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Posts Tagged ‘religious book marketing’

Canadian Author Pushing the Envelope on Language

It was somewhere in the 1970s. It wasn’t either musician Steve Camp or popular speaker Tony Campolo. It was both of them. “Every day thousands of people are dying and going to hell and most you don’t give a s**t. And sadly, more of you are upset about the fact I said s**t than you are about the thousands of people dying and going to hell.”

The quotation may not be word-for-word, but it’s about 90% intact.

Fast forward a few years and a young Lutheran pastor from Colorado takes the stage at a national youth rally and becomes an overnight sensation and is given a book contract. Nadia Bolz-Weber wasn’t trying to use an expletive to make a higher point. It’s just the way she talks. Google her name and you see phrases like, “I love Jesus but I DO swear a little.” Or, “Nadia Bolz-Weber is famous for swearing like a sailor.” Or “Nadia will keep swearing because she is not going to pretend to be someone she is not.” (And those were on page one, without even clicking on the results.) One of her four books starts with “F**k” right on page one.

Part of me admires what Nadia does. Sort of. My wife and I got caught up in the excitement and tuned in weekly to watch her preach at House for All Sinners & Saints, aka HFASS, aka “half-ass.” And that’s the name of her church. We watched because we wanted to know what she was preaching; what her doctrine was all about. Honestly, we were wondering if we could find some heretical content, but each week — despite the fact that her church was full of people she herself described as “queer” — it remained sound doctrine.

But nothing prepared me for Jamie Wright’s book The Very Worst Missionary. It was also the name of her blog and I had followed her for years. I knew she would insert a four-letter word here and there, but with her book, she went all out, even flaunting it on her blog — I redacted the words themselves — as seen in the chart below.

Nadia’s books now resides on a shelf in a back office in our store. I decided I couldn’t risk the books ending up with the wrong customer accidentally. Or worse, having them then tell twenty people they got this horrible book at my store.

With Jamie Wright, the book never made it in the first place. Not even remainder or overstock copies. And I declined a review copy, I think.

Which brings us to Danielle Strickland. Yes, our Danielle Strickland, as in, a Canadian author and until recently a teaching pastor at The Meeting House. Her book The Other Side of Hope is releasing for early August under the W Publishing imprint, which is part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Our sales rep thought we should have a heads up, and many of you received the same email.

We’re warned that the book,

…has a few instances of profanity. This is because many of the stories are between Danielle and people who are down and out (such as homeless people, drug addicts, and even Danielle before she came to Christ). We did scrub the material where we could, but the decision was made to not sanitize the true conversation where it was necessary to convey the real brokenness. There are four occurrences of sh*t, one d*mn, and one h*ll. This book is beautifully gritty and one of the most grounded books on hope. Even in the midst of despair, she compels the reader toward a beautiful hope.

The announcement then goes on to inform us that there is a second book by another author with similar language occurrences and some mentions of abuse which “may be triggering.”

Welcome to Christian bookselling in 2022.

I’m sure there are people who work in the broader publishing industry who are reading this and thinking, “Seriously? That’s all? Four instances of sh*t, and a single damn and a hell each?” (Look at us! I didn’t even redact those last two myself.) But give our little sub-industry a break. For some stores, this is still new territory.

Each of us need to decide for ourselves where we land the plane with these titles.

One of my English professors at U. of T. would use the phrase substandard language when discussing material that one wouldn’t read aloud in polite company. (We won’t even get into the KJV’s use of “him that pisseth against the wall” in 1 Kings 21:21.) It’s become more common to hear people using “OMG” at church (sometimes without the abbreviation) and we’ve seen one or two Christian people use “WTF” on Facebook. (I wrote about this back in 2014.)

This is not a good thing. Much of what God intended for his people was “the maintenance of a distinct identity.” We’re supposed to be … different. (I wrote about our identity in a 2017 devotional.)

I realize that Danielle Strickland has a story to tell, and I’m not going to be too hard on her. I also know that the language probably sets the stage for all that she both experienced herself, and later witnessed doing ministry in some tough, dark places. I have yet to make up my mind whether to stock the book, and if so, whether to display it or have on a shelf in the back next to Nadia.

What I do know that is that for all its shock value, the Steve Camp/Tony Campolo line had a major impact on a lot of people.

 

Christian Booksellers Market Books and Promote Doctrines

“With the purchase of as few as twelve copies, you get an extra 8% discount, a poster for your store window, an in-store shelf-header and an extra copy for you or your staff or for a giveaway. Plus, all copies are returnable after nine months.”

Sounds like a great deal doesn’t it?

You can just hear bookstore owners, or maybe yourself, saying, “Okay, I’ll take twelve copies.”

But I haven’t told you what the book is, have I?

If it’s an end-times book, which eschatological model does the author follow? If it’s a book on marriage, where do the authors stand on the role of women in the church and home? If it’s about engaging the culture, does the author envision Christians being active in the public square, or distancing ourselves because we are citizens of another kingdom? If it’s about the first handful of chapters in Genesis, does the writer take it literally or see it as allegorical?

Meanwhile, the books arrive and the copies, with their in-store shelf header and window cling are given store space front and centre. Face it, retailer, you are now endorsing this book and in so doing, you are promoting its viewpoint or core doctrine.

And in giving it that front-of-store end-cap, it means that other books aren’t appearing as prominently. The marketing materials and extra discount assured that the title received prime real estate.

I had to find an image for this article that didn’t reflect any particular titles we carry, hence this one, found on Reddit.

So who do you want to promote?

We have enough reasons right now to curtail visibility of certain authors, so I don’t need to give you more. We also don’t want to completely censor every viewpoint on marriage, the book of Revelation, immigration, and gun control which disagrees with our own. We want there to be room for pacifists and just-war theorists alike. As booksellers, we should want to create room for discussion.

We also don’t want to automatically be suspicious of extra discounts. Honestly, my store survives on extra margin points and/or free shipping.

But we don’t want to be investing our money in things with which we passionately disagree. We might have a few authors we don’t like, but we would rather place them on a lower shelf past the store’s halfway mark than to give them the coveted end-cap when customers walk in the door.

We also don’t have the time spend on hours of research. Ultimately, we have to trust the doorkeepers of major Christian brands — Baker, Tyndale, D.C. Cook, Harvest, etc. — to do what’s right.

However, I think we need to know what we’re promoting, and we need to know that by giving certain titles and authors prime space, we are in fact promoting viewpoints which will affect the spiritual formation of our customers.

We also need to recognize that the vibe our store gives off is noted by customers in ways we can’t imagine, and that each product choice reflects the spiritual atmosphere which shoppers perceive.

We’re advocating for theological positions whether we like it or not, and while we’re not all theologians, scholars or academics; we need to endeavour to make the best choices we can.


This article was written in a relative vacuum, and does not reflect any particular current promotions on offer of which I’m not aware.

Arguing Hachette ITPE Restrictions on a Basis Other Than Price

December 27, 2019 1 comment

If you scroll this blog, you will see frequent references to the need, in the Christian book market at least, for Canada to be considered International Market, not American Market. Regular readers here will know that when it comes to International Trade Paper Editions (ITPEs) stores in Canada receive cooperation from HarperCollins (affecting Thomas Nelson, Zondervan and occasionally HarperOne titles) Tyndale House, and Baker Book Group. That means we’re forced to take hardcover first editions from Simon & Schuster (Howard), Hachette (FaithWords) and Penguin Random House (Waterbrook and Multnomah).

In my personal experience, customers in Canada would rather wait a year, and when that year passes and the title undergoes a trade paper conversion, the momentum is lost and the customer has forgotten their original impulse.

But scrolling through a UK website over the holidays I realized something which is particular to Joyce Meyer. While I’ve long argued the foreign titles have better cover art — just look at Timothy Keller as an example — it would appear that the foreign market may not be as enamoured with having a full jacket picture image of Joyce Meyer on the cover. Consider these:

Her picture appears on five of these, but in a much reduced form.

I know that her sales are strongly personality-driven, and I’m sure her literary agents insist on the bold portrayal on her U.S. editions. But they scale back on the image for these overseas editions, and I would argue that whatever decision(s) led to that graphic change, it needs to happen here to offer greater appeal to the Canadian customer as well.

I could better sell the books pictured above than the books I currently carry. With several decades in the business, I am most convinced of this.

Canadian customers have a different personality and don’t always appreciate that in-your-face style of marketing which is so common with FaithWords titles by authors such as Joyce, Joseph Prince, Joel Osteen, etc.

So there you have it: An ITPE argument for Canada that isn’t based on price.

What are the odds that anyone at Hachette Book Group or FaithWords is listening?

When Mainstream Book Dealers Become the Default Christian Store

Editorial

Every time a bookstore closes it hurts, even if it’s three provinces away from where you live.

In many cities, a mainstream bookstore might find themselves picking up a few extra orders for titles from Christian publishers. The ones I’ve talked to are aware of this phenomenon, but say the impact isn’t significant. In other cases, the customers are forced to educate themselves how to order online from CBD or other online vendors.

But in a great many cases, the sales never happen. The books never find their way into a consumer’s hands.

I’m committed to Christian books reaching people in families, neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools. I don’t have a personal succession plan for what’s going to happen to my own store — we currently have 4,000 fiction titles alone, and over 1,000 Bible products — but I do have a succession plan for continuing to promote the reading of Christian authors and reference materials. I still hope to keep writing reviews, and personally promoting the efforts of remaining booksellers.

I would greatly miss that connection if it all ended tomorrow.

And so, here in Canada, we find ourselves in a situation where stores like Chapters/Indigo have taken up the slack, offering in many cases a fairly decent selection of Christian non-fiction, fiction, and Bibles. (In some U.S. cities, if there isn’t a Barnes and Nobles, there’s the option of discount chain Ollies, which carries Christian remainders from B&H, Harper and other publishers.)

It wasn’t always this way. For well over two decades, it appeared that Barnes and Noble in the U.S. knew the secret that Chapters didn’t. I even offered my services to Chapters once, but never heard back. But eventually suppliers — especially Hachette and HarperCollins — were able to convince the stores to stock the Evangelical authors they had always been lacking. Hopefully, they see return on these products. Today at Indigo you’ll find a mix of good titles; not just the cases where authors have found their way to FaithWords or Howard or Waterbrook (being distributed to mainstream stores through Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House respectively) but also titles from David C. Cook, Baker Group, or Tyndale House, which don’t have an affiliation with a major publishing house.

So it pained me to hear that Indigo is continuing to face the challenges we all deal with on a daily basis.

An opinion piece by Jennifer Wells in the Business section of The Saturday Star this week noted second quarter revenue dropped by just under $13 million. Online sales were down 12.2%. She writes, “…Not that long ago, the CEO was counting on a $20 and up share price and further U.S. expansion…On Thursday, Indigo shares closed at $4.26…”

On the upside, the article notes that “…bookseller James Duant, who really does sell books and has his own nine-store chain of bookstores in the UK…has run Waterstone’s since 2011, returned the UK chain to profitability in 2016 and is now trying to work the same turnaround at Barnes and Noble.”

Writer Wells concludes that 4th quarter profitability at Indigo, necessary to offset money-losing quarters, is key. Christmas is a make it or break it time. But she adds, “Heather Reisman hasn’t yet fixed the recipe for Indigo; that ‘curation’ she refers to in staging books amid a studied lifestyle.”

In many cities and towns that have already lost their Christian bookstore, losing that “Religion: Christianity” section at Indigo would be the end of a physical presence for Christian authors and publishers in those locations.

Read the full article at The Star.

Tim Challies on Amazon’s Control Over Christian Publishers

An article released Friday by Canada’s Tim Challies on the influence that Amazon now has on the Christian publishing market has been making the rounds, and I wanted to wait a few days before responding. You can find The Power Over Christian Publishing We’ve Given To Amazon by clicking this link.

He begins dramatically,

A few days from now, or maybe a few months, or even a year, Amazon will pull a book from its site. One day it will be there available for purchase with all the rest, and the next it will be gone. One day people will be able to order it and have it shipped to their homes, and the next day it will have ceased to exist, at least as far as Amazon is concerned. This will inevitably be a book that Christians have embraced as orthodox but that the culture has rejected as heretical…

We’ve seen some of this already, so it isn’t prophetic. He then sets the stage defining the challenge for the future:

…[W]e inadvertently handed Amazon a near-monopoly over the sale of Christian books. We did this with the good-faith assumption that they would continue to sell whatever we published. But times have changed and are changing and it seems increasingly unlikely that Amazon will continue to sell it all. It seems increasingly likely that they will cede to cultural pressure—pressure that exists both within and outside of the company—and begin to cull their offerings. And then what? It’s not like these books cannot be sold by the Christian retailers that remain. But will publishers even be willing or able to publish them if they cannot be sold at the world’s biggest marketplace? Will you and I even be able to find out about them if Amazon isn’t recommending them to us? And will we be willing to pay a premium to have them shipped to us from smaller retailers with higher prices and no ability to offer free shipping?…

In a way, this is nothing new. Spin the search engine wheel and you’ll find many articles from the past accusing Christian publishers of only selling things that will do well at Family Christian Stores or LifeWay. But now FCS is gone, and LifeWay is phasing out its physical presence in America’s cities and towns.

Why publish something which retail won’t carry? That’s been a challenge, but now that in many parts of North America there is no retail (in the traditional sense) indie-published books compete with those from the larger, established publishing houses. The online behemoth is in many respects now calling the shots. Brick and mortar retail stores don’t matter as they once did; we’ve lost our influence.

What is new is the people to whom that power has been ceded. While dealing with a different aspect of this, Tim Challies correctly notes that, “Amazon is hardly a company founded by Christians or run according to Christian principles. To the contrary, it is a company founded by worldly people and run according to worldly principles.”

And beyond the social issues Tim mentions, it bothers me that Amazon has no filters. A Jehovah’s Witness title, New Age title or an LDS title is just as likely to turn up in the search results as something from Baker, Zondervan or David C. Cook. Already, I’ve heard stories of people who unwittingly bought inappropriate books based on search engine results. This in and of itself highlights the value of Christian bookstore buyers and proprietors.

So what if those Christian publishers said to Amazon, “Since you now advertise as ‘the world’s largest bookstore,’ it would be nice if you would carry our titles exhaustively instead of selectively” or even dared to suggest that, “If you won’t carry everything, we won’t sell you anything at all.” If A-zon called their bluff on that, it would be devastating both to authors and consumers, since if a book’s A-zon listing doesn’t appear in search results, the book, for all intents and purposes, ceases to exist.

Again, to read the article at challies.com, click this link.

 

Ingram Determines What is a Bookstore and What Isn’t

Ingram’s annual minimum is a slap in the face to small, independent bookstores. It’s another way of saying, ‘we don’t see you as a legitimate bookstore and we are the ones who will set the standard and make the determination of your legitimacy and entitlement to trade discounts.’

I really try to keep the personal rants to a minimum, but this is one of those, so feel free to move on.

I have mentioned before that several years ago we received communication from Ingram International informing us that because our wholesale purchase the previous year were less than $5,000 US net, we would be placed in a short discount category.

They no sooner did this than it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whereas before I had quite willingly padded my orders to meet the 10-unit minimum on iPage for trade discount, I no longer had any incentive. Instead, I started placing orders one book at time. (They do this for Amazon and Chapters, so I figure there are built in efficiencies at their end unknown to us in Canada. One time my single book arrived in a Chapters box.)

My account would never come close to $5,000 annually again. Furthermore, with the deals offered by Canadian suppliers, plus the fact their distribution rights are enshrined in Canadian law, there is no compelling reason to order a Christian book from Ingram (i.e. Spring Arbor) unless you are on the west coast and facing some delivery time issues for that book’s customer.

This week however, I actually had reason to place a ten-unit order through iPage, and when the confirmation came through, I was reminded again of how things have been since June 15th, 2015; over three and a half years now. The letter we received at the time read:

Dear 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

Again, playing the freight-cost card is illogical because of the aforementioned single-title drop-ships they do for Amazon and Chapters.

It also doesn’t make sense that publishers like Oxford University Press or Wiley Canada don’t mind my occasional purchasing and are quite happy to grant us trade discount.

This time around, however, four of my titles were from Carpenter’s Son Publishing; a Christian publisher which is locked into Ingram Publisher Services. It occurred to me that they are probably unaware of the policy and unaware how it diminishes the amount of ordering stores like ourselves are willing to do in order to encourage their authors and increase their authors’ visibility.

It occurred to me that well organized information campaign with Ingram Publisher Services might accomplish more than trying to shake the monolith. I mean, for starters, how do you argue or appeal your case with a company for which you have no real contacts; no names; no faces? How many stores reading this have had even so much as an email from anyone in the marketing department at Ingram? How many of you can name your credit representative?

So over the next few weeks I will be tracking down those IPS publishers and hopefully beginning a dialogue as to why their Canadian Christian marketing and distribution should be placed with Parasource, or Foundation, or Word Alive.

At the time we received the original letter from Ingram I wrote,

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.

1. There was no warning. The letter went out on June 8th [2015] 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%.

In the Fall of 2015, I wrote:

Here’s another way of looking at it: You buy a $10 book for $6. Your gross profit is $4. A supplier changes your discount by 10% and that book now costs $7. Your gross profit is now $3. In other words, you’ve been cheated out of 25% of your former profit margin.

So why does Ingram want to purge small stores from their roster when they already had a mechanism in place requiring minimum orders? It’s a question really requiring deeper investigation, and we’re working on it. Clearly, Ingram was the friend of the independent bookstore as well as gift stores which dabbled in books as a sideline. For our part, our purchases with them would have been much, much stronger in 2014 were it not for the service offered by Send the Light Distribution. We gave STL a “first pass” on our import titles and then used Ingram only for titles unique to them, and rush orders that STL did not have in stock at the time.

But it wasn’t enough. Neither was 30 years of goodwill and a perfect credit history.

There was no appealing their decision.

There’s a rule in pet ownership that you don’t scold a pet for something they did a day ago. You deal with it at the time. If any stores impacted by the new decision had been told ahead of time that, “In June of next year we’re going to change your terms if you don’t meet the $5K minimum, you need purchase only $421 more by the end of the year;” I know we would have put an order together in minutes. But to be punished in June for something we did the year prior… well, as stated, I wouldn’t do this to a dog.

The decision was arbitrary.

The decision was heartless.

Then in March, 2016, I wrote this:

  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.  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 [2016] 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.)

I concluded:

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.

If anyone has a list of the Christian companies using Ingram Publisher’s Group, it would save us some time. I want to continue to fight this on behalf of other stores which may get cut off from full trade discount in the future.

Plagiarism: Zondervan Authors Ann Voskamp and Christine Caine

October 18, 2018 2 comments

Plagiarism: The challenge is deciding when it’s deliberate copying, and when it’s a case of ‘great minds think alike.’ (left: Ann Voskamp; right: Christine Caine)

I noted the situation involving Christine Caine at the end of another story a few days ago, but because of Warren Throckmorton, I discovered the case involving Canadian writer Ann Voskamp. Both write for Zondervan.

Here’s how we covered both yesterday at Wednesday Connect:

♦ Another plagiarism case: Zondervan has reached a settlement with Carey Scott, the author of Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life (Revell, 2015) whose work was borrowed by popular author Christine Caine in Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny (Zondervan, May 2016), which has sold over 150,000 copies to date. 

“About two weeks before Caine’s book Unashamed was set to launch, I received a promotional email that contained a two-minute book trailer video. Some of the wording at the beginning of the video sounded very familiar, and after some digging I discovered that the first 30 seconds of her personal narration on the promo video came directly from a paragraph on page 55 of my book,” Scott told Publisher’s Weekly. “There are several examples of direct copying and substantial similarities.”   …

♦ … But sadly, not the only plagiarism case involving Zondervan: A quotation in Ann Voskamp’s book The Broken Way was attributed to her father but, “matched almost word for word the writing of author Cynthia Occelli on her social media pages.” In another case, she apologized for when she “lyrically paraphrased” a nine-point list by another writer. But that post was later deleted. Why? In this Occelli case, World Magazine notes:

The problem: Some readers probably missed Voskamp’s apology, submerged as it was in a long scroll of a post concerning a family trip to Israel, a Tim Keller talk, a Mister Rogers quote, Instagram photos from fans raving about her books, and more. The item’s burial was too bad, because this was a teachable moment about likely dangers at a time when internet files can be copied and mislabeled so readily, with unclear attribution.

For his part, Throckmorton — a college professor — noted”

In academia, we will continue to enforce high standards of plagiarism. However, it is jarring to realize that our students will enter a world where plagiarism matters less when they work in media organizations which promote Christianity than in places which do not identify as Christian. [Italics added]

Of course, sometimes a similar idea, concept, metaphor or simile will occur to two people at the same time or at a different time. In a more recent article, Throckmorton looked at a particular Christine Caine quotation that she may have borrowed from Joel Osteen,  Decide for yourself:

Caine:

Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried when you’ve actually been planted. You will bring forth life!! (Twitter account, 2015 and 2016)

Osteen:

It’s easy to feel like we’ve been buried, but what’s interesting is the only difference between being buried and being planted is the expectancy of what’s going to happen next.

When you put a seed in the ground you don’t say, “I’m burying this seed,” you say, “I am planting this seed,” because you know it’s coming back.

We all face difficulties but you have the seed of almighty God on the inside. He breathed His life into you. When you go through disappointments, you’re in tough times… you might feel like you’d been buried, but the fact is, you’ve simply been planted.  (2009 sermon)

When you go through disappointments and you’re in tough times, you may feel like you’ve been buried, but the fact is, you’ve simply been planted. That means you’re coming back! (2011 book)

Being gracious and giving her the benefit of the doubt, if Caine heard or read Osteen say that, I can see where she might remember the imagery, but not the source. (Personally, I like the concept and can see myself using it 2-3 years from now and not remembering the where I heard it either.)

On the other hand, she might well remember where she got it, and should give proper attribution.

With Voskamp, what’s most disturbing is that the apology has been deleted. Maybe it would crush her followers too much to be reminded that like all of us, she’s not perfect.


We’ve covered plagiarism here before:

  • Last September, Abgindon Press removed and destroyed copies of a book advertised as containing the devotions used by Hillary Clinton after the author was found to have copied significant paragraphs from another writer.
  • In November, 2013, radio host Janet Mefford brought charges of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll…
  • A few weeks later, Mefford suggested that major publishing houses try to protect their authors from the negative publicity associated with such charges. (In the wake of this, Driscoll’s multi-site church empire came crashing down; he is now, 5 years later, mounting a comeback with the publication of a new book.)

Is Word Alive in Breach of Contract With Distributed Lines?

October 17, 2018 2 comments

Note: In keeping with principles outlined in Matthew 18, the concerns noted in this article have been expressed to the company in question many times.

I’ve only held a Canadian distribution contract in my hands once. I was working for Mainroads Music Group and there was a question about the royalties payable to the band DeGarmo & Key. So you can see that (a) it wasn’t a publishing contract, and (b) it’s been awhile.

But I’m fairly certain that the rights owned by Canadian distributors such as Parasource, Foundation and Word Alive are stated on a piece of paper which says more than just ‘we agree to buy the books at a certain discount and then sell them to Canadian stores.’ I’m fairly certain that there is a sense in which these companies are also publisher representatives. They agree to do some actual advertising and marketing to both the consumer market and trade market; and publicity to everyone from book reviewers to influential pastors to college professors. They are quite literally representing the publisher in what is for them part of their international sales.

As a retailer, I really need them to be able to perform this function. I need to know (a) what backlist is still performing well and (b) what new titles have entered the warehouse this month, or are about to. On the latter, I’m looking for (a) basic title, author and pricing information, and (b) reasons why I should get excited about this title, including everything from subject matter to a jazzy cover design; as well as (c) factors which might drive customers to look for it such as television appearances and tours, or reviews in major media.

When I think of Word Alive Distribution (now a division of Anchor Distributors) my major focus in on four key lines:

  • Faithwords (a division of Hachette Book Group)
  • Group Publishing
  • Charisma House Publishing
  • Lighthouse Christian Products (giftware)

and while there are many more companies carried in the warehouse, these are four for which I’d like to know ahead of time what is being released. (If the company has acquired any key product lines since, honestly, how would I know? As you’ll see below, I wouldn’t.) They are also four for which I believe the contract would specify some marketing expectations.

I get absolutely nothing in the way of information about these companies, or any others they distribute.

In fact, since the takeover, I have never received anything even remotely resembling a marketing email.

Furthermore, the “new releases” section of the company website is still — this after at least half a dozen emails to inform them — stuck in the period from September, 2017 to February 2018. (We’ve noted elsewhere on the blog how to ‘trick’ the URL into yielding more recent information.)

So what would make the difference?

We’re a small store in a small market. So this is subjective. But here’s what I’m seeing from my other suppliers.

Foundation

  • Marketing email for new products and specials average every 3-4 days from our much-appreciated telemarketing representative Debbie Tindale.
  • A monthly email highlighting “don’t miss” key titles and promotions
  • Link to a monthly online “book” featuring key publishing releases the following month
  • Print catalogues available on request
  • Flyers available on sign-up commitment

Parasource

  • Marketing emails for specials and forthcoming products average every 2-3 days from the sales manager, Martin Smith and his staff.
  • “Margin builder” clearance specials several times each month
  • Print catalogues available on request
  • Flyers available on sign-up commitment
  • Review books on request where possible

HarperCollins Christian Products

  • Meeting three times a year with Mark Hildebrand with visual presentation to go over upcoming releases in the following cycle
  • Marketing email at least once a week highlighting “news” items such as author appearances and drop-in titles or bestseller performance
  • Frequent phone calls to respond to any concerns or questions
  • Print catalogues delivered in person
  • Review books on request as well as a few additional titles to examine

Word Alive / Anchor

  • no email contact at all
  • no phone contact at all
  • no marketing enclosures in shipments
  • no catalogues sent
  • no review books

I should add that the situation is also an insult to the various authors — many of them Canadian — who may have signed with Word Alive Publishing (expecting access to bookstore sales) who I’ll also highlight here with a bullet:

  • Word Alive Publishing authors

noting that the only time we’ve run with a Word Alive title in the past 12 months was because of contact with the author’s mother in law. (The title, Not Alone by Andrea Calvert was here mentioned in this article and continues to perform well in my store.)

The same could also be said for

  • Whittaker House

which is rather pathetic considering this is their own publishing imprint. Generally speaking, if I find out about a Whitaker product it’s in spite of not because of their efforts.

I would expect that this situation is a blatant disregard for expectations set out in the distribution contract.

…This blog is seen by industry people on both side of the border. If you’re considering distribution of a product line, take a look at the four Canadian distributors listed above (three really, since HarperCollins doesn’t distribute beyond its own imprints) and decide which works best for you.

If you are one of the publishers mentioned at the top of the article, pull out that contract and see what expectations were placed on both parties at the time the contract was signed, and then call about ten Canadian retailers to review the distributor’s performance.

Calgary Author/Pastor Releases Second Book

August 13, 2018 1 comment

Rohadi — it’s a first name, in case you’re wondering — is someone who I’ve gotten to know on Twitter, where he is very active and we covered his first title, Soul Coats here in 2016. He “co-leads Cypher Church. He’s called Calgary home for 30 years, where he’s attended Mount Royal College, the University of Calgary, and Ambrose Seminary. Rohadi loves to write (check him out on his blog), is a creator (see his colouring book), runs a marketing consulting business, and contributes to the non-profit sector through his work with ACT Alberta.”

He describes his new book, Thrive: Ideas to Lead the Church in Post-Christendom:

Most books on church planting, development, leadership, innovation, revitalization, et al rely on a false premise. In order for the church to succeed in the face of decline it needs to recover a position of privilege. The ideas is usually to re-attract culture back to a familiar place–the center of cultural attention otherwise known as Christendom.

But my assertion is we will never return  to the centre of cultural power. We have to figure out ways to thrive in our new place, on the margins of culture. We need new skills to act as church from a decentralized position, no longer from a posture of domination.

“Thrive. Ideas to lead the church in post-Christendom.” provides overview, foundation, ideas, and application on ways leaders can adjust to the shifting culture in the West. This shift starts with you. What are the dreams and ideas you have picturing better in your neighborhood, city and beyond? How can you turn that picture real? Come along for the ride as you learn how in Thrive.

There are 5 parts in the book. The first looks at the current problem and how the church wound up on the margins. The second revisits the vital foundation for the church today, namely our call to join mission. Thirdly, we engage how to turn the ideas to lead change reality. This includes an exploration on movements in a post-Christian context. Fourth, enemies and roadblocks always emerge and we need to be aware of them and ascertain skills to overcome. Lastly, part five talks about the end result, the reward for all of the work turning dreams real. No spoilers, but it’s not a reward you may think…

Read more about the book at this page.


From the foreword by J. R. Woodward:


Available to stores through Ingram/Spring Arbor | 9780995037625
| 228 pages, paperback | $15.99 US

You Can’t Sell a Bible Edition You Don’t Respect

Gift and Award Bibles, regardless of translation, have one thing in common: They’re cheaply produced (and they look it.) Fortunately, there are better options.

Thankfully, one of the elements of the Bible publishing industry that seems, from my vantage point at least, to be fading is what is called “Gift and Award Bibles.” Most of the translations on the market have a contract with a publisher to produce these combined Old-and-New Testaments which, like the name implies, are usually given out by churches to visitors or awarded to Sunday School children as prizes.

These Bibles have one factor which unites them all: They’re cheap.

And while a child of 5 or 6 may be honored to receive one, for anyone else, closer examination proves how cheaply they are made. Here’s the way it works:

  1. Newsprint is the cheapest paper available
  2. Newsprint is thicker, meaning the Bible would be “fat” if printed normally
  3. Type-size is therefore reduced to some infinitesimal font size.

So basically, we’re talking about a hard to read Bible printed on cheap paper which fades after a few years.

To be fair, a few companies have tried a better paper stock, but this only resulted in the price going up, defeating their purpose.

I have two observations about these Bibles:

  1. I think that in some respect, these are Bibles churches give away to people that they’re not always sure they’re ever going to see again.
  2. I think that, at least in how it appears in 2018, this genre was developed by people who had little respect for the Bible to begin with.

The only way to avoid giving these away without breaking the church budget was to use pew Bibles (produced in mass quantities and therefore still quite affordable) as giveaway hardcover/textbook editions. But for some reason, people like the appearance of leather when choosing a Bible for giveaway. Also, if your church uses the same Bible edition in the pews, the “gift” can look like you just went into the sanctuary/auditorium and grabbed something off the rack to give away.

The good news is that many churches can afford to do better, and many publishers are now making this possible.

♦ The NLT Bible (Tyndale) introduced some “Premium Value Slimline” editions several years back including both regular print and large print, retailing at $15.99 and $20.99 respectively. (All prices USD.)

♦ Then the NIV (Zondervan) entered the race with their “Value Thinline” editions, again in two sizes at $14.99 and $19.99, with five different covers.

♦ Next, The Message (NavPress) created three “Deluxe Gift” editions in regular print at $15.99.

♦ Then, back to NIV for a minute, Zondervan upped the game by discontinuing their existing editions and replacing them with new ones using their new, much-easier-to-read Comfort Print font. Pricing stayed the same.

♦ Because of their expertise and success with the NIV product, HarperCollins Christian Publishing recently introduced the similar editions in NKJV, using the same Comfort Print font.

♦ Finally, ESV (Crossway) is also in the game, with “Value Thinline” and “Value Compact” editions. I have to be honest here. These are in no way up to the binding standard of the others, and frankly owe more to the old-school, aforementioned Gift and Award Bibles, albeit with better paper stock. The sleeve — from which the Bible is difficult to extract — claims this is “bonded leather” but in my opinion, that’s a stretch. While the others get an A+, I’d give the ESVs a D at best.

These Bibles look like something the church isn’t ashamed to give away, and the recipient is proud to own.

Further, for customers on a budget, there’s nothing stopping these from being purchased individually and becoming someone’s primary Bible.

Huntley Street: Share Your Playbook

As soon as the customer says, “They’re offering it on 100 Huntley Street, but I don’t want to send a donation just now,” I reply with, “Okay, but it will probably be on backorder for a couple of weeks.”

It just goes without saying that the both the demand Crossroads Christian Communications has for the book, and the wider demand that they have created by giving the book publicity have wiped stock out at distributors on both side of the border.

If the book in question is an International Trade Paper Edition (ITPE), then it means that there is really only one source for Canadian stores, and that’s the Canadian distributor.

So why can’t Huntley Street publicize their feature books ahead of time so bookstores can order? It would be nice to have a heads-up. Obviously, stores being unable to meet demand for the product works in their favour. “Oh, it’s going to be 3 weeks? Maybe I’ll send them a donation after all.” But the donation in the example above is $50, and the ITPE lists for only $17.49 in Canada.

But there’s no guarantee that the ministry organization actually has sufficient stock, either. One customer, who obviously avails herself of most of the book offers from Crossroads, said to me in all seriousness, “It’s taking a lot longer to get the books since Lorna took over.” I think she believed that CEO Lorna Dueck runs down the shipping department and packs books once the show is off-air.

Nonetheless, it does, at the very least, show that people are still reading and that people are still interested in books. Huntley Street gives its key broadcast offer titles very high exposure, including a daily teaching feature. Overall, with everything considered, the program is a Canadian Christian retailer’s best friend.

So why do the distributors themselves run out? I think they’re simply being cautious, thinking in terms of long-term sustainability of their companies. There’s no guarantee that a given title is going to perform well. It’s a gamble for them at wholesale just as it is for us in retail. I’m sure they could share examples of titles which simply didn’t perform all that well after a 100 Huntley appearance.

Ministry organizations buy books like this in what is called the premium market. There is the trade market and the remainder market, and this one is a bit of a hybrid. The premium books are sold much, much cheaper, but are usually new titles, just off the press. The authors accept greatly reduced royalties in exchange for the publicity and exposure that the ministry organization has to offer through its channels. Radio and TV are still the most popular customer-type of buyers for premium books, but there’s really nothing limiting the possibilities. Many author contracts also include reduced royalty provisions for bulk sales to organizations where promotion and publicity is not necessarily going to be a factor.

To repeat, 100 Huntley Street is a Canadian Christian retailer’s best friend. But the relationship works two different ways. For every book like the one pictured in the example above, there are program guests whose self-published books are either not available to trade stores, or are available with great difficulty. You have to live with the realities of both types of publicity. 

Finally, somewhere out there is someone who can access Crossroads’ upcoming guest list and see that this reaches retailers at least two weeks ahead so retailers who are keen to respond can order and receive product.

 

Customers Asking for Large Print Actually Need 5 Characteristics to Line Up

When it comes to typeface readability, this is my favorite Bible in our store and offers great value and a compact size. ***

She hated to admit it, but it was time to move up to a larger print Bible. She thought that meant simply getting a bigger font size, but the first few Bibles I showed weren’t working for her. The problem was, to have better readability there were five factors or characteristics of the Bible that needed to line up. Bigger font size can easily be defeated by not having the others in place.

There’s no industry standard for large print. Buying a Bible online becomes very difficult at this stage because descriptions might say, “Font size 9.5” but as you’ll see below that means almost nothing when other factors are introduced.

Be sure to share this article with your entire staff.

Font Size – For my money, “large” should be at least 10.0 and “giant” should be at least 12.0; but the key phrase here is “at least.” Ideally, I’d like to see “large” at about 11.5 and “giant” at about 14.0.” Nonetheless, we keep a font size chart posted in our store at all times. Also, generally speaking large print books are much more generous in font size — as well as the other four factors listed below — than large print Bibles. Some readers question the application of the term when it’s applied to Bibles.

Typeface – This consideration is the basis of Zondervan and Thomas Nelson’s move to “Comfort Print.” * Some typefaces are simply fatter than others. Personally, I like a sans serif font (think Arial/Helvetica) such as Zondervan was using on its Textbook Bibles. But others like the look of a serif font (think Times New Roman) instead.  I find with Comfort Print that some customers who think they need large print don’t, and other who think they might need giant print (with other publishers) can work with large print. You can also explain this to customers in terms of the difference between regular and bold face.

Leading – Wikipedia’s turn: “In typography, leading (/ˈlɛdɪŋ/ LED-ing) refers to the distance between the baselines of successive lines of type. The term originated in the days of hand-typesetting, when thin strips of lead were inserted into the forms to increase the vertical distance between lines of type.” One Bible publisher which I won’t name is notorious for using a large font but then crowding their lines of type together. You should also introduce the issue of white space which is related. Always show a customer both the Wisdom Books of the Bible (which are typeset as poetry with more white space and wider margins) and History Books or Gospels (which are typeset as prose, both right-justified and left-justified).

Inking – Some Bibles are not generously inked. There are sometimes also inconsistencies between different printings of the same Bible edition, and even inconsistencies between page sections of a single Bible. Text should be dark enough to offer high contrast to the white paper.** This blog itself defaults most days to a greyer type than I would prefer. If you’re reading this on a laptop or desktop, look at the difference when, without shifting to bold face, we simply use black.

Bleed Through – On the other hand, you don’t want to see type from the previous or following page. Bible paper is usually thin paper, which means the potential for bleed-through is huge. On the other hand, customers holding Bibles up to the light aren’t giving them a fair test. Your Bible area should be well-lit and then pages should be examined in the same context the person would read them at home. It is possible the customer needs a better quality reading lamp.


*We looked at comfort print in detail in this September, 2017 article.

**Some customers have eye problems which make reading red-letter editions difficult. Be sure to ask about this and use a page from the Gospels as a sample.

***Click the image for this Bible and with the added background, it will render as 500px-width for a relatively blur-free application on your store’s Facebook page.

Let us know if you’d like to see a consumer version of this article (i.e. with references to “customers” removed) to use on your store website, blog or newsletter.