Archive for January, 2017

Phil Vischer, Drew Dyck and Skye Jethani on Christian Books and Movies

Using the movie Silence as a springboard for the discussion, The Phil Vischer Podcast looks at the perplexing situation whereby the Christian populace tends not to respond to movies or books which are thoughtful, instead seeking sentimentality and wish fulfillment. Part of this is why there is a disconnect between Book of the Year award lists and bestseller charts. They suggest that the market rewards shallowness.

The video link below joins the podcast in progress at the point where the discussion focuses in on our industry and the products we sell.

If the customized link isn’t working — and WordPress doesn’t seem to like it because it works everywhere else — then FF->17:20; books discussed specifically at 20:30; the discussion runs to approx. 30:00

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eBook Sales Drop 16% Over Previous Year

January 31, 2017 1 comment

This is a reflection of all books sold, not the Christian/Religious market specifically.

From Publisher’s Weekly,

…Nielsen found that e-book unit sales from reporting publishers were down 16% in 2016 from 2015. Units fell the most in the juvenile fiction segment, where e-book sales dropped 28% in the year and accounted for 10% of total category unit sales in 2016, down from 14%. (E-books have never been a big factor in juvenile nonfiction and accounted for 1% of units sold in 2016.)

Unit sales of e-books in the adult fiction segment fell 15% in 2016, and, while the format accounted for 49% of all units sold last year in the category, that was down by three percentage points from 2015. E-book unit sales fell 13% in 2016 in adult nonfiction and accounted for 12% of all units sold in the segment last year, compared to 15% in 2015. In total, e-books’ share of trade unit sales was 23% in 2016, down from 27% in 2015…

Read the full report at PW.

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CBA’s Top Ten for February

Clicking the image below will take you to the full Top 50 list. We print this and keep it posted by the door to our store. It’s interesting to see the domination by HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. Take a closer look and break the full list down by Canadian distributors; it’s rather surprising.


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Stocking Inventory Outside the Lines

A few weeks ago a friend loaned me a book which he thought I would enjoy, and I was so impressed I wrote the following review on my other blog even though it was a borrowed copy and not exactly recently released. The story has a strong faith connection though it falls outside the realm of “Christian publishing” and would be rejected by many of our stores because of language issues and adult situations. Still, I think I would have some customers who would want to read this inspiring story. We already stock books with customer advisories (warning stickers) on the back and they do sell. Do you have things in your store that fall outside the normal parameters of what Christian retailers are expected to carry?

Today’s a bit of an exception: A book that’s not new (published in 2012) and not carried by Christian retailers. Rather, it was loaned to me by a friend who met the author at a work-sponsored event several months ago and thought I would enjoy it. I need to return the book to him now, so I don’t even get to keep it, which means I really didn’t need to bother to write anything about it but the fact is, I’m really pumped (a pun which will you’ll get in a minute) about this and want to share it in the hope some of you might track it down.

wine-to-waterWine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World (Avery) is the suspense-filled autobiographical account of how Doc Hendley went from bartender in a college town to founding his own charity and being sent carte blanche to Darfur, Sudan by Samaritan’s Purse to develop a program to bring fresh water to people there regardless of their religion or politics.

Ever watched or read an appeal for a third-world charity and wondered what the people on the ground actually do when they wake up each morning? It’s possibly the polar opposite of what you imagine. As the story unwinds, Hendley is basically an actor in a play in which he has to write (and re-write) the script daily. There is guaranteed opposition and no real promise that you’ll live to the same the next day. In one harrowing tale, he is at a loss to understand how a bullet fired directly at his head could possibly have missed.

If you haven’t figured it out, the book’s title relates to how Hendley the Bartender begins a series of pub-based fundraising events with the aim of helping with the world water crisis. But he does so not knowing where the money will be used. When he first connects with Samaritan’s Purse, they actually turn down his donation and invite him to see the situation firsthand before he spends the first dollar.

I mentioned at the outset that Wine to Water isn’t sold at Christian retail, but perhaps it should be. On a personal level, Hendley strongly identifies with his religious upbringing as a preacher’s kid. His personal faith in God and the power of prayer ought to be a challenge to the rest of us who perhaps have the dotted the is and crossed the ts when it comes to doctrine and theology, but may be missing out on actual real faith.

Truly, there are no atheists in foxholes.

Read an interview with Doc Hendley on the book’s page at Avery/Penguin. Donations can be made at .

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Babylon Bee: Everything Wrapped Up in a Single Book

Once again, the Christian satirical news website couldn’t leave us alone!


Thomas Nelson Announces ‘The Purpose Driven Jesus Calling Adult Coloring Book Featuring Tim Tebow’ By Joel Osteen


NASHVILLE, TN—In its latest push to capitalize on popular Christian book trends, religious publisher Thomas Nelson hurriedly announced upcoming book The Purpose Driven Jesus Calling Adult Coloring Book Featuring Tim Tebow Tuesday to much fanfare.

The book will reportedly feature forty days of purpose-driven devotionals written as if Jesus were talking directly to the reader, with inspirational images of Tim Tebow captioned with encouraging Joel Osteen quotes for believers to color during their read-through.

“This book is everything Christians want to read right now, all wrapped up into one,” a Thomas Nelson representative told reporters…

continue reading at Babylon Bee

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One Book, Four Different Texts

January 26, 2017 1 comment

GoodseedMany years ago at the MissionFest event in Toronto we encountered the people from Good Seed’s Quebec branch, who introduced us to some rather unique titles. They were essentially the same book but each edition was tailored to a particular audience: People who grew up aware of traditional Christianity; people whose influences were largely Eastern; people whose background was more atheist, agnostic, pantheist or New Age; and children. As a lover of apologetics, I probably would have bought just about anything they offered, but the shared characteristics of these books intrigued me. As I usually do, I purchased conservatively, but the following year at MissionFest I topped up the inventory to replace sold copies.

These aren’t new titles. So why share them here today? (Besides coming across the original brochure in a box of papers?) I think the idea behind this set of books is exactly what’s missing right now in Christian publishing. We generally publish books for Christians. The already on-side. Preaching to the choir. Imagine having a resource that you could place in the hands of two vastly different contacts that was written specifically for each of them. Everybody in Christian publishing should be copying this concept to some degree.

Check out the graphic image below. You can learn more at the Good Seed Canada store or see more at their ministry headquarters home page. There’s also an edition of By The Name available in French as well as a number of other resources en français. Wholesale prices available to stores. Retailers need to be prepared to hand-sell these titles or include them in a newsletter or Facebook post or use shelf-talkers (what we did at first) to draw attention to them. (See also the link after the graphic for our original article in 2012.)


■ We covered this product range at the time we discovered them! For more, read this article from April, 2012: Evangelism Product Targets Different Worldviews.

Soul Coats: Restoration – How It Was Marketed (Part Two of Two)

On December 7th we introduced you to Calgary author Rohadi Nagassar who shared the story about his book Soul Coats: Restoration, an adult colouring book based on scenes and scriptures from the Bible. At the time I asked him if he would at a future date share his reflections of being an independent author and publisher in Canada trying to get his product into stores. If you missed it, here is the link to Part One.

Some bookstore owners and staff are going to find this assessment hard to read. I could have edited it in a few places, but at each juncture I felt it was important to hear the heart of someone who has done his best to try to work with all of us, and recognize the weaknesses of a system that we are all somewhat complicit in. So what follows is Rohadi’s story in its entirety.

Here’s a story about a new indie publisher taking a publication, in this case my adult colouring book, into the book market abyss for the first time. The story weaves around early mistakes, exposes the scene between publishers and distributors, and highlights how that relationship informs what booksellers purchases, and ultimately what customers buy.

First, let’s go back to late 2015. The rush of adult colouring books stormed the market. Around Thanksgiving I got the idea to create a bible version since at the time there were only half a dozen related titles available in a market selling millions of books. When popularity swelled during Christmas I took a serious look at whether the idea was viable. Step one I bought all related adult colouring books and looked inside. What I saw surprised me—they were terrible. Photocopied or Photo-shopped images printed onto pages to make a colouring book. Even the ‘top’ books were merely using fonts and stock images converted to illustrations. The market generally reflected one kind of book: attempts by big publishers to quickly appease market demand. Some found success taking a utilitarian route. One such book sold 1/4 million units, not because it was beautiful, but because it was both practical, and had the backing of the most critical piece to book success: Distribution.

Despite my disappointment with the quality, it meant opportunity: the market had room for a premium book that focused on beauty. After all, adult colouring revolves on creativity and artistic expression. A beautiful book would stand on its own against the competition (faith based or otherwise). Long story short, I pulled the trigger and turned around production of a book, from concept to printing to bookshelf, in about 5 months. Soul Coats was available well in advance for Christmas, but there was a problem that wasn’t immediately obvious to me as a newcomer to the book selling world, that critical piece to book success: Distribution.

Little did I know at the time, beauty and quality are not major selling points to distributors or bookstore owners, and therefore book buyers. Make something of lasting value that will stand the test of time is a good mantra for any product, but that product (book) still needs to be marketed well, and in the book industry, distributed well as well. In fact, the latter is more important in my estimation. A below average book with great distribution will sell more copies than a beautiful book with great marketing but little distribution.

June is a good time to start raising the profile of a book to wholesale buyers in order to hit the shelf for Christmas. The problem you, as publisher/author, have to overcome or your book is dead, are the gatekeepers of the book industry. Distributors, wholesalers, and bookstore owners, as I discovered, have little interest in the best books, rather they want the books that have the best chance to sell. Makes sense, but doesn’t quality have any value?

Not in my experience.

So what has value? Success seems to revolve around one thing: Volume. For new publishers and self publishing authors distribution is the critical lynch pin to success and getting your book picked up by all the potential distributors will open the door to success. The few wholesale book distributors have a monopoly on serving the physical bookstore, but getting your book there is almost impossible.

For Soul Coats, only one distribution source, apart from shipping out of my garage, was available–Amazon. That’s a problem. Only the consumer, happy to pick up their books at their lowest price, likes Amazon. They are the ‘enemy’ to bookstores, and the bane to publishers who have little control of the never ending fees to sell books on the platform. That means a physical store will never carry your books if it’s distributed by Amazon. But if you want the cheapest method to distribute books, and for some the ONLY method, Amazon is the answer.

This is a critical problem to the book industry: gatekeepers reject books, those books go to Amazon, Amazon’s product offering strengthens, which means booksellers miss books that are not pushed by major publishers. Gatekeeping does serve a purpose to filter through the glut of books, but also creates a system where wholesale books are streamlined by highest margin/profit, not quality. This is why so many books are from the same publishers who push the same authors.

The non-Amazon book industry is faced with the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’. Risk carrying an unknown title, sell less because ultimately the end consumer has been trained to purchase what’s familiar. Don’t add new titles, distributors become purveyors of a monotony of near imitation books. This strategy is proving to be less and less successful for the town bookstore. But that’s not because people aren’t buying books, those numbers seem flat. Consumers are changing their behaviour to shop in a place where they can find both cheapest price and the most titles they simply can’t find at their local store.

Amazon, for their part, will take anything from anybody who wants to pay to store and ship (they are particularly well suited for eBook self-publishers where fees are less and marketing opportunities great compared to physical books).

Despite a cycle in the book buying industry that’s resulted in steady closures of local bookstores, there still exists a stubborn inflexibility from both distributors not named Amazon, and booksellers. The inflexibility by booksellers in both sourcing and selection means they’re caught in a cycle that’s both unchanging and very difficult to survive in. The environment sees bookstores continuously feature a handful of titles from a handful of the same authors, by an even smaller handful of publishers, of which includes an almost exclusive American voice. What bothers me is how many bookstores, and of course customers, don’t really care. What should bother bookstore owners is this environment doesn’t seem to be working for them either.

Booksellers without a connection to their customers will simply listen to what the distributor has to say and in turn will simply push what they’re told can sell—again—the same authors from the same big publishers. To be fair, booksellers want to make money, and face extreme pressure from online selling, which means books that make the shelf are the ones with the highest chance of selling. But that’s not leading to a growth in the local bookstore bottom line. There needs to be a different system (or at least a softening to how books are selected).

So what could be a recipe for success?

To the bookstore owners who are attuned to the needs of their customers and are curators of quality titles (and hopefully more Canadian titles) over salespeople for publisher to top ten lists, I want to browse your stacks. Anybody can go to Chapters to find the top 1% of books, but it’s quite different if the local bookstore begins to cater to a specific niche market, not merely ordering titles, but becoming a leader in guiding customers to find exceptional books. That creates a space for a relationship with customers, something Amazon can’t replicate.

One of the critical pieces of any good business model, is the creation of tribe (customer base) around strong brand. A bookstore is not merely a glorified library or showroom for Amazon. Make it a centre of attention for readers in your community. Think about unique attributes your bookstore can provide a target ’tribe’. (And no, being the last Christian bookstore in town isn’t an attribute.) Is the store a central hub place to foster community building? Does it offer value beyond making hard to find titles available for people who can’t order online? Consider items that enhance the whole reading experience and turn people into advocates for the things your store brings to the community and readers. Increasing the value offered to customers beyond books is a central focus to survive and thrive (adding a coffee machine isn’t the answer).

Those are some ideas, and some cautions in case you’re thinking of publishing a physical book that you hope hits the big time. And if you’re looking for the best faith based adult colouring book on the market, contact me for wholesale pricing. And yes, it will come from Amazon, Parasource won’t take any more colouring books….

Staff Training: Bible Translations in 4 Minutes

This is a very balanced look at an often thorny subject, What is the best Bible translation? This is must-watching for new staff and veterans alike.

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A Great DVD Inventory Checklist

Perhaps I missed something, but Parasource seems to have stopped doing monthly chart posters, so I don’t believe the usual Top 100 data compilation is available.

Meanwhile, the U.S. consumer site, has an excellent Top 100 list for 2016. Click this link, and then scroll down past the long article until you arrive at the DVD cover images.

In Canada, spread out across a large geographic span, it’s easy to feel isolated or feel like perhaps you’re missing something; so access to data — wherever you find it — is critical.


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The Broader Question of How We Treat Bibles Generally

January 22, 2017 Comments off

Given that’s Sunday, I wasn’t going to post anything here today, but on my general blog, I decided to take the subject we looked at yesterday and expand it into a general survey of things I want to discuss there in a future article. If you want to weigh on this I’ve closed comments here, but there’s a link in the closing paragraph here that will get you there if you wish to say something, either as a regular reader or in your capacity as a Christian bookstore manager, owner or employee.


…I need to ask for your help with something I’m working on for a future article; and this possibly applies more to those of you who have been a Christian for a longer period of your life, or even grew up in the church.

I want you think about a Bible in physical (print) form that you once owned, or that you own now, and ask if you have any reservations or feelings about one or all of the following questions. (i.e. pick one and focus on it, or attempt to answer a few…)

  1. Is it okay to leave a copy of the Bible lying on the floor? (Either flat or upright.)
  2. Is it okay to have your Bible in a stack of other books with other books piled on top of it?
  3. Is it okay for stores to sell Bibles in damaged condition? (Especially if pages are slightly torn?)
  4. If a Bible becomes damaged, what is the proper method of disposing of a Bible? (Regular garbage / recycling / never dispose of … Consider the possibility of water damage if your home is flooded, for example.)
  5. Parents: Do you lean toward letting your kids use their Bible at whatever cost to its physical condition, or do you encourage greater reverence for the physical copy? (Keeping it in a special place, etc.)
  6. Finally (here’s a tricky one) what about underlining, circling, highlighting or the current fad of coloring in Bibles; is that appropriate? *

I don’t get a lot of feedback here despite the number of readers, but I really need your help on this one. Please use the comments, not the contact page, so everyone can see your response. And feel free to share the short-link for this article on social media. (Tell your friends it’s an open-ended survey about the care and feeding of Bibles.)

Bible Journaling 2

Bible Journaling 1

* The coloring Bible samples were already in my picture file; please don’t focus entirely on that particular question.

Please note that this article contains several keywords which may result in WordPress adding advertising below which does not originate with Thinking Out Loud or Christianity 201.

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Should Stores Sell Hurt Bibles?

As a store which sells a high percentage of outlet-priced merchandise, I’m all for hurt books if it saves the customer money, though we try to focus on recent remainders and publisher overstock which is in good condition.

To me, Bibles are another matter altogether. I don’t mind some scuffed covers or dinged corners, but when it comes to the actual text, I don’t think there should be any issues.  I recently ended my relationship with Book Depot entirely over the condition of two children’s NIrV Bibles we received. I wrote about that on November 21st, and we haven’t made a purchase since, which is most unusual for our store. The picture below shows one which was used (see the underlining) and one page which was quite torn (which I’ve highlighted by placing something dark underneath.)


Recently we did a sale of some slightly damaged NLT Bible inventory from FDI. You do get some interesting things in there. The LifeWay security tags are a good example.

There was one Bible (that we’ve found so far) which totally crossed the line. One page wasn’t properly trimmed. That’s fine, we often do this ourselves and make a note on the price tag so the customer knows going in what they’re getting. But this time one page was ripped into the text. This is God’s word we’re selling, isn’t it? I think at some point the retailer needs to be able to say, “I know I agreed to buy ‘slightly damaged’ but this isn’t what I was expecting.”

Furthermore, what do I do in that case? Do I tape the page with invisible tape? Or let the customer work it out to their satisfaction. Do I try to take a profit on that item? Or just sell it for cost? Or do I just offer it to a staff member to take home for free?

So back to the question, should stores sell damaged Bibles? I remember when I worked for the Canadian Bible Society, they had very rigid policies on what they would allow to go out the door. I think the other suppliers should take a cue from what they do. Even remainder marks on Bibles bother me in ways they don’t on other print literature. So what do you think? 

If you also bought the FDI deal and did a rather hasty check-in, you might want to get a sales associate to go through the boxes and sleeves more carefully and find issues before your customers find them.

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Revell Signs Ted Dekker

We don’t normally report signings here, as many of you subscribe to various trade newsletters anyway. But this one from Publisher’s Weekly (PW) got our attention.

Ted Dekker, the author of over 40 novels including Thr3e, Obsessed, and the Circle Series, signed a multi-book deal with Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. The acquisition signals a growing interest in the suspense category, according to Andrea Doering, executive editor at Revell.

“We publish all genres, but we made a collective decision two years ago to ramp up all suspense acquisitions, including romantic suspense,” she told PW…

…Dekker, who has sold over 10 million copies of his mystery, thriller, and fantasy novels worldwide according to Revell, has been published by Worthy, Thomas Nelson, Center Street, and others over the past two decades. The world rights deal with Revell is for two books with the option of two more by Dekker…

Read the full article at Publisher’s Weekly.

HT: Tim Underwood