Friday, August 8, 2008
As promised, here are my thoughts about the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS). As many of you know, ICRS is a trade show in which publishers and music and gift companies present their products to retailers. The show started out as a way to bring all the retailers together and place the majority of orders for the year. Last few years, though, there have been fewer and fewer orders placed at the show, which makes it less effective--or profitable--for publishers to attend.
In recent years, the show's grown to the point that it was one of the largest trade shows in the country. That being the case, locations for the show were limited to those with convention centers large enough to accomodate all the exhibitors: Denver, CO; Anaheim, CA; Atlanta, GA; and this year's location, Orlando, FL. Now, looking at those locations you might think, "How cool! You can combine it with vacation." Yeah, well, not so much. Because the show is held in July. And if there's anything you can count on, it's that Atlanta, Orlando, and Anaheim will be HOT in July. Denver's not so terrible. I like going to Denver. But Orlando this year? Torture.
Happily, the Orlando convention center is a beautiful building. And they have these beautiful sculptures of the Florida panther to greet you as you enter the building.
Inside it's spacious and beautifully decorated with trees and flowers, and lots of windows gives you the sense that you're outside (though the facts that you're not passing out from heat or suffocating from the humidity prove you're not).
Thankfully, we spent almost all of our time in air conditioning. The show was, as always, a blur. My then-boss, David Webb, and I spent Monday and Tuesday doing back-to-back half hour meetings with authors and agents. It was loads of fun, but exhausting. We did reserve time to walk the floor, and I was amazed at how different it was this year from last. For one thing, there were fewer exhibitors--most notably, Thomas Nelson wasn't there. And many of those exhibitors who came had far smaller booths.
There weren't near as many big books written by big names being touted, and the number of books signings were down. But at the B&H booth, we actually saw something exciting: we had LONG lines for our fiction authors' signings! Last year I had to go out amongst the crowds and draw people in. This year they were lined up and circling the booth before the signings started. Very encouraging. And it made for broad smiles on our authors' faces. Always nice to see that!
The most dramatic change, though, was how few retailers were there. Normally at ICRS, you have to fight your way through the press of people in the aisles.
This may seem a busy scene to you, but as compared to previous years, it's almost empty. Normally, you wouldn't be able to see the carpeting for all the people crowding the hallway. This year it was so quiet it was almost...peaceful. On one hand, that was nice. I'm not real big on crowds. On the other, it doesn't bode well for ICRS.
I know, I know, I'm the one who said ICRS wouldn't be going away. And I still don't think it will. Not right away. But what I saw--and more important didn't see--at the show this year tells me changes have to be made. By everyone. Because publishers can't keep spending the massive amount of money it takes to attend ICRS if the retailers aren't there to make the investment pay off. So what does the future hold? Good question. One for which I don't have an answer. But I am watching new developments with great interest. Developments such as the new Christian Book Expo coming up in 2009. I think it's going to be very effective, and I'm doing my best to talk B&H into taking part.
So overall, my impressions from this year's ICRS are that if attendance continues to fall, the future for this show may not be too rosy. So change is in the air, on many fronts. It'll be interesting to see how it all pans out, that's for sure. But I believe this: Christian publishing will go on, regardless. Because God is using it--and the authors and their wonderful books--to bring His truth to a weary world. So we'll see where it all goes in the next couple of years, but this much I believe: we're not going away.
Peace to you today.