Thinking Out Loud

July 16, 2018

Dying Breeds: Things Disappearing from Christian Bookstores (Not Including the Stores Themselves)

bible bookstore

As if Christian bookstores aren’t already under siege from technology competing for leisure time spending, eBooks themselves, the rise of online ordering, and the decline in reading; some product lines are being completely wiped out. Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

Lapel Pins: Seems silly to begin the list with what was generally a $2 – $3 item, but Christian bookstores sold a ton of the little pins. Evangelicals were the biggest customers who preferred pins that were witness items. But then everything went Casual Sunday. No suits for men = no lapels. Relaxed dress for women = no jewelry.

Bible Software: With so much available online, we don’t hear much about new software anymore. Furthermore, retailers got tired of being stuck with software that became obsolete with newer operating systems, or newer versions of the software itself.

Concordances: While it could be argued that the proliferation of online resources limits the need for all Bible reference products, once you’ve used Bible websites, using a print concordance is a real pain.

Choral Music: What’s a choir?

Praise & Worship Songbooks: Surprise! You thought we were going to say hymnbooks. But in some stores hymnbooks actually sell better than worship folios and chorus books. The reason? Modern worship leaders get everything they need from CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing Inc.) and in the trenches, the congregation doesn’t use print music at all, as everything is projected on a screen. So yes, Hymnbooks and the things which replaced them are vanishing.

Tracks: In many churches, a soloist can simply get the worship band to get charts for her/his song, and audiences prefer live music over canned music. But in many churches the “special” has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Tracts: The printing and distribution of gospel tracts was a cultural phenomenon that was an extension of a wider movement in which political broadsides were as common as religious ones on Main Street. Furthermore, current trends are moving away from conversion by argument. However, the cream always rises to the top, so tracts like Steps to Peace with God still sell well.

Bookmarks: If fewer books are selling, then that means fewer bookmarks, right? Well, not so fast. Sometimes the bookmark (minus the book) simply becomes the gift in the hope that the recipient is currently reading something that needs one.

Children’s Colouring Books: Older elementary kids can do amazing things on their Mac or PC, so you’re not going to impress them with a coloring book and a package of four crayons. Of course, as we learned in the last five years, for adults, it was a whole other store.

Pencils: This was once a huge industry with over a hundred available designs from a half-dozen suppliers. But you aren’t going to impress a kid today with a 29-cent pencil. (Unless maybe you throw in a colouring book.)

Sunday Bulletins: Churches large and small can create amazing color graphics on the church computer, and megachurches send all their weekend bulletin needs to a local print shop. Ditto brides planning their weddings or families constructing a print memorial to be given out at a funeral. So while Broadman, Warner, Cathedral Art and others can claim healthy sales, the handwriting is on the wall, or more accurately, on the laser printer. In Canada, funeral bulletins are about the safest inventory bet.

Sunday School Record Books: Attendance records still exist as parents use a swipe card to check their kids in and out of the Children’s Ministry Centre, but there’s no need for wall charts and stickers. Besides, what organized sports couldn’t do to disrupt church attendance, the demands of parents’ shift-work jobs did. Many kids can only make it every other week, so publicizing attendance almost shames the child who can’t make it each Sunday.

Christian Magazines: In days of yore, when the pastor came to visit, you demonstrated your spirituality by having Christian Life and Moody Monthly prominently displayed on the coffee table. Nothing needed to fill the gap here because increasingly, the pastor doesn’t come to visit.

Clip Art Books: In the days before copy-and-paste there was cut-and-paste, and any church secretary worth their salt knew how to integrate these in the weekly bulletin and inserts. Someday archeologists will find one of these and not know what its purpose.

Christian Breath Mints: It’s not that people don’t still need breath fresheners, it’s simply that Testamints became such an object of ridicule. Apologies to the company if they still manufacture.

♦ The upside? Christian bookstores can better focus their energies on books and Bibles.  Strengthen the things that remain.

So what did we leave off the list?

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May 1, 2018

My Life in 300 Lines

Filed under: Christianity, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:42 am

Actually, I don’t know the number of lines, though they’re all numbered, I certainly did not fill in all of them. But having come through another income tax season, and being self-employed, it is especially tortuous to try to sum up an entire year’s work in a series of numbers, added together and subtracted apart in seemingly random ways to come up with things like “Total Income” and “Net Income” and “Taxable Income.”

I held a U.S. Form 1040 in my hand once, and it seemed far less complicated than Canada’s T1, but then I wasn’t looking at the time through the lens of self-employed business owner.

We lost money last year. That’s all that matters. I tried to rework the figures several times, because my brain contested the conclusion my arithmetic was stating, but I finally figured out that the numbers weren’t lying. I hadn’t forgotten anything. We lost money last year.

This attractive store exterior ain’t us. Maybe in our dreams. Small town ministry is not as glamorous, though it’s certainly rewarding in intangible ways.

We’re a ministry to the community; perhaps some day we’ll have the distinction of being the last Christian bookstore standing. I doubt that however. There are, as of today, 2 years left on the present lease. I’m prepared to run that lease out, but not renew it. I have 24 months to come up with homes for thousands of books. I’ve tried selling to other stores, but every bookstore in the country wants to buy their own stock, make their own mistakes, wallow in their own buying failures.

Either that, or they want a distress sale. One store in particular was rather disappointed to hear I was not going out of business that day, that week or that month. You’d think this news would be encouraging to them in their ministry, but instead, they were taking a vulture-like approach. I’m prepared at some point to let the books go cheap, but this is a curated collection and you don’t get an assortment like this at fire sale prices.

So we’ll soldier on but now, with 730 days left, we’ll try to do it with an eye on the calendar. This is the saddest part of all because my forté if you will, is purchasing. Careful buying in the last decade is what has kept us going. (The previous ten years however, left us with a storage unit full of past buying errors.) I know I could keep doing this beyond May, 2020, but I really don’t think I will.

There is no succession plan. Neither are there buyers lining up at the door wanting to step in and take over. But God can do amazing, impossible things. I’ve seen stores sell in my part of the world just when the existing owners had given up.

I should also note that while the balance sheet for the year places us in negative territory, the business did contribute to the life of others through staff salaries and support of our industry through generous wholesale book buying. The government still gets money from payroll taxes and sales taxes, and generally, I think our contribution is both to the spiritual life of the community as well as economic.

The operating and financial burden falls to one family; one couple; us. Churches don’t work that way. Christian charities don’t operate in that fashion. In one sense, it’s a bit unfair. But we have eight months remaining in 2018 to see if we can turn that red ink to black.


Footnote: This is not a cry for help. We have other resources that make living possible. Thankfully. Don’t start a tag day — or the modern equivalent, a crowdfunding page — for us. We’re good.

 

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.

 

September 15, 2017

When Information Took a More Leisurely Route

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

There was a time before the internet. It seems like long, long ago but in fact most people had no knowledge of the net 25 years ago. It was a land before dial-up.

Working in the Christian bookselling environment back then was probably much more frantic than it is now. Stores had more staff working each shift. There was more buy-in from individuals and churches, and far less market fragmentation. From a marketing perspective, Christian publishing may not have had the sophistication it has today — nobody was talking about branding back then and not much was making the New York Times lists — but there was a great deal of product movement.

Customers were just as pumped about the latest album from The Imperials as they were the newest commentary from Warren Wiersbe; it wasn’t that Fred only bought music and June only bought books.  Christian bookstores had line-ups at the cash register and sometimes line-ups at the doors in the morning waiting for the store to open.

So in a pre-internet age, how do you keep these customers updated on current and forthcoming releases? Historically, the answer was printed catalogs and order forms. But there was one other tool at the bookseller’s disposal: A microfiche subscription from Spring Arbor Distributors.

The Spring Arbor microfiche arrived in the mail weekly. As I remember it, Title (sets of usually 3 – 5 sheets) came weekly. Author sets arrived every other week. Music and Video were monthly, and there was a long wait for Category coming once every quarter. Actually, the Category sheets provided the most interesting diversion; after all, if someone liked one type of book, they just might like something else which was similar, and the category codes could be quite specific. (This was a precursor to today’s “Other customers also bought…”)

So information traveled at the speed of the U.S. Postal Service. Even then, in the small store where I worked we didn’t think we needed that data with great immediacy. So we shared a subscription with another store. They got them first and mailed them to us. Then we took our set and sent it off to one of our satellite stores. (We were a chain of three stores at the time — too cheap to buy our own subscription — and libraries were always selling off fiche readers as low as $25.)

Fast forward a few years: The ability to search online made the fiche readers redundant, as the ability to order online made the Spring Arbor Telxon units redundant. These weren’t the same Telxon units you see in the grocery stores today being used to check inventory. But we’ll save that one for another day, since the kids probably won’t believe we placed a suction cup on our phone to place orders.


More background:

By this point Spring Arbor was the leading independent distributor of Christian products in the United States, having also acquired smaller companies like Gospelrama (music) and Unilit (magazines), owning warehouses in several states, but also having competition from companies such as Riverside and Anchor Distributors. Spring Arbor itself was acquired many years ago by Ingram Content Group which is the largest independent book distributor in the world.

The microfiche reader was a great tool, but there were several different manufacturers. This is important because you always wanted to have an extra bulb on hand. Having the bulb blow without owning a back-up basically shut down your ability to do sweeping look-ups for customers, resulting in having to fall back on print catalogs. But which catalog to choose first? If you lived in a smaller town, it could be a week or two before you made it into the city to buy a new bulb. Imagine a store today telling customers their internet will be back up in ten days.

The reference at the end to suction cups? Quite true. You placed the unit’s large black rubber piece over the phone’s mouthpiece, and listened to the earpiece for a signal to press the button that would send your purchase order consisting of numbers you’d previously typed in. We did this. We did not think it strange. We were embracing the brave new technology. But the black suction cup left us thinking it probably wasn’t exactly cutting edge. When it was time to pack up the units and ship them back, I kept wondering what the Telxon people did with them next.

June 2, 2017

Massive Losses for Christian Publishers after Family Christian Closing

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:42 am

In a presumably recent article dated “June 10th, 2017” World Magazine recounts the end of the Family Christian Bookstores closing in this article:

The news earlier this year that Family Christian Stores would close its more than 240 retail shops startled many of its customers. But it didn’t surprise anyone familiar with the company’s recent history. Despite receiving forgiveness for more than $80 million in debt two years ago, the company still couldn’t pay all of its bills.

The article later goes on to say:

Family Christian lost about $16.6 million over about 17 months during the bankruptcy, according to court documents.

That’s a million per month. The story continues:

In February Family Christian representatives called both Baker and Tyndale publishing groups. Lewis said they asked Baker Publishing for more time to pay invoices and for a 15 percent price discount, and Baker said yes.

But others, including Tyndale, had gone as far as they could to help the struggling retailer. “They asked us for humongous increases in the discount at which we were selling to them, and we just said, no, we’ve already given you our best deal,” Tyndale CEO Mark Taylor said…

…“This is the second time in three years that we’ve taken a big hit in bad debts because of Family,” Taylor said. (He declined to name the dollar amount of Tyndale’s loss.) Lewis said Baker Publishing expected to lose between $350,000 and $400,000.

Basically, Christian publishers bailed out Family not once, but twice.

Furthermore, the article doesn’t mention that most of those same publishers — in 2016, the year in-between the two crises at Family — took similar losses on the closing of Send the Light Distribution. Nor does it mention the many write-offs which a part of everyday commerce in dealing with individual bookstores that have closed in the Amazon era.

In this writer’s opinion, those losses might be represented by authors who were never signed, books that were never fully marketed, and development of new projects that were possibly curtailed. It’s entirely possible that publishing company staff were let go in belt-tightening at these various companies.

It’s a big loss for everyone. Could it have been avoided?

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.

January 15, 2017

Christian Bookstores Wondering What Happened to Christmas

Only a small handful of you would know that I also write a blog specifically for Christian bookstore owners and managers in Canada. This past week we’ve heard from a few about how their year ended, and the common theme seems to be that the bottom fell out of the month of December. One store apparently had a 20% drop from the same month a year previous, others reported less severe drops, and I suspect many of our brothers and sisters in the US experienced a similar year.

So what happened? Were there weather factors? Was there a gravitational pull to other types of retail to buy hot items this Christmas? Was it the Trump effect?

I can only say that I know the value of these stores and the ministry that can take place when such a place exists. The “category killing” of bookstores in general may not have stopped people from reading, but where Christian stores are concerned, the loss of stores is a loss of a neutral meeting place for Christians of all denominations and the loss of potential referrals to those churches.

Someone put it this way:

we-heart-christian-bookstores-2

Tomorrow we’ll take another look at why the stores are hurting.

 

September 14, 2015

When is a Book Actually Sold?

photo essay - newark

I had a book review scheduled for today, but then noticed the publisher’s instructions to post it within a specific time frame. Much of this has to do with ‘street dates,’ a system in place that allows publishers and distributors to ship books to retailers ahead of time, which are then held in stockrooms up to a specific ‘lay down’ date which ensures that no single store has a competitive advantages. Stores which are caught not complying are then not allowed to have their future street-date products shipped until the day before or day of release.

The system seems fair until you consider that online vendors can sell the product days, weeks or even months ahead of release. The key here is what is meant by sell. A prepayment means that there has been an actual transaction of funds, but some online sellers don’t run the credit card until the book is actually shipping.

Still, pre-ordering is a huge advantage to internet vendors. Having said that, I realize there is nothing stopping a local store or retail chain from taking advance orders as well. Some are successful at locking customer orders in, and with “A” list titles, sometimes the publisher will go to the trouble of printing up pre-order forms and displays for the stores to use.

But I would argue that if the online vendors are selling the product ahead of time, the delivery to the customer is a moot point.

However, the counter argument is that with a major, much-anticipated release, having the book in the hands of some customers but not others would mean the leaking of major spoilers involving key plot and character details. So the street date system has the advantage of building suspense and creating a theoretical equal footing for all retailers.

Generally, I like my reviews to run the week of the release in physical, brick-and-mortar bookstores. To me, earlier reviews only give the internet sellers an unfair example. People read my reviews, like what I said about it, and then often respond without having to leave their computer. (I generally only review books I am predisposed to like. Despite the blog’s popularity and the number of titles I am offered, I only have so much room on a limited number of bookshelves; ten of the Ikea-style shelves to be precise.)

I do think that physical stores could go a long way toward adopting the pre-sell model, but it can be an administrative burden if you don’t have the staff, or if, in our uniquely Canadian situation, currency fluctuations mean the book might have a different retail price by the time the copies hit the sales floor.

If I weren’t connected to retail, would the blog be an A**zon referrer? I’ve often thought about that. I do love books and connecting people and products I think will be useful in their lives. When that day comes, and it will, I would be more likely to be a referrer to Christian Book Distributors.

August 27, 2015

Wow Series Celebrates 20 Years

Wow Hits 2016Christian bookstore shoppers have made this item a staple for two decades now, and in many of them, it is the top selling CD of the year overall.  The WOW CDs were patterned after the NOW CDs which were sold in the general market. The idea behind the compilations was to present the best available songs, but without the label restrictions usually associated with CD samplers. To accomplish this, The WOW Partnership was created involving the major Christian record companies. Additionally, bonus cuts allowed the participating companies to introduce newer artists.

The CD series has its own page on Wikipedia:

WOW is a series of annual compilation albums featuring contemporary Christian music. The birth of the WOW record project can be traced Grant Cunningham, A&R Director at Sparrow Records. In November of 1994 Grant made a business trip to EMI Limited in London, at the time was the parent company of Sparrow Records where he noticed that several British record labels were issuing an annual CD of top-rated songs, known as the NOW series, containing collections of pop songs. Grant brought the idea back to Sparrow. Sparrow executives suggested a similar project be developed for Christian pop music and Grant was assigned the task of getting the project off the ground. The WOW franchise represents the most successful collections of Christian music ever issued.

Released in late 1995, “WOW 1996” was the first in the WOW series and the first recording put together by the three major Christian record companies of the time: Word Records (now Word Entertainment), Sparrow Records (now part of EMI Christian Music Group), and Reunion Records (now part of Sony’s Provident Label Group). Still today, after each submitting label agrees to a reduced master royalty, the final decision on the tracks to be included is made by committee. Production, marketing, and distribution for the “WOW Hits” series is handled by EMI Christian Music Group.

Wow Worship LimeThe Wikipedia page has two more paragraphs,one of which I added this morning, and deals with the huge popularity of the more recent WOW Worship series. That series began in the fall of 1999 and are named by the color of the cover, possibly in a nod to the timelessness of some worship songs. There have also been hymn collections and Christmas collections, and in the U.S. the WOW Gospel series highlights the best of urban and mass gospel choir-inspired music.

With WOW Hits 2016 due to release mid-September, I found it interesting that one writer has already suggested ten songs that didn’t make the cut. (If you’re looking for some tunes to listen to, he has the videos embedded in that post.) Furthermore, just to show what a coveted prize getting on the Wow complications is, Josh Andre also offers twenty songs that he feels should be considered for WOW 2017. Somebody takes this really seriously!

These albums always make a great gift. For the the recipient, they represent an instant commercial-free playlist, especially for people who live on the fringes of Christian radio reception or are completely foreign to the contemporary Christian music genre. The 2-CD sets are now usually made available in both a regular and deluxe edition, the latter containing more bonus cuts, but the standard minimum is usually 30 songs, making this a great bargain.

Happy Birthday to WOW!

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