Thinking Out Loud

March 21, 2019

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

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

Yesterday, Religion News Service reported:

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

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

Local news media The Tennessean reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is developing story; check back for updates.

 

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May 18, 2018

A Random Chart of Bestselling Christian Books

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:29 am

This list doesn’t purport to reflect national trends in either Canada or the United States. It’s simply a list that I’ve compiled for many years for the local Christian bookstore where I live. That’s why, in the larger scheme of things, I call it random. It’s highly subject to customer purchasing in one small(er) town, where the data set is small enough that it only takes a few customers to get excited about certain titles to skew the results (though allowances are made).

It also doesn’t apply recommendation. Sometime soon, I need to do a chart of the books I would recommend, the ones which appear on my bookshelf at home which are so very different from the purchasing I do for the store. The list below also includes Christian fiction, for which I have very little personal exposure. There are kids books listed as well.

I’ve sized this so that it will be visible if you’re using a phone, rather than a tablet or PC.

 

April 17, 2018

Needing a Large Print Bible Involves More Than Type Size

 

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

She hated to admit it, but it was time to move up to a larger print Bible. She thought that meant simply getting a bigger font size, but the first few Bibles she looked at weren’t working for her. The problem is, to have better readability there are five factors or characteristics of the Bible that need to line up. A larger font size can easily be defeated by not having the others in place. 

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

There’s no industry standard for large print anyway. Buying a Bible online becomes very difficult at this stage because descriptions might say, “Font size 9.5” but as you’ll see below that means almost nothing when other factors are introduced.

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

Bible magnifying - large printFive Readability Factors for Bibles

Font Size – For my money, “large” should be at least 10.0 point and “giant” should be at least 12.0 point; but the key phrase here is “at least.” Ideally, I’d like to see “large” at about 11.5 and “giant” at about 14.0.”  Also, generally speaking large print books are much more generous in font size — as well as the other four factors listed below — than large print Bibles. Some readers who have purchased large print books before question the application of the term when it’s applied to Bibles. If you’re in a store and they have a font size guide posted, that gives you the language to express what you’re looking for, but don’t go by online guides, as they are sized at the whim of your monitor settings.

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

Leading – This one is actually quite important, and we’ll leave the definition to Wikipedia: “In typography, leading (/ˈlɛdɪŋ/ LED-ing) refers to the distance between the baselines of successive lines of type. The term originated in the days of hand-typesetting, when thin strips of lead were inserted into the forms to increase the vertical distance between lines of type.” One Bible publisher which I won’t name is notorious for using a large font but then crowding their lines of type together. The issue here is white space. If you look at the Wisdom Books of the Bible (which are typeset as poetry with more white space and wider margins) and compare to the History Books or Gospels (which are typeset as prose, both right-justified and left-justified) you see the advantage created by white space.

Inking – Some Bibles are not generously inked. There are sometimes also inconsistencies between different printings of the same Bible edition, and even inconsistencies between page sections of a single Bible. Text should be dark enough to offer high contrast to the white paper. Furthermore, some older adults have eye problems which make reading red-letter editions difficult. If that’s the case — and you don’t always know ahead of time — use a page from the Gospels as a sample.

Bleed Through – On the other hand, you don’t want to see type from the previous or following page. Bible paper is usually thin paper, which means the potential for bleed-through is huge. On the other hand, holding Bibles up to the light isn’t a fair test. Rather, the place where you check out the Bible should be well-lit and then pages should be examined in the same context you would read them at home. It is possible that an individual simply needs a better quality reading lamp.


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

 

April 13, 2018

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

Tuesday in The Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

continue reading here

Christianity Today picks up the story Wednesday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

continue reading here

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

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

 

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

 

March 11, 2018

83% of Statistics Are Made Up

cartoonkjv

Yes…I made up that stat in today’s headline…

Four years ago a number of Christian websites, blogs and media outlets ran with a story about a research study at the — deep breath — the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; with the primary takeaway that the King James Version of the Bible is the most-read in the United States and therefore most-popular English Bible translation.

My reaction when I read this, summarized at Christianity Today, was “What have these people been smoking?” Alas, the study was based in Indianapolis, not Colorado or Washington.

As someone who has devoted a lifetime to various aspects of Christian publishing, these results are so completely counter-intuitive. I guess all those Gideon Bibles in the drawer underneath the motel telephone are getting used after all. Maybe now the King James Only movement can stop campaigning and say, “We rest our case.”

But the study has to do with what version the survey group claimed to be reading. In a library, the book most-read might be the dictionary. Among our aforementioned motel guests, it might be a telephone directory. If they survey dentists’ offices, it might be nondescript magazines from 2007. None of these things turn up on the bestseller lists because nobody is interested in what people use for reference, people want to know what items in print are of significant interest that they cause people to part with their money to obtain them.

Personally, I think time spent follows money spent. I think the sales data, which in most parts of the English-speaking world still supports the New International Version as the top English translation, is of greater interest. I also have a hard time believing that the majority of searches at BibleGateway.com have KJV set as their default.

Has the KJV greatly influenced English and North American culture? Absolutely. We celebrated that in 2011, recognizing the 400th anniversary of the translation that has outlasted most others in the past two millennia. It’s often quoted and my own online searches often revert to KJV because that’s how I memorized the verses as a child.

But it’s time to move on. Studies like this one — all 44 pages of it — only confuse the central issues.

Furthermore, the study is biased in several places. On the topic of where respondents find help and clarification in their Bible understanding, choices are clergy, commentaries, study groups, electronic media and the internet. I’m sorry, but my go-to resource if a passage is muddy is to use other translations. As one person taught me a long time ago, “Let the translators do the work for you.” That’s also the point behind parallel Bible editions and sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub, Biblios, etc.

I also know from decades of anecdotal experiences with teaching people about Bible translations that many people simply don’t know the names of any of them, and if asked, will answer “King James” or worse, “Saint James” because that’s the only answer they can give. Furthermore, the study has been widely criticized for not allowing the New King James Version (NKJV) as an option. The surveyors also showed a rather glaring ignorance for their subject matter by referring to The Living Bible (sic) instead of the New Living Translation (NLT), the version that is currently number one in the bookstore market where I reside.

…But then, here’s the thing. Just days after publishing a news story on the study, the same website, Christianity Today, released Three Ways to Recognize Bad Stats. Ed Stetzer suggested:

1. Be Wary of Statistics in Promotions
2. Be Wary of Stats that Cannot be Verified
3. Be Wary of Stats that do not Line up with Reality

It is the third category in which I place the Bible reading study. I would also like to propose a couple of friendly amendments to Stetzer’s article:

4. Be Wary of Stats Backed by an Agenda

Too many studies, surveys and statistical compilations are presented by people or groups who have predetermined the outcome they wish to see.

5. Be Wary of Stats Designed to Invoke Fear

There are two reasons why people do this. Some rally the troops by suggesting there is a common enemy we face in order to galvanize support for a particular ministry that can stem the tide and reverse the situation. Sadly, some Christian research firms do this in order to sell survey data. If it bleeds it leads. This is best seen in the tension between Barna Research’s David Kinnaman and sociologist Bradley Wright, the latter titling one of his books, The Sky is Not Falling.

I should also say that I don’t fault Christianity Today for the confusion, especially since they write me a weekly paycheck for the Wednesday Link Lists. In the former case, they are simply reporting the study, and writer Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra possibly plays her hand by saying, in the 4th paragraph, “The numbers are surprising;” and then links to a 2011 CT story by — wait for it — Ed Stetzer reporting on the NIV’s dominance. In the latter case, Stetzer is simply being pastoral, warning the CT-readership flock that they can’t believe everything they read.

Note to KJV-Only trolls: This is not the blog you’re looking for. Comments will be deleted.

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.

 

October 17, 2017

Charts: All-Time Christian Bestsellers

Current lists like this one from August 2017 posted by the Christian Bookseller’s Association are simply a snapshot in a much longer timeline.

I grew up in a world of charts. Music charts at first, but later book and movie charts also. As as subset of the larger entertainment industry, the Christian products industry tracks its bestselling books and music using a ranking system, and Christian authors have been known to bend the rules of ethics to secure a spot on one of the New York Times bestseller lists.

Christian publishing once had more trade magazines than it does at present, and one feature I remember — it might have been the large-format version of Christian Retailing or perhaps it was Christian Bookseller — was a column which would announce each time another Christian title was going “back to press” for a run of another 10,000 or 20,000 or whatever was needed.  A few times they ran lists of the all-time bestsellers.

I was trying to find such a list, but didn’t see anything that had the details or the methodology of what I remember reading. However at the blog of the Steve Laube agency — must reading for every current and prospective author — I discovered a list posted in June, 2016 by Dan Balow.

You need the click the title below for the full introduction and complete list, but for your information, after taking into account The Bible, here’s how some perennial favorites rank.

The Best Selling Christian Books of all Time

  • The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (1418) – Sales Unknown, but widely regarded as the best-selling Christian title after the Bible.
  • Book of Common Prayer (various editions starting in mid 16th Century) – 300 million (estimated)
  • Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan (1678) – 250 million
  • Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe (1563) – 150 million
  • Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1954) – 150 million
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937) – 142 million
  • The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950) – 85 million
  • Steps to Christ by Ellen White (1892) – 60 million (estimated)
  • Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (1880) – 50 million
  • The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey (1970) – 35 million
  • In His Steps by Charles Sheldon (1896) – 30 million
  • The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (2002) – 30 million
  • The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (1952) – 20 million
  • The Shack by William Paul Young (2007) – 20 million
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1320) – 12 million (in last 150+ years)
  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (1995) – 10 million+
  • Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (2004) – 10 million+
  • Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo (2010) – 10 million+
  • More Than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell (1977) – 10 million+
  • The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson (2000) – 10 million+

In this series:

Charts: The Ten Largest Churches in America.

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…

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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…

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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.” …

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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.

December 12, 2015

Worst Christian Book Covers of 2015

As end of year book lists go, lately this has become the only one to which I look forward. Did one of these hit #1? Or was there one that was worser? (Yeah, not a word; but fits in context.) Click this link to Englewood Review of Books, and start the countdown of the top 15. See also the links to previous year’s winners.

Worst Cover 2015 #12Worst Cover 2015 #14Worst Cover 2015 #3Worst Cover 2015 #extra

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