Thinking Out Loud

August 20, 2019

In the Future, Amazon Will Control Much of What Christian Publishers Release

This article appeared today on one of our sister blogs, Christian Book Shop Talk, written for Christian bookstore owners, managers and sales associates.

An article released Friday by Canada’s Tim Challies on the influence that Amazon now has on the Christian publishing market has been making the rounds, and I wanted to wait a few days before responding. You can find The Power Over Christian Publishing We’ve Given To Amazon by clicking this link.

He begins dramatically,

A few days from now, or maybe a few months, or even a year, Amazon will pull a book from its site. One day it will be there available for purchase with all the rest, and the next it will be gone. One day people will be able to order it and have it shipped to their homes, and the next day it will have ceased to exist, at least as far as Amazon is concerned. This will inevitably be a book that Christians have embraced as orthodox but that the culture has rejected as heretical…

We’ve seen some of this happen already (especially with respect to Amazon pulling titles) so it isn’t prophetic. He then sets the stage defining the challenge for the future:

…[W]e inadvertently handed Amazon a near-monopoly over the sale of Christian books. We did this with the good-faith assumption that they would continue to sell whatever we published. But times have changed and are changing and it seems increasingly unlikely that Amazon will continue to sell it all. It seems increasingly likely that they will cede to cultural pressure—pressure that exists both within and outside of the company—and begin to cull their offerings. And then what? It’s not like these books cannot be sold by the Christian retailers that remain. But will publishers even be willing or able to publish them if they cannot be sold at the world’s biggest marketplace? Will you and I even be able to find out about them if Amazon isn’t recommending them to us? And will we be willing to pay a premium to have them shipped to us from smaller retailers with higher prices and no ability to offer free shipping?…

In a way, this is nothing new. Spin the search engine wheel and you’ll find many articles from the past accusing Christian publishers of only selling things that will do well at Family Christian Stores or LifeWay, and being extra cautious with progressive writers. But now FCS is gone, and LifeWay is phasing out its physical presence in America’s cities and towns.

Why should a publisher print something which retail won’t carry? Historically, that’s been a challenge, but now that in many parts of North America there is no retail (in the traditional sense) indie-published books compete with those from the larger, established publishing houses. The online behemoth is in many respects now calling the shots. Brick and mortar retail stores don’t matter as they once did; we’ve lost our influence.

What is new is the people to whom that power has been ceded. While dealing with a different aspect of this, Tim Challies correctly notes that,

Amazon is hardly a company founded by Christians or run according to Christian principles. To the contrary, it is a company founded by worldly people and run according to worldly principles.

And beyond the social issues Tim mentions, it bothers me that Amazon has no filters. A Jehovah’s Witness title, New Age title or an LDS title is just as likely to turn up in the search results as something from Baker, Zondervan or David C. Cook. Already, I’ve heard stories of people who unwittingly bought inappropriate books based on search engine results. This in and of itself highlights the value of Christian bookstore buyers and proprietors.

So what if those Christian publishers said to Amazon, “Since you now advertise as ‘the world’s largest bookstore,’ it would be nice if you would carry our titles exhaustively instead of selectively” or even dared to suggest that, “If you won’t carry everything, we won’t sell you anything at all.” If A-zon called their bluff on that, it would be devastating both to authors and consumers, since if a book’s A-zon listing doesn’t appear in search results, the book, for all intents and purposes, ceases to exist.

Again, to read the article at challies.com, click this link.

 

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March 21, 2019

America’s Last Significant Christian Bookstore Chain, LifeWay is Shutting Its Doors

On January 6th, 2018 the iconic James Draper Tower of the LifeWay complex in downtown Nashville was demolished. Thursday’s announcement of the closing of the retail chain sends even bigger shock waves. [Source: Tennessean – see below]

Yesterday, Religion News Service reported:

LifeWay Christian Resources announced Wednesday (March 20) it will close all 170 of its brick-and-mortar stores this year.

That comes as LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, shifts its resources online.

Local news media The Tennessean reported:

The company plans to shift to a digital strategy as consumers increasingly rely on online shopping, a challenge that retailers face nationally. LifeWay resources, such as online Bible studies and worship plans, will be offered at LifeWay.com, through the LifeWay Customer Service Center and through its network of church partners

“LifeWay is fortunate to have a robust publishing, events and church services business. Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” [CEO Brad] Waggoner said. “LifeWay is moving into a new era with a strategic digital focus that will prepare us for the future and allow us to better serve our customers.”

At LifeWay’s Facts and Trends website, more details:

…The timing of store closings will vary depending on local circumstances. LifeWay expects all brick-and-mortar stores to close by the end of the year…

…In one month, LifeWay interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores…

Unlike the 2017 closing of another Christian retail chain, Family Christian Stores, this is not a receivership. The FCS closing affected over 3,000 employees and also devastated publishers, music companies and giftware suppliers who were also sent reeling with the closing of Send the Light, a large wholesale distributor. FCS closed 240 stores in comparison to LifeWay’s current 170. In contrast, the website for Parable explains that, “Parable Christian Stores are locally owned and operated franchise stores run by people who desire to resource their community with Christian products.”

But there is no doubt the LifeWay decision will have an impact on authors, musicians, and a host of other creatives who make the products that Christian bookstores sell. It will also have ripple-effect repercussions on everything from how Christian products are marketed and promoted to Christian music concert tours.

But not every author, musician, or film producer is affected as the RNS story reminded us that many had their products outright banned by the chain:

[Rachel Held] Evans said Wednesday that she doesn’t rejoice over any bookstore closing and she is mindful that LifeWay’s closing means many people will lose their jobs.

But, she said, “for too long Lifeway’s fundamentalist standards have loomed over Christian publishing, stifling the creativity and honesty of writers of faith.

“I hope this news reinforces to writers, editors, and marketers across the industry that we don’t have to conform to Southern Baptist doctrine and culture to sell books. Readers are hungry for literature that embraces the complexity, nuance, and ragged edges of real-life faith and for bookshelves that reflect the diversity of the Church.”

Other people on Twitter responding to the closure didn’t share Evans’ compassion and were outright gleeful that the chain, long known for its restrictive practices was shutting down. “News we can celebrate;” said one, while @SBCExplainer, an official SBC account, countered with, “[L]et’s band together to dispel any notions that LifeWay is ‘going under’. LifeWay will continue to be the largest Christian resources provider in the world.” 

Patheos blogger Jayson D. Bradley, who himself once worked at a Family Christian store, observed, “Without intending to, LifeWay and Family Christian Stores helped create an evangelical ghetto. By choosing what was orthodox enough to sell and then only carrying what sold, they helped create the hyper right-wing political evangelical culture we all get to enjoy now.”

As the story broke last night in local markets where the company has locations, several reports indicated that store management knew their closing date was coming at the end of May. SBCExplainer also noted that outlets on seminary campuses would also be closing. Also included in the closing is the new flagship store built less than a year ago in the new LifeWay building after the first property was sold and demolished. (See picture above.)

More information was being posted on the store’s FAQ page.

 

This is developing story; check back for updates.

 

March 3, 2019

The Internet, The Church, and Accelerated Social Change

close-to-home-on-blogging1This is part two (see yesterday) of a two-part article.

In the setup in part one, we indicated that the influence of rock music in general and The Beatles in particular caused some sweeping changes, particularly in the U.S., in terms of fashion, drugs, war resistance and the sexual liberation. Some of this may have been inevitable, and there were certainly other influences at play, but the 1960s were essentially two decades worth of change sandwiched into one.

So what about another media (for lack of a better word) which influenced the Church?

The effect of the internet on Christianity or Evangelicalism varies depending on which aspect of the technology you’re discussing.

Email simply replaced snail-mail. Communications happened instantly, and at a fraction of the cost, but it’s hard to argue that this changed anything within church culture.

Church websites simply replaced the marquee at the front of the church building, allowing churches to opt instead for larger changeable letters adorned with pithy sayings. No need to post the pastor’s name or the service times, since all that was now on the website.

Video on demand or live-streaming of weekend services simply replaced buying time on local TV outlets, or for the blessed few, on a network of stations.

No, none of these things changed anything in and of themselves.

The real change happened on social media. Online bulletin boards, chat rooms, etc. made it possible for dialog to happen and made it easy for people to enter the conversation regardless of where they lived or their level of education.

But the biggest change occurred with the type of thing you’re reading now: Weblogs, or as they are better known, blogs.

While I can’t cite specific years as I did in part one of the article, here are some effects that I would say took place from about 2003 to 2009.

Blog ChildBlogs and BooksIt wasn’t Christian publishers who came up with using social media to promote new releases, rather the conversations simply started happening over the latest title or the newest author. For reasons I’ll get back to in the final point, the period was a golden age for non-fiction books and publishers were tripping over themselves to place new voices under contract.

I specify non-fiction because the publisher relationship with social media today tends to be more focused on mommy bloggers critiquing and giving away spoilers in the latest Amish or romantic or historical fiction title. Some of these make it through three books a week and publishers are quite willing to supply even relatively small blogs with freebies.

But that wasn’t always the way. The original discussions were all about doctrinal, or Christian Living titles. Maybe a devotional. Eventually, the one Christian children’s book that ever got serious blog review, The Jesus Storybook Bible.

The Growth of Calvinism – This really isn’t anything new, neither should it come as a surprise. Any advance of media technology, or any general cultural shift in communications has been seized on by the Reformed community. Just look at one of the first megachurches (Crystal Cathedral, Reformed Church in America), one of the first TV ministries (Day of Discovery, Christian Reformed), the organizations which dominate our present publishing community (Zondervan, Baker, Eerdman’s, etc., all Reformed); look at these and you see that Reformers have always been there in any available media. (My running joke: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers? Because while everybody else is writing about it, the Salvation Army is out on the streets doing it.)

But while the internet promoted Calvinism, in some ways the form of the doctrine that was promoted was also changed by it. There exists a type of militant Calvinism today that has polarized the broad Christian community. Reformed parents couldn’t give their children the comic book The Action Bible until the publisher provided a sanctified edition with text from the English Standard Version, the Reformed community’s new Bible of choice.

blogThe Internet Celebrity – The blog Stuff Christians Like launched Jon Acuff overnight. The blog with the weird name, Without Wax, introduced the world to Nashville pastor Pete Wilson. The Naked Pastor developed a cult following, especially when some of the characters in the illustrations turned out to be actually naked. John Shore, Bill Kinnon, Tim Challies, Skye Jethani, Zach Nielson, and others like them were must reading for their constituencies. The Pyromaniacs aka Team Pyro proved that graphics matter, with their first-rate images appearing throughout their articles and attracting new followers.

But in a 2016 Happy Rant Podcast, Barnabas Piper and Ted Kluck noted that many of the Reformed blogging superstars have churches that are not as significantly large as their digital footprint might indicate. They enjoy a fame disproportionate to their church attendance. Furthermore some pastors, like Willow’s Bill Hybels, didn’t blog at all.

There’s also the few — of which this blog is one — that managed to attract a following without the author being a pastor or a published author. Voices that might not have been heard if this form of social media had not existed.

Homogenization – Despite the plethora of Christian blogs out there, there was a sense we were all reading from the same page. Re-blogging material was more common and more accepted in the early days, and the water cooler topics in church offices — especially among younger leaders — tended to mirror the topics being discussed on the blogs.

Emergent / Emerging – While the terms are now in disuse, there is much evidence that whatever the Christian blogosphere did for Calvinism, it did even more so for the various strains of the Emergent Church, including the Ancient/Future mini-movement that I feel was Emergent’s best byproduct; along with kick-starting the whole missional conversation.

I’m not sure if it was Tony Jones or not, but recently a writer from that era wrote a piece saying that Emergent was, in effect, now past its sell-by date. I have to agree, which makes it more interesting when some watchdog blog starts slamming the now non-existent movement. Which brings us to…

bloggingdogs-thumbDiscernment / Watchdog Ministries – The blogosphere in general, if nothing else, is all about being offended, so the discernment bloggers, the watchdog bloggers, those champions for truth and right doctrine (as long as it’s their truth and right doctrine) are a natural fit for social media.

The problem is that the average Christian, doing a Google search, has no idea when he or she has come upon one of these, and may not catch the watchdog’s own biases. The blogosphere, like the entire internet, has few filters.

Furthermore, there are so many targets for these writers, so many ways to instill fear, so many common enemies, that it’s easy to go on the attack and forget that those attacked are real people with real lives and real families. I think it’s harder to hate a person after you’ve shaken his hand, but I may be wrong.

Did Christian internet bullies contribute to the suicide of a pastor’s teenage son? We asked that question here a few years ago. We’ll never know the answer, but some are willing to speculate.

Connections – I met British Columbia blogger Rick Apperson somewhere in the comments section of my short lived Religion blog at USAToday. I met American pastor Clark Bunch through blogs and would consider him an online friend. Dare I say that I’ve made dozens and dozens of contacts through blogging, some of which I consider the most significant in my life, even though we’ve never met face to face.

I’ve also discovered an affinity toward people with whom I think alike and with whom I think quite differently. And I am so grateful for having spent nearly two years doing a column (albeit a news feed) for Christianity Today. I still keep in touch — mostly through Twitter — with author Drew Dyck.

Eccesiology – One of the main benefits of the early years of Christian bloggers was the rapid increase in the number of people who started planting churches. Called “the extreme sport of ministry,” church plants turned up in various shapes and sizes, with lay people who had never had a previous interest in Ecclesiology — and who had certainly never been asked — were writing and turning out blog posts and print books on the subject of doing church and creating a different kind of church (a phrase that if Googled, probably results in millions of hits.)

Growth of BloggingI listed this last, even though it could have been first, because it sums up a lot of what was taking place in a very short time: There was an explosion of ideas. Conversations were flying fast and furious about church governance, leadership models and worship styles. That the average parishioner cared so much about what was taking place drove all us into a deeper consideration of what it means to be Christ’s church.

The discussions and ideas were reflected in books and especially in a parallel explosion of conferences. People loved their church and loved the church. No idea wasn’t worth consideration. No speaker or writer wasn’t worth hearing.

It was the best of times.

January 11, 2019

When Should Christian Bookstores Pull Authors from Shelves and Online Listings?

Some of you know that when I’m not writing this blog and editing Christianity 201; when I’m not leading or assisting in weekend worship at a local church; when I’m not occasionally speaking at a church; during the rest of the time I am making decisions for our local Christian bookstore.

One of the hardest decisions I made in 2018 was to remove books by Bill Hybels from our shelves. It isn’t that those books don’t contain much truth and that many of them have been personally beneficial to me. It was just that — with shelf space at a premium in our small town store — we didn’t need the distraction.

I didn’t just make the decision, but personally removed the books, title by title, and put them in a box where they remain today. There were more than a dozen titles. Bill was a big influence on me and I have to say doing this really, really hurt, but as long as there were new ongoing developments in the story, I felt we needed to do this.

Christian bookstores have pulled product many times in the past. I got into this business through the Christian music industry first as a broadcaster and then as a performer and later as a vendor of records and cassettes. I once sat in a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and was interviewed for the job of assistant editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine. My friends called me a ‘walking encyclopedia’ on CCM, and I given about seven seconds of audio, could name just about any song and artist, including that obscure cut at the end of side two.

When Amy Grant and Sandy Patti went through divorce, many stores pulled product. Oddly enough, those divorces are still in their past, but their music is back on the shelves. Divorce became more widely accepted among Evangelicals. I would argue that the whole LGBT thing in the church is where divorce was a couple of generations back. And I expect that, as in the case of Ray Boltz or Jennifer Knapp, stores still actively pull product when an artist comes out.

Why all this today? Because I’m staring at the shelves under “M” for James MacDonald. Christian radio stations are rapidly dropping his program (see Wednesday’s column) and James is trying to control the situation by announcing the shutdown of Walk in the Word’s broadcast division. There are calls for him to resign. Unlike those who were divorced, or Hybels’ flirtatiousness, the issue with MacDonald seems to be money and the control of money. It’s definitely his Achilles Heel.

Once again, those books contain much truth. James MacDonald is a great communicator and his writing includes a constant, unabashed call to repentance. He has served many people well in that area of his life. But at this point, I wonder if those books are also going to prove to be a distraction.

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about a shortage of shelf space, and a host of new, upcoming, younger authors who deserve to be heard. Some of those will prove themselves as the leading Christian voices to their generation. The cream rises to the top. By their fruit they will be known. Some will disappear off the scene within five years. Again, it’s not about judgment.

It’s also too easy for stores just to keep ordering key names; somewhat akin to living in a county — as I do — where every time there’s an election, people simply vote for the incumbents. So Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Lee Strobel, Stormie Omartian, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Neil Anderson, etc.; are always assured their latest title will get picked up at the local store level.

And honestly, if the sales reps came around with new titles by Hybels and MacDonald there are store owners who simply aren’t investing time keeping up online and would simply order those titles unwittingly.

The best analogy I ever heard was when a local pastor called my wife and I “gatekeepers.” I never thought of our role that way, but it’s a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. Conversely, pastors need to guard who they quote in sermons. They can easily grant authority and credibility to an author whose life doesn’t line up with their teachings.

Chances are, at the end of today, James MacDonald will still be on our shelves, but we’ll monitor the situation closely before making a knee-jerk reaction. Prayer helps as well!

July 7, 2018

The Parallel Audio Bible

This first appeared here on April 1st, 2014. That in itself ought to tell you something. The product concept came to me in a dream, the same night in which I tried anchovies on pizza for the first time. It made it’s debut on a Christian book industry website with this announcement.

Parallel Audio Bible

Every once in awhile, in addition to writing the news here, we get to make the news! Such is the case today as we unveil a product that I’ve been working on for nearly 12 months: The Parallel Audio Bible. Using technology that has sat idle since the days of quadrophonic sound, the PA Bible uses four distinct voices — two male and two female — each speaking the text at the same time. You simply — as you would at a social gathering, or in the church lobby — lock on to one speaker and within seconds, your brain automatically tunes out all the others, just like it does after church when Mrs. Forthright is exchanging some exceptionally juicy gossip about the choir director.

Furthermore, this advanced technology allows us to produce customized combinations so that we can take orders for which ever audio combination you desire. So…imagine a family heading on a long car trip: Mom likes the ESV, the teenage son likes The Message, the preteen daughter likes the NLT and Dad is an NIV guy. You simply start the audio playing and everyone is satisfied simultaneously. (Channel assignments may require an adjustment in who sits where, and who ends up driving. If your preteen daughter is not licensed, some audio rewiring of your car may be necessary.)

The audio is available on CD, mp3, and because of general industry acknowledgement of its resurgence, vinyl records. (Note: Vinyl LPs may be incompatible with some car audio systems.) Stores wishing to carry the product will appreciate the automatic shipment program, where product will be shipped each time another edition of the 118 possible combinations is manufactured; and will especially appreciate the extra discount made possible by a non-returnable policy.

So don’t be the last one in your market to offer this product. Sign up today!

Parallel Audio Bible — Many Translations, One Product

(Note: Due to varying text lengths between translations, this product is not available in The Amplified Bible or The Voice.)

April 17, 2018

Needing a Large Print Bible Involves More Than Type Size

 

In terms of value for price, this NIV Compact Giant Print often wins people over who thought they were shopping for large print. It’s one of my favorite text-only NIV Bibles on the market. Click the picture to learn more.

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 she looked at weren’t working for her. The problem is, to have better readability there are five factors or characteristics of the Bible that need to line up. A larger font size can easily be defeated by not having the others in place. 

With an aging population, people are living well into their sight-affected years. Larger print is necessary for many people. Can’t read this blog post? Hit Ctrl-+ on your computer (or the Mac equivalent) or enlarge the page on your phone. With print books, there’s no Ctrl-+ or pinching your fingers. It’s important to get the readability needed.

There’s no industry standard for large print anyway. 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.

If  you know someone who is going to be needing a Bible upgrade soon, make sure they read this.

Bible magnifying - large printFive Readability Factors for Bibles

Font Size – For my money, “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. 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 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.


*There’s a trade-oriented article about the announcement re. Comfort Print in this September, 2017 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

 

February 1, 2018

Christian Bookstores in Canada Under Threat from Their Own Suppliers

Christian bookstores in Canada have learned to accept competition from Amazon, as have book retailers in other parts of the world. It’s a different story when the source of your competition is the very company from which your store receives its wholesale shipments. The largest wholesale distributor in the country has set up shop online to sell direct to customers, and three of the other four major distributors are on board.

We have chosen not to identify the website in this story.

In Canada, distribution of Christian books is concentrated among four companies. While independent distributors have also existed in the U.S. — Spring Arbor, Anchor, STL, Riverside, etc. — they tend to be used by smaller stores or for inventory topping off. In Canada, they are the sole source of supply for store owners and managers.

The largest of these represents publishers such as:

  • Baker
  • Bethany House
  • InterVarsity (IVP)
  • David C. Cook
  • Waterbrook
  • Broadman & Holman
  • LifeWay
  • Destiny Image
  • Howard
  • Moody
  • Westminster Press
  • Dayspring
  • Kregel
  • Eerdman’s 
  • Fortress Press

etc. But in this venture they were joined by HarperCollins Christian Products who also participated in an earlier project. They represent

  • Zondervan
  • Thomas Nelson
  • HarperOne

and this time around a third company has joined in, which represents:

  • Tyndale
  • Navigators
  • Barbour

etc., although so far product from that company is not being discounted.

The current situation, with these companies being both part of the wholesale distribution chain and now selling direct to retail customers is creating some awkward moments as well as some ethical issues. One retailer wrote on a Canadian book trade forum:

How am I supposed to support a company who has stepped into the field as our direct competitor? I can’t idly sit by and help to subsidize their efforts to break into the online selling game while directly targeting customers and more openly Churches right in the areas where I am situated.

As distributors, their cost on books is far better than anything being given to Amazon Canada or Chapters/Indigo (the Canadian equivalent of Barnes and Noble.) No retailer could ever mount anything like this that would remain financially viable.

Some stores have felt a level of protection from The Amazon Effect because, even though Amazon Canada exists, many customers did not want to deal with what they perceived as an American company. Other customers are not as comfortable shopping in the mainstream product mix at Chapters/Indigo. This new website meets those two objections customers might have.

Is it possible that their own distributors will finish off Christian retailers in Canada in ways that other market forces did not? Right now there are many Christian retail owners and managers looking at an uncertain future.

 

January 26, 2018

Ted Dekker Joins the Baker Book Group Family

I was a bit of a record nerd. I could tell you all the business stuff about who was signed to what label and who distributed that label on six continents. Most people just listened to the songs. I was all, “Did you know Decca Records turned down the Beatles?” Most of my friends didn’t care.

Then somewhere in the 1990s I transitioned from a music guy to a book guy and once again I brought my penchant for the minutiae with me. Working in the biz, as I was — and remain to this day — I was very conscious of which publishers had which authors under contract. It’s similar to the record industry — labels are called imprints — but there are some differences with the publishing industry.

So a few years ago, I sat up and paid attention when the world’s major publishers were rushing to get a piece of the Christian book market. Zondervan and Nelson are part of HarperCollins. Waterbrook and Multnomah are part of Penguin Random House. Howard Books is a division of Simon & Schuster. FaithWords is the Christian imprint of Hachette Book Group.

The idea was that this corporate ownership meant more opportunity for wider distribution, which is why you sometimes see your favorite Christian author in the gift shop at the airport. As a people committed to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news” Christians should be grateful for that opportunity, right.

But when an author finds their way back home to a fully Christian-owned, independent publishing house like Baker Book Group, I also sit up and pay attention. Especially when that author is Ted Dekker.

After several years with Center Street and Faithwords, both divisions of mega publishing company Hachette Book Group, the third largest trade and educational publisher in the world, Christian suspense author Ted Dekker is back with a Christian owned company, Revell Books.

His genre is often referred to as speculative fiction, because the plot lines can include supernatural contrivances; elements which are not part of the natural world. In a recent article on Christian fiction, Revell told Publisher’s Weekly that The 49th Mystic “portrays characters who live in two worlds and must recover five ancient seals to save themselves from destruction;” adding that, “The author of more than 40 books and winner of many awards, Dekker has sold more than 10 million copies of his books worldwide.”

Indeed a look at the Revell and Bethany House catalog shows that Baker have continued to up their game in suspense publishing with a strong presence in the category including work by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, Lynette Eason, Lisa Harris, Irene Hannon and more; as well as science fiction titles by Frank Peretti, Bill Myers, Alton Gansky, Angela Hunt, Thomas Locke and more.

A press release discussed the new title:

“We love to publish a gripping suspense novel, and Ted Dekker sets the highest standard in that category,” said Dwight Baker, president of Baker Publishing Group. “Our Revell team has prepared for many years to address this exciting new challenge to represent Ted Dekker and serve his many readers.”

Andrea Doering, executive editor for Revell, stated, “Publishing Ted Dekker’s work has been a goal for our team at Revell, and we’re thrilled to partner with him; Ted’s talent for creating an intense, richly layered story that stays with readers is just incredible.”

Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Lewis, added, “We are very pleased to have reached an agreement to publish Ted Dekker’s novels. His many previous novels have thrilled, entertained and scared readers, who love his writing as do we. We look forward to continuing with his current fans and to finding new readers for his books.

Also remember that Dekker stands out in having a movie adaptation of one his titles ending up with an R-rating. That doesn’t happen with Christian publishing every day…

The 49th Mystic releases in May.


A portion of this article appeared yesterday at Christian Book Shop Talk

April 4, 2017

Zondervan’s “Secular” Ownership is a Blessing, Not a Curse

This fictitious logo was created when Zondervan and Thomas Nelson became one under HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

It was a Christian bookstore that was a million miles off most people’s radar and we found it somewhat by chance. Subsequent searching failed to turn it up in a directory of such establishment, or even the Yellow Pages for that matter. Stocking a mixture of English and foreign language products, it had a ‘Mom and Pop’ type of vibe, though a rather large stockroom suggested it was a mix of wholesale and retail.

I got talking to the manager as I browsed, told him of my industry connection, and noted that he didn’t seem to have any Zondervan books or Bibles in his English section.

“We don’t carry them;” he said; “They’re owned by HarperCollins and HarperCollins prints The Satanic Bible.”

End of discussion.

Well, not quite; he didn’t realize what he was taking on here.

It’s true that under its Avon imprint, the company does carry the Anton Le Vey version of that title — there are many books that use the same moniker — but the sole paperback edition at 9.99US/12.50CDN hardly seems worth considering when compared to the over 6,000 titles Zondervan has, not to mention another 900+ under Zonderkidz and let’s not forget at least another 6,500 published under the Thomas Nelson banner. Add in some smaller labels and the ratio is about 14,000:1.

Still, if he were raising the question today, he could have added that HarperOne currently has a chart-topping title in the Self Improvement category by Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. And let’s not forget Charles Silverstein’s The Joy of Gay Sex (Third Edition).

It’s all dowhill from there; this information is generally used as a basis for attacking the NIV Bible, because those attacks are generally a house of cards theologically, and need some other external reason to exist. The discussion at an Amazon forum on this is always amusing:

C. Goff: I applaud Hapercollins for respecting free speech and publishing books that offer a variety of perspectives.  Perhaps Evangelicals should pool their money and buy an island somewhere, so they can live together in their own theocratic fantasy land. Then they won’t be corrupted by so many sinners who like to think for themselves.

Be Still: Ummm….we did “buy” an island. It was call America, but not look at whats happened because so many people were left to their own “thinking”. Rest assured, corruption commeth from both inside and outside the church. God is the only one good. Not any human.

It goes on and on — there and elsewhere — but I think Joshua really sums up one side of the argument:

Zonderman [sic] is owned by HarperCollins (Satanic Bible, 90% of witchcraft published in world, NIV) which is owned by the devil and Knight of Malta Rupert Murdoch and a Knight of Malta is the first protector of the Antichrist the Pope of the Roman Catholic whore of Babylon church. Jimmy Savile the UK mass child murderer (and mentor of the wife murderer Prince Charles – his other mentor Mountbatten was also a child rapist and a sodomite) is also a Knight of Malta and buried in a Roman Catholic Church in Leeds – he was given a full freemason funeral service. At the 33 degree freemasons receive an Iron cross with a medallion under it and around the medallion is written in Latin: ‘the holy see’ – the Freemason head is the Antichrist – why? – because Freemasonry is also known as the CRAFT and God said in his true and only gospel the King James 1611 bible: Dan 8:25 And through his policy also HE SHALL CAUSE CRAFT TO PROSPER IN HIS HAND; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.

Yikes!

But as the chart below shows, there are a very large number of Christian publishing imprints which have secular ownership.

You don’t want to know about Christian record labels, either. This chart of Christian music market share is from 2014, but not much has changed:

So this is a bad situation, right? That depends on your preconceived biases going into the discussion.

  • Many of the people making the argument are KJV-only, looking for a reason to attack the NIV which, of all the other translations, has always had a target painted on its back.
  • Most of the people making the argument would find a way to reject the ministry of all of the company’s top authors including Rick Warren, Anne Graham Lotz, Lee Strobel, Charles Stanley, Philip Yancey, Henry Cloud, etc. (I will concur, Yancey’s hair could disqualify him from being a Christian.)

But allowing some of these people their fifteen minutes of fame, if Harper’s parent company NewsCorp is basically evil, why would they want to own an imprint like Zondervan?

They bought the company because it looked to them to be a profitable business. They’re in the book business. They wanted to expand. In publishing there are sports books, and cookbooks and science fiction and host of genres of which religious publishing is but one. Furthermore, with a unique arrangement between the company and their printer, mega corporation R.R. Donnelley, they can bring an efficiency to Zondervan’s publishing that can only improve that bottom line.

But what’s in it for Zondervan? They get access not only to HarperCollins’ expertise, but also a distribution channel that brings access to a host of markets they might not otherwise tap: Gift stores, airport boutiques, and foreign market sales just to name a few.

How best to keep your “Christian division” profitable? Leave them alone! Let their acquisitions and marketing people operate with autonomy. Let them do what they do best in a business that they know and understand best.

Back to my discussion with the store manager. What would I say to him differently if we were having the discussion today in 2017.

I’d probably tell him to look no further than the rollout of the new Christian Standard Bible. Happening right now we have a Bible being brought to market by Holman, a division of B&H Publishing, which is a division of LifeWay which was founded back in 1891, and yet they are bringing the new Bible to market a few editions at a time because they don’t have the resources to do it any other way.

However, Zondervan, when they rolled out the 2011 update to the NIV was able to bring hundreds of editions and formats on the same day because they had a parent company who was able to bankroll the whole thing. Furthermore instead of “running out” the older editions, most were remaindered within weeks of the conversion.

Projects like this would simply be a dream if were not for the resources of a major corporation backing them. It also means that these Bible editions are able to reach people in ways that simply wouldn’t happen if the company were still independent.

When you look at the big picture, you have to see this relationship as a blessing, not a curse. In terms of propagating the message of Jesus Christ and building the Kingdom of God, the partnership is a win-win-win.

 

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