Christian Retailing

Read, white and blue PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ken Walker   
Monday, 13 September 2010 02:35 PM EDT

Publishers stir up national pride with new books and Bibles

 

Patriotic-lead-imageWhile retail sales of patriotic products for next month’s Veterans Day are likely to lag behind the Fourth of July season, an increasing number of imprints and focus on the genre show this niche market is growing.

“We think Christian publishers should be focusing on this,” said John Fallahee, sales and marketing director for AMG Publishers, which formed its God & Country Press imprint in 2006. “We’ve got to cross over and bring the gospel to the nation. Publishing is still a great vehicle for that.”

Looking at best-seller lists, “there’s kind of a resurgence of that whole category of conservative politics and patriotism,” said Gary Terashita, executive editor of Fidelis Books. An imprint of B&H Publishing, Fidelis made its debut last year.

Terashita pointed to such general market best-sellers as To Save America by Newt Gingrich (Regnery Press, May), Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton (Scribner, May) and Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin (Threshold Editions, June) as examples. Fidelis Books has seen success with lead author Oliver North, whose American Heroes in Special Operations is due to release Nov. 1.

In addition, some industry participants say the importance of products highlighting America’s history, Christian values and founding documents fulfill a need that rises above the importance of sales or market demand.

Heidi Meyer, floor manager at Cornerstone Christian Supply in Cheyenne, Wyo., had her conscience awakened by reading a summary of the U.S. Constitution in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Not only did it broaden her appreciation for the United States, she thinks others could benefit from learning more about the nation.

“I thought, ‘I didn’t know what it 
was,’ ” Meyer said. “I told some people about it and they didn’t know either. So many young people have no idea what the Constitution is all about or why we celebrate the Fourth of July.”

“It’s become unfashionable to say so, but the simple truth is that America is unique,” said Andrew Klavan, whose “The Homelanders” young adult series for Thomas Nelson follows the exploits of a patriotic teen. “For Americans, patriotism doesn’t mean nationalism or racial pride. It’s not just love of this particular piece of earth either. For us, patriotism is primarily love and loyalty to this precious idea of liberty.”

Despite these American ideals, patriotic displays won’t occupy the space at Christian outlets next month that they did over the Fourth of July.

Veterans Day does get some attention at the Destiny World Outreach Center bookstore in Killeen, Texas. That week, Director Michael Womer knows the 4,000-member congregation—80% current or former soldiers—will look for flag pins, clothing items and new releases like North’s book.

Yet, despite patriotic materials’ appeal in the area around Fort Hood, the nation’s largest military installation, Womer says they aren’t a leading customer attraction.

“It’s a specialty item,” said Womer, himself retired from the Army. “Any patriotic books we have are shelved with Christian Living; we don’t have a separate department. During (patriotic holidays), we cross-merchandise them with clothing items.”

Other Christian retailers report similar experiences with the upcoming observance to honor veterans. They say it doesn’t spark patriotic fervor or sales like the nation’s annual birthday celebration.

And while Thanksgiving often swells hearts with patriotic sentiments as well, suburban Indianapolis retailer Bill Kerchner said the latter holiday tends to get “run over” by Christmas merchandise.

“I don’t think a particular day stimulates sales as much as personal need,” Kerchner said.  Customers typically search for patriotic books and Bibles at his Tree of Life Christian Store in Greenwood, Ind., when friends or loved ones deploy overseas.

“It’s not something you look for unless you have a need,” the store’s co-owner said. “That doesn’t require a holiday. We’ve seen National Guard troops activated and then you’ll see a bump. There’s a bump when they go overseas and when they retire.”

 

DEDICATED IMPRINTS

Similar feelings drive publishers producing an increasing number of patriotic books.

AMG launched God & Country Press with The Pledge by William Murray, following soon after with the first “Battlefields & Blessings” title. The latter, a six-volume set of devotionals on America’s soldiers and other servants, recently spotlighted firefighters and first responders (September), with a volume on police offers due to follow in December.

Patriotic-quote-outThis year has been especially active for God & Country. Other releases include The Five Laws of Liberty by Scott Hyland (August), Death of a Christian Nation by Deborah Dewart (July), Winning the Culture War by Linda Rae Hermann  (July) and two re-releases by Larkin Spivey, God in the Trenches (2001) and Miracles of the American Revolution (2004).

In addition, after author Jane Hampton Cook promoted 2006’s The Faith of America’s First Ladies (God & Country Press) on Glenn Beck’s July 2 TV show, it skyrocketed overnight from No. 1.5 million to No. 116 in July on Amazon.

In addition to generating profits that feed, clothe and educate children, God & Country crosses over to secular markets with discussions of the divine elements in America’s founding and guidance, Fallahee said.

“We as a company became more sensitive to these books years ago,” he said of the imprint’s origins. “There really is not a stronger emphasis (this year). We’ve been steadily producing and marketing these titles, but the political landscape has changed the market conditions. Suddenly these titles are moving fast.”

Prior to last year, B&H Publishing Group had a presence in the patriotic market through its five armed forces specialty Bibles. Jeremy Howard, managing acquisitions editor of Bibles, reference books and commentaries, said the Army and Marines editions are the most popular, with the Bibles selling steadily despite modest marketing support.

The Nashville house heightened its input last year with the formation of Fidelis, whose first release on July 4 was Saving Freedom by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. The imprint includes on its roster North’s American Heroes: In the Fight Against Radical Islam, despite its 2008 release date. An update, including a new chapter, followed last year.

“With Ollie North, that’s been a successful theme for us,” said Terashita, who calls North “commanding editor” since he approves each title and helps with endorsements and media exposure. “Ever since we started with him in 2002 (releasing his first novel, Mission Compromised), patriotism and backing the military has been a popular category.”

In addition to North’s second American Heroes book, he has penned a new novel, After Jihad, whose release date wasn’t set at press time. Counting it, Fidelis has nine books, with several more scheduled for 2011.

New Leaf Publishing Group is another Christian house with a related focus—America’s faith heritage. When it acquired Master Books 14 years ago, including Tim LaHaye’s Faith of our Founding Fathers, President Tim Dudley found a niche with a strong appeal to the homeschool market.

Master Books publishes two or three titles annually, including such books as The Story of In God We Trust (2003) and A Salute to Service (2004). The imprint’s latest release, For You They Signed by Marilyn Boyer (August), chronicles the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

“There’s an agenda,” Dudley said of historical material that soft-pedals the value of Christianity in the country’s founding. “It’s why I’m about passionate about this. Joshua led Israel across the Jordan and what did he say? ‘Gather up memorial stones’ so the next generation will remember what God did for them. Our founding fathers are the memorial stones.”

 

OFFERING ‘HOPE’

Larger publishers are warming to the patriotic trend, too. Tracy Danz, vice president of product sales at Zondervan, said it goes back to 2001, when the 9/11 terrorist attacks sparked an increase in Bible sales “across the board.” That fall, Zondervan released a special edition of Philip Yancey’s Where Is God When It Hurts?, with proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross.

Zondervan’s latest releases are God Strong: The Military Wife’s Spiritual Survival Guide by Sara Horn (January), founder of Wives of Faith, a national support organization for military wives; and Politics—According to the Bible by theology professor Wayne Grudem (September).

The Grand Rapids, Mich., publisher will also handle Sarah Palin’s forthcoming America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag (Nov. 23). Though published by parent company HarperCollins, Zondervan will handle distribution in the Christian market.

Coming on the heels of another book spotlighting her faith (The Faith and Values of Sarah Palin by Steven Mansfield and David A. Holland, FrontLine/Strang Book Group, September), the former vice presidential candidate’s new book is expected to make a splash in the Christian market. Several Christian retailers say they will feature it prominently.

Palin’s HarperCollins memoir has sold more than 2 million copies and spent six weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, with her new book set for a 1 million-copy first printing.

“There is always a market for titles that help us live out our faith, both within our country and beyond its borders,” Danz said. “There is also an increasing mention of God and specifically Christianity within political circles. From Rick Warren’s prayer at the presidential inauguration to the prayers for soldiers on the battlefield, the topic of faith is a consistent one.”

Thomas Nelson has an increasing patriotic presence, thanks to its popular 2009 The American Patriot’s Bible from Richard G. Lee, general editor. The American Patriot’s Pocket Bible, Camo Edition—a pocket-sized version bound in the same fabric used for military uniforms—released in July.

In a rare move for a Bible, The American Patriot’s Bible has surged as high as No. 5 on Amazon.com’s overall Top 100 Books list. The Thomas Nelson Bible was on the list for five consecutive days and also rose to the top of Amazon’s Bibles & Other Sacred Texts list. Along with support from online Christian retailers, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck mentioned the Bible on his radio program and in a TV appearance.

“In a day and age when many believe that our religious freedoms are under attack in our nation, we felt it essential to produce a product that celebrates the history of our faith in building our nation,” said Gary Davidson, senior vice president and publisher for the Bible Group.

The Bible had sold nearly 100,000 copies by late summer, with a spin-off booklet, In God We Still Trust, selling nearly twice as many. A 365-day devotional with the same title will release in the near future.

Nelson is capitalizing on the Patriot Bible’s success with several other titles: The American Patriot’s Almanac, Revised and Updated Edition by William J. Bennett and John Cribb (September); “The Generals” series (August), with volumes on Robert E. Lee and George Patton the first two of 10 books; and the The Portable Patriot (June), edited by Joel Miller and Kristen Parrish.

Patriotic-photo-galleryThe company’s interest extends to its fiction line as well, including Klavan’s “The Homelanders” series, which debuted in January 2009.  The Truth of the Matter, the third book about teenager Charlie West’s battle against jihadists, releases Nov. 2.

Although Howard Books is a relative newcomer to the field, John Hagee’s June release, Can America Survive? ranked at No. 10 on the New York Times’ Aug. 13 Hardcover Advice list, its fourth showing there. The book is one of three recent patriotic titles from the Christian division of Simon and Schuster.

The others are Forged in Faith by historian Rod Gragg (June), which sheds light on how faith motivated the founding fathers; and Hope Unseen (September), the story of Capt. Scotty Smiley. He remains in the Army despite losing his eyesight after a suicide bomber blew himself up near Smiley’s vehicle in Iraq.

Rebekah Nesbitt, vice president and editor in chief, is uncertain how many of these titles Howard will publish annually, but said the company is enthused about the genre.

“The titles we’re publishing offer hope in an increasingly turbulent culture,” Nesbitt said. “I think readers are looking for good news—hope—something that will remind them God is in control.”

 

PROMOTING PATRIOTISM

The Christian products industry has played a role in promoting patriotism via CBA’s Operation Worship Bible campaign. Since its 2008 launch, it has accounted for more than 800,000 copies in sales, with Bibles from Tyndale House Publishers shipped to troops overseas.

In addition to versions for all four major armed forces, a “Homefront” edition for military spouses released last May. The Marine, Air Force and Navy editions topped CBA’s best-seller list for August.

The association’s executive director, Curtis Riskey, called its success a testimony to the strong partnership between publisher, association, retailer and consumer, united to reach a goal with a strong ministry message.

“Sending Bibles … sent a personal message of encouragement from all of us to let them know much we value their commitment and sacrifice,” Riskey said. “Exclusive campaigns like (this) are extremely beneficial to our industry as a whole—and have proven to be highly successful sales-wise to our Christian retailers.”

Womer, who has given away several cases of the Bibles, agreed.

“Any time you can put something in the hands of a soldier, I think that’s a positive,” said the director of Destiny’s bookstore. “I don’t think we do enough of it. If the industry wants to keep this up, they should reach out to the ‘gold star’ families, the families of soldiers who didn’t come home alive.”

While Operation Worship has received considerable media attention, Christian retailers have discovered that success in the patriotic field can come from backlist titles that never topped best-seller lists.

One of the most popular books at Destiny World Outreach Center has been Psalm 91 by Peggy Joyce Ruth (originally Creation House, now Charisma House/Strang Book Group, 2007), an author and speaker who regularly gives away copies at her appearances.

“Every time I get them in they go,” said Womer, who also likes the “Faith of America’s Founders” wall chart produced by Rose Publishing.

At Cornerstone Christian Supply, Meyer hand-sells America’s Presidents by Chuck Wills (Thomas Nelson, 2007). Billed as a museum in a book, it includes photos, documents and such memorabilia as an 1800 letter written by Thomas Jefferson.

“That is my personal favorite,” said Meyer, who isn’t deterred by the retail price of nearly $35. “It’s amazing. It’s priceless. Once this goes out of print, there won’t be anything like it.”

Another steady seller at the Cheyenne store is Lt. Carey H. Cash’s A Table In the Presence (Thomas Nelson, 2004). A member of one of the first battalions sent to Iraq, the Marine chaplain wrote about God’s protection amidst fierce attacks.

At The Salt Cellar in Lawton, Okla., Manager Beverly Hall said more familiar titles, such as the American Patriot’s Bible, two of Oliver North’s titles and Hagee’s newest are the best-selling books.

Still, she has had success with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Illustrated by Jack E. Levin and Mark R. Levin (Threshold Editions, May) and Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World by David Jeremiah (Thomas Nelson, 2009), which includes a discussion of terrorism and violence.

In addition, on the Fourth of July weekend, the store got a lot of mileage from a resin eagle with bronze finish. The sculpture by Lighthouse Christian Products often spotlights her patriotic displays, though Hall isn’t planning one for Veterans Day.

Other popular items were patriotic throws and pillows produced by Manual Woodworkers & Weavers.

“I sold all of the throws,” Hall said. “They are kind of comforting, with words about soldiers. “P. Graham Dunn has a really good flag picture. I keep it all the time and some other things I get from different places.”

Meyer hopes the emphasis on patriotism will enlighten the public.

“These books are good if people read them and understand the sacrifice that was made,” said Cornerstone Christian’s floor manager, adding: “It (freedom) isn’t free. It’s something we need to read about and learn about.”

 
a