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Posts Tagged ‘Christian publishing industry’

Checking out the Competition

I try to get to Chapters at least once every 60 days. I think it’s important to track the titles that our suppliers are recommending to them. Things have improved there greatly. While we’ve written about the problem some customers could experience because there are not the same filters as one finds in a Christian store, and about the discernment customers need to have in that environment; though things are definitely improving.

Three things dominated at Chapters’ store in Markham.

One was the new packaging of the KJV Bibles. I suppose that if there’s one market where I would not want to encourage KJV purchases, it would be selling the most difficult-to-read translation to a broad cross-section of consumers. Wouldn’t it be better to steer customers in the general marketplace toward the NLT, Message or NIV? However, I got thinking about this more and decided that Chapters stores probably have a strong market demand for KJV that most of us neither understand nor experience in our stores.

Second, was the shelf of Joyce Meyer titles, which I suspect do well there:

Third, and not surprising was the C. S. Lewis collection. I liked the uniform look of the HarperOne covers and saw a few things I need to add to my own store.

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Send the Light Distribution Confirms Closing

Days after first reported by Christian Retailing, Send the Light (STL) Distribution confirmed its closing in an email to stores last night and on its website this morning with a very short note:

STL Closing

Needless to say, this will be devastating to small stores in the U.S. who used the distributor to consolidate orders through a single source, avoiding the paperwork and freight costs associated with dealing with individual publishers. Also affected are:

  • Canadian Stores: Many of the small publishers STL carried have no representation here; the company was also a good source for non-book items that Ingram (Spring Arbor) won’t ship to Canada.
  • Homeschoolers: It has to be presumed at this point that HomeSchoolCatalog.org is also shutting down
  • Independent Publishers: This will hit former Advocate Distribution publishers hard, and as we’ve indicated elsewhere on the blog, if they choose Ingram Publisher Services, they’ve lost smaller stores like ours who have had our discount yanked for not reaching Ingram’s $5K (US) minimum.
  • Remainder Booksellers: Again, presumably Great Value Books (GVB) is also closing.

Not too long ago STL had moved into a new warehouse, and recently folded GVB into the larger company. Operations were streamlined, efficient and of great benefit to stores like ours.

We pray for the staff and management of STL in this time of transition, and for the many categories of people listed above who must now find other means of getting requested products.

A consumer-interest version of this story has been posted to our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud

It’s Easier for Critics to Curse the Darkness than to Light a Candle

There have been times in the past when my regular blog, Thinking Out Loud, can get into a run of critical articles, and even my Twitter feed occasionally upsets someone because it appears to be skewing negative. (That’s why I created Christianity 201; for my own spiritual sanity.) So in the “It takes one to know one” category, I can spot this type of rhetoric a mile away.

For example, Jim Fletcher’s article in WND (World Net Daily) is interesting because they have a conflict of interest here, as they also publish books which occasionally appear in many of our stores, including a Four Blood Moons title of their own last year.
WND Faith

Checking out Christian retailing online the other day was a real downer. Among the top-selling books/authors making their rounds through evangelical circles: “Jesus Calling,” “The Power of I Am” (Joel Osteen), Thom Rainer, Rick Warren, Jen Hatmaker, Steven Furtick and “Half Truths” (Adam Hamilton)…

…Anyone who has paid attention to the research of Warren Smith regarding Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling” mess should be dismayed. That this non-biblical book has become the publishing sensation it has indicates biblical illiteracy is at epidemic levels within the American Church.

Rainer, who runs the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Publishing Division, a cash-cow for the denomination, doesn’t like to answer uncomfortable questions about LifeWay’s business practices. He finally blocked me on Twitter for asking questions about Alex Malarkey. He is a major change-agent within evangelicalism.

Osteen … what more needs to be said? “The Power of I Am”? “I Am” is the self-identifying name God used to announce … Himself. Of late, American evangelical “leaders” have begun using the phrase to describe themselves…

What’s next in Christian bookstores, mini golden calves?

He attacks others as well, and while I have also voiced the opinion that LifeWay is “a cash cow” and have been involved in discussions in other media regarding the Jesus Calling merchandise, I felt the piece rather trashes people like you and me who entered the arena of Christian bookselling out of purer motives.  So I wrote him this letter:

Hi Jim,

My wife and I run a small-town Christian bookstore without pay, and have been doing this for more than 20 years now. We basically lose money every time we open the doors; it’s all we can do some months to cover the $1,600 per month we pay in rent.  (Real estate bargains to do not abound in our part of the world.)

I think a lot of what you wrote was spot-on. There are a lot of issues that need to be identified, including our industry’s penchant for taking a trend like adult coloring books and milking it to death, to the shallowness of Osteen, to the incredible cash cow that is LifeWay; and while I often try to cut Furtick some slack — “He’s just a kid;” I tell myself — I frequently feel I’m betting on the wrong horse.

Any list of new releases is often met by a great deal of eye-rolling, though there are always a couple of gems worth finding and recommending to customers.

Jesus Calling has been the subject of great angst for us. It’s not my thing, but some of the book’s fans are core customers, a situation I don’t fully understand. We’ve compromised with this one title. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking right now.) There are minimal copies in the store, but most are out-of-sight, behind the counter. I’m very vocal with prospective buyers that the book has some controversy associated with it, to put it mildly, and then we discuss that in detail. (Interesting though that the genre is not new; first-person, God-talking books by Larry Crabb, Sheri Rose Sheppard (6 such titles) and Frances Roberts escape all the criticisms. I guess sales volume makes you a greater target.)

That said, I’m still not content with your article. First, it curses the darkness without lighting any candles. There are some great books being published that have rich text (a term I’ve borrowed from the HTML world of computing) and offer spiritual depth and insight. I would offer my store’s entire Christian apologetics department — about 300 titles — as Exhibit A.

Second, you paint all of us who involved in the buying, merchandising and marketing of Christian books at the local, community, storefront level with the same brush. The decisions, as I stated above re. Sarah Young are never easy. But some thought and prayer does go into deciding what gets in and what gets rejected.

Finally, the comment,

“What’s next in Christian bookstores, mini golden calves?”

simply wasn’t helpful for purposes of this discussion. (A more informed article could have discussed the St. Joseph statue phenomenon, where people bury a statue of the poor man upside-down in the hope of selling their house. Some ‘Christian’ bookstores do actually stock these. I tell customers to lower their asking price or get a different sales agent.)

The article was simply too easy to write, and too sensational. For balance, it needs a Part Two.

Basically, I’m saying don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t blame the individual, local, mom-and-pop store owners for the state of the entire industry; and don’t castigate them if taking on a category like colouring books or eschatological scare-mongering helps keep the doors open and facilitate a whole lot of helpful interactions and transactions.

If it’s true, as the set-up indicated, that this investigative piece only looked at online titles on offer, perhaps that’s the problem; it’s missing the heart and the nuance of what happens when people step into a real store with real people serving them.

Ingram Suspends Full Trade Discount to Small Stores

Ingram announcement

March 31st represented the annual culling of the herd at Ingram, better known in the Christian market as Spring Arbor, as stores failing to purchase $5,000 in 2015 had their trade discount reduced to 30% on books. If you’re looking for a notice you missed, it may be because the announcement appeared as a “service alert” posted on the right hand side of iPage that you had to click to read in full:

ingramDear Valued Ingram Customer,

As with any business, Ingram must closely monitor our expenses and make adjustments when needed so we can continue to provide the speed, accuracy, and support that you’ve come to expect. Sometimes, as our costs decrease, we have been able to pass that savings on to our customers.

However, to cover increased freight and operating costs, we’ve found it necessary to explore and evaluate our discount structure. On March 31, 2016, all accounts that fell below $5,000 in net sales for 2015 will have a new discount structure of 30% on all regular discount items. Please note, this discount applies only to regular discount titles, regardless of quantities purchased or order method. All other items such as video, short, audio, etc., will continue to be discounted as they have been. Also, Ingram does review each customer’s account sales annually and offers volume discounts based on net annual purchases.

We truly value your continued business and appreciate your understanding in this matter. Please contact your Ingram sales representative or call Customer Care at 800-937-8200 if you have questions about this new discount structure.

Sincerely,

Ingram Content Group

So once again, it’s survival of the fittest. They didn’t even wait until April 1st, the policy is now in effect. Once again, I have some opinions on this, some of which I shared last year at this time.

  1. Small stores often get large orders. The bookstore owner or manager in a small market who works to get a 100 copy order gets no reward for their efforts. All other distributors base the discount on the size of the order, an approach Ingram has constantly resisted. I have orders currently holding from a couple of publishers waiting for me to add a few more titles. I have no problem working with that constraint. Send the Light’s minimum is 20 books. I understand why they instituted that and it’s not that hard for me reach their quota. As I said the last time this happened, I probably use some of my university publisher accounts once every 2-3 years, but my legitimacy and entitlement to a trade discount is never challenged.
  2. Ingram is a victim of their own system. Yesterday I received a $3.99 booklet from them. I have no idea why they do this or how they can afford to. When I placed my first iPage order, I was told to “click DC Pairs and where it says ‘hold/release’ click ‘release.'” I did what I was told. If I could change this, no one has ever told me what ‘hold’ signifies or how it would help save costs at their end and save the planet. They say they are “constantly monitoring expenses.” Uh…no, I don’t think so. If they streamlined their operations at their end, such as merging backorders or running multi-order invoices, they would not have to penalize small stores like yours at your end. Relatively speaking, this is all about shipping costs. The actual picking costs are minimal by comparison and the cost of a small store using the website is infinitesimal.
  3. Ingram already ships to addresses buying less than $5,000. In this case I’m referring to the host of individual consumers whose orders to companies like Chapters are fulfilled through Ingram. I feel like when I do place a larger order, I’m indirectly subsidizing the inefficiencies of Ingram’s costs in filling orders for online competitors.
  4. This shouldn’t apply to Ingram Publisher Services accounts. When Ingram is the exclusive distributor of a particular imprint, they are making money twice over. For a small store, they are the only game in town, and even if you approached the publisher directly and were willing to pay any importation costs, that publisher is contractually bound to Ingram as its exclusive warehouse distributor. Personally, I find scaling back the discount with respect to those publishers somewhat reprehensible. 
  5. Canadian stores were forced to scale back. Christmas season purchasing from the U.S. was greatly curtailed when our dollar crashed. With Ingram, accounts are settled by credit card on the 15th of the month following, so there was the added variable of not knowing what Canadian prices to set because no one knew how low our currency was going to fall.
  6. Ingram has other options. They could change the minimum order on iPage from 10 to 15 items or set a dollar-value minimum. They could change the “low” discount threshold from $2.99 to $3.49 or $3.99. They could adjust discounts on hardcovers as Send the Light did. They could modify discounts on publishers where they feel they are being squeezed. They could scrap the “cascade” system and have stores meet a 10-unit minimum per warehouse. They could scrap the minimum order altogether and change it to a minimum shippable. (The last two involve some major system reprogramming changes, but this is about saving shipping costs, right? And the price of oil is going to turn around eventually and courier fuel surcharges will again go up.)

In my community, a large, general-market bookstore is closing today. We put the word out to our customers that we would happy to take their orders on a variety of different subjects; not knowing our access to full margin on those items might be restricted. (At least I can do Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin/Random House.) It’s more possible now that a store in my position (or a store that finds itself being given some larger orders) would have no problem meeting that $417 per month average. 

If you don’t know what your purchasing from them was in 2015, a phone call may be in order.

Sadly, for stores now facing a shorter discount, their relationship with Ingram vis-a-vis dollar volume, has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It should be about the order, not a store’s performance in 2015.  


Update: I want to make clear that while this is partly personal, I just think this particular strategy is bad policy. It’s bad for bookstores, bad for publishers, bad for authors and really bad for Ingram itself, since it simply makes everyone angry.

If my account is a drain on their bottom line, then they should put structures in place that force me to consolidate orders, or higher minimum orders.

In our Christian product sales sector of the larger market, people are often well-networked and vertically integrated. So if I’m talking to a new publisher or a new author and they have a choice between Ingram Publisher Services and Advocate Distribution Services, I think it’s obvious which one I’m going to recommend.

 

Family Christian Stores Stay Open, But Gospel Light Files for Bankruptcy

From Christianity Today:

The nation’s largest Christian retail chain will remain open after a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the troubled company today.

After six months of wrangling in bankruptcy court, Grand Rapids-based Family Christian Stores will be sold debt-free to FCS Acquisitions for between $52.4 and $55.7 million, according to MLive.

The move will cost creditors millions of dollars but will keep more than 200 bookstores open as venues for publishers and vendors to sell products in the future.

The plan was approved by Judge John Gregg Tuesday morning…

Family Christian—which will be renamed FCO, LLC—was able to shed more than $127 million in debt.

On Friday, Family Christian Stores’ creditors, many of them Christian publishers and vendors, voted 162 to 7 in favor of the sale. According to court records, Family Christian owed about $108 million to the creditors who approved of the sale. It owed about $97,000 to the creditors who opposed the sale.

The sale will preserve Family Christian’s business for now…

But there are casualties:

“For the short term they will be healthy. And if they can adapt to the retail challenges ahead they may be successful,” Christian literary agent Steve Laube told CT in an email. “Unfortunately, their financial ‘health’ came at the expense of a number of publishers, suppliers, and authors.”

Because of the sale, Family Christian’s suppliers will have to cope with being paid cents on the dollar for products they had shipped to the retailer.

Gospel Light Publishing, which sells Sunday school and Vacation Bible School curriculum through Family Christian, filed for bankruptcy last Friday, the same day that creditors voted overwhelmingly to keep Family Christian in business.

“It was a contributing factor in our need to seek court protection,” Gospel Light CEO Dave Thornton told CT. “We had to write off $143,000 in expected income, and we’re a smaller, family-owned Christian publishing company that didn’t have deep enough pockets to sustain that, combined with other unexpected losses this spring.”

continue reading at Christianity Today

 

In Family Christian’s backyard, Kregel Publishing is taking a big hit. MLive (Michigan Live) reports:

Jerry Kregel, executive vice president and chief financial officers of Grand Rapids-based Kregel Publishing, said the bankruptcy will cost his Christian publishing company about $400,000.

As one of Family Christian Stores’ consignment vendors, Kregel’s family- owned company will get 35 percent of the wholesale value of their products as a result of the sale, he said.

Despite their losses, Kregel said they voted for the sale in hopes of keeping Family Christian Stores open despite the challenges “brick and mortar” stores are facing from online and digital competitors in the publishing industry.

Christian book and gift stores continue to face challenges, said Kregel, who company also operates a retail store in Grandville and recently closed a store in Plainfield Township.

“In an industry that has been challenged in recent years, this squeezes things even more,” he said.

continue reading at MLive

 

 

Bookstore Analogies

This is the third time around for one of my favorite items on this blog. Feel free to print this for your staff room or employee bulletin board:

  • The Christian bookstore is like a supply depot in a war. And once in awhile, like David, employees find themselves on the front lines of the battle.
  • The Christian bookstore employee is like a bartender. People have issues and questions and want a place to talk and someone to listen.
  • The Christian bookstore employee is like a pharmacist. Like pharmacists in the UK, sometimes store staff are the ones to make the diagnosis and suggest something that might help.
  • The Christian bookstore is like a welcome center for people new to your community, or people seeking a faith connection for the first time. It is the gateway to the next section of their journey.
  • The Christian bookstore is a melting pot. People from a variety of denominations sharing an element of their spiritual life in one room, often at one time. The church without walls, without labels, the way God sees it.

Ingram/Spring Arbor Effectively Terminates Accounts of Hundreds of Smaller Stores

I missed it by $448 net. Less than 10%. A target I didn’t even know I was supposed to aiming for.

Last night I found out the hard way that my store was one of the ones that didn’t buy $5,000 from Ingram last year. $4,552 was close, but no cigar.

The company has removed all accounts falling below this annual purchase rate to a 30% max. short discount on book product. But they’ve done it such a way that stores are unlikely to take the steps to remedy the situation; effectively terminating those accounts, albeit perhaps over a long, drawn-out period of time.

First here’s the letter that went out, that I certainly did not receive:

ingramDear Ingram Customer,

As with any business, Ingram must closely monitor our expenses and make adjustments when needed so we can continue to provide the speed, accuracy, and support that you’ve come to expect. Sometimes, as our costs decrease, we have been able to pass that savings on to our customers. For example, we were recently able to lower our fuel surcharge to $1.75 per shipment due to a drop in the cost of diesel fuel.

However, to cover increased freight and operating costs, we’ve found it necessary to explore and evaluate our discount structure. Effective Monday, June 15, 2015, all accounts that fell below $5,000 in sales in 2014 will have a new discount structure of 30% on all regular discount items. Please note, this discount applies only to regular discount titles, regardless of quantities purchased or order method. All other items such as video, short, audio, etc., will continue to be discounted as they have been. Also, Ingram does review each customer’s account sales annually and offers volume discounts based on net annual purchases.

We truly value your continued business and appreciate your understanding in this matter. Please contact your Ingram sales representative or call Customer Care at 800-937-8200 or 615-793-5000, ext. 27652 if you have questions about this new discount structure.

Sincerely,

Ingram Content Group

So here’s the situation we find ourselves in:

1. There was no warning. The letter went out on June 8th to take effect on June 15th. This shows the low view they have of their customers.

2. There was no way to remedy the situation. The period the numbers were based on was January 1, 2014 to December 31st, 2014. For nearly six months we had failed to meet a target we didn’t know existed.

3. Offering to buy the difference to pull this year’s balance up is futile because that product would all ship at a short discount.

4. The situation is confirmed as irrevocable; there is no room for appeal, even for those of us who missed by less than 10%.

Reading the letter, we have to wonder if the company is simply squeezed because of their deals with companies like Chapters. Doing that volume of fulfillment on small orders where customers are getting free freight means someone is taking a big hit. I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to guess a similar deal exists with Amazon.

As I wrote my sales rep last night — a sales rep I didn’t even know existed until last night — it really hurts to get dumped:

We’ve been a customer of yours for a long, long time. We go back to the days of inputting orders on Telxon units and placing the big plastic suction cup over the phone. We go back to the days when Spring Arbor acquired Gospelrama and got into music and video for the first time. If we had known that we were $448 short, we would have simply bought that amount in December. Times were tough. We were watching inventory carefully. Now, six months later, it comes back to haunt us.

If anyone at Ingram sees this, they will deny that they are actually terminating any accounts. Tonight I placed an iPage order for five items for which I had taken deposits or prepayments. Some of these were non-book items which went through at 35%; one was a short 20% discount item anyway.

For the Christian stores, Send the Light simply offers a better option, with their willingness to include giftware and church supply items, and their vast homeschool catalogue. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of small publishers that Send the Light doesn’t deal with presently; plus their listings on even major publishers like Tyndale are selective, not exhaustive.

There are going to be orders we are simply going to have to start turning down. I can’t make up the Ingram difference for this year when I can buy the items 10% cheaper from Send the Light. And even if something came along where I needed a good volume of a shorter discount item, any return to regular customer status might not apply until June 15 of 2016.

Our account with Ingram is terminal, but I’m going to keep it on life support until they decide I’m not even worth that.

For people wanting to open stores in small markets — and I know some of you are checking out this blog on a regular basis — don’t consider Ingram/Spring Arbor as an option.

For those of you who are self-published authors — who also are regular readers here — find a way to get your book positioned with Send the Light or Anchor Distributors.

News Roundup

  • Thomas Nelson has launched a new consumer website for Tommy Nelson, its children’s imprint. The site includes online shopping as well as a sign-up page for a parents newsletter, Tommy Nelson Mommy.
  • Distribution for Cambridge Bibles will, as of June 2nd, revert back to Cambridge University Press after a 23 year run with Baker Book Group.
  • Outreach, Inc., the nation’s leading provider of church communications resources, is co-publishing a Bible study package for the movie God’s Not Dead with Pure Flix Entertainment for a June 2014 release.  Both a standard 6-session DVD study for small groups, and a four Sunday church kit will be available. Details at Outreach.com
  • The California wildfires just missed the home of Christian singer and actor Rebecca St. James.
  • NavPress is publishing God Took Me by the Hand, A Story of God’s Unusual Providence, a personal memoir by Jerry Bridges, now 83.
  • My editor at PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, interviewed author and lecturer Michael Frost.
  • Number one Tuesday on the daily Spring Arbor Demand Top 100 chart was Church of Mercy, A Vision for the Church by Pope Francis.
  • Billboard has awarded Chris Tomlin “Top Christian Artist of the Year” for 2014. More info at  Breathecast, a Christian music fan site.
  • Also at Breathecast, a review of the new David Crowder album Neon Steeple.
  • Indie Book of the Week: You Can’t Find Peace Until You Find All The Pieces. Author Marie Maiden tells of an eighteen year journey to find her father, and how faith in Christ sustained her through a tough childhood, a teenage pregnancy, and life as a teenage mom. More at this website. [Author submission]

Most Stores Reporting Light Christmas Sales

In discussions with similar, general market stores in my community, and online discussions with Christian bookstores across the country, poor Christmas sales seems to be a consistent theme. Several reported a strong lead-up to the holiday in November that simply wasn’t matched by sales in the final month. Across most of Canada, the weather played havoc with sales in the final two weeks, especially as older customers — a generation considered less likely to download books or music — feared to venture out in sub-zero temperatures or a mix of everything from freezing rain in Ontario to major snowstorms in the Maritimes.

At Faith Family Books in Toronto, Kern Kalideen reported numbers were down, but he was thankful that the store managed to stay open. “We can say thanks to God for His mercy since we did nor loose power. We can see His blessings in the midst of chaos.”

At Family Christian Bookstore in Burlington, Jack Huisman also noticed a sales drop but felt that only about half of the difference in numbers from this year to last could be blamed on weather factors. He added,

We are keeping on top of returns so we get our credits ASAP, and keeping inventory lean. Our biggest cost is staffing, so we are keeping an eye on the schedule. Not much you can do once you have really cut this as much as possible as the minimum wage has gone from $7.45 to $10.25 since 2005, a 38% increase. Our rent steadily increases every few years as well. So our two largest expenses keep growing, but our sales are not much different from 2005/2006 due to various causes – US/CAD dollar, Amazon, eBooks, Internet, Facebook, etc… It is a challenging business to be in.

We will be mailing out less flyers this year – focusing on the top 20% of our customer base. The money we save on flyers will be spent on sending out thank you letters to new customers to try to encourage them to come back and convert them into more frequent customers.

At House of James, Lando Klassen echoed the cost-cutting sentiment almost word-for-word:

In December Bookstore was down 9.5% below last year, and last year was already low.

Our coffeehouse side was up 15% but that 15% is a much smaller number

We promoted like crazy via radio, our very own 20 page catalog, Facebook , e-blasts, and in store merchandising but there are simply less customers shopping here and I’m having trouble getting  them back.  We work hard on special orders, a positive in store experience and a wide selection of merchandise but it seems the good old days are gone.

I am trying to be positive, but it becomes challenging to forge ahead with declining sales.  We continue to cut costs, inventory and staffing and we are trying to be more efficient in all we do.  Have we reached the bottom in our decline. I sure hope so but not sure?

The encouraging thing is when we keep  hearing the stories of how our books and music and live events impact people.

The theme was the same in smaller markets. At The Word bookstore in Perth, Ontario, Mary Keeling noted, “November was down and Dec looks like it too, the weather has had a lot do with it. The whole year has not been good, not like the previous 19 years.” Still, Mary has found a buyer for her store who takes over this week, and is to be both admired and congratulated on having continued to own and operate her store to the age of 84. The Word is a great example of doing more with less, having a strong local and regional customer base in a small store with limited display options.

Another dealer mentioned that boxed Christmas cards seem to peak early this year, which left December sales down.

At my own store, Searchlight in Cobourg, while November was equal to the previous year, we noticed the December drop in key departments. Children’s books have been down all year, but we expected a last minute rush for Children’s Bibles and Bible storybooks, which never materialized. The same is true in our CD department, where the usual final week sales simply didn’t happen, though some products, like WoW 2014, continued to be the default purchase as in previous years.

Doing both the Cook Christmas catalogue and the STL catalogue got a bit confusing at times, but it gave us a broader range of merchandise to offer, and allowed customers to plan their visit ahead of time. One of our largest Evangelical churches had the Cook catalog on every other seat on the Sunday a month before Christmas at both of their services. It was their idea, something above and beyond what we had asked for, and we weren’t going to argue!

Moving forward however is going to be a challenge. We usually ‘burn off’ our line of credit the first or second week in December (at the latest) but this year find ourselves moving into 2014 in a debt position we haven’t known previously. Since gift certificate sales were also down significantly this Christmas, we can’t count on that medium to generate in-store traffic.

If any stores that were solicited for comments for this piece wish to add comments, I’ll edit this article later on. I also want to thank those of you who shared impressions with me anonymously by email and telephone.

Community Relations: Interviewing Job Applicants

Sometimes the resumés that cross your desk are random, but sometimes they are specific to your store from people who are also customers.  In a busy world we tend to ignore the first type, but with the second group — and some would argue this should apply to all job applicants — it’s good public relations to do some kind of personal follow up, by email, phone or even in person. (You never know when you might have an opening even if right now that seems unlikely.)

If you think the individual is someone whose information you would like to keep on file, be honest that there’s nothing open right now, but then ask them if they’d like to complete an application form anyway. This separates people who have a casual interest from people who would really love to work in your bookstore environment.

It’s been awhile since we ran this, but here’s a screening process we send out by email that appeared here many years ago.  Because we once had three stores, we used this extensively, and in the last 18 years have employed 45 people — not including inventory help — in four different locations.


Searchlight Pre-Interview Questionnaire

(1) We hire mostly from our customer base. So….read any good books lately? What are some recent or classic Christian titles that mean a lot to you?


(2) What other Christian bookstores have you enjoyed shopping at?


(3) We sell a variety of styles of music. How do you feel about selling a Christian rock CD to a teenager with facial piercings and purple hair?


(4) What are your feelings about the variety of Bible translations on the market? Would you be open to selling the various types we carry?


(5) Do you own or have you used Bible reference materials such as a Concordance or Bible Dictionary or Bible computer software?


(6) If someone walked in and ask you to, would you be comfortable praying with someone in the store?

(7) If the cash register fails, are you comfortable completing a transaction manually in a sales books, with different rates of tax?

(8) Skill-testing question re. the above: If books are subject to 5% GST, and CDs are subject to 5% GST and 8% PST, and there is no tax at all on gift certificates, what is the total sale amount on the following: a $20 book, a $20 CD and a $20 Gift Certificate?

(9) We refer people to a variety of local churches depending on their story. Are you familiar with the worship patterns of a few different denominations and comfortable recommending a church to someone even if it’s not your personal first choice?

(10) Since our staff are basically, “working for peanuts” do you feel a sense of calling to this type of ministry that would override financial considerations?

(11) While human rights legislation prevents limiting applicants on the basis of faith, is there anything in your personal faith journey that you feel would be helpful for us to know, given the nature of the store and its customers, or part of your own faith story you wish to tell?

Product Lines in Decline

bible bookstore

As if Christian bookstores aren’t already under siege from technology competing for leisure time spending, eBooks themselves, the rise of online ordering, and the decline in reading; some product lines are being completely wiped out.  For example:

Lapel Pins: Seems silly to begin the list with what was generally a $2 – $3 item, but Christian bookstores sold a ton of the little pins. Evangelicals were the biggest customers who preferred pins that were witness items. But then everything went Casual Sunday. No suits for men = no lapels. Relaxed dress for women = no jewelry.

Bible Software: With so much available online, we don’t hear much about new software anymore. Furthermore, retailers got tired of being stuck with software that became obsolete with newer operating systems, or newer versions of the software itself.

Concordances: While it could be argued that online resources limit the need for all Bible reference products, once you’ve used online Bible websites, using a print concordance is a real pain.

Choir Music: What’s a choir?

Praise & Worship Songbooks: Surprise! You thought we were going to say hymnbooks. But in some stores hymnbooks actually sell better than worship folios and chorus books. The reason? Worship leaders get everything they need from CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing Inc.) and in the trenches, the congregation doesn’t use print music at all, as everything is projected on a screen.

Tracks: In many churches, a soloist can simply get the worship band to get charts for her/his song, and audiences prefer live music over canned music. But in many churches the “special” has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Tracts: The printing and distribution of gospel tracts was a cultural phenomenon that was an extension of a wider movement in which political broadsides were as common as religious ones on Main Street. Furthermore, current trends are moving away from conversion by argument. However, the cream always rises to the top, so tracts like Steps to Peace with God still sell well.

Bookmarks: If fewer books are selling, then that means fewer bookmarks.

Colouring Books: Older elementary kids can do amazing things on their Mac or PC, so you’re not going to impress them with a coloring book and a package of four crayons.

Pencils: This was once a huge industry with over a hundred available designs from a half-dozen suppliers. But you aren’t going to impress a kid today with a 29-cent pencil. (Unless maybe you throw in a colouring book.)

Sunday Bulletins: Churches large and small can create amazing color graphics on the church computer, and megachurches send all their weekend bulletin needs to a local print shop. Ditto brides planning their weddings or families constructing a print memorial to be given out at a funeral. So while Broadman, Warner, Cathedral Art and others can claim healthy sales, the handwriting is on the wall, or more accurately, on the laser printer.

Sunday School Record Books: Attendance records still exist as parents use a swipe card to check their kids in and out of the Children’s Ministry Centre, but there’s no need for wall charts and stickers. Besides, what organized sports couldn’t do to disrupt church attendance, the demands of parents’ shift-work jobs did. Many kids can only make it every other week.

Christian Magazines: In days of yore, when the pastor came to visit, you demonstrated your spirituality by having Christian Life and Moody Monthly prominently displayed on the coffee table. Nothing needed to fill the gap here because increasingly, the pastor doesn’t come to visit. 

The upside? Christian bookstores can better focus their energies on books and Bibles, and growing departments such as DVDs.  Strengthen the things that remain.

So what did we leave off the list?

CBD Increases Category-Killer Tactics

November 28, 2012 1 comment

With the bestselling book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp on sale at Christian Book Distributors (CBD) for $5.99 on Tuesday — 65% off list — some retailers are giving up hope on ever being able to woo back customers lost to the online sellers. Booksellers in the general market lament ‘the Amazon factor,’ but for Christian retailers, CBD is the elephant in the industry. The Voskamp deal is part of CBD’s 20 Days of Christmas special, and there was no limit on how many copies could be purchased at that price.

(A retail store in Canada, using CBD as a wholesale source would, even with the 25% shipping cost to Canada, end up getting a 56.25% discount. At the $200 mark, CBD freight to Canada drops to 20%, leaving a net 58.0% discount.)

Does CBD have to go that deep to capture market share? Obviously they think so, but they wouldn’t be able to do this without the blessing of both publishers and authors. Authors? Yes, these deep discount events generally involve a reduced author royalty, something literary agents agree to on behalf of the authors.

The publishers involved know full well that the discounting is killing the brick and mortar retail environment.

Meanwhile, Paul Young’s anticipated sophomore title, Cross Roads, is being offered at 60% off for three days this week. (Canadian retailers, using CBD as a wholesale source, would be getting 50% on this title.)

The best alternative for retailers is to find the titles that aren’t on CBD’s radar — local interest titles and independent publishers — and feature those instead.