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Things to Know About the Longest Running Bible Bestseller: The KJV

I have never been a reader of history books, be they Canadian or American history, or even world history. The middle and high schools I attended were the product of experimental education theories, and I actually have no history credits in high school itself, and my middle school history notes would fill about 16 notebook pages. As a result I have a reading deficiency which fortunately does not extend to fiction or biography, but does impair my knowledge of church history.

God's SecretariesSo five years ago when I picked up the book God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible a 2005 HarperCollins title by Adam Nicholson, I didn’t realize I was going to finish it, or I might have made more notes. Still there are few things I remember the next morning worth noting, especially given the strange Bibliolatry which surrounds this version in the 21st century.

The Translators were highly motivated by the prestige the project would bring. Climbing the ecclesiastical ladder was as important then as now, and also brought with it political ramifications to more than a few of them. Being a Translator (always spelled with a capital T) meant being part of an exclusive echelon of pastors and theological professors. Like today’s megachurch pastors, they were religious superstars.

Politics guided certain aspects of the translation and what did — or in this case what mostly didn’t — get included in marginal notes.

The Christian community included several different streams. Although the Translators were ostensibly working for the state church, the Church of England, it was against a backdrop which included Roman Catholics and Puritans.

The King, for all his failings, was astute theologically. There was more Biblical literacy back then, and the King was capable of engaging a variety of Bible themes. When was the last time you heard Queen Elizabeth discuss doctrine? Perhaps today advisors to the monarch encourage keeping a safe distance from topics that could be divisive.

However, once it was initiated, the King distanced himself from the day to day workings of the project. There is no evidence that the King interfered once the work was underway.

There is no hint of inspiration included in the mandate given to the Translators. This is important because today there are some marginal groups that use the KJV exclusively and insist that the translation team rested on an inspiration that was secondary or even equal to the original Biblical writers. “There is no hint of inspiration, or even of prayerfulness, no idea that the Translators are to be in the right frame of mind. [Instead] There are exact directions, state orders, not literary or theological suggestions…This is a job to be done…” (p.72)

While literacy increased greatly in the 17th century,priority was given to how the Bible sounded when spoken aloud, not how it communicated when read quietly to oneself. They prized ornamental language, however this had one drawback…

The King James Bible was considered outdated on the day it was published. We often complain about the older language of the KJV being difficult to follow, but from day one the same complaint was heard; the Bible was considered to be using language that was already 60-70 years out of date.

The preface to the original KJV doesn’t quote itself. It’s interesting that there are references in the preface to verses from other translations. In one spot, this affected the verse numbering system used, which means the citation referred to in the introduction is very difficult to find in the Bible it is introducing. It is as though the translation team did not have confidence in the product on offer, a fact confirmed by the following…

Many of the Translators continued to preach from existing versions after completion of the project. Initial acceptance of the project was minimal to say the least.

Nonetheless, the King James Bible was considered a great achievement for both the 17th century church and the nation itself. “…It is easy to see it as England’s equivalent to the great baroque cathedral it never built…”

The King James edition of the Bible was published containing the Apocrypha. I know this is old news to some of you, but it’s interesting to mention it again in light of who currently most uses and reveres the KJV today.

The Translators did not view the KJV as guided by the principles of formal correspondence. They would be very surprised to see the current classification of their work among formal equivalence translations since their goal was dynamic equivalence. What we call formal equivalence was a Puritan value they were seeking to avoid.

The King James Bible of 1611 was, depending on who you ask, about 80% identical to the Tyndale Bible. Although the Lutheran pastor was unable to finish his Old Testament, and worked in exile and was eventually martyred, it’s clear the Translators held William Tyndale’s work in high esteem as they drafted the KJV.

Because of the original KJV was consider an update of an existing work, there is nothing of what we would call today “Library of Congress Publication Data.” This means there isn’t an official record of its publication since it was considered an update of an existing work. Today, that’s almost — but not quite — like saying the book wouldn’t have been assigned an ISBN.

The authority of scripture did not negate the need to work out the details of ordinary living. “The difference came in deciding on the lawfulness of religious behavior and belief that were not mentioned in the Bible. If something wasn’t mentioned, did that mean God had no view on it? Or if it wasn’t mentioned, did that mean that God did not approve of it?” (p. 123)

Would the Translators be surprised to see their edition still on bookstore shelves today? Yes and no. I think they would be surprised to see the extreme cult following that has surrounded it, especially among those who claim that salvation cannot be found in any other translation.

It’s also doubtful that those same KJV-Only leaders would be aware of the history I just finished reading. The story frequently refers to Lancelot Andrewes (yes, it’s spelled correctly), director of The First Westminster Company (one of six translation teams) who ought then to be revered as a saint by those who hold the KJV in such high esteem. But how many of those who claim the King James edition’s exclusivity have ever heard his name? Perhaps the truth would get in the way of the agenda.

The beauty and majesty of the KJV are unique. It has served us well enough for 407 years. But the particular translation was never intended to be venerated.

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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.

Canadian Christian Retailers Facebook Group Launches

In the wake of concerns over direct-to-consumer marketing by Parasource, Canadian Christian bookstore owners and managers can now continue the conversation at a new* Facebook group, Canadian Christian Retail Insights. Administrators for the page are Lynda Schoffro of The Gospel Lighthouse, Canada’s largest Christian retail chain, and Tim Underwood of Graf-Martin Communications, who is also a frequent contributor of story leads to us here at Christian Book Shop Talk.

Lynda writes,

We need to learn to carve out our niche in the industry by drawing customers into our brick and mortar stores. There are many things that the online shopping environment cannot provide and it is through this channel that we can grow stronger. In our industry, we have the advantage of having customers who are intentional and faithful to us. If we give them the experience they are wanting most of them are sure to choose the experience over the short term gain. One of the ways we can do this is by having well-trained staff who can engage and minister to our clients. Providing them with excellent and well thought selections when it comes to book titles, Bible selection, music, movies and more. I believe that we can be better at this by combining our efforts. Learning from each other and sharing in an open environment for all to learn from each others experience and knowledge.

To do this, we need a platform to communicate… I think that a Facebook group where only retailers are members would be a good way to communicate. I hope that you will feel free and confident enough to share your ideas with all of us.

There are many ways we can learn and grow, including:

  • Sharing book reviews (our favorites or new titles). We all love to read but it’s sometimes hard to find the time. A personal take of what the book means to someone can go a long way when recommending.
  • New product information
  • Display/ Creative in-store ideas
  • Product selection that sells well in our stores – we are all trying to find something new and great to offer our customers. It can be daunting when you start searching the internet for new ideas or walking the floor at the Gift shows. It would be great to offer ideas from experienced buyers.
  • Trade show information — maybe even having something of our own
  • Graf-Martin Communications will add new content to the page every week, including new book trailers, information about book launch teams, faith films coming to your area etc. This content (movie & book trailers) can also be shared on your store’s social media, making it easier for you to find content to share…

Lynda also outlined further the role Tim or Graf-Martin would play:

I’ve also been connecting with Ellen Graf-Martin and the Graf-Martin Communications team about how to better resource our frontline staff to be experts in our field. Her team has a genuine passion for Canadian Christian retail and a desire to keep us in the loop on new titles, faith/family-friendly films and other news pertaining to our customers with the goal being to educate and equip us. We’ve been talking about the best way to communicate this not only to our store, but to all Christian retailers across Canada – at no cost to us.

The Graf-Martin team has offered to send a newsletter once a month by email. The newsletter will contain key reviews from Canadian Christian bloggers, links to media interviews being done by authors, movie trailers, ARCs of new titles and opportunities for free movie tickets. They’ll also be sending content that we can share through our own store newsletters and social media pages.

Again, to join the group, visit Canadian Christian Retail Insights.

Unless something major is breaking, we’ll assume that readers here are also following content there. Christian Book Shop Talk will also continue to be a window into Canadian Christian Retail for our many industry insider friends and subscribers in the United States and abroad who follow this blog.


*The FB page was actually created a year ago, and already had 26 members before this week’s announcement or re-purposing. With this new membership appeal there are now already 45 members.

An Open Letter to Tim Keller

Dear Tim

In between writing this letter’s paragraphs I’m standing at the counter at my store with an ink eraser trying to clean up the covers of your latest book Making Sense of God.

The book retails for $23 in Canada and the condition in which the merchandise was received was completely substandard. Honestly, I’ve received remainder books in better condition than this.

But how on Earth do I phone Penguin Random House and tell them I would like to return the entire shipment? I don’t think that would go over very well. I don’t think I would be believed, either.

Here’s the thing. You are partly to blame for this. You are the problem. Your insistence — or that of a literary agent who thinks they are acting on your best interests — on publishing all your books with the plainest, palest, whitest covers possible simply invites a situation in the retail environment where your books become completely shopworn. (For the record, each one of the books pictured above has a much nicer and more durable cover in the UK.)

I think part of that has to do with the fact that your tribe tends to take everything so very seriously. There’s no room for a creative cover. There’s no possibility of an illustration. There’s no consideration for a photographic image. That’s why I’m not attracted to your brand. The picture below shows three copies of the same book. At first I thought that these were some type of shading effect and then I realized it was different on every copy.

Here’s a thought. If you were to someday condescend and publish with one of the Christian owned publishing companies I think you would find that their warehouse staff — i.e. pickers, checkers, packers, and shippers — are more respectful of your product than the people currently handling these books who have no affinity for what you believe. Just something to consider.

I’m sure you think this is superficial; after all it’s what’s inside the books that counts, right? Well, no one will know if stores like mine are reluctant to carry them. We always look twice at books with pale covers and temper our order quantities accordingly. 

By the way, I really enjoyed Reason for God. I realize you can’t judge a book by its cover.

At first I thought it was an effect, but then I noticed the books weren’t marked the same on each copy. Of the 12 copies, not one escaped whatever this was. Considering they were picked out of a case lot — or case loaded to shelving — it makes no sense that all looked like this.

 

Remembering James Sire

You never forget the books that marked your entry into this business, and for me, acting as Warehouse Manager for InterVarsity Press (IVP) in Canada, one of those books was The Universe Next Door by James Sire.

Sire was also a longtime (30 year) editorial director at IVP who introduced the world to authors such as Francis Schaeffer (How Shall We Then Live), Rebecca Manley Pippert (Out of the Saltshaker) Calvin Miller (The Singer) and Os Guinness (The Dust of Death). Dare I say it was a golden era for IVP? Sire is credited with raising the profile of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s (IVCF) publishing arm to the point it could attract top authors.

Sire died on Tuesday; he was 84. In addition to Universe, his own books with IVP included the classic Scripture Twisting (1980) to the more recent Apologetics Beyond Reason (2014).

There’s a full tribute to James Sire at the IVP website, as well as this article in Christianity Today.

 

Kitchener, Ontario Author/Illustrator Releases First Orthodox Graphic Novel

Most of us have recited “He descended into hell” at one point or another even if our churches don’t frequently recite The Apostles Creed. Kitchener, Ontario’s Michael Elgamal has illustrated this and other “descents” in a 54-page self-published graphic novel, Anastasis: The Harrowing of Hades. He calls it “the first Orthodox Christian graphic novel.

Here’s the publisher synopsis:

Anastasis: The Harrowing of Hades is a full-colour Christian graphic novel that explores what happened to the Old Testament souls in Hades, the emotional build-up to the fateful crucifixion and the consequences of Christ’s enigmatic descent into hell. You will find this book packed with Biblical references, writings from the Church fathers (Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Ephrem the Syrian and more) and gripping storytelling. The hand-drawn illustrations pay homage to ancient Christian iconography and the resurrection narrative.

While we don’t have conclusive details on what took place over the three days Christ spent in the tomb, this book is an honest take on what might have transpired and what it means for us today.

As both a writer and a illustrator, Elgamal’s goal is to tell and retell stories of ancient Christianity. At his website, CreativeOrthodox.com, illustrations convey narratives known more widely among Orthodox Christianity, and probably little known by Evangelicals.

The book is available from Ingram, ISBN 9780995993006 $15 US, paper.


 

Do Customers Help Choose Book Covers?

I haven’t received one lately, but a few times I’ve been sent a survey link to ‘help’ a publisher choose the best image for a forthcoming title. Art departments invest much time and energy in this process to ensure the highest possible response to physical product in stores and also online purchases.

The cynic in me however thinks this is just part of an overall marketing strategy to cause some potential readers who are on a select mailing list feel invested in the project and build traction.  If so, it’s a brilliant marketing move, and one others could consider. Perhaps the cover has already been chosen at this stage. Eventually, they chose something a little different, though the mountains and the automobile were seen in the choices above.


While we’re at it, here’s another example in our ongoing list of “Christian Title Shortage” images. The MacArthur book was released in 2012 by David C. Cook. I guess it wasn’t considered a potential source of title confusion. It’s a reminder to bookstore buyers to always read the listings carefully. This is why I like to see images before hastily copying an ISBN.

Fresh Fiche Weekly

For some of you, this is like a picture of an old friend. If you’re new to the business, you’re thinking, ‘What the heck is this?’

If you’ve been around Christian bookselling for awhile; time to gather the younguns around the screen — already halfway to recreating the experience — and unravel the story of using a fiche reader to look up products for customers.

The Spring Arbor microfiche arrived in the mail weekly. As I remember it, Title (sets; usually 3 – 5 sheets) was weekly, Author was every other week, Music and Video were monthly, and I had a long wait for Category coming once every quarter. Actually, the Category sheets were one of my favorites.

Believe it or not, a small store like ours didn’t think we needed that data with great immediacy. So we shared a subscription with another store. They got them first and mailed them to us. Then we took our set and sent it off to one of our other stores. (We were a chain of three stores at the time, and libraries were always selling off fiche readers cheap.)

The ability to search online made the fiche redundant, as the ability to order online made the Spring Arbor Telxon unit redundant. But we’ll save that one for another day, since the kids probably won’t believe we placed a suction cup on our phone to place orders.

 

Christian Book Shop Talk Enters Year 10

After a week off, we’re back just in time to celebrate the 9th Birthday of this blog. After blogging at e4God and USAToday, I came to WordPress and actually started seven blogs, all within the space of several months. This is one of three which is still regularly updated with new content.

It’s been great to connect with all of you in this forum. I don’t get to trade shows so this is my only opportunity to start conversations, which customers in my store will tell you is something I love doing. Those of us who own, manage or staff Christian bookstores walk a rather unique road which has all the drama of owning a business, all the glitter of the entertainment industry (with books, movies and music) and all the importance of ministry calling.

Canadian readers continue to dominate the stats (unlike my other two blogs) at 58%, but the U.S. is gaining at 37%. Moving forward you may see articles where I explain how things work here and you’ll wonder why I’m doing that since everyone here already knows, but I want to also be able to represent us to the larger readership, which includes executives and international sales directors of American publishing houses.

I also want to take a moment to thank the people at various Canadian distributors who share information beyond what I could expect to hear as a retailer, especially given the size of my own store’s market. I appreciate having a better understanding of what takes place behind the scenes, even if it’s followed by, “But you can’t blog what I just told you.” Sigh!

So Happy Birthday to Us. Thanks to all of you who drop in periodically, subscribe, leave comments, or contact me directly with both joys and sorrows.

This blog is available to all of you who wish to write longer-form articles than what you’re able to say in other forums, and hardly anything posted here has ever been deleted, so the material stays accessible for a longer time frame. Or feel free to pick a month and go back and see what was occurring and what issues were important 3 years ago, or 5 years ago or 7 years ago. If it’s something where you need to be anonymous that’s fine, as along as I can authenticate that it came from someone in the industry.

Finally, if you see an article in other media that you think stores should read, let me know so that we can run an excerpt with a link.

~Paul Wilkinson

 

 

 

 

 

An Example of Losing “Sweet Spot” Pricing

We’ve written four times previously about the idea that there is a key pricing point for certain items, and once you get beyond that you’ve lost the customer. I also noted this seems to apply more with low-price staples than with high end Bibles. Most recently we mentioned Rose Pamphlets, when their price crested above $5. I wasn’t entirely correct on this; we noticed that some customers don’t care, but if you buy 3 or more in my store and the price reverts below $5 anyway.

This time around it’s the God I Need to Talk to You About… series of booklets from Concordia. This series has about 24 titles, and we have them in two places and customers seem to locate them in both. Sometimes they come in asking for them. However recently three factors converged to put them at $2 CDN each.

  • Change in distributors
  • U.S. List price increase
  • High Canadian dollar

These little booklets aren’t that big. I think $2 is too high, so we modified them to $1.79 in our store, with a slight discount if you buy 4/$6.99. (Down from 5/$6.99.) Any more, and we can’t do it, especially with the online competition from Christian Book (who actually sometimes run advertising on this blog because we’re using a free WordPress service.)

…There are times you get to add a little to a MSRP and there are other times you need to subtract to keep the product moving. This is an example of the latter. In a foreign market environment, I think we need to think in terms of DSRP (Distributor Suggested Retail Price) as a reminder that just as they chose a number, we can choose one as well.

In today’s example, hopefully the dollar will respond, or the publisher will hear about the situation and make concessions to the Canadian distributor.


I created the graphic to reintroduce the series to my Facebook customers. A bit of glare perhaps, but feel free to steal it. You can probably do better!

Another troubling question: Why did Parasource choose $2 and not $1.99?

Save you looking: Word Alive says $2.49, so the CDN price may already be a concession. That’s still way too high for what you get.

Last call: Ingram has some 6-packs left at the old 99 cents US list price.

Thomas Nelson Pursues Charismatic Market

In a Monday press release, Thomas Nelson unveiled “Emanate Books, its new charismatic Christian publishing imprint” and went on to announce:

Emanate Books will bring twelve titles to market in its first year, beginning with “The Azusa Street Mission and Revival” from Fuller Theological Seminary professor Cecil M. Robeck.

In early 2018, Emanate will publish two new titles from pastors at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. “Hope for Your Marriage,” the first marriage book from Clayton and Ashlee Hurst, will release in January 2018. Then, in March, Emanate will release “Our Champion,” a memoir that chronicles the triumphant journey of Pastor Craig Johnson’s family as they learn to embrace their son’s battle with autism…

…Joel Kneedler, former associate publisher with W Publishing, will serve as publisher of Emanate Books. “I am thrilled to publish books for this audience,” he said. “The way ‘charismatic’ has been defined in the past is vastly different from how those within the movement see it today. It is our goal to help move the conversation into the twenty-first century. The global reach of HarperCollins offers Emanate Books a distinct advantage in reaching readers wherever they may be by working with our partners in Africa, Asia, Australia, Brazil, Europe, and Latin America.”

Emanate Books marketing manager Cody Van Ryn commented, “Emanate Books will be home to both timeless and fresh voices from the charismatic community.  We’re eager to share our engaging authors and content with readers in new and interesting ways, all with the goal of helping people grow in Christ.”

Thomas Nelson’s existing roster is currently light on Charismatic authors but does contain one notable product, The New Spirit-Filled Bible. At sister imprint Zondervan, there is The Life in the Spirit Study Bible as well as books by Brooklyn Tabernacle pastor Jim Cymbala. Neither imprint is known for its strength in publishing for the Pentecostal/Charismatic market, a situation that Emanate hopes to correct.

An earlier version of the Nelson press release appeared online on June 8th.

When White House News Leads The National

Some days it’s hard to tell if you’re watching a Canadian newscast or have accidentally switched to a U.S. channel. Several times this month, a story pertaining to the White House and the American President have led The National on CBC. I am quite sure they agonize over whether to choose developments there over Canadian or overseas stories, but clearly we can’t get enough of the continuing developments south of the border.

As a bookseller, whenever a product is presented to me that would be considered “U.S.-interest” I instinctively pass. It’s hard to sell a book with the U.S. flag or the Capitol building on the cover, certain Joel Rosenberg fiction titles notwithstanding.

This time it’s different.

I think there might be a considerable interest in these parts for a book releasing by Baker in early October, Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope and Why Christian Conservatives Support Him by Stephen Mansfield, who has considerable experience writing the biographies of U.S. Presidents. My reading has been constantly interrupted, but the introduction alone is probably the most succinct summary of Trump’s rise and conquering of the White House I’ve seen in any media, print or electronic.

This is a faith-focused story, not about the faith of the man himself — another book is tackling that topic for a January release — but an understanding of how Trump was able to galvanize support from the Religious Right after eight years of President Obama. In that sense, it’s a summary of how things work in a land where Evangelicalism is inextricably linked to politics.

And in that, there are many parallels and many lessons for us in this country.

I’ll have more to say to about the book when I finish it, but if you’re a Canadian store considering this title, don’t be too dismissive because it’s someone else’s political story. Order carefully, but my bet is that this is a story that some of your customers will want to read.

9780801007330 | 208 pages | hardcover | October 3, 2017