Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Sky is Falling, Part Deux

Okay, my thoughts on what's happening lately in the world of Christian publishing.

ICRS--It will go on. At least for awhile. The problem, though, is that it's EXPENSIVE for publishers to participate. And we've been finding that we're not seeing the kind of sales we used to see, which made it cost effective. So if that trend continues...well, who knows. CBA--the Christian Booksellers' Association--sent out a strong response to Nelson's decision.

Publisher shows: Frankly, though this would be a lot less expensive for the publishers, I'm not convinced it will happen. For one thing, the beauty of ICRS--which is geared to serving the retailers, remember--is that retailers get to meeting with all the publishers in one fell swoop. Are retailers going to want to attend half a dozen little shows? Hardly. And you can't bring all the retailers in. Nelson focused on their top 100 retailers, but that leaves out a boatload of stores.

Retailers: If ICRS dies, things will definitely be different. But retailers can order books whether there's an ICRS or not. That's what publishers' sales teams are for, right? The hard truth, though, is that Christian bookstores, especially the independently owned stores (those not a part of Family Christian Bookstores or other chains), are struggling. More stores close every year, and that's sad. Why? Lots of reasons. For one, places like B&N and Borders have forever changed the face of shopping for books. They've created havens for book buyers, where we can sit and soak in the wonder of all the words around us. And get great coffee to boot. For another, Christian bookstores, in general, can't buy in the volume places like CostCo can, so they have to charge more.

The good news is a number of stores throughout the country are making wonderful changes to keep up with the times, to create the same kind of atmosphere in their stores that you find in places like Barnes & Noble and Borders. They're even adding the coffee shops and soft, cushy chairs. And lots of stores are going the coupon route, to help offset the higher retails prices. All of which helps.

But here's the deal. When a Christian bookstore closes, it isn't just about the stores, its about the customers, too. Too many of us (and I admit I'm part of this camp at times) prefer to buy our books online or through places like WalMart or CostCo/Sams. The benefit? We get lower prices. The loss? NO ONE gives you the care and customer services of a Christian bookstore. I don't think you're going to find folks at CostCo listening as you talk about your struggles or joys. But at the Christian bookstore, that happens all the time. I know this because a good friend, Deb "DJ" Note, works in our local Christian bookstore. She listens, she cares, she prays for folks who come in. And she knows the products in her store inside and out. When you go into WalMart or online, you have to figure out what fits your needs best yourself. At the Christian bookstore, people are there to direct and help you.

So what am I saying? Does it make us rotten people if we don't shop at Christian bookstoes? Nah. It makes us normal. People are growing more and more frugal as our country takes more and more economic hits. But as with all consumers, we vote with our dollars. So all I'm saying is think about it next time you want to buy a book that you know will be on the shelves are your local Christian bookstore. And consider dropping in.

All of this, though, leaves things feeling...unsettled. For all concerned in the arena of Christian publishing. So am I worried. Nah. This is all a part of what makes publishing so fascinating and unpredictable. Publishing, like life, goes in waves. We've got flush years, and tight ones. We're up, we're down, we're doing the loop-de-loop. But through it all, we know Who is in control. So we need to just keep on keeping on, doing the tasks He's given us, and trusting Him for the outcome.

That, and learn to like riding rollercoasters.

Peace to you today.


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