Tim Challies had a review of Eve by Paul Young, but his readership gives him a profile large enough to land on every publisher’s radar, and is said to receive several boxes of review books each week, many of which are only afforded a short mention. I’d be curious to read Eve, and wonder if the performance of certain books in my store is not very closely linked to the items I review at Thinking Out Loud. The book is not selling well at all in our store, despite the popularity of The Shack.

We do a lot of hand-selling of product, and titles which I have read and authors that I am passionate about clearly do better. Video is also helpful. At least once a week, I’ll tell a customer to go to YouTube and type “Francis Chan balance beam.” It’s a short video clip that shows Chan’s own passion for the things he writes. (In addition to getting video links for newsletters and Facebook, I’ve also mentioned the serious need for more HTML content for store sites and Facebook pages.)

My retail connections often help with HarperCollins and IVP, and the store receives a box of Baker titles several times each year, though most of these are fiction, which doesn’t serve me at all. (My other staff members do appreciate them, however.) I can get David C. Cook titles on request, and Martin Smith is great to work with, as is Mark Hildebrand at HCCP.

Some of the HarperCollins titles that I’ve reviewed here are not mentioned at all on their Book Bloggers website. I have to presume that certain titles are simply not flagged for social media exposure, but I’m not sure why The Comeback by Louie Giglio is in this category. Can you?

I’m sure authors are flattered when a major like Hachette or Random House approaches them about doing a title with them. They get their product into a wide variety of avenues; everything from box box mass marketers to airport gift shops. I’m sure they are able to promise much more sales volume; though there is also the risk of much greater return volume.

But Thomas Nelson, Zondervan and Baker Publishing Group understand the Christian market. If one of them had Joyce Meyer, they would never allow the first edition hardcover situation that exists in Canada, which would probably double or triple her Canadian sales. Agencies like Graf-Martin can better work the nuances of the Canadian market; but on both sides of the border, the Christian publishers (and remember that TNI and ZDV operate with autonomy) seem to best ‘get’ how to work Christian social media.


Research Department: Is anyone out there aware of a good podcast for Christian retailers? 


Footnote: When was the last time you were on a Christian website and saw an actual, old-fashioned album review? What Christian publishers have found so useful, Christian music companies have completely ignored. Perhaps with so much Christian radio today, they don’t feel the same need to send out CDs (or free download links) to reviewers.

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Bookstore Owners/Managers Appreciation Month

Okay, I know it’s really Pastors Appreciation Month, but just once, it would be nice to recognize the people who toil on the frontlines of ministry in the commercial marketplace. I don’t think I’m alone in suggesting that the psyche occasionally craves affirmation.

We do get the, “I’m so glad you turned me on to that author…” type of comments, but they are often few and far between. We do pray with people in the store, but then we might not see that customer for months, and have no idea how the story turned out. (We keep some of those prayer requests on our refrigerator at home and remember them on a regular basis.)

In the absence of huge return-on-investment profits, I think the thing that drives (most of) us are the intangibles; the knowledge that we’re making a difference in the lives of our customers.

I’m not looking for cards or flowers or someone to throw me a party, but as we came through two months of our anniversary in ministry (20 years in Cobourg, 40 years total) it would have been nice if just one person said, “That’s a long time you’ve doing this;” or “You’ve certainly remained faithful to this.”

Faithful or stubborn? Some days I’m not sure which. I just have to keep reminding myself that of the ten lepers, only one came back to say thanks. Actually, I’d take that percentage right now.

Maybe people just don’t see the ministry value. Perhaps to some it’s just a retail transaction. To me, it is so much more than that.


Today’s question: Are you invited to your city/town’s local ministerial meetings? Have you ever made a presentation at one? Been invited to attend on a regular basis? Or does your town restrict attendance to actual ordained clergy?

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The Very Best Christian Book Advertising

The best advertising for products in your store is when a local pastor boldly recommends a great resource. Pictured here, Clay Scroggins, lead pastor of the Alpharetta campus of North Point Community Church talks about Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend at this Sunday’s service (18th) streamed around the world at NorthPoint Online.

Boundaries - Cloud and Townsend - Clay Scroggins - North Point

Court Rules in Favour of Google Book Scanning Project

From BBC News:

Google can continue to scan millions of books for an online library without violating copyright laws, the US court of appeal ruled on Friday.

The [U.S. appeals] court rejected claims from a group of authors that Google Books violated their intellectual property rights.

Judges sided with an earlier ruling that the digital library was “fair use” and provided a public service…

…The Authors Guild and some individual writers filed the lawsuit in 2005, claiming the project infringed on copyright protection and authors’ ability to make money from their work.

Google Books is a project to scan and digitize millions of books to allow users to search and read excerpts from them.

Judge Pierre Leval wrote: “Google’s division of the page into tiny snippets is designed to show the searcher just enough context surrounding the searched term to help her evaluate whether the book falls within the scope of her interest (without revealing so much as to threaten the author’s copyright interests).”

…The Authors Guild plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court…

There’s more; continue reading at BBC

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Shift in Customer Base Necessitates New Inventory Strategy

The closing of several stores in our part of the province has resulted in the need to do some quick changes in our Bible department. If you were to ask me six months ago what our top translations were, I would say,

#1 NIV
#2 NLT
#3 The Message

Today, six months later, it’s,

#1 NKJV
#2 KJV
#3 NIV

Yes, even though we think of our town has having one of the oldest demographics in Ontario, apparently we were rather progressive compared to other nearby cities and towns.

So…we have to adjust our inventory accordingly, which means buying inventory at a time we were hoping to be reducing inventory; otherwise we’re just frustrating people.

We’ve estimated we have between 800 and 1,000 Bibles in stock, so it’s hard to imagine actually needing anything, but that’s what we were seeing. Needless to say, the market for the first two listed above is also largely for large print and giant print. We haven’t seen any spike at all in books with larger type sizes, but with Bibles, it’s very apparent that this is what they want.

The NKJV situation is also frustrating because of so many study editions which are tied to various ministry personalities and organizations. No other translation has so many products that are connected to ministry brands.

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This Week is the 50th Anniversary of the ISBN

The idea for the system started in the UK prompted by WH Smith announcing in 1965 that they wanted to move to a computerized warehouse within two years. There were a number of reports and working parties and eventually a 9-digit number, including a final “check digit” to validate the whole number, was proposed. The UK was the first to adopt this “Standard” Book Number and the first registration agency was operated on behalf of the trade by J Whitaker and Sons Ltd. – its success was immediate. Soon RR Bowker in US, and national libraries and bibliographic services in Canada, Australia, Denmark, Sweden and The Netherlands also wanted to join the system. So, to accommodate this expansion to other countries, the number was increased to 10 digits and became an International Standard under the auspices of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1970. Following later developments, the ISBN has been a 13-digit number since 1 January 2007.

Click here to read the whole story.

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IVP (UK) and SPCK Join Forces

The UK division of InterVarsity Press (IVP) has joined with longtime UK Christian imprint SPCK in a business restructuring announced Wednesday (7th) which goes into effect immediately.  An article in UK’s Christian Book Shop’s Blog (see link below) contains the announcement, along with a transcript of an interview with Sam Richardson, CEO of SPCK which clarifies details of the newly combined entity.

IVP is described as “the leading Evangelical publisher” in the UK, and North Americans might not realize that the company also acts as the distributor — through a division they call Partnership Distribution — for various lines, which in the past have included U.S. Evangelical publishers Crossway, NavPress, Zondervan Academic; and UK-based publishers such as Evangelical Press and CWR, publishers of the Every Day With Jesus materials; along with many more. On the other hand, SPCK is described as “the much-loved champions of theological diversity.”  To this, Sam Richards said, “…[I]t does on the face of it look an unlikely partnership. This is the source of its strength. These are two publishing imprints that can be happily distinct, without needing to step on each others toes or compete for authors.”

Although IVP remains distinct, the new structure places it under SPCK, and just as IVP in the U.S. and Canada is affiliated with the ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) so also in the UK does IVP work closely with Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), therefore this new arrangement places SPCK at least indirectly involved with that organization.

In the article, Phil Groom notes:

Whilst some in the trade were aware that IVP was experiencing some financial difficulties, this development — which has significant implications for the wider trade as well as for the two publishers and their staff — appears to have taken everyone completely by surprise.

To connect with the official announcement, and read the full interview, click this link: A Brave New World for Christian Bookselling: SPCK Publishing CEO Sam Richardson answers questions from the trade

My Kinda People

Book People

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Canadian Dollar Experiences a Strong Week

The Canadian Dollar made gains on seven of the past eight trading days closing today at .7730 U.S. The cost of buying U.S. dollars has dropped significantly over the past week, as outlined in the Bank of Canada graph below:

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Advertising appearing in this post beyond this point does not originate with Christian Book Shop Talk, nor are we aware of it.

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The Message 100: A New Reading Plan, A Different Chronological Approach

We live at a time when Bible publishers have offered us a degree of choices and formats that previous generations would never have imagined. Different editions compete both in terms of brand identification and in their desire to readers engaged in the scriptures.

The Message 100The Message 100: The Story of God in Sequence takes the complete text of Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible and divides it into 100 readings and although the reader is encouraged to go at their own pace, this means that one could read this Bible in 100 days, an acceleration of the usual “read the Bible in a year” type of approach.

Starting in Genesis, I decided to time myself with the first section and clocked in at 26 minutes, though I may have rushed the two genealogies. Still, at less than a half hour, and with only 99 readings left, I was impressed that day how easily this pace of reading the whole Bible might be accomplished.

Because the publisher of The Message, NavPress has merged their marketing and distribution with Tyndale (publisher of the NLT) I was a little wary that this new Message might follow the One Year Bible format which scrambles the text considerably.

Instead, The Message 100 keeps whole books of the Bible fully intact, the First and Second Testaments are completely separated, and the first 30 sections follow the traditional sequence. After that, all bets are off: The minor prophets are co-mingled with books of history, and the wisdom literature is placed at the very end with Psalms wrapping up the 79 OT sections, reminiscent of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) where Prophets come before Writings.

The New Testament begins with the synoptic gospels, then Acts, then the letters (epistles) in a more accurate chronological sequence, not the sorting-by-length with which we are familiar. The writings of John, including his gospel, concludes the 21 NT sections.

The Message 100 also contains a short introduction by Bono — himself quite familiar with the version — which makes it an instant collector’s item for U2 fans.


Connect to the full text of Bono’s intro at fellow-blogger Dave Wainscott’s review.

The Message 100 is 1,808 pages, available in both paperback and hardcover editions, with a North American release date of Tuesday, October 15th.

I know the One-Year Bibles and One-Year Book of… series are very popular in some areas, but in the three cities where we’ve operated bookstores, we’ve never experienced customer appreciation for this particular genre.

Christian Bookstores In … China!

The Christian Broadcasting Network carried a most interesting story on Monday about Christian bookstores in China. They exist and there are — wait for it — 250 of them.  Excerpts from the article follow, but it’s a longer report from CBN’s George Thomas. You need to click the title below to read it in full.

Smugglers to Top Sellers: What Kind of Bookstore is This?


BEIJING — There was a time when owning a Bible in China was illegal. For decades, missionaries smuggled tons of Bibles and other Christian literature into China.

But not anymore. In the world’s most populous nation, technically still Communist and officially atheist, comes the story of a mission to reach China’s masses with God’s Word.

“There is still a lot of darkness here that is suppressing the light,” Joseph Cui, a Christian businessman in Beijing, said…

Cui is a pioneer of sorts. In 2004, he opened one of China’s first legally registered Christian bookstores.

“Life was very difficult when we first started. The bookstore was practically sustained and developed with the economic help of many secret brothers and sisters in the Lord,” he said.

Cui said Christian books were scarce and anyone caught with a Bible went to prison. Still, missionaries smuggled Bibles and other Christian literature into the country – putting them at great risk.

“Christians used to come to my bookstore in those early days, asking all kinds of questions like, ‘Do you have this book? Do you have that book? Do you have books written by these authors, that author?’ After hearing several ‘No’s’, they would say, ‘What kind of bookstore is this?'”

Government attitudes began to shift about 15 years ago when authorities noticed how many Chinese people were turning to Christ. This led to fewer restrictions on publishing companies.

It also gave birth to a small industry of which Xu Jixing was excited to join.

In 2002, Xu opened the first Christian bookstore in Shanghai called Stairs to Heaven.

“When we opened we only had one book in each section of the shelves,” Xu said. “We had merely one copy of each type of book, altogether 50 books, each on the shelf with a gift product on either side. We would feel so happy when one book was sold out!”

That same year, Chen Xiaoping opened her shop called Jehovah Nissi in the port city of Xiamen.

“We knew bookstores could be a very good platform to reach people, better than many other places because you get to know people’s spiritual needs,” Xiaoping said…

…Since then Christian bookstores have flourished. There are about 250 licensed Christian bookstores operating in China today.

But many, like Wang Xiapei, realized that in order to survive in a rapidly changing technological environment, they had to take some dramatic measures.

“My mother would ask me, ‘You have been losing money since you started the company. What the heck are you doing?'” Wang said. “But I knew I had to do it, despite the financial risks.”

In 2008, Xiapei started the first online Christian bookstore in China. Like the others, starting out wasn’t easy, but Wang persevered…

…Christian bookstores have now become a place of active evangelism and outreach.

“In bookstores you get to know all kinds of people from different places,” Xiaoping said. “You can help people connect with each other, make new friends and bless each other.”

“We are not in this to make money,” an insistent Wang said. “We don’t have a high input-output ratio but this is about an investment into the souls of men.”

Still, he and others say the Christian publishing door is not completely open and significant challenges remain.

Two years ago, Chinese authorities dealt a huge blow to Christian bookstore owners by severely restricting the number of Christian titles that could be published each year.

It dropped from 200 titles a few years ago to 80 last year. As of this year, the government has only issued 20 titles…

Read the full article at CBN News.

Remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in China with whom we share a common vision and mission.

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