Even in the Christian bookstore market, where our core message is unchanged in 2,000 years, certain book genres have a short shelf life, such as:
- Family life books on coping with technology. I write this just as a new one is releasing. I know the author (Andy Crouch) and am looking forward to stocking it. But in this category, anything five years or older is probably out of touch with whatever is trending, though the principles may still apply. Good luck if the book references “your AOL account.” Most of these fall into the marriage or parenting sub-category.
- Prophecy titles. I don’t read a lot of these, but I notice some of them turn up on remainder lists after only twelve months. I suppose you only have to get it wrong on a single page and then they stone you. Okay, we don’t actually stone writers, but having the print copies turn up at 99-cents on CBD is probably just as painful.
- Personality-based books. Have you noticed all the Duck Dynasty product that’s reduced right now? Also many times that “rising” Hollywood celebrity or sports star fails to achieve the fame that publishers promised when pitching the books. Or the book has sales potential in the U.S. that never successfully makes the border crossing, except maybe in Emerson, Manitoba, which doesn’t have a lot of bookstores.)
- Youth Ministry texts. Remember that game where you pass the Life Saver on a toothpick? Well, if you wanted grow your youth group, it probably worked in the 1950s (at least in the more progressive churches of that day) but today it might even have liability issues. Even a year later, these books only work when student pastors take the ideas and modify them.
- Too good to be true trends. You didn’t think the adult coloring book thing would last forever, did you?
Did we miss any?
This is what’s selling at my store currently. We have a formula to adjust — but not exclude — special order titles as well as some adjustments for children’s titles and some compensation for projecting future sales on newer releases. Our chart is probably different from yours — we’re missing the #1 title on the current CBA list — but that’s what makes each of our local stores different. Our customers look forward to these when we publish them. If you have one from your store, we’d love to share it here.
Many years ago at the MissionFest event in Toronto we encountered the people from Good Seed’s Quebec branch, who introduced us to some rather unique titles. They were essentially the same book but each edition was tailored to a particular audience: People who grew up aware of traditional Christianity; people whose influences were largely Eastern; people whose background was more atheist, agnostic, pantheist or New Age; and children. As a lover of apologetics, I probably would have bought just about anything they offered, but the shared characteristics of these books intrigued me. As I usually do, I purchased conservatively, but the following year at MissionFest I topped up the inventory to replace sold copies.
These aren’t new titles. So why share them here today? (Besides coming across the original brochure in a box of papers?) I think the idea behind this set of books is exactly what’s missing right now in Christian publishing. We generally publish books for Christians. The already on-side. Preaching to the choir. Imagine having a resource that you could place in the hands of two vastly different contacts that was written specifically for each of them. Everybody in Christian publishing should be copying this concept to some degree.
Check out the graphic image below. You can learn more at the Good Seed Canada store or see more at their ministry headquarters home page. There’s also an edition of By The Name available in French as well as a number of other resources en français. Wholesale prices available to stores. Retailers need to be prepared to hand-sell these titles or include them in a newsletter or Facebook post or use shelf-talkers (what we did at first) to draw attention to them. (See also the link after the graphic for our original article in 2012.)
■ We covered this product range at the time we discovered them! For more, read this article from April, 2012: Evangelism Product Targets Different Worldviews.
I’ve sold this Max Lucado devotional several times. The author has instant name recognition. Each of the 365 devotional readings has a scripture verse, a story and some practical application at the bottom. A little light for some perhaps, but exactly what others are looking for. I’ve especially sold it to men. The cover has more of a masculine feel, I guess; especially in a market where so much is geared for Becky, the stereotype female customer. I’ve had good feedback from people who bought it for their husband or someone in their teens, 20s or 30s.
However, each time I’ve sold one of these for an adult, I’ve had to hand-sell it. The reason: Thomas Nelson makes no allowance in its book categories for students or young adults, which is the target market. That category designation isn’t available I suppose. But for every copy I’ve sold, we’ve had other customers who passed. Or the two who were buying it for a student, but got me to put some type of sticker over the offending word, Juvenile.
This is true of other Thomas Nelson products, but I don’t remember this particular problem with other publishers. It’s counterproductive. Better no category. Or Devotional.
Have you had a similar experience with this or other products?
Retailers need to be careful not to be influenced by end-of-year lists of the “best Christian books.” It’s so easy to look at a list and say, “Maybe I should be carrying this one, or that one.” Here are some things to note:
- Some reviewers pride themselves on creating eclectic lists or focusing too heavily on esoteric items. Titles are listed which stores can’t even buy at a normal trade discount. The reviews sound appealing, but in the end the greatest market for some of these books are book reviewers, and they get their books for free.
- You have to check the source of the website making the list, many are aimed only at academic readers or pastors. While it’s true that if I had my reading life to live over again I would have chosen more IVP titles and fewer Max Lucado — nothing personal, Max — the average customer isn’t ready for some of the material contained in the more cerebral works on scholarly book lists.
- Advertorials abound. The list you’re reading may be from a particular publisher.
- Agenda-oriented lists are everywhere. A great example is this one. At first I was going to put this list of Children’s Bible story books on my store’s Facebook page, since we carry a number of these titles in our store. I passed on it simply because there was no denying the author’s blatant Calvinist bias. Many of the titles were from Crossway, which I have now come to view as a denominational publisher, and carry their titles only by special order.
In the general market, more attention is paid to lists and award-winners, but even there, I’m sure that stores have filters for knowing when to jump in and when to hold back. Here’s a better formula:
- The CBA lists are generally helpful, but Canadian stores need to avoid things which have a particular U.S.-interest. Also, the number one title on some of the monthly lists is often the Standard Lesson Commentary, but in 21.5 years, I’ve never sold one. So it needs to be read discerningly.
- A couple of British titles. I try to check Eden and Koorong frequently to see what’s selling over there and if the titles have distribution here, I’ll jump in. We’re Canadians, and just as our worship music is not entirely dominated by what happens in Nashville, so our reading shouldn’t be dictated by U.S. sales.
- Unique titles. This are items you feel will work in your store and you have dedicated yourself to doing the necessary promotion. We’ve done this a few times to the point where a supplier will ask us what’s driving the sales.
- Local-interest authors. In the summer of 2015 our #1 title and #3 title had a connection to our community, though the writers do not live here.
- Revivals. If the publisher thought the book was worth re-issuing in a new cover and we agree that it has greater potential, then I’ll play the game.
What’s not working:
- Christian Television. Remember the days when the simple breath of a title on Benny Hinn brought customers looking for the book? That’s long gone except for 100 Huntley Street, which (especially since the show’s last reworking) is still the bookstore owner’s best friend. Besides, many of the shows offer the books themselves and people are more accustomed to ordering online or by phone.
- Christian Radio. Even Focus on the Family has lost its influence.
- Reviews in magazines. These benefit booksellers more than anyone else. Beyond that we don’t see a stampede to the store when the new issue of Christianity Today arrives in the mail because so few receive it.
- Reviews on blogs. Publishers continue to ship great quantities of books (especially fiction) to bloggers, many of whom actually have very conservative followings. It’s the Calvinists who seem to have the greatest love affair with books, and many of them read on Kindle.
What is working:
- A mention by a pastor or speaker in a church service sermon.
- A mention by a pastor or speaker in a church service sermon.
- A mention by a pastor or speaker in a church service sermon. I can’t state this enough. If the local church pastor recommends the book, people will respond. In droves. So…how do we make this happen more often? How do we make pastors aware of what’s available? When they do come in the store, they are often so busy and so single-focus-driven that there’s no time to chat, let alone point out key resources.
- Word of mouth.
- Word of mouth. This is especially evident among, but not limited to women.
- A book mentioned in another book or at a conference or in a video curriculum.
So again fellow bookseller, don’t be intimated by the end of year lists. Remember, those are reviewer favorites not charts of sales performance. Let other metrics govern your inventory choices.
U.S. retail chain Books-a-Million interviewed Francine Rivers about Earth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature, a 224-page hardcover devotional now available from Tyndale at $16.99 US. Here’s a sample:
- Explain the title. How did you come up with the idea of Earth Psalms?
A psalm is a song, and the earth and everything on it, in it, above it, and beyond it is God’s creation. Everything God created sings praise to Him, and I believe also teaches us many lessons about our Creator as well. It’s exciting to look at things we might have taken for granted and see what they teach us about the Lord. We are never to worship any created thing or even creation itself. We are to worship the Creator, Jesus Christ, the Word that created it all.
- What will readers find inside the pages of Earth Psalms?
Readers will find an earth psalm (essay) about something God has created and a lesson God has taught me through it. There are questions for readers to ponder or use for journaling: Reflect, Apply, Connect with God. There are also some additional facts, Scripture, and hymns, as well as beautiful pictures. The earth psalm essay was my part. The enriching questions and details are Karin’s, and the beautiful artwork was put together by Jennifer Ghionzoli at Tyndale.
- What was it like working with a collaborator for the first time?
Working with Karin Stock Buursma was a pleasure. We talked about any editing that needed to be done, the questions and elements of the devotional. I hope to work with her again.
There are 14 more questions and answers. Click here to read at their blog, which is called Chapters.
David C. Cook Canada has a new name and a new logo. The company is becoming Parasource Marketing and Distribution. The name was revealed to staff yesterday at a luncheon held at the headquarters in Paris, Ontario and announced to wholesale accounts in an email released just after midnight.
The name change became necessary after the Canadian management group purchased the company from David C. Cook in the U.S. earlier in the year, along with buying Augsburg-Fortress Canada.
Parasource becomes the leading independent distributor in Canada for Christian books, Christian music and media, Christian education curriculum, and Christian greeting cards.
(Paris, Ontario, Canada) – Greg Tombs, President and Hardy Willms, Chief Financial Officer of David C Cook Distribution Canada and Augsburg Fortress Canada, are pleased to announce the new name for their company effective September 23, 2016: Parasource Marketing and Distribution Ltd.
Tombs and Willms engaged with branding and design experts, Riordon Design, in Oakville, Ontario, to conduct extensive research and consultation with both customers and suppliers to understand the way in which both Cook and Augsburg Canada were perceived in the Christian marketplace.
“Research clearly showed that we were perceived as a service driven organization which supported our customers with both product knowledge and ministry understanding, coupled with the ability to warehouse and deliver product efficiently and effectively. This lead us to our new name which is made up of two words – “para”, meaning ‘to come along side’ in the sense of service, assistance and help as well as “source” as a convenient and efficient one-stop shop for Christian resource product in Canada,” Tombs said.
Parasource’s tag line is, “Serving Canada’s Christian Community”.
“Through strong relationships with both our publisher suppliers and our trade and direct customer base, we ensure that the Canadian church is serviced by Canadians who understand our unique culture and makeup of the Canadian Christian Marketplace and Church,” said Tombs.
Parasource represents over 25 major Christian book and curriculum publishers, over 35 Christian music and media labels, 8 Christian card and gift suppliers and over 17 Christian resource suppliers.
Parasource services and supplies the Christian retail trade stores in Canada through our trade sales and marketing team, the Canadian General Market, and has direct and exclusive supplier agreements with multiple Christian denominations in Canada. In addition, Parasource extensively services and supplies ministry and learning resources directly to churches and para-church organizations in Canada with our experienced church resource consultant group. Parasource is present at numerous denominational and special focus ministry events each year. Launching later this fall, the new website, parasource.com will also directly serve the church and Christian consumer markets in Canada.
With their extensive contact lists of people in Christian ministry in Canada, Parasource will also be further developing their marketing services to Christian content developers in the publishing, music and media market spaces.
With Send the Light Distribution winding down their business, Christian stores in Canada need an alternative for publishers not represented here. The Anchor Distributors / Word Alive announcement could not have come at a better time. Some of us have used Anchor before, several of you use them frequently, and for some this might be a new supplier. We reached out to Anchor with some direct questions, but never heard back. The following was an attachment to an email our store simply did not receive, but was forwarded by a Christian Book Shop Talk reader and store manager. Note the line about billing being in Canadian funds. Interesting how that will work or if orders will need to be, by necessity, all fully prepaid.
One of the battles we face in retail in knowing when to get in to a current fad, how deep to get in, and when to start getting out. Say what you will about lotteries, but retail buying is also legalized gambling.
We had a slow sales period in our store for the past two weeks and we’re wondering if that might be colouring — pun intended, just wait for it — our view on certain sections of our store, but we always worry about the dangers of getting in too deep on particular inventory. For example:
Colouring Books – This product group didn’t exactly happen overnight, but it was a lot easier when there were only a handful of products. Once you’ve got one of these in your home, you’ve got your work cut out for you, so it could be awhile before you run out of blank diagrams. Or have we seen this category crash and burn?
First Communion and Confirmation – The interesting facet to this is that many stores are owned and managed by Evangelicals who aren’t always tuned in to the dates for these sacramental occasions; dates which may change from year to year. At the local level, things may come to an abrupt halt, though thankfully there are always gifts needed for out-of-town events, as well as people who give belatedly.
Amish Fiction – This category seems to be holding its own though not necessarily growing. Fiction generally is a tough sell in many of our stores, though the suspense genre seems to still be building. Like the colouring books, there’s simply so much Amish product from which to choose.
Tie-In Products – Just because the movie did well, it doesn’t mean the related books, or calendars, or music soundtrack will do as well. Or just because the core title did well, it doesn’t mean the spinoffs will. (For example, other books by Sarah Young don’t perform much in our store; people just keep requesting the original title to give away.) On the other hand, if the movie or core title is recognizable, at least the ancillary items are their own shelf-talker; no hand-selling is necessary.
…So here’s a fun homework exercise:
- Go to the CBA Top 50 list (or any other similar chart) and print a copy.
- Draw a line through all the colouring books (or similar items you see as trending).
- Draw a line through all the tie-in product (right now War Room is represented in many places).
- Draw a line through all the products that are spinoffs of an original brand leader.
- Cross out all the multiple listings — different ISBNs for different bindings — of a given title.
What you’re left with is your true list of titles to keep in stock, but remember, the list is itself a chart, so by definition you’re still looking at trending items, often new releases, and remember that the list takes no account of local area interest titles which may be important in the life of your bookstore.
What other categories and trends cause you to aim for caution?
For ministry objectives to be accomplished the relationship between retailer and supplier needs to be
While suppliers have a window into books that won’t hit our shelves until Christmas, retailers have a window into what customers are needing and asking for. These are two very different information sets, with two very different sets of gifts needed to manage each. Suppliers who see the structure as hierarchical (i.e. top -> down) end up with a lack of respect for the very retailers they serve; and the retailers can sense it.
While this may seem to just be repeat what was stated above, it’s meant to reflect a different idea; the notion of a partnership between retailer and supplier that serves the common goal of connecting people and products. The language should be, “How can we work together to facilitate getting resources into customers’ hands.”
The natural outgrowth of the above two factors will be a playing field that is level for dealers, big and small; and fairness in respect of pricing, discounts and terms. We are all squeezed right now, and have been since an industry downturn in the last eight years, but without the retailers, the suppliers have nothing. If store owners and managers even feel they are being taken advantage of, and curtail purchasing, the supplier losses will mount up.
The small store that is coerced into purchasing ten copies of each of ten new releases in May might have nothing left to work with for June releases. While “open to buy” programs are rather constraining and don’t allow purchasing to balloon for major titles, suppliers and their sales reps need to realize there is truly only so much money out there.
We have a ‘sales final’ policy in our store on reduced items. It’s there if we need it, but it’s almost never enforced. Suppliers also need to have flexibility with regard to the special needs that may arise with a store. Yes, if it’s offered to one store it should be theoretically available to all stores, but suppliers need to trust the retailer’s judgment and be willing to bend terms or policies to suit particular situations.
If you sense that any of these are missing in any supplier relationship, I think you need to re-examine your support of that company.
Back in the day, it was common for retailers to have two different contact people at their wholesale distributor contacts. One was their actual sales rep who would visit anywhere between two and six times per year, depending on the account size. The other was a telesales rep who would fill in the blanks between sales rep visits with specials and problem-solving.
The point of these reps was to get as much of their company’s product into the retail stores and then, with displays, magazine advertising and mentions on Christian radio and television, the books would sell themselves.
That’s not the case today.
It occurred to me this week that what I would really love to have is, for lack of a better word, an equipper who would keep me saturated in YouTube book and movie trailers as well as the HTML elements I’m always ranting about needing, that I can use on Facebook, Twitter, the store’s website and the store newsletter. This person would not be driven by getting product into the store, but in making product awareness happen; to boost sales of the products I’ve already committed to, as well as those that myself and my staff have not yet stocked, or may not know about it.
Today I watched a video trailer at NewReleaseToday.com for a movie titled Chasing Grace. The video was posted back in November, 2014 and has only had 1,100 views. The movie is in stock now at David C. Cook with a May 3rd, 2016 release date. I clicked one into a cart. Some of the themes look dark and there’s a scene in the trailer where a man puts a gun to his head. Not for everyone, I guess. But I wouldn’t have heard of it without the trailer. If I choose I can put the trailer on FB, though I’m not likely to promote a film where I only have a single copy stocked. And the latest advice is that retailers keep to one FB post per day, so I have to be careful where to use that. But still, it’s great to be able to see the product.
An equipper would provide retailers with the new media tools they need to know what to stock and how to market it.
Earlier this week I took a screen shot of a page from YourChurchZone.com of a $64 book on learning Biblical Greek. I sent it to only two pastors who are doing a kind of ‘Greek club’ once a month, and one of them ordered the book. It’s that easy! But it’s a sale I wouldn’t make without media resourcing.
And to save you looking, here’s the trailer for Chasing Grace: