In 1817, James and John Harper open the modest printing establishment of J. & J. Harper, Printers, in New York City; which means this is an anniversary year. A BIG anniversary year!
To celebrate, the company has created a special website 200.hc.com which is divided into five sections. Of special interest to readers here is the Timeline page, which includes histories of divisions added through mergers and acquisitions, such as Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. As you’ll see however, Thomas Nelson goes back a long time too, with a history that’s not so shabby. And Zondervan isn’t exactly a new kid on the block.
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.
Allow me to say at the outset, this is entirely subjective. Your experience may be different, and if it is, feel free to respond in the comments section.
- Word Alive (especially considering the U.S. origin)
- Parasource (I hate abusing the rush service, but it really helps and they never ask questions)
- Foundation (some orders take several days to process, but if we really need it rushed, they come through)
- HarperCollins (a factor of geography more than anything)
Conversion on U.S. Dollar
- HarperCollins (as low as 1.25 on some items right now)
- Parasource (especially w/ respect to Baker/Bethany House)
- Word Alive
Everyday Discounts or Help With Special Orders
- HarperCollins (but we buy non-returnable)
- Parasource (always willing to work with us, even when the church is asking us for help but they’re order isn’t exactly huge)
- Word Alive (at least with respect to special Canadian pricing on selected items)
Invoicing and Statements
- Foundation (consolidation of orders on a single invoice just makes sense)
- Parasource (2nd, but see next category)
- HarperCollins (separate packing lists and statements are a bit of an environmental disaster; not to mention the postage mailing the invoices from Pennsylvania)
- Word Alive (impossible to figure out sometimes)
- Parasource (it urgently needs an upgrade on the search side, but it’s the best we have for this category; the online statements and invoices make it a clear #1)
- we don’t use this function from other suppliers if such exists
- HarperCollins (a bit of a no-brainer since the warehouse and the printer are one)
- Parasource (impressive considering the learning curve since the Augsburg acquisition)
- Word Alive (rated 3rd because the database is so limited; too many “extended catalog” items)
- Foundation (running just a tad too lean for our liking)
Condition of Merchandise; Accuracy of Picking
- Parasource, Foundation, Word Alive all tied (computers eliminate errors in the pick/check/pack/ship process)
- HarperCollins (you never know what you’ll find inside the box)
Special Discount Offers
- Foundation (telesales; at least one email per day, but they all get opened)
- Parasource (the current restock offer is an example of deals which are equitable for all accounts)
- HarperCollins (those quarterly extra 3% offers have low minimums and can be split among many orders)
- Word Alive (none offered)
Product Line Awareness
- HarperCollins (for stores like ours, they have 3 lines – HarperOne, Zondervan and Nelson – it’s always been the same; plus we always get a complete sales presentation for each cycle)
- Parasource (didn’t hear about Destiny Image, and the gift lines come and go, but overall we know their product range; really miss print catalogues, though)
- Foundation (a basic core list of publishers is represented but there’s also a rotating list of extras including overstock from Book Depot which often duplicates HarperCollins titles; new release order forms are often lacking author info)
- Word Alive (this rating could change as their new online “New Releases” section has been fixed and is now working properly)
Website/Social Media Marketing Support
- This category includes HTML support for Facebook and store home pages. Everything we receive we get from the Twitter feeds of the individual publishers; not from the Canadian distributors
- We sometimes link my personal blog in our customer newsletters, social media or even the website. The number one thing we’re looking for is book excerpts we can quote or link to. Very difficult to find however when it comes to review copies for the blog or sample copies for the store:
- Parasource and Harper Collins tied for # 1. (Both companies always willing to provide review copies for the blog if requested; and those manuscript editions are great collector’s items and make us feel special… In 17 years I’ve only ever received three things from Foundation, the book How to Smell Like God which I didn’t read, a used copy of The Gospel of John board game, and a defective copy of the ESV Study Bible which I received basically because I heard everybody was getting one and I shamelessly begged)
Doesn’t Market to Our Church Customers
- Word Alive (at least not to our knowledge; Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, maybe)
- HarperCollins (true they’re part of Your Church Zone and have that Church Source program but we’re not seeing much direct impact)
- Parasource (only rated 3rd here because I know this is a major issue for other stores where they’re concerned)
- Foundation (in the past they would refer VBS and curriculum inquiries to the nearest stores including ours, but they kinda invade our territory every summer when they do a 6-week book shop at the Pentecostal Camp that totally misses what that market requires.)
- For us, a total tie for #1 between Mark Hildebrand at HarperCollins and Norm Robertson at Parasource; each of whom I would happily call friends (and they’re listed that way only because it’s alphabetical!)
This is my 2,000th article here at Christian Book Shop Talk. That’s a lot of comings and goings of publishers, distributors, stores and sales reps. A lot of new policies and ways of doing business to consider. A lot of ups and downs for the Canadian dollar. Perhaps mostly, a lot of rants and raves! I thought today, in honor of the occasion I’d share with you a thing I just posted to our store Facebook page. I don’t do this sort of thing often, but some customers have a sense of ownership and are often asking, “How’s the store doing?” I can give them sales numbers if they really need them, but I also like to share my heart for our street-front ministry.
This approach, and the content of what follows is not without controversy. I know some of you would not do this with your customers. I accept that. But it’s something that’s been brewing for a long time that I needed to share with my store community. Your store newsletter or Facebook page may just contain hours and sale items. Decide what approach works best for you.
-•–•- State of the Bookstore Address -•–•-
Each year, the President of the United States gives a State of the Union address to a joint session of the Senate and Congress. Today I want to do something similar for our bookstore family.
Christian bookstores tend to reflect the character of the person who owns them as well as key staff and managers. Because I’ve always worked for Christian organizations (100 Huntley Street, Inter-Varsity Canada, Canadian Bible Society, Muskoka Woods, Cobourg Alliance Church, Northumberland Christian School, etc.) for me, Christian service has never been a Sunday thing or a one-week-per-night thing. I am somewhat immersed in mission. I’ve always been passionate and perhaps even a bit intense about things like Christian service, the Bible, spiritual authenticity, spiritual maturity and simply knowing Jesus.
For me, it matters to know the full arc of the Bible’s story. It matters to know how to present this to outsiders and overcome their objections. It matters to know the rules for proper Biblical interpretation. It matters to know the stories of those spiritual pioneers who went before us and the biographies of those contemporary saints who serve us today. It matters to know what Christian experts say about the standards for marriage and parenting and extended family life. It matters to better understand the nuances of my brothers and sisters in other tribes of the broader church. It matters to be able to access the tools which help us dig deeper into God’s Word. It matters to be able to discern practical application of the scriptures in our neighbourhoods and workplaces. It matters to know the words and melodies of the songs used to sing praises to God both today and in times past. It matters to have a window into what God is doing in the Church around the world. It matters to have the materials to communicate the Christ story to our children, teens and young adults.
That’s a lot of ‘matters.’ But honestly, some days I feel like I’m the only one. There are times like I feel like that nobody else gives a care in the world for these things.
Increasingly, we have days that are greatly dominated by non-book transactions. Don’t get me wrong, the mugs and the movies and the T-shirts and the jewelry and the cards help pay the bills. But I wonder sometimes if it’s true that I’m ‘the only one’ as noted above or if I should just take a cue from our friends at Chapters/Indigo and just remove vast sections of the books in order to spread out the giftware?
For me, the books matter. We have over 1,000 items in our store which would be considered Bibles in one form or another. If that’s true of Bibles, I can’t imagine how many books we have. However, having this great choice is useless if people don’t take the time to browse. Having an awesome selection is ineffective if people only want to read material by some fringe teacher they saw on a late night Christian TV channel. Having a selection of books at all is ill-advised if all your customers are buying is non-book commodities.
Sales were up slightly in November. It’s important that you know that. I’m not writing from a standpoint of financial discouragement. It’s about our mission. It’s about enhancing the Christian lives of the constituency we serve. That’s why we’re there.
If you’re a regular reader — and perhaps you had to be to read this today — obviously this isn’t directed at you.
If you’re a shopper for non-book things, we do still need you. However, I hope you’ll consider diving into a good book. I hope you’ll consider developing what BIll Hybels calls a “chair time.” If you’re a parent, I hope you’ll model reading for your children.
My wish for you this Christmas is that you’ll have a favorite Christian author and a favorite Christian book category.
Only about three weeks away from releasing, HarperCollins Christian Publishing is deeply committed to the official follow up to Jesus Calling with an unprecedented one million copy first printing for Jesus Always by Sarah Young.
In our store, initial acceptance of the first title was slow. We monitored the U.S. statistics but weren’t seeing anything like what transpired there. Of course, conservative Evangelicals chose to keep their distance from this one because the format was different.
We posted something to Facebook to see if we could get a clear guesstimate of what the initial interest will be. There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about it so far, but it tends to be customers more on the periphery who gravitate to this. Our regular customers aren’t fans.
But don’t hedge your bets on this too long. It may be a million copy printing, but there are many different markets competing for those copies: Gift stores, airport newsstands, mainstream book market retailers, big box stores; just to name a few.
Most of you know that I like to run reviews closer to the release date, and then copy those reviews with extra trade info here at Christian Book Shop Talk. But I wanted to briefly mention this one in case you haven’t ordered it yet.
I spent my Labour Day reading Saving the Saved by Bryan Loritts, releasing in paperback through Zondervan in October. I rarely binge read like this, but like the cliché says, I couldn’t put it down. The subject is countering the belief in performance-based faith, but it also serves as a commentary on Matthew’s gospel.
This would be a great first Christian living book for someone to read, but also applicable to the rest of us who’ve been on this journey awhile. A good mix of personal stories and material from other sources. Loritts is the son of Crawford Loritts who is a pastor and frequent conference speaker whose name some customers will recognize.
The bright cover will cause people to pick it up, but you can’t sell what you don’t stock! Before I was halfway through, I’d already clicked a few copies into an order.
Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing for this one! Really appreciated. 9780310344995
I’ve said it before but I’ll be more concise this time:
If each of your suppliers isn’t emailing you once a week with graphic images for use on your store website, Twitter, Facebook, and newsletter, something is wrong.
You need those. More than anything else. Here’s a couple on the house:
I think many may not be aware that this is a relaunch of a familiar product with 90 3D images. I’m not sure if the older edition will continue to be available.
I like this one because it ties a backlist title into a current bestseller. (Wallace appears in the movie.)
While Answering Jihad wasn’t as strong, Seeking Allah… did very well, as I suspect this one will.
Maranatha! Music did a great job with this graphic. We’ve done particularly well with Top 25 Songs of Grace, it’s a bit more mellow and makes a great gift for anyone. But the whole series is great value for customers.
This is an example of a graphic element which allows you to be current knowing that the payoff is several months down the road when the DVD releases.
I hope this inspires you to seek out graphics like this on your own. Following your major publishers and record labels on Twitter is a big help if you need a source for these.
When I am given books to read, unless it is a proven author, I often wonder how the title will fare in the marketplace. Will it sell? So it was a bit unusual to offered a review copy of something with a cover that reads, “Over 600,000 sold.” With all the Regal Books titles which ended up at Baker, why the promotional push for this one in particular?
Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets is a book our store has always sold but I had never taken the opportunity to crack the pages. Its arrival in my mail this time is because of a re-launch of the title, acquired from Regal Books, by Bethany House, a division of Baker Books. I was a little unclear as to the reason for this. Although the cover changed, the price did not, and in comparing the two versions, the book seems to be entirely the same other than page number variance because of differences in typesetting. Nowhere do we find the words “Revised Edition” or “Updated Edition.” I won’t complain; I wanted to read this!
Dutch Sheets is a rather remarkable individual whose unusual and many times miraculous adventures in prayer are most inspiring. In many ways, the language and tenor of this book make it a very charismatic-friendly title, so similar to other such books I read early in my Christian life. But we’ve always stocked this in the prayer section, not the charismatic section. You could do both.
The book is strangely cessationist-friendly at the same time, which may account for its sales over the years. Sheets makes it clear that he believes in praying in tongues, but says he will refer throughout the balance of the book to praying in the Spirit. That terminology may still ring of Pentecostalism for many, but it represents an attempt to reach a broader audience and he does something similar toward the end of the book as well.
The book is really half testimonies and half teaching, and the Hebrew and Greek roots of familiar Bible passages are examined. Sheets says that a meeting takes place in prayer as we stand before God on behalf of situations or others in need of God’s intervention. Some of the exhaustive catalog of scripture verses won’t be looked seen in the same way after reading this.
Perhaps in moments of desperate or anxious prayer, we all become a little more Pentecostal; trying to see the hand of God move in the situation which presents itself. We want a miracle. Could it be that there are no cessationists in fox holes?
First published in 1996, this book has endured two decades and is a contemporary classic and a must-stock item in our stores.
The full title is Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth. (Bethany House, 304 page paperback, $14.99 US/$18.49 CDN.) Discussion/reflection questions follow each chapter and there is a short leader’s guide at the back of the book. Also sold separately is a study guide which has also been recently repackaged. A repackaged eight-session DVD is releasing in a few days, with each segment containing 30 minutes of teaching. Finally, a youth edition is also available.
Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc
I usually don’t stock U.S.-interest titles in my store. Anything with the Stars and Stripes on it or the Capitol Building pictured is automatically nixed. But for this I made an exception. Here’s a review of Shane Claiborne’s latest as it appeared at Thinking Out Loud last week…
Shane Claiborne’s latest, Executing Grace is a well-written, well-researched and well-annotated look at the history of capital punishment in the United States. It is both gently persuasive and passionately persuasive at the same time. It is a thorough, exhaustive treatment of the subject from a perspective that is both Biblical and Christ-centered. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read on any issue. End of review…
…Sitting in my backyard, on Canadian soil, reading Executing Grace: How The Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, by Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) is a rather strange experience, especially in the wake of a week of violence in the U.S. that has fueled discussions on racial discrimination and injustice. I don’t usually cover U.S.-interest books, preferring to devote my review time to things that are of equal interest to people in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
I made an exception to this partly because I’ve tasted the writer’s passion after following him on Twitter for a few years. No execution in the U.S. escapes his gaze, and with each one, there is horrible lament. You feel Claiborne’s pain with every new case, and then, after the act is carried out, his sorrow. He’s like one crying in the wilderness, but for him, it must feel like spitting into the wind. There are churches in many southern states who I expect are definitely not keeping him on their short list as a guest speaker any time soon. Such is the life for those who choose to speak with a prophetic voice.
The book brings together an avalanche of material, there are simply so many cases to draw on. Again, from my backyard chair, I have to ask, ‘Why am I even allowed to read this; why would the powers that be allow this book to be exported out of the U.S.?’ The situation is one that I believe any self-respecting nation would find — how do I put this — rather embarrassing. These are not stories you want the world to read, even one at a time, let alone assembled in a single collection. America’s history, on this issue, is rather stained; the atrocities of the era of lynchings only replaced by a more civilized-looking substitute containing an air of due process.
While the book has more than a dozen chapters — each fulfilling a specific function — they are united in their presentation of the contrast between capital punishment as a means of avenging or making right a capital crime on the one hand, and the idea of grace and mercy on the other. You have to ask yourself which side of the issue you’re on.
The reading of the book eventually becomes subjective. I’m getting angrier and angrier as I read of cases where innocent people were executed for crimes they did not commit. Or spent decades of their adult life behind bars until their innocence was finally proven to be true. Or tortured on death row with dates for their execution that were constantly revised and pushed back. Or executed by so-called modern, sophisticated means which prove to be barbaric; the death process dragging out to 30 minutes or an hour or perhaps not working at all.
But the very anger at injustice that I’m feeling lands me solidly at the point of recognizing the system as flawed; yearning for reforming the system. I’m not a U.S. citizen, but it makes you want to work for change. How does my own country fare? While there are references to capital punishment’s top five nations, I don’t recall a reference to Canada, and England is only mentioned in passing. This is a Made-in-America problem which requires a Made-in-America solution.
As with the situation in the U.S. last week, the church can be the leading agent for social change, but unfortunately, we don’t speak with a single voice on this issue. The greatest number of state-sanctioned executions take place in what is termed the Bible belt, and last year one prominent Southern Baptist leader wrote a piece for a major media outlet on why he supports the death penalty.
If you read this book, it will make you angry as well, frustrated, and rather sad; however you can’t not read something like this. As Claiborne states so clearly, knowing what is going on — having the information — is vital to a change in attitudes and practice to take place. For those of us who claim Christ as our Lord, we are complicit in the killings if we remain silent, or simply defer the matter to elected officials.
The penultimate chapter is a crash course on restorative justice. For some, raised and saturated in a world of eye-for-an-eye, punitive justice this will be a stretch; an awakening. It proposes a paradigm shift of epic proportions, and yet is strangely appealing, offering the hope of a new way forward.
Special thanks to Miranda, the new director of promotion and publicity for HarperCollins Christian Publications in Canada for getting me a copy of this. Retailers should note that with this title, Shane moves from Zondervan to HarperOne, which will greatly expand this title’s reach.
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.
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:
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.