Thinking Out Loud

July 9, 2019

IVP Author Loses to Counterfeit Books Sold on Amazon

Filed under: books, Christianity, ethics, publishing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 am

Christian Author Robbed

Maybe it’s because I work in this field, that this account hit so hard, so personally. This story broke on Christianity Today yesterday morning; excerpts below are just a portion of a larger story you’re encouraged to read in full:

It took Tish Harrison Warren nearly three years to publish her first book. It was more than 18 months of arranging childcare and carving out time to write before she had a manuscript—11 chapters chronicling details from her day-to-day life paired with the rhythms of church ritual.

By the time Liturgy of the Ordinary debuted in December 2016, she and her publishing team had gone through the process of selecting a cover (an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich against a bright green backdrop) and editing the page proofs to check every dot and detail.

But over the past year, thousands of readers ended up with copies that didn’t quite look like the book she and InterVarsity Press (IVP) had finalized three years ago. The cover was not as sharp. The pages were a bit off-center.

These were not IVP’s books at all. They were counterfeits.

A three-year labor of love. It’s a heartbreaking story to read.

IVP estimates that at least 15,000 counterfeit copies of Liturgy of the Ordinary were sold on the site over the past nine months, their retail value totaling $240,000. That nearly cuts sales of Warren’s book in half; IVP reported 23,000 legitimate copies were sold over the past year. IVP also found evidence of counterfeiting on a smaller scale for one other title, Michael Reeves’s Delighting in the Trinity, which came out in 2002.

But it’s probably not an isolated story, though CT’s story tilts in that direction:

Sharon Heggeland, vice president for sales operations at Tyndale said, “We have monitoring software in place that looks for third-party sellers. We have very minimal issues with third-party sellers taking over the buy buttons on our products, and we have seen no instances of counterfeit Tyndale titles.”

I think personally we haven’t heard the last story of a Christian title being counterfeited. And yet, inexplicably, this:

But within 48 hours of learning about the Amazon counterfeiters, she bought groceries at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, rented a movie on Prime, and received a package with the telltale arrow logo on her porch.

There’s a lot more; this is complicated. Kate Shellnutt has done a great job of reporting this and you are again encouraged to read the whole report at this link.

Counterfeit sales impact not only Tish Harrison Warren’s current title, but affects contracts for future titles.

Meanwhile, at her blog, Tish Harrison Warren offers readers some options, including how to identify the fake copies, and then returning the books to Amazon and obtaining an authentic copy from IVP with free shipping.

[Note: If you bought your copy from a brick-and-mortar bookstore, it probably would have been purchased direct from IVP and not affected.]

The author also says,

Pray for wisdom for IVPress, Amazon, and me. We each have decisions to make about how best to proceed now that we know that there are counterfeit books out there. This is a situation that IVP has never faced before and they in particular need prayer for wisdom about how to respond.

I also have never faced this before and need wisdom about how to most wisely respond moving forward.

Amazon executives and decision-makers also need wisdom and motivation about how to respond to improve their systems. Please pray for all involved.


Interested in reading the book? Here’s the publisher blurb:

In each chapter of Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren looks at something-making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys-that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship. Come and discover the holiness of your every day.

Don’t just grab the lowest available price online; look for an established Christian retailer, or better yet, if a physical store exists near you, support them before Amazon has decimated the entire landscape.


UPDATE 10:05 AM EST — Determining if you have a counterfeit copy. At this Dropbox link, 11 images showing the telltale evidence of a fake book.

May 2, 2019

Bible Translation: Parishioners May Be Easily Deceived

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a long-form medium. It’s not just the 140 vs. 280 character thing, but with the use of threads, writers can present rather extensive essays.

Every once in awhile I find threads which I think are worthy of being preserved somewhere more permanent. The writer may have envisioned something temporary — a kind of Snapchat prose — but the words deserve greater attention. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, Sheila Wray Gregoire, Steve Bezner etc. — we want to introduce you to a voice which is new here.

Thomas Horrocks resides in Bloomington, Indiana where he serves as pastor of Stoneybrook Community Church of God and also as a chaplain in the Indiana Army National Guard. He’s co-host of the Sinnergists Podcast.

If you want to read this on Twitter, go to this link.


Okay, everybody. Time for a mini rant. As you may or may not know, I pastor a small church comprised of mostly older people, all of whom are wonderfully devout but basically none of whom have had any formal theological training. This probably describes most churches to be honest.

Today at my midweek Bible-study, one lady, who deeply loves the scriptures, brought to me a new translation of the New Testament that she obtained. It is called The Pure Word and bills itself as “an Unparalleled New Testament Translation From the Original Greek.”

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Naturally, having both an interest in Bible translations and the things my congregants want to show me, I asked if I could look at it a little closer. I started reading the preface and, folks, this thing is A. Train. Wreck.

Here’s the first paragraph

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“Never before has such a pure and genuine translation been completed.”

Are. You. Kidding. Me?

This is the kind of thing I would write if I was writing a parody. But wait, it gets worse.

They employ a methodology they call “monadic hermeneutics” in which each they assert that each word has “an accurate, single definition.” They, of course, base this in the Psalms that says “every word of God is pure.” They explain:

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“Each word…was intended to have a single specific meaning, never open to personal interpretation.” Somehow these translators, and no one else ever, were able to “bypass personal interjection and cultural influence” and determine these “unambiguous and clear meanings.”

It gets worse. They also capitalize any word “which pertain[s] to God’s Attributes and Characteristics, God’s Works, Works of the Holy Spirit in us, or Works of Angels (as opposed to works of man.)” This they determined, of course, without “personal interpretation.”

Pure Word Bible

“So,” you’re probably asking, “How does this work out in actual translation?” Great question.

Here is their translation of John 3:16, which they insist is “the original Greek to English translation,”

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These people claim they are “Unveiling the Original Meaning After Nearly 2000 Years” and that they are “re-implementing the full and original Greek…as it was understood during the first century” and that this “is commonly recognized as the most accurate…in the world.”

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Now, anyone who has received any kind of training in Greek or Biblical interpretation knows this is all absolute malarkey. But the good-hearted people in our pews may not know this.

These people are preying on our peoples’ desire for certitude and easy answers and using it to slip in genuinely debatable interpretation under the guise of The Original Word of God.™

We need to be teaching our people that the work of translation and interpretation is messy and that there things that debatable, things that are ambiguous, and things that are unclear, otherwise we end with this (below), but for real.

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March 14, 2019

Zondervan’s Newest Study Bible in NIV Isn’t New

I hate to say, “I told you so.”

At the time of its original release, I said the name, “NIV Zondervan Study Bible” would be too easily confused with the flagship “NIV Study Bible.” Time and the marketplace proved this correct.

So when the time came to convert the Bible to the new Comfort Print font — a change still in progress involving every Bible product sold by both Thomas Nelson and Zondervan — they decided it was a good time to change the name to “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible.”

They also moved D. A. Carson’s name to the top which is both in keeping with what is seen on academic books in a series, and also creates resonance for the all important Reformed/Calvinist market, which Zondervan would love to lure from the ESV back to NIV.

The other bonus was that with comfort print, people who formerly needed large print can get away with the regular edition. The large print version of the older title was simply huge. So they’ve effective killed two birds with one stone.


The original advertising from a few years ago highlights many of the Reformed/Calvinist contributors. I’m sure they would argue this isn’t, strictly speaking, a Reformed product.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

And a comparison chart showed the main differences in chart form:

NIV Study Bibles compared


Appendix One: People who feel they are in the market for larger print in a Bible are actually looking at five factors:

Font Size – To meet expectations, “large” should be at least 10.0 point and “giant” should be at least 12.0 point; 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.” 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 who have purchased large print books before question the application of the term when it’s applied to Bibles with smaller fonts. If you’re in a store and they have a font size guide posted, that gives you the language to express what you’re looking for, but don’t go by online guides, as they are sized at the whim of your monitor settings.

Typeface – This consideration is the basis of Zondervan and Thomas Nelson’s move — started last year and continuing throughout 2018 — to “Comfort Print” on all their Bible editions. Some typefaces are simply fatter than others. Personally, I like the clean look of 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. But Comfort Print is a great innovation and I find when it’s available that people who think they need large print don’t, and other who think they might need giant print (with other publishers) can work with Comfort Print’s large print. You can think of this in terms of the difference between regular and bold face.

Leading – This one is actually quite important, and we’ll leave the definition to Wikipedia: “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. The issue here is white space. If you look at the Wisdom Books of the Bible (which are typeset as poetry with more white space and wider margins) and compare to the History Books or Gospels (which are typeset as prose, both right-justified and left-justified) you see the advantage created by white space.

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. Furthermore, some older adults have eye problems which make reading red-letter editions difficult. If that’s the case — and you don’t always know ahead of time — use a page from the Gospels as a sample.

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, holding Bibles up to the light isn’t a fair test. Rather, the place where you check out the Bible should be well-lit and then pages should be examined in the same context you would read them at home. It is possible that an individual simply needs a better quality reading lamp.


Appendix Two: An edited list of features from the publisher marketing includes:

• 28 theological articles by authors such as Tim Keller and Kevin DeYoung; over 60 contributors.
• 20,000 verse-by-verse study notes
• 2,560 pages!
• Hundreds of full-color photos
• Over 90 Maps and over 60 Charts
• Book Introductions
• Cross-references and Concordance
• Single-column, Black Letter


Note: This is a news article. Zondervan didn’t supply a review copy — I already have the original which I traded for the large print I desired — and did not sponsor this blog article.

with files from Christian Book Shop Talk blog

 

May 13, 2018

Panicked Publishers add Morality Clauses to Book Contracts

After John Ortberg (pictured left) took concerns about sexual impropriety concerning Bill Hybels (pictured right) to the Chicago Tribune, the dominoes started to fall leading to Hybels’ resignation from one of America’s largest churches last month.

From Bill Cosby to Bill Hybels, 2018 has so far been a year that has placed sexual misconduct in the spotlight. Each year, publishers are forced to withdraw product from their catalogues, or cancel pending publication of forthcoming titles. Sometimes, there’s nothing in the book itself that is harmful, but the authors have become tainted and publishers want to avoid the spectre of large numbers of returns if the public gaze intensifies.

Rachel Deahl covered this recently at Publisher’s Weekly. The following is only a small excerpt, so read the piece by clicking the title below:

In the #MeToo Moment, Publishers Turn to Morality Clauses

Until recently, the term “moral turpitude” is not one that crossed the lips of too many people in book publishing…

A legal term that refers to behavior generally considered unacceptable in a given community, moral turpitude is something publishers rarely worried themselves about. No longer.

Major publishers are increasingly inserting language into their contracts—referred to as morality clauses—that allows them to terminate agreements in response to a broad range of behavior by authors. And agents, most of whom spoke with PW on the condition of anonymity, say the change is worrying in an industry built on a commitment to defending free speech…

…Another agent, who admitted to having concerns about some of the morality clauses he’s seen, said he nonetheless understands publishers’ rationale for using them. “There are obviously a lot of very complex things going on here,” he said, speaking to the way publishers are reacting to the shifting social climate. He also noted that most publishers he’s dealt with have been open to changing these clauses. “When you go back to [publishers] and remind them that authors are allowed protected speech, political or otherwise, my experience is that they’ve been very responsive.”…

…Mary Rasenberger, president of the Authors Guild, who has seen some of the morality clauses publishers are using, said she also understands why houses are moving in this direction. “There are instances where it is appropriate to cancel a contract with someone—if, say, they are writing a book on investing and they’re convicted of insider trading.” But Rasenberger has concerns about the new boilerplates she’s been seeing. “These clauses need to be very narrowly drawn. The fear is that clauses like these can quash speech that is unpopular, for whatever reason.”

Another agent admitted to being distressed by the fact that some of the morality clauses she’s seen “are going very far.” She said that though she and many of her colleagues think it’s “not unfair for a publisher to expect an author to be the same person when it publishes the book as when it bought the book,” she’s worried how extreme some of the language in these new clauses is.

“If you’re buying bunny books or Bible books, these clauses make sense,” said Lloyd Jassin, a lawyer who specializes in publishing contracts, referring to deals for children’s books and Christian books. He wondered, though, about a publisher trying to hold authors of any other type of book to a moral standard. Noting that morality clauses are about money, not morality (specifically, they’re about a publisher’s ability to market an author), he posed a hypothetical. “Is the author of The El Salvador Diet, which touts a fish-only regimen, allowed to be photographed eating at Shake Shack? That goes to the heart of the contract.” He paused and added: “This is definitely a free speech issue.” …

again, you’re encouraged to read all this in the context of the full article

 

 

April 13, 2018

Boy Who Didn’t Come Back From Heaven Now Suing Tyndale House Publishers

Tuesday in The Washington Post:

On Nov. 14, 2004, as 6-year-old Alex Malarkey drove home with his father Kevin in rural Ohio, a left turn nearly took his life. As Kevin turned the car it collided with another vehicle, and the boy’s skull became completely detached from his spinal cord.

But Alex did not die — and that’s the central fact behind a long-running controversy that has now led to a lawsuit.

Two months after the crash, Alex emerged from a coma as a quadriplegic. The injured boy also began telling family and friends about traveling to heaven and meeting Jesus and Satan.

In July 2010, Kevin and Alex Malarkey penned an account of the boy’s religious experience, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.” The book was published by Tyndale House, a publisher of Christian books. It went on to reportedly move more than 1 million copies and spent months on the New York Times bestseller’s list. The book was part of a bumper crop of similarly geared narratives — tales of near-death experiences and brushes with the Almighty published by religious imprints.

Then it all fell apart. In January 2015, Alex, now paralyzed from the neck down, admitted he had fabricated the story.

“I did not die,” he wrote in a blog post. “I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.”

The admission created a firestorm within the worlds of evangelical faith and Christian publishing. The controversy was revived this week when Alex — now 20 years old and living off Social Security — filed a lawsuit against Tyndale House in Illinois’s DuPage County, where the publisher is located. The complaint alleges Kevin Malarkey was the main actor behind the fabrication…

continue reading here

Christianity Today picks up the story Wednesday:

…Tyndale took the book out of print in 2015, after Malarkey admitted he made up the story of dying and going to heaven after the accident.

“Now that he is an adult, Alex desires to have his name completely disassociated from the book and seeks a permanent injunction against Tyndale House requiring it to do everything within reason to disassociate his name from the book,” according to the complaint, which was covered in The Washington Post.

Malarkey has sued on the grounds of defamation, financial exploitation, and publicity placing a person in a false light, saying that Tyndale went forward with initially publishing and promoting the book knowing his opposition. He states that he did not write any part of the book or consent to the use of his name as a coauthor and story subject.

The suit states that he has “never been permitted to read the contract, nor to review any accountings provided under the contract, he refuses to acknowledge that the contract ‘is in effect and binding,’ now that he has reached the age of majority.” …

…Tyndale said in a statement issued this week that it no longer promotes the book or makes it available for sale, and that it has complied with the terms of the book contract.

“This is a terribly unfortunate situation, which deeply saddens all of us at Tyndale,” said Todd Starowitz, the publisher’s spokesman. “Despite the claims in Alex Malarkey’s lawsuit, Tyndale House paid all royalties that were due under the terms of our contract on his book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. Tyndale took the book out of print in 2015 when Alex said that he had fabricated the entire story. Any books still available from online vendors are from third-party sellers.” …

continue reading here

Clarification: Since the product recall, many mistook the story being recanted as belonging to the book Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo (Thomas Nelson) since both are about kids. Bookstore sales staff continually need to emphatically set the record straight.

Product which was available as of January 16th, 2015 before the recall. Image captured at Ingram/Spring Arbor.

 

The book was one of many similar titles on the New York Times bestseller list in August, 2011

 

March 3, 2018

Popular Bible Verses in The Passion Translation (TPT)

Each year there are many new translations of the Bible released, but only a select few reach a level whereby they find acceptance and are known by the broader Christian community. We’ve seen conservative translations such as the ESV and more recently the CSB do this but there are also versions of the Bible which attempt to do something new and different, while still remaining faithful to original language documents.

Such was The Message and more recently The Voice; and it’s into that marketplace that The Passion Translation (sometimes being referred to now as TPT) by Dr. Brian Simmons steps. The New Testament is now complete, so we thought we’d share some verses with you.

 A hardcover edition is now available in two hardcover editions and several leather editions, with two more hardcovers due in March and in addition to the NT contains Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Songs.

Ephesians 2:8 – For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ!


Matthew 28:18 – Now go in my authority and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


2 Timothy 3:16 – Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness.


Romans 10:9 – And what is God’s “living message”? It is the revelation of faith for salvation, which is the message that we preach. For if you publicly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will experience salvation.


Romans 8:28 – So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.


Romans 12:2 – Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.


Philippians 4:13 – I know what it means to lack, and I know what it means to experience overwhelming abundance. For I’m trained in the secret of overcoming all things, whether in fullness or in hunger. And I find that the strength of Christ’s explosive power infuses me to conquer every difficulty.


…Read more; now available on your computer at Bible Gateway or on your smartphone at You Version.

September 9, 2017

Charts: The Real Bestselling Christian Books

This is from the list from the Christian Bookseller’s Association’s July bestsellers list, the last one posted online; it’s what you get when you eliminate:

  • all the iterations of Jesus Calling (highest individual rank #5)
  • all the iterations of The Standard Lesson Commentary
  • all the various adult coloring books (Update: turns out there were none in the top 40 this time around)
  • various children’s titles
  • two fiction titles
  • a package of tracts

Titles showing in the image above are unrelated.

Their ranking is placed after each entry in brackets.

  1. Goliath Must Fall – Louie Giglio (1)
  2. Without Rival – Lisa Bevere (2)
  3. Driven by Eternity – John Bevere (4)
  4. Jesus Always – Sarah Young (8)
  5. The Comeback – Louie Giglio (10)
  6. Boundaries – Henry Cloud (14)
  7. Uninvited – Lisa TerKeurst (15)
  8. The Circle Maker – Mark Batterson (17)
  9. Swipe Right – Levi Lusko (20)
  10. No More Faking Fine – Ester Fleece (23)
  11. Steve McQueen – Greg Laurie (24)
  12. The 5 Love Languages – Gary Chapman (25)
  13. When God Doesn’t Fix It – Laura Story (26)
  14. The Mystery – Lacey Sturm (27)
  15. Good or God – John Bevere (28)
  16. The Little Things – Andy Andrews (29)
  17. Simple Pursuit – Passion (31)
  18. Purpose Driven Life – Rick Warren (33)
  19. Magnolia Story – Chip and Joanne Gaines (34)
  20. How’s Your Soul – Judah Smith (36)

The Steve McQueen book is a bit of a curiosity which we mentioned here previously on the link list. Louis Giglio has three titles (two written by him, plus he wrote the intro to the Passion book) and two of the titles (13 and 14) are by Christian musicians. The dominance of John and Lisa Bevere in the list shows charismatic titles are still a driving force in Christian sales. Boundaries, Purpose Driven Life and 5 Love Languages show the enduring strength of those titles after many years. It’s also good to see new writer Levi Lusko doing so sell; I went to his church’s website and listened to a sermon two weeks ago.

 

 

March 11, 2017

New Zondervan Childrens’ Bible May Undermine Faith

If I could spend five minutes in the board rooms of some of the publishers in the Christian book industry, my message would be, “Anticipate your critics.” Why release products that simply feed those who think their agenda is to actually undermine the Christian faith?

A few months ago I had a visit from someone far more trained in apologetics than I. We got talking about the various things published about Noah’s Ark and how few of them would be considered theologically accurate, either in terms of the text or the illustrations. 

He also said that we have to really avoid the temptation to talk about Bible stories. In a child’s mind, a story may or may not be real. Ditto the word tale. While it’s a bit above some kids’ pay grade, the term he liked is narrative. In other words, ‘Here’s how it happened…’

Any English speaker knows that “Once Upon a Time…” is simply code for “It didn’t really happen; but let’s pretend.” If you’re talking about the parables, then by all means. Jesus begins his parables with “A certain man…” which amounts to the same thing. But the parables are only a small percentage of the whole of scripture. “Once upon a time…” consigns the whole Bible to realm of fiction. It puts it on a par with fairy tales.

So that’s why this particular NIrV Bible, releasing this month from Zonderkidz, has me very, very concerned. Did they anticipate their critics? I don’t think so.

February 26, 2017

Requiem for Christian Bookstores Not Needed

fc-logoOn Friday we reported the impending closure of 240 Family Christian bookstores. If you missed that, you can read it here. I started my Saturday morning at Internet Monk, and was a little surprised by both the negative comments concerning this type of establishment, but also the great number of people bashing the stores compared to those saying they were sorry they were closing and that the store would be missed. Such as:

  • So Family JesusJunk Stores are closing. I feel for the employees, but I can’t say I’m disappointed otherwise. Those places were an abomination.

I’m not sure what you are expecting. Here: Take $100,000 and spend it on products that will be of interest to: Mainliners, Evangelicals and Charismatics; kids, teens, twenty-somethings, middle-agers and seniors; seekers, new believers and veterans; scholars, students, and blue-collar workers; people needing help with their marriage, parenting, addictions, finances, interpersonal relationships, prayer life, devotional life and bad habits; those wanting to learn more about missions, church history, denominational distinctions, and church leadership. To all this add some products which enhance Christian life for those who want to: fill their home with Christian music including hymns, chants, country, adult contemporary, modern worship, rock, rap, etc.; have a few inspirational quotes on their walls and tables including plaques, paintings and picture frames; offer their family a wholesome substitute for the movies they would otherwise watch; have some little gift or novelty that they can give to a child to remind them that God loves them.

Oh yes… and Bibles!

And this is an abomination? That’s rather strong language.

  • I already have more than enough Bibles, and I can’t think of a single other book they’d carry that I would want to read.

Seriously? There’s nothing there for you at all? Not one author who represents your brand of Christianity? Nothing you need for personal enrichment? You’ve got it all.

  • I am sorry for the employees losing their jobs in depressed places – but the closing of Family Values Propaganda Market is a good thing, IMO. Good riddance.

To the above we now add propaganda? By definition, this is material that a group writes about itself. There isn’t one book on the shelves is about Jesus? Maybe you simply (think you) know too much. You’ve been totally jaded and can’t see the good that is still be accomplished through those books.

Or…maybe you’ve never been in a country where nationals would give their eye teeth to get their hands on a commentary or Christian living title or even a praise CD.

  • Yeah, I am not sorry to see the Family Christian book stores close. So much “Jesus junk” made in China; candles with Bible verses, straws in the shape of the Jesus fish, sox that have some religious symbolism, and a few cheesy books but very little that is truly theological.

You focused on the non-book products, and when you did look at the books you wrote them all off with the term cheesy. Perhaps you don’t realize that the high-brow academic tomes you seek are sold in places like that by special order.

Oh, and by the way, if something is anti-theological, bookstore chains and independents vet their product very carefully, something you can’t say for the “Christian” section of Barnes and Noble.

  • The last couple of Bibles I bought for gifts, I got online just to avoid the bookstore.

The bookstore was more than a store. It was a meeting place for Christians and performed a large number of non-retail functions, including referrals to local churches and Christian counselors; as well as staff trained to help new believers connect with that first Bible and parents get the appropriate Bible for their kids, rather than buying one online and then finding it’s too young or too old for them. In 240 places, that will not happen anymore. Your disdain led to the demise of something which you judged as not necessary.

Sorry. That attitude does not emanate from someone who possesses the Spirit of God. A Christian wants to be with and encourage fellow Christians. A Christian wants to come alongside the people, places and ministries which God is using.

And God used those bookstores. You just don’t hear those stories as loudly as you hear from those who seem to be almost rejoicing at Family Christian’s demise; a behavior I would more expect — forgive me for this — from demons.

  • I haven’t set foot in a Christian bookstore in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

Again, a personal choice perhaps, but being flaunted like a badge of honor. I haven’t given to the Salvation Army in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t been to a Christian conference in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t listened to Christian radio stations in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

It’s just too easy to fill in that blank, but to what end? It’s not particularly righteous sounding is it? But it has enough of an air of spiritual arrogance and self-righteousness that someone might be impressed by it. For at least 60 seconds. And then it kind of hangs there and the speaker’s heart is laid bare.

So…want to know the real reasons Family Christian stores closed? It wasn’t the stores’ fault.

  1. The U.S. publishing establishment is caught in a “hardcover first edition” mentality which diminishes sales potential through high prices. When a “trade paperback conversion” happens a year later, the sales momentum is completely lost. As more and more Christian authors migrated from the traditional Christian publishers (Baker, Cook, Tyndale, etc.) to the big publishing houses (Hachette, Harper, S&S, etc.) where this mentality is more entrenched, average retail prices for new releases by the bestselling authors actually skyrocketed.
  2. The industry is founded on a “stack ’em high and watch ’em fly” mentality instead of a common sense, “just in time” distribution and delivery system. They send out “floor dumps” and “planograms” with an “if you build it they will come” confidence while failing to see to the organic nurture and cultivating of an author over time.
  3. The parent company never embraced the “order online; pick up instore” concept, even as record numbers of parcels were being stolen off front porches. Or the idea of “shop online, refine your purchase instore.”
  4. Christian publishers were too content to produce products for Christians, when in fact Christians were looking for things to give their non-Christian friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers.
  5. Individual FCS stores were caught in national marketing programs that necessitated purchasing of products nobody wanted or needed at the expense of things for which there was demonstrated local interest.
  6. There was no equivalent to the woman at the big box store handing out samples. First chapter excerpts of the latest Christian titles were simply too hard to come by online. Give people a taste of the author, let them understand his or her heart and intention, and perhaps they might have made the purchase.
  7. Chain stores and publishers have no consumer product panels and no working customer feedback mechanisms. There’s no suggestion box, no place for people to offer their opinions except for the angry rants when a chain shuts down. (As an insider, I can tell you that some of the major players in Christian publishing have nobody to whom store owners and managers can send an email suggestion. They know it all. They have all the answers. They create the products, the stores just sell them; a condescending relationship.)
  8. The industry lost credibility when authors and artists admitted moral failure and yet they continued to market and distribute their products.
  9. Ten years ago, publishers offered print on demand as kind of second life for slow-moving backlist titles and series, but then got seduced by the quicker, lower-cost solution they found in eBooks.
  10. Some pastors got too big for their britches. Once they started to see national success on a grand scale they stepped down from their churches and lost a big part of their platform overnight. I challenge you to show me a “former Pastor of …” who is better known now then they were then. (Okay, maybe the guy who teamed up briefly with Oprah.)

This is a crisis for American Christianity generally. Don’t blame the people at Family Christian. Yes, management mistakes were made; but many were doing the best they could with the materials they were given.

If the industry doesn’t shake itself awake, LifeWay and Parable are next. Hopefully, the requiem for the entire retail genre is still not needed.

February 24, 2017

Family Christian Stores: The Final Curtain

This article posted several hours ago at our affiliate blog, Christian Book Shop Talk

Christianity Today reported the sad news on Thursday (2/23) afternoon:

All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing

More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.

fc-logoMore than two years ago, suppliers forgave Family Christian Stores $127 million in debt so that it could remain open. Today, the chain—which bills itself as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”—announced it is closing all of its stores after 85 years in business.

Family Christian, which employed more than 3,000 people in more than 240 stores across 36 states, blamed “changing consumer behavior and declining sales.”

“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” stated president Chuck Bengochea. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization,” he stated, “and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse.”

Tyndale House Publishers chairman and CEO Mark Taylor called the stores “an important outlet for Christian books, gifts, and Bibles for many decades.”

“All of us at Tyndale House Publishers feel a sense of grief over Family Christian’s decision to close the entire chain of stores,” he stated. “Family’s millions of customers now have even fewer options for finding these wonderful, life-giving products…

continue reading here

Publisher’s Weekly had a different store count:

…Family Christian Stores, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2015, is closing all of its outlets due to changing consumer behavior and declining sales, the company announced Thursday. The Christian retailing chain operates 266 stores in 36 states.

According to various sources, a board meeting was held at FCS’s Grand Rapids headquarters on Wednesday afternoon to determine whether the beleaguered retailer would close or finance another year. To continue, the board members wanted to see a path to profitability by 2018, the sources said…

continue reading here

Michigan Live reported:

…The announcement on Thursday, Feb. 23, did not specify a timetable for the liquidation, which will affect more than 3,000 employees at more than 240 stores in 36 states…

…”We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” said company president Chuck Bengochea in a news release, that blamed changing consumer habits and declining sales for the decision.

“Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse.” …

continue reading here

This is a very sad turn of events for our industry. It is a loss that is both significant numerically and also symbolically. It represents the further demise of brick-and-mortar Christian retail, and all the fellowship and ministry that these stores bring, at the hand of online vendors.


Christian Book Shop Talk reported extensively on this subject; to read recent stories click this link.

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