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Archive for November, 2015

Another Case Against Amazon

November 30, 2015 1 comment

There can be little doubt that for many booksellers — both in our Christian publishing industry and the larger, general market — Amazon has been a key factor in ruined businesses and store closings. Their predatory pricing and marketing has done damage to Christian bookstores in particular to a degree that overshadowed competition from CBD (Christian Book Distributors), which was at one time the chief rival to brick and mortar religious bookstores. The loss of each and every store also impacts wholesale distributors and publishers.

Amazon sells erotic literature of both the literary and photographic variety. Presented with this information, some Christian bookstore customers do reconsider. But if they need more nudging, nothing should suffice better than the initial, short-lived decision of Amazon Kindle to publish a 631-page book by Canadian convicted rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo.  Heather Mallick’s review (of sorts) of the book for The Toronto Star was given the online header, “Paul Bernardo’s eBook proves he can’t spell, write, think;” while in the November 14th print edition the headline was, “An illiterate, laughable attempt at prose.”

She noted that, “The book is said to be legal because it doesn’t describe his crimes;” but adds that Bernardo stood to profit from e-book sales.

The same day as Mallick’s story appeared in print, the company withdrew the title.

Still, you have to wonder how things ever got that far. Or how many copies were sold prior to the sales shutdown.

Fellowship Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario is the largest church in our town by weekly Sunday attendance. They have never been a ministry partner church of our bookstore, though they did allow us, until a year ago, to place flyers in adherent’s mailboxes twice a year.

All of their buying is done elsewhere. I’ve been in the office when the courier trucks rolled up with cartons and cartons bearing the logos of Amazon and CBD. It was hard not to cry. The use of Amazon in particular was hard to fathom; it seemed to fly in the face of Galatians 6:10.

We previously had created a program we called WebMatch with them in mind; a buying option that allowed them to continue to get the deals they wanted while at the same time supporting local, marketplace ministry.

It was to no avail. I once thought that perhaps stewardship had trumped local ministry support, but with WebMatch, apparently the door-to-door delivery was also a factor. We introduced local delivery.

It was to no avail. All of their curriculum, small group and library purchasing goes elsewhere; unless a particular library resource is proving hard-to-find. We know that Amazon is a major factor in their small group buying; so when word came out that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was the largest single supporter of the gay marriage lobby in the United States, we thought for sure we would win them back. These guys are Baptist after all; by definition, conservative Christians tend not to support gay marriage, right? We sent them the necessary information.

Again, to no avail.

All of this to say that I doubt that the publication of a book by Paul Bernardo would influence their buying decisions any more than the issue of gay marriage. Their church wants the lowest price, they want it fast, and they want it delivered to their door. I can get next day delivery from Foundation and Cook if needed, but HarperCollins can be up to eight business days. Their church leaders and administrators want products consistently to arrive yesterday and they apparently don’t believe we’re capable of quick service. 

I would hate to think what other trades and suppliers that church uses. In the few times it has come up in conversation, I have learned that the membership at large doesn’t realize their tithes and offerings support Amazon; they just assumed all their Sunday School curriculum and adult elective study guides were coming through the local Christian bookstore.

While they may disagree, I personally reserve the right to hold them complicit in the closing of our store when it happens; and I don’t intend to remain entirely silent on that subject. Our 20-year history in Cobourg would be entirely re-written if they had chosen to be supportive.

 

 

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Goldilocks and the Three Suppliers

November 27, 2015 6 comments

img 112715These are tough times in our industry, and that necessitates running with peak efficiency. If you think it’s tough buying for your own store, imagine being a Canadian wholesale distributor and having to buy for the entire country. At sales conferences distributors are hyped on upcoming releases, but sometimes the enthusiasm doesn’t transfer to those of us in the retail trenches. On the other end of the spectrum are the sleeper titles that take off unexpectedly through television exposure, social media or word-of-mouth, leaving our suppliers caught short.

So we end up with different types of inventory levels.

Way too much inventory. The best example here was R. G. Mitchell. Once the receivers took over, stores had access to inventory numbers only to discover there were instances where RGM had two cartons of an obscure academic book in stock, when you’d be lucky to sell two copies in Canada in an entire year. I guess they were trying to make a good impression with their publisher partners, and if a title tanked, they could always feature it in an upcoming catalogue in their retail stores. There was little austerity or restraint.

Far too little inventory. The example here would be Foundation Distributing, though I need to qualify that by saying I’m never sure if it’s just me, or if some stock is held back for key accounts and flyer participants. The company certainly plays favorites in all its dealings, and could probably run the whole operation on the basis of the top 20 accounts and tell the rest of us to take a hike. Either way, the fill rates we experience are abysmal. As a retailer, you want to maintain loyalty to your domestic distributor, but at the same time, you want your customers to get things in a timely fashion. I mentioned to them once that their competition is not Send the Light, or Anchor, or Spring Arbor; their competition is Amazon. Should their American publishers insist that FDI has to have one copy of the full catalogue in stock in Canada at all times? It’s not too much to ask.

Just the right amount. The example here would be David C. Cook and no, they didn’t sponsor this article. I don’t know how much of their system is manually controlled and how much is a computer restoring basic minimum inventory quantities. Whatever they do, it appears to be fairly intuitive, ordering what’s needed ahead of time and occasionally reverting to a just-in-time system on the less active titles. For all types of products, the basic levels need to be adjusted periodically. Some titles start selling and you think you’re seeing the tip of the iceberg, when in fact you’re seeing the entire iceberg. An unexpected appearance on 100 Huntley Street or Life Today with James Robison can be a game-changer. I suspect sometimes the pre-pub response determines what the operating minimums will look like. Whatever they do, Cook Canada seems to find the balance between unnecessary large inventory and chronic shortages, though I would also place Augsburg-Fortress Canada in this category.

If Your Store Does Well With Donald Miller

Oriented - Gordon C. HarrisI’m always a little skeptical when a publisher suggests that, “If your customers enjoyed ______ …” they will enjoy the book being sent to me for review. In this case the book was being compared to Donald Miller, who brought a unique outlook to the world of Christian writing, and Ann Voskamp, whose blog I am quite familiar with but whose books I have never read.

But the comparison to Miller holds, and holds well; and I would toss in a Zondervan writer, Tyler Blanski while we’re at it. That present-tense voicing that sweeps you into the action and an almost stream-of-consciousness style that isn’t bound by tight chronologies or fear of tangential digression. The type of title that takes you on a journey with the author to an undetermined destination.

In this case, the book is Oriented: Making Sense of the World and Your Place Within It, the author, Gordon C. Harris, is self-described as “a modern contemplative teacher and theologian” who coordinates curriculum development for Catch The Fire, a large church in west Toronto formerly known as the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. Catch The Fire is also the publisher and distributor of the book, though for my U.S. readers, it’s also listed on Ingram.*

The overarching focus is the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The various themes it suggests. The many ways in which the author interacts with those concepts. Harris has 15 years pastoral experience and has a Masters in Theology and is working on a PhD in theological studies. So this is an informed look at the earliest accounts of scripture, but not a commentary. It’s more subjective — almost autobiographical — dealing with the author’s responses to the narrative. Somewhat poetic, it belongs in a literary section of Christian bookstores that does not yet exist. 

I was tempted to review the book in the same style in which it is written… I pick up the book expecting not to finish. “Just read a chapter or two;” I have been told, and the publisher places no onus or expectation on me to write a review. But I keep turning the page wondering where the author will head next. I’m looking for a good hook for an article. Wondering, given the Genesis theme, where he lands on the creation/evolution spectrum. There is too much to think about here for binge reading. The book becomes a take-to-work companion and earns a coveted spot on my bedside table; the books I read last at night and first at dawn. The author has claimed a captive…

Below is a short excerpt reading by the author. Canadian stores can contact Jonathan Puddle at Catch The Fire Books to arrange a wholesale shipment. If you’re a consumer who landed on this trade site somehow, you can order from Atwell Books.

You’ll also find eight more video clips and more about the book at this link.

* 9781894310765 | $14.99 US | paperback | Author’s blog

David C. Cook Canada adds The Good Book Company

The Good Book Company

David C. Cook in Canada announced the addition of The Good Book Company to its list of distributed product lines. If you’re not familiar with this publisher, I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

The Good Book Company (TGBC) is an evangelical, reformed Christian publisher, located in Epsom, Surrey, England.  TGBC began in 1991 under the name St. Matthias Press UK, in response to what TGBC saw as a “resurgence of Bible-based reformed evangelicalism in the UK.”Their name was later changed to The Good Book Company in 2000.  TGBC now supplies books, along with Bible study notes, to multiple countries including that of the UK, US, Australia and the developing world.

The company is truly the epicenter of much Calvinist/Reformed publishing activity right now, with a roster containing many of their top authors.

To learn more, visit TheGoodBook.com

In another announcement this week, David C. Cook Canada announced the addition of the Artistic line of church furnishings, including communion-ware.

 

20 Wicked Women and the Lessons We Can Learn From Them

In a publishing environment that has brought us Bad Girls of the Bible and Desperate Women of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible, it was only a matter of time until Wicked Women of the Bible. Zondervan author and editor Ann Spangler’s titles are usually a little bit less provocative, but as she explains it her publisher “suggested that it might be interesting to use the word wicked in both its literal and ironic sense;” or cover what the blurb calls “wicked and ‘wicked good.'” In all honesty, I see this book coming back in a year or two on my “formerly published as…” list with a new title.

Wicked Women of the Bible - Ann SpanglerMoving past that, I expected to find perhaps at most a dozen women covered, but this book takes on no less than twenty; and for each there is the story itself, followed by some background on the setting, followed by study questions. That “The Times” article follows the story is an interesting twist, that contained information that was well-researched, as were the stories themselves. (Each section’s title page also contains a related Biblical text.)

God chooses to reveal himself through narrative. The stories we grow up with — whether involving male or female protagonists — are actually telling us much about His character and dealings with His people. Some of the stories in this collection were quite familiar, and some involved women that are less frequently highlighted. The ones we learned as children are probably in the former category, yet I found both types of account to be written in a measured, informative manner.

Spangler’ present-tense storytelling style also involves bits and pieces of conjecture, but nothing too excessive. This is not what some call ‘Biblical Fiction,’ but falls more into the commentary category. Some of the best insights are in the footnotes; I never considered Jericho’s Rahab as an innkeeper. Or that Bathsheba wasn’t entirely an innocent victim of King David’s advances. Still, in one case David is singing to his wife Michal, and the sample text provided is recognizable from Song of Solomon. A footnote acknowledges this inter-generational stretch, but for some reason, this one concerned me.

Overall however, this is a great resource for small groups and an excellent catch-up for new Christ followers unfamiliar with these narratives. It also provides balance to those who feel the nature of the Bible literature is overly patriarchal.


Stores: Offer a package deal with Wicked Women and 7 Women and the Secrets of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.

David Wesley’s Christmas Album: Simply Christmas

David Wesley Simply Christmas

Because he’s a hometown artist, it’s a given that we do well with David Wesley’s first album. But when the Christmas album was delivered today, we didn’t expect to sell two copies in the first five minutes!

David’s music video success on YouTube has meant being flown out to the west coast twice courtesy of the online channel. At this writing he has 30,000+ subscribers and over 4.7 million video views.

But he’s also a Canadian artist in which we can all take pride. If any Canadian stores are interested in stocking the album, Searchlight is in a position to wholesale them to you. I’d suggest starting with a minimum of 12 units, 6 copies of the new album and 6 copies of the non-seasonal one. But I can ship you any mix. We’ve already done this for a couple of stores but are willing to do more. If your store is larger and you prefer to deal with David directly, send us your contact information.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite songs as performed by David on YouTube.

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Once Canada’s Largest; An Amended Parable Reopens in Red Deer

Six weeks ago we reported here that the largest Christian bookstore in Canada, Scott’s Parable in Red Deer, Alberta was going to be given a second life after closing this summer.

On Thursday at 10 AM, the new store opened as Kennedy’s Parable Red Deer. No pics yet, either on the site, their Facebook page, or from local media, but we’ll keep watching.

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What’s Wrong With You?

Bookstore sign

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To the people who sent me all the free magazines…

November 9, 2015 2 comments

newspapers

To the publisher…

I am very sorry that I was unable to distribute all the copies of your magazine you sent to me, but try as I may I can’t get people to pick up things from the rack inside the door. Personally, when I visit a church or a Christian bookstore or something like that, I always look for those free newspapers and magazines, because I am a person who likes to know what’s going on in the Christian world, as well as being a bit of a newspaper and magazine junkie. Even when far from home, I’ll still pick up local ministry publications, and missions things, because I like to read the kind of thing you publish. But I will be the first to admit that I seem to be a bit of an exception.

I’ve even tried tricks like inserting some of your back issues inside your current issues. I’ve stuffed copies in bags at our store before people knew I was doing it; trying to target people I thought might enjoy your articles.

Still, it really hurt to have to throw all this stuff out in the recycling bin today. I feel bad for your advertisers, who were probably told that you print and distribute “X” number of copies. Their message simply didn’t get out to our area. But I know that you also receive donations, and I feel bad for your donors, because some of the money they donated toward your printing and distribution costs is now going into the garbage. All in all, this is a great waste of ministry resources. It’s not good stewardship.

recycling-binBut I have to end this by saying something that is going to hurt: I never asked you send this stuff in the first place. It was your decision to not to be a controlled circulation publication; it was your decision to mail copies in bulk to places you’ve never seen and organizations you never spoke with in advance. Again, we never asked for all these things to be dumped on our doorstep. And we have so many other things to think about, that getting your magazines or newspapers distributed wasn’t at the top of our list.

We were simply trying to make the best out of an awkward situation. But after hanging on to these things well beyond their street date, I am afraid they are off to recycling.

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An All-Time Christian Fiction Top Ten

November 5, 2015 1 comment

Lists are ubiquitous on the internet, but sometimes one gets us curious and sparks discussion. Such is the case with this list at Newsmax. There’s a write-up for each title, we’ve just listed the books in question here. Click the title below to see more.

10 Most Popular Works of Christian Fiction

  1. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
  2. Christy – Catherine Marshall
  3. The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
  4. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
  5. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
  6. Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
  7. Love Comes Softly – Janette Oke
  8. The Man Who Was Thursday – G. K. Chesterton
  9. Wise Blood – Flannery O’ Connor
  10. This Present Darkness – Frank Peretti

So what do you think? What about Les Miserables by Victor Hugo? Or Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers? And wouldn’t you want to include Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan in a list like this? Am I being too Evangelical to want to include In His Steps by Charles Sheldon? Or The Singer by Calvin Miller? Or Hannah Hurnard’s Hind Feet on High Places? How about a nod to Beverly Lewis for kick-starting the Amish genre within Christian fiction? Or was that Wanda Brunstetter?

In a larger store environment, do you think a display of this top ten (or an amended version) would work for Christmas?

Again, click the title to read the full comments for each title at Newsmax.

Finding an Apologetics Gem Among the Backlist Titles

I must be unintentionally driving my book promotion and publicity contacts a little crazy. Lately I’ve been reading and reviewing books at my other blog, Thinking Out Loud that are (a) not new and (b) not from the usual gang of publisher suspects, but are in fact things friends and customers have loaned to me.

Gunning For God - John LennoxSuch is the case for Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target by John Lennox (Lion Books, 2011). I’m not a science guy exactly, but I found this extremely easy to follow and the author’s style very engaging. Lennox will be 72 on Saturday (he shares a birthday with Billy Graham) and to the best of my knowledge is still a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University (which gave us that other part-time Christian apologist you may have heard of, C. S. Lewis).

The book’s purpose is not to argue for the existence of God, or a particular model of creationism, but rather to point out the flaws in the arguments of the major proponents of what is termed The New Atheism, which Lennox points out isn’t new at all. And item by item, he does refute their arguments and even the right of scientists to delve into certain issues of philosophy or moralism that are beyond their purview.

But while there are areas where the author feels strongly that Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are somewhat lacking in scholarship (such as Biblical interpretation) or have wandered outside their boundaries of their respective fields (such as ethics) or have taken a leap of logic (such as imposing conditions on Christianity that would never be accepted if the shoe was on the other foot) he chooses to disarm them gracefully. 

HIs closing chapter on evidence for the resurrection faces the challenge of covering familiar ground for committed Christ-followers, but he does this with excellence.

Christian apologetics doesn’t fascinate every Christ-follower, but I would argue that people need to include books like this once in awhile to have a balanced reading diet. This one hits all the high notes and is certainly one of the best resources to counter the arguments being made by those on the other side.

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Amazon Opens Physical Store

Amazon Seattle Store

Here are some highlights from an article at Huffington Post (linked below) about today’s opening in Seattle:

  • Virtually all of the books are presented face-out “to give you more information as you browse.” [Company VP Jennifer] Cast told the Seattle Times that Amazon “wanted to showcase authors and their work, rather than cramming as many titles as possible on shelves. ‘We realized that we felt sorry for the books that were spine out,’ Cast said.”
  • Beneath most books is a review card with relevant Amazon.com customer ratings and reviews. “You can read the opinions and assessments of Amazon.com’s book-loving customers to help you find great books,” Cast said.
  • Some sections in the bookstore are highly targeted using data from Amazon.com shoppers, with titles like, “Gifts for Young Adults: 4.5 Stars & Above” or “Fiction Top Sellers in the Pacific Northwest.” As the Seattle Times noted, Amazon’s trove of data on consumer habits “could also solve the business problem that has long plagued other bookstores, unsold books that gather dust on shelves and get sent back to publishers.”
  • Prices at Amazon Books will be the same as those offered on company’s website…

Read the full story, with photos at Huffington Post Arts and Culture

Image from a more detailed article at The Seattle Times

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