Thinking Out Loud

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.)

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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 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.

 

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.

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.

June 23, 2015

When Christian Authors and Artists Lives Get Messy, Should Retailers Pull Their Product?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 am

no longer availableAs someone who has spent time leading worship in several different churches, I still get excited when I hear a new song. If the song really captures me — as one did recently — I’ll tell everyone I meet about it.

About a month ago I found such a song. It was a beautiful worship song that also contained teaching and exhortation — the best of all possible worlds worlds — and reminded me of some classic Andrae Crouch, or at least what he might write in 2015.

And then everything crashed. I was telling a group of people about the song and they proceeded to tell me a whole load of details about the artist, an affair, a marriage breakup and more. Hours later I went online only to discover everything they said was true, not that I should have doubted.

While I should have grieved over the artist’s sin (and my own), at that point my thoughts were entirely selfish. “Darn;” I thought; “I really liked that song.”

Two weeks later I decided to play the song on YouTube one more time. Still resonates. Then my wife and I had a discussion about whether or not the composition is in any way invalidated by the fact that the writer, like all of us, is flawed.

On Sunday night the discussion came up again in reference to an author. (See yesterday’s blog post.) Should Christian bookstores and online vendors simply pull his product off the shelves? If they do so, should this be permanent or just for a season? Is the truth contained in those books in any way invalidated by the author’s moral failure, or does the transgression disqualify it somehow?

Back in the day, Christian booksellers went through this when Amy Grant and Sandi Patti each were divorced. When Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz came out as gay. More recently, when Mark Driscoll admitted he plagiarized large sections of his books.

Of course, sometimes, the truth just isn’t there. The boy in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven now admits he was never there in the first place. That’s a different type of situation. But last time I checked, those classic Amy and Sandi albums are back on the shelves, and this time around, some stores didn’t bother pulling Driscoll product at all.

I really like the song with which I began this discussion. I don’t wanna go all Charismatic on you and say it’s anointed, but it’s certainly special, at least to me. Does it not remain valid despite all the back-story? Didn’t God use a donkey once?

March 26, 2015

Big Box Book Stores’ Christian Shelves Lack Essentials

img 032615

Saturday night around 6:30 PM we dropped into a Chapters store. The Chapters and Indigo stores are the Canadian equivalent to Barnes and Noble, and whether I’m in Canada or checking out B&N on holidays, I love to hang out in the Religion section and see what conversations I can initiate.

This time it was a couple whose son was being baptized the very next day in the church where I was baptized many years earlier. They were looking at a couple of Joel Osteen books and when I tried to steer them away from those, they didn’t actually need much convincing. They immediately commented on the somewhat random assortment listed under ‘Christianity.’

“Why is Deepak Chopra here?” they asked.

“You could always move them around the corner;” I offered. I like to keep my options in these stores open, so re-shelving books isn’t in my repertoire.

Anyway, instead of just scanning the shelves out of personal interest, I tried to see it from their perspective and said to myself, “Okay, if we were standing in a Christian bookstore right now, what would I suggest to them?”

And then I hit the wall.

First, so much of the inventory on these shelves was new releases. There wasn’t much in the way of recurrent, perennial Christian books. The strength of the Christian book market has largely rested in the strength of what is called its ‘back-list’ titles. By this I don’t mean the classic writers who are now deceased, but rather simply the best books of the last 25 years. Some earlier Yancey titles. Experiencing God by Blackaby. The Lucado series on the crucifixion and resurrection. Even more recent stuff like Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield and the first two Case for… books by Lee Strobel were missing. (Having the classic writings of Andrew Murray, A. W. Tozer, Spurgeon, etc. isn’t a bad idea, either. The Lumen Classics series would be a good fit at low price points.)

Second, there are so many books which simply did not belong in that section at all. I saw title after title that was completely foreign to me. To sort this out you need two things. One would be an awareness of the publisher imprints on each book and a knowledge of who’s who. The other would be a combination of discernment and plenty of time to study each book carefully. Obviously trusting the publisher imprints is faster, but if it’s a truly special occasion — say a Baptism gift — you do really want to take the time to get the best book.

Given their son’s age, I decided to go for younger authors. I’d just watched the live stream release party for Judah Smith’s newest, Life Is _____; and then they had Jefferson Bethke, the guy whose launch was tied to a YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion.” But then, a book that seemed almost out of context: Radical by David Platt. I told them a bit about the book, and Platt and the Secret Church movement, and even though I don’t usually align with Calvinists, I said I thought this was the best choice overall. I left before they made their final decision.

…The reason this family was in the store at all was because the nearby Christian bookstore had just closed permanently. A friend of a friend was supposed to do a book signing and release party that day and had arrived to find the doors padlocked. These (for lack of a better word) “secular” bookstores are all that many communities have now, but finding the book you need is a major challenge.

The publisher reps who visit these stores are no doubt aware of strong back-list titles that would work, but the bookstore chains’ buyers are under orders to buy only the newest titles. To get their foot in the door, publishers need to be constantly re-issuing the older titles in new formats, but it’s hard when their orientation is to what’s new and forthcoming.

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.

August 28, 2014

MEV Bible Marketing is Confusing, Misleading

Another new Bible translation hits the bookstores next month. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; do we really need another translation? Personally, while I love the variety of options available and feel they bring much clarity and understanding, I would say there are dangers in over-saturating — or more accurately over-fragmenting — the market.

MEVThe MEV is the latest arrival. It stands for Modern English Version, but that name must somewhat frustrate the creators, who wish all the KJV-related names — NKJV, KJV21, etc — weren’t already taken; as this is the market they are going after. They describe it as “the most modern of the KJV.” What does that even mean?

There’s nothing wrong with seeking to present a new translation to people who have been stuck on a particular version for a long period. The CEB (Common English Bible) has been marketed to the same demographic that currently uses the NRSV. I have no problem with that. But the people stuck on the KJV are really, really stuck. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Anyway, amid the hype was six consecutive pages in the September, 2014 issue of Christian Retailing magazine, a book industry trade publication. The first two were really an advertisement, and the next four pages were an attempt to convince bookstore owners and managers to buy in, both literally and figuratively, to the MEV.

I should say here that Christian Retailing is owned by the same company producing the MEV, Strang Publishing. This conflict-of-interest is rather old news however, as the company’s books, most published under the Charisma House banner, always get inordinate space in the trade magazine. I suppose any of us would do the same.

Still, the four page article contains a number of assumptions that lead to a type of flawed logic as to where the MEV fits in and how retailers can expect it to perform in term of sales.

The MEV is a direct successor to the KJV

The marketing strategy here is clearly to target conservative Evangelicals and convince them it’s time for a change, so you can’t read much about the MEV without encountering the words “King James Version” in the advertising. The home page refers to the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) as producing it, but that group’s website clearly indicates their association is with the NIV. The MEV landing page also says that the group used the KJV as its base manuscript. Does that mean it was not translated directly from original languages? If that’s the case, this is really no different a situation than Ken Taylor restating passages from the American Standard Version to read to his kids at night, and thereby creating The Living Bible which was roundly dismissed by many Evangelicals as a ‘paraphrase’ a term used derisively with no direct equivalent in linguistics.  (If you restate something written to make it understood by another group, you are in effect translating.) 

One writer took it this far:

This fall, the torch of the KJV tradition will be passed to a new version of the Bible: the Modern English Version (MEV). 

Obviously, it makes sense to him.

First, I would argue that each and every English translation since 1611 (or if you prefer, 1789) is a successor to the KJV.

Second, I think that, in the past 400 years, if anyone deserves the credit for having worked within the KJV tradition, that would belong to The Voice Bible. Think about it:

  • high respect for the KJV translation process (see The Story of The Voice, Thomas Nelson)
  • similar use of poets, playwriters and songwriters (i.e. stylists) working alongside theologians
  • use of italics to represent short phrases added to the text to bring about clarity of meaning

Appeal to the popularity of the KJV

Three times the article refers to an American Bible Society study that states that 34% of “church leaders” favor the KJV. Church leaders over age 60? Church leaders in rural churches in the deep south? (I am setting aside discussion of the references to “America” in the article; the publishers apparently had no vision for this reaching outside the 50 States.)

This also begs the question, if the KJV is that popular then what hope does anyone have in breaking into that market? Or to put it another way, if the KJV is adequately serving the needs of over a third of U.S. church leaders, for a 400-year-old publication, it’s doing really, really well. So why bother?

The enemy we face

Several times the article talked about the decline in morals, church attendance, etc., and the increase of skepticism. This is a common approach used mostly by televangelists. We identify a common enemy and then we stress the need to do something. If we can only get this particular Bible into the hands of the unsaved and unchurched, then we can reverse the trend toward agnosticism and atheism, right?

In a way, this is a form of checkbook evangelism. Social decay is all around us, therefore we need to print more Bibles. Wait; no, we need to print new Bibles. And maybe you personally don’t need this, but obviously you need to support what’s happening.

Recognition of the challenge faced in introducing the translation

The article stressed to booksellers that this isn’t a commodity that can simply be put on a shelf and expected to perform. It derided the “point and shoot” mentality that has taken over Bible departments, where if you want a particular version, you’re simply told, ‘Aisle three, left side, bottom shelf.’

The publishers are clearly looking for more engagement with customers on the part of the bookstore staff on the front lines. The industry term for this is hand-selling. It means basically, ‘This is going to take some extra effort on your part to get this product noticed and understood.’

But this comes at a time when stores face mammoth challenges to stay afloat. The trend is toward self-serve, and favors products which outline their purpose and features in the blurb on the back. Furthermore, I would argue that Charisma Media is asking retailers to do what every single book, Bible and music publisher would like to see. They all want their products to get more attention.

Show me the money

As you can expect, the article much hypes the MEV’s potential, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure much is gained. For example:

MEV passage comparison - John 3 16I really can’t judge the motivation of the creators of this project, but I do know it’s a matter of pride among Christian publishing conglomerates to have a Bible in their stable of products. Tyndale has the NLT, NavPress has The Message, Baker Books has God’s Word, Crossway has the ESV, Broadman has the HCSB, and HarperCollins Christian Publishing has the NIV, NKJV, NCV and The Voice

A reader comment at one article looked at this less in terms of publishing companies and more in terms of denominations:

…Now, after reading who is behind this particular translation I’m a little concerned. Are we getting to the point where every domination will now have their very own bible translation such as, HCSB for Baptists and now MEV for the Assemblies of God?

Either way, I guess that’s what you do.

Now we wait to see if the marketing works out the way Strang/Charisma is hoping.  Time will tell.

May 17, 2014

Previously Published As…

Rachel Held Evans Titles

In 2010 and 2011 on my book industry blog, I tried to keep up with all the books that get republished under different titles.  I thought I would be able to keep this up, but there are simply so many of them.  I was reminded of this recently with two different titles.

Tim Keller’s King’s Cross and Jesus the King are the same book. It’s somewhat obvious when you — after the fact — look at the covers, but not so much when you’re ordering out of a catalog or off an online list with no graphics.

And Rachel Held Evans’ Faith Revealed is a re-release of Evolving in Monkey Town with only very minor edits.

So why do publishers do this?  To get more mileage out of a title they feel performed under its potential. But it drives readers and booksellers nuts.  Here’s a look at some of the ones I tracked a few years ago and you are welcome to add others in the comments.

(Ignore the time references)

  • This one will hit hard next month: Karen Kingsbury’s Remember Tuesday Morning is actually a re-issue of Every Now And Then.
  • Donita K. Paul’s only dragon-less title The Vanishing Sculptor resurfaces as The Dragons of Chiril.
  • Andy Stanley’s Enemies of the Heart,  releasing this fall, was previously issued as It Came from Within.
  • Max Lucado’s One Incredible Savior is a new title for One Incredible Moment.
  • Evidence for the Historical Jesus by Bill Wilson and Josh McDowell is a relaunch of He Walked Among Us.
  • Beth Moore’s My Child, My Princess began life as A Parable of the King (missing from our previous list)
  • Another forthcoming one, The Power of Prayer to Change Your Marriage by Stormie Omartian is a repackaging of Praying Through The Deeper Issues of Marriage.
  • The Revell pocket book, Boys Will Be Joys is the same as the previous Stark Raving Dad. 
  • Another Revell pocket book, Elizabeth Elliott’s Finding Your Way Through Loneliness is a retitling of The Path of Loneliness.
  • Unlocking Your Family Patterns which includes John Townsend among the author list, is actually a remake of Secrets of Your Family Tree.
  • The Man Who Makes a Difference by Jim George is another round for the book God’s Man of Influence.
  • Andy Andrew’s The Heart Mender is another life for Island of Saints.
  • We just found out the ’09 title, Quiet Confidence for a Woman’s Heart by Elizabeth George is the same as Powerful Promises for Every Woman.
  • H. Norman Wright’s homage to cats, Nine Lives To Live is the new title for The Purrfect Companion.
  • Philip Yancey’s The Skeptic’s Guide to Faith is actually a reprint of Rumors of Another World
  • John Ortberg’s Know Doubt is a repackaging of Faith and Doubt
  • Donald Miller’s “newest” Father Fiction is a slightly revised edition of To Own A Dragon
  • John Eldredge’s Fathered by God is really a re-do of The Way of the Wild Heart
  • Dee Henderson’s Kidnapped is a repackage of True Courage
  • Liz Curtis Higgs’ Unveiling Mary Magdalene is the same as the still-requested Mad Mary
  • John and Paul Sandford’s Transforming the Inner Man is a kind of mash up of bits from Transformation of the Inner Man and Healing the Wounded Spirit
  • Max Lucado’s Cast of Characters is the book equivalent of a Greatest Hits album with a ‘tossed salad’ of excerpts from other titles
  • Lynn Austin’s God and Kings originally bore the series title, Chronicles of the King
  • Michelle McKinney Hammond’s How to Be Found by Mr. Right sounds like, but isn’t a sequel to Ending the Search for Mr. Right
  • Andy Andrews’ soon-to-be-released The Heart Mender was first published as Island of Saints
  • John McArthur’s A Simple Christianity was once titled First Love
  • Adrian Plass’ Silver Birches first appeared as Ghosts
  • Joseph Girzone’s Joshua and the Shepherd was formerly simply The Shepherd
  • Cloud and Townsend’s How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding was published as Boundaries: Face to Face in a rather rare example of “un-branding” from a series.

Did we miss any?  Does this happen in the general market to the same degree?  Do you notice how some publishers are more represented here than others? Have you ever been stung with a duplicate copy you were unable to return?

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