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Archive for May, 2017

Christian Publishing Companies Took an Enormous Loss on Family Christian Closing

In a presumably recent article dated “June 10th, 2017” World Magazine recounts the end of the Family Christian Bookstores closing in this article:

The news earlier this year that Family Christian Stores would close its more than 240 retail shops startled many of its customers. But it didn’t surprise anyone familiar with the company’s recent history. Despite receiving forgiveness for more than $80 million in debt two years ago, the company still couldn’t pay all of its bills.

The article later goes on to say:

Family Christian lost about $16.6 million over about 17 months during the bankruptcy, according to court documents.

That’s a million per month. The story continues:

In February Family Christian representatives called both Baker and Tyndale publishing groups. Lewis said they asked Baker Publishing for more time to pay invoices and for a 15 percent price discount, and Baker said yes.

But others, including Tyndale, had gone as far as they could to help the struggling retailer. “They asked us for humongous increases in the discount at which we were selling to them, and we just said, no, we’ve already given you our best deal,” Tyndale CEO Mark Taylor said…

…“This is the second time in three years that we’ve taken a big hit in bad debts because of Family,” Taylor said. (He declined to name the dollar amount of Tyndale’s loss.) Lewis said Baker Publishing expected to lose between $350,000 and $400,000.

Basically, Christian publishers bailed out Family not once, but twice.

Furthermore, the article doesn’t mention that many of those same publishers — in 2016, the year in-between the two crises at Family — took similar losses on the closing of Send the Light Distribution. Nor does it mention the many write-offs which a part of everyday commerce in dealing with individual bookstores that have closed in the Amazon era.

In this writer’s opinion, those losses might be represented by authors who were never signed, books that were never fully marketed, and development of new projects that were possibly curtailed. It’s entirely possible that publishing company staff were let go in belt-tightening at these various companies.

It’s a big loss for us all.

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New Generation of Authors Worth Listening To

Recently, like many Canadians, our basement flooded. Picking up boxes of papers that should have been thrown out years ago, I came across an old inventory printout from Word Canada, containing three full pages of resources by Chuck Swindoll. I tried to think of when the last time I sold one of Chuck’s books. As good as they are, a whole new generation of writers has emerged who have much to say to the intersection of traditional faith and contemporary culture. Today we look at one such writer…

Book Review: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday is the story of Rachel Held Evans and her husband Dan and their meanderings in being sometimes drawn towards and sometimes repelled from a place of weekend worship. Far from the usual oft-seen rant on this subjective, the book is very redemptive in tone and is in part a cautionary tale and in part of celebration of the great things the capital-C Church can do through the ministry of the small-c local church.

This book was actually published in 2015. A copy landed accidentally from the publisher; in other words I was under no requirement to read the book at all, much less write about it. My intention was to read a few chapters and then possibly give the copy away. Instead, I worked my way through eventually missing nothing from the copyright page to footnote #93.

Rachel Held Evans is often seen as a poster girl for the progressive Evangelical movement. Her name is — and this is absolutely true — used as a swear word on a popular Reformed podcast. Her roots are conservative and she describes her relationship to those days as analogous to someone who has broken up with their boyfriend, but continues to check their Facebook page every few days. She walks a tension between traditional Evangelicalism and its more modern expressions.

My first exposure to her was on her blog, RachelHeldEvans.com, where she no longer posts as frequently, but back in the day, it was the springboard to my second exposure to her, the book Evolving in Monkey Town, the story of growing up in Dayton, the epicenter of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Searching for Sunday is relatively similar in the weight of its autobiographical content, but is also as informative as Evolving, if not more so. There is a commonality to the personal sections however. The book contains an ever-present tension between her story and my story; or yours.

The book is organized in seven groups of chapters (3-6 per group) each of which could be viable as a stand-alone essay. The groups themselves represent seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. The perspective of the author varies. Sometimes she is a congregant; a parishioner just like many of us. At other times, she finds herself on the platform; the result of speaking engagements brought about through the popularity of her blog, and later her books. So there is another tension here, between disciple, earnestly seeking after God, and church leader, the one at the front of the room holding the microphone.

Her journey represents a constant vacillation — in a good way, mind you — between historical, liturgical denominations and upstart, informal church communities. Personal familiarity with both is helpful here, but not required. Let me rephrase that: Personal familiarity with both is probably recommended here; the book espouses the value of both types of Christian community.

One last thing: Rachel is an awesome writer, no surprise given she was a literature major. Even if you don’t agree with her take on everything, I think you can still enjoy the reading of it, and come away informed and enriched.


Learn more at ThomasNelson.com

Follow her @rachelheldevans

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Review • The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way – Volume 1 by Paul J. Pastor

Have you ever wanted to talk back to your devotional book? I imagine myself saying, ‘That’s easy for you to write; you don’t know my situation.’ Perhaps I’ve already done that a few times. Finally, there’s a devotional book that gets that. Anticipates that. Even provides that.

The Listening Day (Zeal Books, 2017) is a collection of 91 page-per-day readings by Oregon’s Paul J. Pastor (yes, real name) who is also the author of The Face of The Deep, which we reviewed here. At first look, the book appears to follow the format of several popular titles in the same genre, where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always.

This format has been controversial. I would not presume to say, ‘Thus says the Lord’ unless I were certain that I had heard from God in the first place, and so I have what I consider a righteous skepticism toward books which run with this format. I’ve read the criticisms, most of which were directed at a highly successful title by an author who was and still is generally unknown. For many, the format is reminiscent of God Calling by A.J. Russell which is often used in conjunction with the AA program and has been criticized for the process by which it in particular was written, something called ‘automatic writing.’ 

Those situations don’t apply here. The author is well known to readers of Christianity Today, his first book was published by David C. Cook, and I’ve listened to him teach at his home church in Portland, where he is a deacon responsible for spiritual formation.  The publisher of this work is Zeal Books, founded recently by Don Jacobson, the former owner and President of Multnomah Publishing.

So we can trust the source; but there’s two additional reasons why this book is different.

First, although each page begins with two well-paired key scripture verses for the day, there are many scripture passages alluded to and embedded in most of the daily writings. The book is thoroughly anchored in Biblical texts. I didn’t encounter anything where I thought, ‘God would not have said that.’ Rather, with my discernment radar set to its maximum setting, I felt the plausibility of God saying such things — especially to me personally — was quite high.

Second, there was the aforementioned interactive factor. This was, in one sense, a dramatic encounter with God. The interjections on the part of the reader — typed out on behalf of you and me — were the things I would say. This book got very personal very quickly. With further honesty, sometimes the interruptions were followed by apparent silence on God’s part. Been there, too.

The introduction came with an admonishment not to try to binge-read the entire book, but rather to take one reading per day. Good advice, but impossible for a reviewer who has to read every word of every page before composing a review. Slowing down to 15 entries per day over 6 days, I asked myself, ‘What if this were the only thing I had time for in the morning as I started my day?’ I think it would be a most appropriate beginning because the dialogue format is a reminder of God’s presence from the moment I awake, and this is critical in a world where many Christians are spiritually defeated between the bed and the breakfast table. 

A note about the “Volume One” in the title: Without giving away too much at this point, I’m assured that there is more to come. Stay tuned.

Climb the tree of life–
the branches are wide and strong enough for all.
Reach from beauty,
stretching to understanding,
pulling up on wisdom
until you come into sight of the place where I hang,
beyond words, above the healing leaves, high above the kingdom.
There you will know me, just as you are known,
at the crown and light of the listening day.


The Listening Day is available to Canadian retail stores from Word Alive / Anchor

We ran an excerpt of one of the readings a few days ago at Christianity 201.

 

Low Canadian Dollar Exceeded 2016 Forecast

When the value of the Canadian dollar against its U.S. counterpart started dropping noticeably in the first quarter of 2016, economists predicted some recovery to happen before or after Christmas. We now know that didn’t happen.

In an industry where list prices are determined by conversion rates, it’s easy to say that a better dollar might kickstart better sales. That’s true in many cases, particularly some higher price books (i.e. $17.99 and $18.99US paperback titles) and also some lower priced items (i.e. some $3.99US things that work at $4.99CAD but start to look overpriced at $5.50CAD). But it also true that some of the most significant bankruptcies and closures in Canada happened when our dollar was high.

Remember, a low U.S. dollar would immediately devalue much of your existing inventory, especially things purchased in the last 15-16 months.

Be careful what you wish for. A slow movement back to something like a 1.2500 conversion rate would be nice. But don’t skimp on inventory waiting for something which might not happen.

Instead, shop for deals and packages which qualify you for extra discount points. Consider discounting some product yourself in-store, rather than waiting for a distributor flyer. And seriously consider empowering your sales associates to have some power to barter. Yes, I know that’s scary! But we do it in our store with one employee and have yet to regret it.

The idea is to keep customers coming and keep them satisfied!

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42: The Right Guy in the Right Place at the Right Time

I’m not a sports guy. If you read my other blog, you’ll know that it’s usually a full year goes by before something sports related appears in the Wednesday Link List.

But in 2013, reading Seven Men and the Secrets of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas, I found myself captivated by the chapter on Jackie Robinson; to the point that it was the only chapter in the book I read twice. For any other non-sports readers here, Wikipedia explains that Robinson was,

…an American professional baseball second baseman who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. The Dodgers, by signing Robinson, heralded the end of racial segregation in professional baseball that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues since the 1880s. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

This was a gamble that simply had to work. Before even completing the review of Metaxas’ book, I wrote this brief synopsis of that chapter:

The essence of Metaxas’ take on Robinson is that without his strong faith in Jesus Christ, and the shared faith of the manager who signed him — first to a farm team, and then as the first African-American in Major League Baseball — the story would not have happened as swiftly as it did. Both parties knew that if they failed, there might not be another opportunity for another few years or even a decade. Why the faith element was so important is something I’ll save for the review, if I don’t decide it’s a spoiler. Suffice it say that whoever was going to break the professional baseball color barrier needed to be a special person.

My friend Jeff Snow however is a rabid baseball aficionado. He’s also a pastor and youth and young adults worker whose writing has appeared at Thinking Out Loud in the series we ran twice on the impact of divorce on teens. So when Thomas Nelson released 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry a few weeks ago, Jeff was at the front of the line to buy a copy. I asked him if he could share his impressions.

I finished 42 Faith last week. I really enjoyed it. First, some minor quibbles: It tries a little too hard to find faith where there isn’t really strong evidence from the situation, and the book meanders a bit. Also, the author interjects himself into the story; a chapter may start with him describing how he met a 90 year old former teammate of Robinson over breakfast to discuss Robinson.

The interesting thing for me as someone who has read widely about Robinson is that he uses sources that up to this point have not been touched on much, including correspondence filed in the Library of Congress and an unpublished manuscript Robinson wrote in the sixties that was supposed to be part of a series of book for young people where he talked about the importance of faith in detail.

Another positive part is that most of the evidence the author uses to back up his contentions are first person quotes from either Robinson or Branch Rickey, the other main character in the story.

The author’s contention is that, along with other considerations, that faith in God played a large role in motivating first Rickey in wanting to sign Robinson as the first African-American player in the major leagues, and in motivating Robinson to see this opportunity as divinely guided and as an opportunity to do what God put him on earth to do.

It’s hard to say how someone who has no clue about this story would enjoy the book. The meandering might throw them off. But I think anyone who has an interest in baseball, in the civil rights movement and social justice, or who enjoys inspiring true stories, would enjoy it.

 

It’s Not a Problem

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Karen Kingsbury Receives Honorary Doctorate from Liberty U

On Friday, May 12th as part of the Baccalaureate Ceremony, an honorary Doctor of Letters degree was conferred on Christian fiction author Karen Kingsbury by Liberty University in Virginia, the school founded by Jerry Falwell. (See this link for a 45-second video) This degree, according to Wikipedia, “in some countries, may be considered to be beyond the Ph.D. and equal to the Doctor of Science.”

Karen is an Adjunct Professor at the school, and four of her five sons are Liberty alumni. For the full introduction by David Nasser and acceptance by Karen to the school and graduating class, go to 31:31 in the video below and watch to 37:20.

Liberty News reported that at the same ceremony:

Five individuals received honorary doctorates during the service. Wallace and Eleanor Turnbull were presented with honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees for their missional work in Haiti and their many years of work with Haitian Liberty students through the Turnbull Foundation. New York Times best-selling author Karen Kingsbury received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree not only for her prolific works, which have been adapted for television and film, but for how she has impacted the Liberty student body as a parent of Liberty students and as an adjunct professor, teaching master classes on English, writing, publishing, and research. Campus pastor and Senior Vice President of Spiritual Development David Nasser received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree and was recognized for his years of successful ministry and for leading Liberty’s student body in missions and service. [James] Robison was also presented an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

 

As We Celebrate Canada 150, A Look at Religious Freedom Here

A few months ago we suggested stores consider doing a display feature of Canadian authors to tie in with Canada 150 celebrations. A recent comment alerted us to a book written specifically for the occasion. A follow up with the author resulted us receiving the press release below which we’re passing on as submitted with a few adjustments for times and dates.

CANADA 150 BOOK TACKLES RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND THE CHURCH IN CANADA

Word Alive Press recently announced the release of its newest title in the Great Canadian Author series, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867-2017).

In his first book, author Don Hutchinson draws on over three decades of church leadership, constitutional law and public policy experience to offer valuable insight into the Christian Church and into today’s Canada.

Hutchinson’s storyteller style delivers a book designed for everyone interested in the challenges and opportunities of religious freedom in Canada.

Hutchinson studied history and politics at Queen’s University and law at the University of British Columbia. Following fifteen years in leadership with The Salvation Army, he consulted with World Vision Canada and others before serving seven and a half years with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, including as Vice-President, General Legal Counsel and Director of the Centre for Faith and Public Life in Ottawa, where he made several appearances before parliamentary committees and the Supreme Court of Canada.

This book informs and inspires. Canadians who embrace Christianity as a personal faith, a community faith and a faith not to be kept to ourselves will appreciate Hutchinson’s perspective that, “we need to be prepared in our relationship with Christ, and the nation in which we live, to stand publicly in our faith as witnesses to Him whom we live for. One key to that preparation is engaging fully our commitment to Christ, His Church, and His Word (the Bible). Another is being accurately aware of how Canadian courts are defining what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to as the ‘fundamental freedom’ of freedom of religion.” (Under Siege, page 45)

Many Christians sense that an advancing secularism is trying to force upon Canadians a culture in which faith is meant to be private. Under Siege presents historic, legal and theological grounds for faith not to be hidden away in private stained-glass closets but instead, for the benefit of Canadian society, shared with confidence in an increasingly contested public square.

National Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca, Father Raymond J. de Souza writes, “Religious freedom has returned to the global agenda in the 21st century, ‘under siege’ from both religious and secular extremists. Don Hutchinson is uniquely situated to tell the story, and it’s a story that urgently needs to be told.”

Brian C. Stiller, global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, adds, “Don Hutchinson in Under Siege walks us through the critical issues of freedom of religion in a country where one might naively assume its record is stellar. His message is that there is always the need for vigilance. In a time when the secular assumption that faith will soon ebb away carries with it a belief there is no need to protect its freedom, this book advises the opposite. A timely and wise warning.”

A public book launch took place on May 3rd at Cardus in Ottawa…


304 page paperback – ISBN 9781486614523 – $22.99 in Canada
Distribution for retailers by Word Alive/Anchor Distributors

For more information visit: www.donhutchinson.ca

55 Years of Tyndale House Publishing

We originally ran this in May 2012, so if we’re doing the math correctly, this is Tyndale’s 55th Anniversary year. Here it is with minor updates.

As the story goes, Ken Taylor wrote Living Letters on a commuter train to read to his kids in their nightly family Bible story time. Armed with yellow lined paper and a copy of the NRSV, he restated the text in words they could relate to.

And a whole lot of other people related to those words, too. When nobody was interested in a publishing deal, Ken formed Tyndale House Publishers which turns 50 — now 55 in 2017 — this year. An endorsement from Billy Graham of Living Letters and later Living Gospels and later Living Psalms and Proverbs followed.

I have a threefold relationship with the company that’s identified in my internal systems simply as TYN.

  • I’m a longtime consumer. We share the same values and I respect their product integrity. Readers of my two other blogs will note that when I need a go-to translation for a scripture, my preference is NLT. My take-to-church Bible is also a large print NLT.
  • I’m a blogger. Tyndale, Nelson and Zondervan have been most generous with print review copies, and though I haven’t done much with Tyndale product in the past year, I appreciate the opportunity that exists.
  • I’m a retailer. At this point, I’m prepared to say; “Two out of three ain’t bad.” I don’t let the politics of retail cloud my admiration for the company’s products, though I really do wish a lot of things were different right now.

So congratulations to Mark Taylor and the rest of the gang at Tyndale. I most sincerely wish you all God’s best in the years to come.

The picture above is from a photo history of the company. Click this link and then click the small boxes under the timeline.


When this first ran I left the “wish a lot of things were different” phrase hanging. That’s not really fair. So 5 years later, here are the things I was thinking about at the time that never made it into the finished article:

  • We’re 50% full-service Christian bookstore and 50% Christian book outlet. I wish Tyndale played the remainder game. Our Baker, Nelson, Zondervan, Cook remainders serve to introduce us and our customers to many authors and products we wouldn’t otherwise carry. Many become permanent part of our inventory later on at full price.
  • Some of TYN’s nicest Bible cover concepts are [personal opinion to follow] squandered on leather editions of One Year Bible product. I’ve had more than one woman tell me she wants “that one” and then has to be let down when told that it’s scrambled text. I know the OYB brand is a big deal for the company but it doesn’t fare well in my store.
  • Again, covers. They do some really cool things but as soon as they’ve arrived they’re discontinued.
  • The Canadian distributor’s inventory can be rather thin at times. I love their service when things are in-stock. Not so cool when things backorder.
  • I also love special buying opportunities in terms of both SuperSaver pricing (for the customer) or higher discounts (for me). Don’t really see much of this. Sometimes we need to really bend our own pricing to help a small church with a big need. We do get small concessions on discount at times, but are turned down on others. And while “Suck it up; times are tough for everybody;’ may not be the exact word-for-word quotation, it was a sentiment for which I was totally unprepared. [2017 Update: We bought some SDI Bible product recently. We had to take the bad with the good, of course. To me, missing pages in a Bible is a deal-breaker. When you write off what can’t be sold, I’m not sure you’re really ahead.]

 

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Christmas Novels Were Actually Series Starters

I always thought Christmas novels were one-off, stand-alone things that writers threw together as an “extra” title for those who wanted seasonal reading. In other words, the literary equivalent of the musician who books 30 hours of studio time to hastily record some Christmas carols to appease the diehard fans. Are we cynical? Perhaps toward some Christmas CDs.

Recently however, we saw that the book A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury was actually kicking off a series, and now Wanda Brunstetter’s latest, The Farmer’s Market Mishap is actually a sequel to The Lopsided Christmas Cake.

So if, like me you’ve boxed up those titles and placed them in the sea of forgetfulness, never to remember them anymore (a sideways reference to the hymn My Sins are Gone) or at least until late October, you might have customers asking you to dig them up for you so they might read the books in order. (Actually, I had a heads-up with the Baxter Family title, and it’s faster just to order the Christmas Cake book off-season than to try to unpack all those cartons.)

Wanda’s* book releases early June, while Karen’s* Love Story is also scheduled for the same week. Obviously a conspiracy, wouldn’t you say?

*Yes, I’m on a first-name basis with them.

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Mainstream Bookstore Notes “Thousandfold” Increase in Bible Sales Over 15 Years

The Saturday print edition of The Toronto Star profiled Squibb’s Stationers in Weston Village noting “it’s Toronto’s self-proclaimed oldest bookstore.” The article by reporter Jackie Hong coincided with the stores 90th anniversary.

Toward the end of the article…

Besides building friendships with customers, [co-owner Suri] Weinberg-Linsky said she’s been able to see trends come and go over the years, many of them unexpected — fountain pens have become a hot commodity again, no one buys ledgers anymore and Harry Potter’s popularity still shows no signs of slowing down — but the most perplexing relates to the explosion of sales for one book in particular.

“In the last 15 or so years, Bible sales have increased probably a thousandfold,” Weinberg-Linsky said. “We don’t go one day without selling at least one Bible . . . Honestly, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you why.”

From our perspective this is interesting on several fronts. First it confirms our observation, supported by anecdotal evidence, that stores like Chapters in Canada and Barnes and Noble in the U.S. are increasingly becoming the default Christian bookstores, especially as such stores close in many markets. B&N has always had a good handle on what “Religion – Christianity” books to stock, but Chapters was always hit-and-miss until about two years ago when their core inventory in this category seemed to undergo positive transformation.

Second however, it raises concerns that, much like shopping online, the customer is not afforded the benefit of experienced sales help in what is a very personal purchase. Most mainstream store associates can’t articulate the nuances of differences between the NLT, ESV or CEB translations, let alone describe the features in various devotional or study editions. Of course this places the onus on us to make sure that even casual part-time staff are well trained in this area. I’m happy that Squibb’s is seeing these sales, but I hope that each Bible is a ‘good fit’ for the intended recipient. Christian bookstores also need to encourage first-time Bible buyers to get in touch by email if there’s anything about their Bible they’re not understanding, and also see if they are connected to a local church or home fellowship.

Finally, on a more positive note, the experience of Squibb’s in Toronto shows that the Bible is very much in demand. In my own small-town store, we easily have about 800 units of Bible product representing at least 550 SKUs. It would be really tempting — especially with shelf space at a premium — to sit back and rest on our existing inventory, but we are always topping up products which make connections with customers. Currently, that includes the value lines of NLT, NIV and Message Bibles and just about anything that’s giant print.

Love the Smell of Books?

Author agent Steve Laube had this on his blog this morning. There’s also a link to a full sized version which you can get by clicking on the image itself below. If you want to go deeper, there’s a full discussion at CompoundChem.com.

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