Thinking Out Loud

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!

February 18, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Morality in the 21st Century

Morality in the 21st Century

 

  • Mama Mea Culpa? – Ravi Zacharias on President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast: “For those who did not hear the talk, it is sufficient to say that it was the most ill-advised and poorly chosen reprimand ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast. I have been to several and have never, ever heard such absence of wisdom in a setting such as this…Citing the Crusades, he used the single most inflammatory word he could have with which to feed the insatiable rage of the extremists. That is exactly what they want to hear…
  • When You’ve Lost the Calvinists, You’ve Lost the Battle – Justin Taylor at no less than The Gospel Coalition is not on-side with ‘literal’ six day creationism: “It is commonly suggested that this is such a “plain reading” of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors…So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation…I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons…”  (Of course, not everyone agreed.)
  • When It’s Time for a Time Out – A look at what it means to be “disqualified from ministry” and the related issue of restoration. “My point is that those who minister for God don’t live unimpeachable lives. By “unimpeachable” I mean perfect. But the sins we are often quick to use to disqualify someone from ministry are far less severe than denying Christ [or] adjusting the Gospel to make it square with our prejudice.”
  • If a First Century Christian Time Traveled to Your Church – “If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel…If Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort were to fly back in time to see how the first Christians– those who walked and talked with Jesus– were doing things, they’d say they were totally doing it wrong, and have succumbed to liberalism.”
  • Essay of the Week: What Makes a Movie/CD Christian? – “[William Romanowski] argues, when [Amy] Grant began to abandon explicitly Christian lyrics in favor of ones focused on romance, many Christians became uneasy and were forced to reconsider their paradigm for Christian art. Was Amy Grant enough of a Christian singer? The fact that Grant resisted easy categorization prompted discussion and debate. She defied the strict sacred/secular bifurcation. Of course, the only difference between Christian Grant and secular Grant was the lyrics. Christian art, the logic went, is Christian art only if it explicitly communicates its Christian-ness.”
  • Reinventing The Christian Bookstore – Even as the Family Christian bookstore chain enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a former university textbook store has been re-purposed as a center for the Christian community in Winnipeg, Manitoba that is part retail, part library and includes many other parts: “Materials from the lending library, owned and operated by Mennonite Church Canada, sit in the middle of the spacious store, with catalogue stickers indicating the items are for loan, not for sale…” The university president adds, “We didn’t want to build only a library, but we wanted to build a public gathering place.”
  • Missing the Moment – We’ve all seen the pictures where people are so busy with their smartphones they miss something awesome taking place right next to them. Tyler Blanski addressed this and many other social media challenges in a November article that we just discovered: “…Mixing social media with daily life diminishes daily life. When I’m with my son, I want him to be able to take for granted that I am there. And no matter how often I might look up from my phone, if our time together is material for social media, I will never be more than half there. I want him to grow up in a home that is a safe haven, not a stage.”
  • Lost in Translation? – The NIV, ESV, Amplified, KJV and several others get together for a dinner party. (I hesitated to title this link, ‘If Translations Could Speak.’) A great premise if you’ve always wondered what they all think of each other. [NIV to ESV] “Look, I know you’re the new kid on the block, and that a bunch of pastors are all like, ‘Rah, rah, ESV, our study Bible can beat up your study Bible.’ But just because you’re new and polished doesn’t mean you’re better. Some of us have been around for a long time and have seen a lot of things.”
  • The Vanity and Toxicity of Conversation Toppers: “We may not realize it, but there is an art to making good conversation. Such artistry is not simply the goal of talk show hosts and salesmen but should be something that each one of us practices, especially those who serve as pastors.”
  • One for the Road – Next Sunday’s worship: Looking for something new that is both hymn-like and chorus-like and also lyrically deep? You could do this song with a driving rhythm section or a classically trained choir.

Short Takes:

Sometimes preachers talk about people being "too busy for God..." I found it interesting that in December, when we get busy, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably. When things get hectic, we do put spiritual disciplines on the back burner.

Sometimes preachers talk about people being “too busy for God…” I found it interesting that in December, when we get hectic, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably; some of us do tend to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner at busy times.

February 13, 2015

Family Christian Stores Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

The management team at Family Christian Stores — the largest chain in the United States — believes that its best option to keep the stores open is to file for Chapter 11 protection.  Here’s the first few paragraphs on the story from Christianity Today:

Family Christian Stores (FCS) has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Yet the ministry assured customers yesterday that it “does not expect” to close any of its more than 250 stores or lay off any of its approximately 4,000 employees.

“We strive to serve God in all that we do and trust His guidance in all our decisions, especially this very important one,” stated FCS president and CEO Chuck Bengochea. “We have carefully and prayerfully considered every option. This action allows us to stay in business and continue to serve our customers, our associates, our vendors and charities around the world.” …

With 266 stores in 36 states, FCS is the nation’s largest chain of Christian stores as measured by locations, not sales…

Continue reading at CT Gleanings (news page).

The CT story also links to this FAQ page concerning the filing.

An article at Publishers Weekly itemizes the major creditors:

Publishers are on the hook for millions of dollars led by HarperCollins Christian Publishers [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan] which is owed $7.5 million. Other publishers owed large sums include Tyndale House ($1.7 million), B&H Publishing Group ($516,414), FaithWords [Hachette Book Group] ($537,374), and Barbour Publishing ($572,002). Ingram’s Spring Arbor distribution arm is owed $689,533.

While the video is very optimistic, this development highlights the seriousness of the state of the Christian publishing industry. The amount of exposure that HarperCollins has in this means that it and other creditors will be watching closely to see what they can expect to get out of the restructuring.

September 3, 2014

Wednesday Link List

The cartoon is from ASBO Jesus, which sadly isn’t being updated. The lower one appeared here about five years ago, and was from Pundit Kitchen.

They call it Labor Day because on Tuesday we all had to work twice as hard to catch up. Take a few minutes to pause and do some clicking:

Link sleuth Paul Wilkinson is also available for private investigations if there’s a link in your life that’s gone missing.  Or, for free, you can read his blog, Thinking Out Loud.

church and state from pundit kitchen

June 11, 2014

Wednesday Link List

calvinistsafety

With lots of people doing summer things this week, I thought we’d tinker with the format while nobody’s looking. ANYTHING YOU CLICK will take you to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, the Link List’s owner.  But first, we take you to Monday’s edition of the comic Pearls Before Swine (click image to link).

Pearls Before Swine June 9th 2014

I usually bury the video links near the bottom, but this week uncovered two clips I wanted to give more prominence.

Church leadership stuff:

Essay(s)-of-the-Week:

The wider religious world:

Worth reading:

Be afraid; be very afraid:

So how do you like your links? Categorized or free-range? Leave a comment!

 

Happy Hour Church

April 23, 2013

Will There Be a Resurrection of Christian Bookstores?

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:23 am

Guest post by Larry WillardThis article appeared last week by permission of the author in our affiliate blog, Christian Book Shop Talk; but we thought it should also be seen by readers here. Larry Willard is an owner of Toronto’s largest Christian bookstore, Faith Family Books; and Castle Quay Books, one of Canada’s largest publishing companies.

Larry WillardFor the past five years I have been speaking about the great Christian bookstore Tsunami and how you and I unintentionally helped the demise of hundreds of loyal, well-established Christian bookstores in Canada and the USA without even trying. You have heard how bricks and mortar bookstores were just another example of the 8 track tape whose time had passed and death was inevitable. But many are beginning to doubt that is accurate and I hear more confessions that people miss the whole array of products and services that they offered and wish they could help to bring them back. And though I am not a prophet, I want to risk saying that I still see a need for some of those lost services and I believe the brick and mortar bookstore is in the midst of going through a metamorphosis and some will soon come out of their cocoon resurrected as “a better creature than ever.”

I always insisted that my contribution (and no doubt yours) was unintended and so we are innocent of their death. I always went to local bookstore but like you, all I wanted was a “good deal” for my hard-earned dollars so I increasingly went to the lowest bidder. As my mother used to remind me, “A penny saved is a penny earned! (Oh dear…seeing what has happened to the penny, I guess we’ll have to modernize that adage as well). So I was following her wise counsel” I didn’t expect there would be such a consequence to my saving “a few cents here” and “a few dollars there!” But it happened. And that “lowest-cost” mindset eventually killed the local Christian establishment.

There is nothing sinful about being frugal and trying to get the best deal whenever we buy something but there is a “bigger picture” we need to be aware of as we make our choices. The personal benefits of “always getting the best deal,” regardless of the overall impact, leads people to unwittingly cooperate in the decimation of local establishments, what ever their services, and in the end, what does it profit us if we gain a few dollars and lose our jobs and institutions as a result. What if my own job were next as a result of this mindset?

We Christians are different than a worldly community or local burger joint. We are a family with a particular mission and a unified focus that has an eternal outcome. We need to support each other above “just making a profit.” Christian institutions need our support if they are to continue to offer the full array of resources and services that our community has benefited from over the years. They just can not survive the continuous erosion of sales diverted to “on-line” or “big box” lowest price-discount retailers. The bookstores and other providers need those sales to sustain their models. They offer more than just books that someone can get anywhere. They offer a specialty that could be lost if we are not thoughtful.

Now, people are beginning to notice the value of their local Christian store as they try buying a good Christian book at one of the large secular bookstores of our country. Except for a few top titles there is scant selection and little depth. These are bookstores that place the Bible, the Koran and a number of new-age titles in the same section and label it “Spiritual Enlightenment.” Try finding a good “serious” book at these stores. Try sending a new Christian there to pick up a book to help them in their spiritual development. Nothing replaces the vast selection of the traditional dedicated Christian bookstore or the staff that use years of knowledge and wisdom to suggest just “the right title.”

And, on-line shopping can not replace taking a book in your hand and running through the pages before you buy it. Looking at several titles on a topic and deciding if the content is solid before buying it. It’s harder to do that on-line. It’s hard to even see what the selection options are on-line. And most good books are not even available at the larger secular chains and finding them on-line requires you to know what the title is when you start.

Do you now own a lot of books that turned out not to be what they looked like in the on-line photo? Were the real costs of online purchases, with the hefty freight costs, and foreign exchange rates not a great deal after all?

Yes, local Christian bookstores needed to go through a metamorphosis. I think they will have to look more like a Christian Chapters with their gifts, books, music café and more. They must make the customer experience exciting and as inexpensive as possible. Our new stores must be more like communities where people come to have coffee with friends and then do some quick shopping. The selection of gifts, cards, movies, music and books must be better than ever. They need a lot more Canadian authors and artists and they need to be changing to meet a customer’s newest needs all the time. So it is not for the faint-hearted.

But above all…they need Christians to help them survive. How terrible if one day there wasn’t a place to browse for the latest releases without scanning mounds of web pages for an hour. Everyone wants a good deal. We shop for the best price and shake down a sales rep if we think we can. I am not recommending that you forget about getting a good or fair deal and just pay anything to keep your Christian retailer in business. I just ask that you give them a chance or the next tsunami for that industry is just around the corner.

Sometimes there is a greater “good” we serve when we pay a few cents more and sustain the service of the “touch and feel” local Christian retailer. If all of us practice the “best deal” model in everything we purchase, one day we also may find ourselves out of a job because someone wanted to save a dime or dollar. I still have high hopes that there will be the resurrection of the Christian Bookstore to become a new, exciting and sustainable entity. I hope that is true of many Christian service providers.

Larry Willard

March 16, 2013

To My Fellow Bloggers: What Your Amazon Links Support

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought   Gay marriage donations?

This week we were asked by a Christian bookstore manager, “How many people know that the founder of Amazon is the largest single donor to the cause of gay marriage?” Honestly, I didn’t know myself, and the amount, $2.5 M (US) is staggering. He told me, “Tell your local churches that are buying from Amazon just to type ‘Jeff Bezos’ and ‘gay marriage’ into a search engine for themselves.”  A week later, I did this myself. There were many, many articles, but this one describes a behind-the-scenes look at the donation:

Thank Lesbian Jennifer Cast for Jeff Bezos’ Huge Gay Marriage Support

Like most of us, Jennifer Cast said she figured her former boss, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, was well aware of the threat to gay marriage in Washington State by the upcoming the ballot iniative and wrote to him, “I figured that if you felt the desire to support marriage equality, you would do it.” But, unlike many of us, this time she spoke up with a direct ask, and for the first time in twelve years working on the issue, Cast, 50, partners of 20+ years with Liffy Franklin, 63, emailed Bezos, “I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so.” She wrote, “We need help from straight people. To be very frank, we need help from wealthy straight people who care about us and who want to help us win.” She asked the billionaire for a contribution of $100,000 to $200,000. Within thirty-six hours he replied, “Jen, this is right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie”

This is the largest ever donation in support of marriage equality and it only happened because a lesbian spoke up and asked for it. Learn from her. The announcement also inspired other gifts, according to the Seattle Times, which reports, “Cast said she has received hundreds of emails since news of Bezos’ gift broke early Friday from well-wishers and those who suddenly wanted to give. One donor pledged $25,000.”

Jeff Bezos is worth $18.4 billion. Although William Lynch, the CEO of Barnes & Noble, isn’t a billionaire, his compensation last year was $10 million, going up to $15.3 million this year. He doesn’t have a connection to Washington State, but some of the Amazon haters need to ask Lynch for a significant donation. He can give to Maryland’s or to Maine’s campaign…

A link for this and what follows is available if you wish. The perspective below was actually from a gay website. The first line really sums up what’s happening even as you’re reading this.

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…gay marriage donations?: The founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, and his wife, MacKenzie, just donated 2.5 million to help pass Washington state’s Referendum 74, which would legalize gay marriage. The donation from Bezos, the 15th wealthiest man in America, has been called a “game changer” by Washington gay marriage campaigners.

I do not see how any Christian blogger or media outlet possessing this information can continue to remain an Amazon affiliate or referrer. To everyone else, if you or your church purchases from Amazon, I think you need to take a long, prayerful second look at that situation.

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