One of the distinctives of the Christian book market is the ongoing strength of our backlist. I would venture that our per-capita rate of perennial titles is higher than any other book genre.
The downside of this — and I have been recently made aware how guilty I am of this — is that our vast libraries of books are often spine out rather than facings. (It was interesting to note last week that in the new Amazon retail stores, all books are face out, without exception.) The picture above, for something we did on Facebook called “Tozerama,” shows how many of our stores’ shelves appear, and how our customers have to turn their heads sideways to read titles.
So while we often “judge a book by its cover” and consider the sales potential of a title when the sales rep shows us the planned cover art, in many of our stores it’s the spine of the book that makes it stand out, especially months later when it has left the “New Releases” section.
So when Tim Underwood posted the link to this story on Twitter today, I knew it was worth sharing with readers here. Do you think that publishers in the Christian market consider how we shelve our books?
Click to read The Overlooked Art of Designing a Book Spine at medium.com.
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.
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.
Just when it seems that all we hear are stories of people either giving up on bookselling or feeling forced to throw in the towel, today we have a story of a store that’s actually expanding its bookselling presence in its home city.
Last month Jack Huisman and the team at Family Christian Bookstore — one of the largest Christian bookstores in Ontario — located in Burlington (a city of 176,000 in the Greater Toronto Area) opened the doors on a new project called Froogal Books and More just one building, six retail stores, and a few short steps south of its present location on one of the city’s busiest streets.
I need to pause here and say: That’s a great logo. I see franchise possibilities written all over this!
The website itself is powered by Book Manager and offers full online shopping possibilities which on the weekend boasted 4,022 titles of which 3,728 are described as “Bargain Books” and — this I found very interesting — 116 are listed as “Regular Stock,” which includes everything from Goodnight Moon to Stephen King to the To Kill a Mockingbird sequel. (Not all items in this category were book items.) Surprisingly, only 71 books were listed as “Religion” and these were mostly titles with great general market crossover potential. The new store is clearly meant to have a very distinct identity.
The website currently contains a photo archive which chronicles the journey from taking possession of the store at the end of June to completion and grand opening at the end of August. We haven’t yet seen the store in person, but hope to visit late October.
The store’s Facebook page maintains an unusually clean and uniform layout presenting the latest titles on offer.
Would your store consider something like this?
Those of us who deal with remainder product already have some expertise in this part of the larger book market. (Besides trade books and remainder books, other branches of our industry include the premium or specialty market, the textbook market, used books, antiquarian books, the self-publishing or vanity press market, and books like the Harlequin titles which are part of the periodical or magazine paradigm. Then there are trade market specialties like sci-fi stores, cookbook stores, children’s bookstores, etc.) Some of us already have a breadth of supplier relationships that would make this possible. We already know our local market well and the possibilities for partnerships and media with the best advertising reach.
On the other hand, for our family it would mean investing in products we’ve never committed dollars to before, which might include things that would raise the eyebrows of clientele in the other store. I’m sure that the team at Froogal bring their family values to the new store, but you would still want to keep the business units and customers separate.
The other challenge is running an off-price, general-market, liquidation type of store but staying closed on Sundays, as Froogal currently is. (Salvation Army and Bibles for Missions stores are closed Sundays, but they’re in the Thrift Store category selling used goods.)
On the other hand, diversifying within the same industry creates a number of synergies, not to mention in this case having a second store that’s less than a minute walk from the first. The “and More” in their name also leaves open the possibilities of adding any other liquidation commodity that makes a good fit, though trial and error may define what that fit looks like.
We’ll be watching this with great interest.
Family Christian Books in Burlington is in no way related to the Family Christian chain in the United States. Depending on who you are dealing with, the remainder book market may includes discontinued titles, publisher overstock and (sometimes) hurt (slightly damaged) books.
An article today in Variety, the ‘bible’ of the entertainment industry quotes HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray as saying, “HarperCollins has been ‘less dependent’ on Amazon because it has a significant Christian publishing side, where consumers have been slower to adopt digital books.”
The article also notes that the company — parent to Zondervan and Thomas Nelson — is “testing what he called ‘dynamic pricing,’ where prices of ebooks can be changed ‘daily’ to increase revenues and royalties for authors, as opposed to the print side, where prices are set on the book itself.”
Murray said that, “physical retailers could see business stabilize, noting the recent improvements for independent booksellers.” He also referred to Amazon as a “frenemy,” and noted that in eBooks, there are five dominant sellers emerging not the one single online vendor.
The article also noted that even with lower MSRPs, eBook royalties are higher for authors, citing a hypothetical case of 85 cents for print and $1.25 for electronic books.
Read the entire article at Variety.