Christian Retailing

Cause to Celebrate PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ann Byle   
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 11:21 AM EDT

CBA calls on industry to commemorate the past and celebrate the future

The 2014 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) is nearly underway in Atlanta, and the theme—Cause to Celebrate—highlights the good things going on at the show and in the Christian retailing industry as a whole.

“Our theme is a clarion call to embrace change, celebrate God’s work for the future, and commemorate 65 years of industry work producing and distributing Christ-honoring resources,” said Curtis Riskey, president of CBA, the Christian retail association that hosts the annual show.

Crediting the improved economy, new programming and the popularity of Atlanta,  CBA estimates that about 5,000 will attend ICRS (, a significant boost over last year’s 3,700, with about 300 exhibitors.

“We think an added attraction this year are the insights about larger faith issues that are affecting Christian stores and the church,” Riskey said. “The unprecedented dialogue with leading authorities on faith concerns that affect every Christian will help provide a vision for the future of Christian stores and how faith will be lived in coming years.”


International guests will find a warm welcome and ongoing education at this year’s show. The International Welcome session Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., held at the Atlanta Hilton, features Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who will give the morning message. Australian Peter Furler and the Peter Furler Band will lead worship, and Gary Wilkerson, president of World Challenge—an international mission organization founded by his father, David Wilkerson—will speak.

While CBA has focused on international attendees since the early days of the convention, the emphasis may be more visible this year because of the absorption of the Christian Trade Association International into CBA. Training sessions with Ramon Mocha of Media Associates International will follow the luncheon, with additional training sessions for international retailers continuing throughout ICRS.

“The International Market Square and the broad range of product providers reach more than 100 countries and attract hundreds of international attendees to ICRS,” Riskey said. “Today with growing middle classes in emerging economies, we are seeing increased growth in the distribution of Christian resources and lifestyle products around the world, especially in the Southern hemisphere.”


ICRS is “always working to innovate to make ICRS more meaningful and valuable,” said Riskey, citing a public festival to promote the industry and benefit a local ministry; revamped training; a new Creative Pavilion to feature new voices and artists; and a cooperative pastor-appreciation program with RBC Ministries.

The Change A Life Festival, 3-6 p.m., at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC Hall C3) is open to the public, which is asked to donate nonperishable food to benefit Atlanta-based Buckhead Christian Ministry. Duck Dynasty’s Phil and Alan Robertson, the Peter Furler Band, comedians Anita Renfroe and Torry Martin, and Abigail Duhon from the movie God’s Not Dead will be on hand to entertain ICRS attendees and guests from the metro area. Local Christian retailers are participating as donation drop-off points and will be featured on radio ads and websites to help raise awareness of the stores.

“From comedians to Dove Award-winning artists to popular Duck Dynasty stars, the Atlanta community will get to engage in a very positive way for the community’s benefit,” Riskey said.

The CBA leader observed that what began as just an industry project changed into a community project. Buckhead Christian Ministry is a network of 28 churches that serve people in Atlanta who are facing life transitions such as job loss.

“We’ve invited the community to a memorable experience with Christian content creators and local stores while helping their neighbors,” Riskey said.


The revamped training program, called Moving Retail Forward, is billed by Riskey as “a mini-conference” complete with keynote speaker and workshops throughout ICRS (see our May-June issue roundup of educational opportunities at ICRS).

Another innovation at the 2014 show is the Creative Pavilion, which includes the Author Avenue and Artist Avenue areas and a stage where presentations will occur throughout the conference.

“We’ll showcase new talent, new voices and demonstrations,” Riskey said. “One demonstration will be a LifeTree Café experience, a new concept to help churches and Christian stores see how they might engage with their communities and relevant issues through dialogue and personal interaction.”

Pastors and church leaders are the focus on the last day of ICRS, June 25, thanks to Mission & Community: Embracing the Kingdom Today, a cooperative outreach by RBC Ministries and CBA to offer inspiration, encouragement and gratitude. The first part of the program is titled “Strengthening the Servant’s Heart,” held 8:30-11 a.m., which includes breakfast, free resources and gifts, and a message of encouragement from Our Daily Bread contributor Marvin Williams, senior teaching pastor of Trinity Church in Lansing, Mich.

“Capturing the Millennial Mind” takes place 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and features a panel of Christian leaders who will discuss reasons why millennials are leaving the church. Registration is required for the event that takes place in rooms 202-204 of the Georgia World Congress Center.


Worship has always been a key component of ICRS, and this year is no exception. Sunday evening’s Worship Him event directly follows the Change a Life Festival and is open to the public (GWCC Hall C3). The event features prayer, praise and a message from Kyle Idleman, author of AHA: The God Moment that Changes Everything (David C Cook) and teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky.

Immediately following Worship Him is the Celebration Showcase, which takes place in the same room and is hosted by comedian Anita Renfroe. The Robertsons will keynote the event, with four artists following: Dove- and GRAMMY-winning Tasha Cobbs, Dove winner Aaron Shust, the JJ Weeks Band and third-generation gospel artist Amber Nelon Thompson.

The trade show officially opens Monday morning, June 23, at 8 a.m. with a brief devotional and prayer by Phil and Alan Robertson (entrance to Hall C1 and C2). There are industry prayer meetings on the exhibit floor as well.

“As Christians, worship and prayer are who we are,” Riskey said. “We depend on God as our Rock and Strong Tower, and look to Jesus Christ for guidance, creativity and innovation to accomplish what He has called us to do.”

Film fans will find much to take in at this year’s ICRS. Persecuted, The Song, The Letters, VeggieTales movies and more will be shown. Times and locations will be announced.


ICRS is the go-to event of the year for Christian retailers, who learn about upcoming products, meet authors and artists, attend educational workshops and discover trends in the retail business. CBA’s Riskey sees a number of developing trends.

“We see Christian stores moving into becoming community centers that encourage interaction and social engagement that reflect their Christian worldview in an atmosphere of service and ministry,” he said.

Stores are hosting small groups, community meetings and concerts, and helping with service projects and fundraising.

“Christian stores are becoming a stronger part of the community fabric and church network because of what happens through the store,” he observed.

Another trend Riskey sees is omnichannel retailing—connecting with customers how they want to connect.

“In the new economy, competing just on price or an exclusive item will become increasingly difficult,” Riskey said. “Today’s retailers will need to connect at a different level than just selling things. They will have to connect on heart levels that allow people to become a better person or to serve a cause that will help others. That emotional bond will build loyalty more than a cheap price.”

CBA and ICRS are helping.

“We are working to provide improved services that lower operating costs, adding new research to help members navigate the new business and faith environments, and advocating for members through education,” Riskey said.

He sees ICRS as confirmation that Christian retailing still matters, that single stores are connected to the larger story God has for the industry.

“We have journeyed a long way together as an industry, and I believe we have a bright future despite the changing and turbulent times,” he said. “ICRS is where people come together to confront challenges, celebrate victories and share stories. It’s a time to see what the Lord has done, and to see what He will do. History has been made at CBA’s conventions and will continue to be made as people who co-labor in this work join together.”


Awards, nominees announced throughout ICRS

chrawd_lrg_300ppiICRS has become a popular place to announce nominees and winners of author and industry awards.

First up this year are the 2014 Golden Scroll Awards, presented by Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA) and held Sunday, 12:30-3 p.m. at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC). AWSA will present the Golden Scroll Awards for book, novel, author, publisher and editor of the year, as well as the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award. Jerry Jenkins is the keynote speaker and recording artist Gwen Smith will offer special music. Advance tickets only available at

American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) will announce finalists for the Carol Awards on Monday at 1:30 pm in GWCC’s Media Room. ACFW also will announce the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient during the press conference. Christian fiction pioneer Carol Johnson (for whom the Carol Awards are named) will open the event with thoughts on the power of story. The Carol Awards are ACFW’s recognition of the best Christian fiction published by traditional publishing houses. Winners will be announced at the ACFW conference in September. Visit

The 15th annual Christy Awards for excellence in Christian fiction will be presented Monday at the Atlanta Marriot Marquis. The awards are given in eight categories including Contemporary, Contemporary Romance/Suspense, Historical, Historical Romance, Suspense, Contemporary Series, First Novel and Visionary. To register, visit

Winners of Christian Retailing’s Best awards will be announced Tuesday, at 9 a.m. at the show floor’s Creative Pavilion stage. Todd Starnes, author of God Less America (Charisma House) and host of the “FOX News & Commentary” daily radio show, will present the awards given in a variety of book, Bible, gift and other categories. For more information, visit


More to do in Atlanta

media-Centennial-Olympic-Park_2Coming to Atlanta a day early or staying for a little vacation after ICRS? Take advantage of the many things to do in this beautiful city. Use the MARTA bus and rail system ( to get you were you want to go, including from the airport to your hotel.

Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum ( View the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta via the world’s largest oil painting, see Civil War artifacts and the steam locomotive Texas made famous in 1862. Hours are 9:15 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

Atlanta History Center ( Located on 33 acres in Buckhead, the center invites you to explore Georgia’s past through exhibitions, historic homes, gardens and trails, and the Olympic Games Museum. Hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Center for Puppetry Arts ( Opened in 1978, the center presents the history of puppetry in various cultures. See more than 2,000 puppets and 1,000 posters of historical and cultural significance. Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat is on stage during ICRS dates.

Jimmy Carter Library and Museum ( The library is museum and research space that documents the life and times of our nation’s 39th president. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-4:45 p.m. Sunday.

Margaret Mitchell House (atlantahistorycenter/ Book and movie lovers won’t want to miss the turn-of-the-century home where Margaret Mitchell wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gone With the Wind. House hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5:30 p.m. Sunday. Tours available.

Public Art Guided Tours (, 404-546-6980): The Office of Cultural Affairs Public Art Program hosts guided tours of public art in downtown Atlanta. Tours include 15 public artworks and last about two hours. Reservations required with a minimum of 10 people.

The King Center ( The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change offers a memorial, archive and self-guided tour. Open seven days a week, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

The World of Coca-Cola ( Discover the story of the world’s most famous beverage and see rare artifacts, view a 4-D movie, see the bottling process and taste-test more than 100 beverages.

Zoo Atlanta ( See America’s only twin pandas and 43-year-old Alan the Sumatran orangutan, as well as the Carnivorous Plant Bog. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Building on the King James tradition PDF Print E-mail
Written by Deonne Lindsey   
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 07:41 AM EDT


ESVStudyBibleNewer Scripture translations in the spirit of the venerable version have significant appeal—and sales


More than 1 billion copies of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible have been published. Having celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2011, the KJV remains one of the oldest English editions still in continuous use and much beloved, in part because of its majestic, Shakespearean-era English.

But while the King James is held in high honor, age and veneration can be a double-edged sword in a Scripture translation. Because of this, a subset of more modern translations have risen within the KJV family, including Crossway’s English Standard Version (ESV) and Charisma Media’s new translation, the Modern English Version (MEV, 

MEV-Bible---with-large-logoIN THE LEAD

NKJVStudyBible-ColorThe KJV continues to consistently rank among the top Scripture translations in usage and sales. The American Bible Society notes in its 2014 State of the Bible survey that the KJV has a healthy lead at 34%, compared to the New International Version (NIV) at 13% and the New King James Version at 10%. CBA and Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) best-seller lists also consistently rank the KJV among the top three best-selling translations and the NKJV in the top five translations in both dollar sales and unit sales.

Barbour Publishing has seen great success with the KJV, having sold nearly 8 million copies. Tens of thousands of readers have purchased the company’s KJV Study Bible since its release for the version’s 400th anniversary.

While it’s true to say that the KJV remains among the top translations, LifeWay Christian Stores buyer Michael Robbins is quick to point out that all the factors he used to think he could count on being true about how translations sell are shown inaccurate when the facts are broken down.

For example, of the chain’s five locations in the Nashville area, the KJV ranks at No. 1 and No. 4 at different stores. The same disparity is true in other areas of the country where stores may be just 10 miles apart. Robbins also said that it surprised him to find that the KJV was a top seller for some LifeWay stores in California.

“I used to think that there were at least certain denominations that trended more heavily toward the KJV in sales, but the more that I analyze the data, the more I realize that doesn’t hold true,” he said. “The only difference to me still worth noting is that people in their mid-60s and above who have always used the KJV are less likely to switch to a new translation. That market segment at least has a higher degree of commitment to the KJV.”

Overall, Robbins said that the KJV ranks second in sales at the 180-store chain with the NKJV following at third. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), published in full in 2004 by B&H Publishing Group, and the English Standard Version vie for rankings in fifth, sixth or seventh place.

Other Christian retailers agree with Robbins that differences tend to be highly localized and dependent on what pastors are using in their congregations and what Christian schools are using in the classroom.

For Ken Flanders at The Olive Branch in Dublin, Georgia, none of the stereotypes hold regarding the KJV moving better in Bible belt stores; instead, the KJV and NIV together represent 30% of his store’s Bible sales.

In another part of the country, Debbie Woodard, owner of Bethany Book and Gift in Baxter, Minnesota, said that many of the churches in her area have switched to ESV in the last few years, leading the Crossway publication to become Bethany’s top-selling translation. KJV and NKJV remain consistent sellers for Bethany, however, because of the local Christian schools’ choices.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Louis McBride, Bible buyer for Baker Book House, reported that the top five-selling translations in the longstanding store are the NIV, ESV, KJV, NLT and NKJV, in that order.


Jason McMullen, publishing director for the Modern English Version, said in early 2000 there began to be a sentiment among several Bible scholars that the KJV needed to be updated. The translation committee’s goal for the MEV was to update the KJV with a “more modern vernacular” of the English language, while creating a readable but accurate translation that preserves “as much of the original wording, rhythm and flow of the KJV as possible.”

McMullen observed that the KJV “has been such a large part of culture that the translators really wanted to find a way to preserve it for a new generation.”

James F. Linzey, chief editor of the MEV and chairman of the translation committee, is a retired U.S. Army National Guard chaplain and graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. The MEV is a modern formal-equivalent translation. The New Testament was completed in 2011 for the 400th anniversary of the KJV and the Old Testament in 2013.

Like the KJV, the MEV uses the Jacob Ben Chayyim edition of the Masoretic Text for the Old Testament and bases the New Testament work on the Textus Receptus.

The MEV also aims to maintain reverence. One way that this is shown is by capitalizing names and pronouns referring to God such as He and Him. Some more modern translations such as the ESV and NIV have parted from this KJV style.

Steve Strang, publisher of Christian Retailing and owner of Charisma Media, found it interesting to learn that he is a descendant of John Rogers, who was burned at the stake and whose end in 1555 is recorded in Fox’s Book of Martyrs.

“His crime was translating the Bible,” Strang said. “He had worked with William Tyndale, who is much more famous. Together they used the pseudonym ‘Thomas Matthew.’ The Bible is called the Thomas Matthew Bible or sometimes the Matthew-Tyndale Bible.”

Strang was able to verify that he is a descendant of John Rogers the martyr.

“Rogers gave his life to translate the Bible, and now all these years later, I have the opportunity to publish the Modern English Version,” Strang said. “Somehow I feel a connection to this great man, and maybe I am, in some way, continuing his work.”

Launching the MEV in September under the Passio imprint of Charisma House Book Group, the company is reaching out to a wide range of influencers. The  version’s 47 translators also hail from every Christian faith tradition, bringing balance to the work.

“It’s really important to us that the MEV is seen as a Bible for all Christians,” McMullen said. “The MEV’s marketing team will be reaching out to pastors and lay leaders through a number of denominational conferences, as well as conferences without denominational ties like Catalyst and Exponential.”

Stanley M. Horton, senior editorial adviser for the MEV, believes the new translation is necessary for this generation.

“Not only is the English language changing, the culture is changing, and we need a translation that the ordinary person on the street will understand,” Horton said. “The Bible doesn’t intend that you have to be a Ph.D. in order to understand the Bible. It was intended for the ordinary person, so as the culture changes and as the language changes, you’ll find even the updates like the New King James Bible is already out of date even in 30 years or so, so that we do need to have translations that are suited to the people that we’re trying to reach and minister to, and that is one of the reasons why I wanted to be involved.”

The New King James Version (NKJV) was published in 1982 by Thomas Nelson and is the only translation to bear a similar name to the KJV. The NKJV updated the KJV language to more current usage, eliminating touchstone words like ye and thou in favor of you, while still maintaining an affinity for the 1611 work. But the essentially literal translation has undergone few updates, only brief revisions in 1984.

Now part of HarperCollins Christian Publishers, Thomas Nelson is still seeing sales success with the NKJV. More than 60 million copies have sold and over 1.3 million of the NKJV Study Bible, which is now available in full color.

“The New King James Translation continues to grow and have positive impact in people’s lives,” said Blake Aldridge, senior director of marketing, Bible group. “With more than 70 million NKJV Bibles distributed around the world, it remains a constant resource for anyone wanting to bring God’s Word to life.”

In 2001, another version with similarities to the King James was published. Crossway’s English Standard Version (ESV) traces its lineage from Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament through the KJV and the 1885 English Revised Version. The preface to the ESV states, “The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale-King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work.” Minor revisions to the ESV text took place in 2007 and 2011.”

Significant digital marketing efforts and other methods of promotion have led to growing acceptance of the ESV. A number of Christian retailers indicated seeing some conservative Bible buyers favor the ESV’s literal approach as debates sparked over gender-inclusive language controversy introduced by the updated NIV.

Crossway’s Anthony Gosling, vice president, sales, indicated that the ESV is seeing sales success.

“Sales of the ESV continue to grow rapidly,” Gosling told Christian Retailing. “Since its launch in 2001, more than 100 million copies have been distributed or accessed in digital format. In addition, this year the ESV Study Bible reached 1 million copies sold and this year alone saw total ESV sales increase by 15%. Whilst we are thankful for this growth, we are even more thankful that God’s Word is being so widely distributed. Our prayer is it will be read and change lives.”


Will a long lineage and poetic language be enough to keep one of the world’s most-recognized translation selling well? And what about related translations? Is there room for all?

The 2014 American Bible Society’s State of the Bible survey noted that since the survey began tracking preferred Bible versions in 2011, the KJV has seen a nine-point decrease in the percentage of people who read it most often (45% in 2011 to 34% in 2014). The result is just one sign that despite a reputation for having supporters every bit as ardent as Apple computer fans, many King James Bible readers are indeed open to new translations. Not surprisingly, at least a portion of those readers prefer to stay with translations that remain in the King James family, but are updated.

That was the case when The Gideons International changed its modern English offering from the NKJV to the ESV in 2013. An article about the change in the June/July 2013 issue of The Gideon stated: “The International Cabinet decided the time had come to review the modern English version of the Scriptures, and the question before the Cabinet was, ‘Is there a better modern English version that we could share which would better reach today’s generation?’ The English Standard Version was carefully and prayerfully evaluated and then approved as the modern English version of Scripture for use worldwide.”

While the organization continues to make the KJV available, the article went on to say that The Gideons worked with Crossway to produce an ESV edition specially produced with extra content.

Some, like McMullen of Charisma Media, believe that such changes simply reflect the natural flow of being engaged with the Scriptures.

“Part of what we need to embrace as Christians is that updating the language of the Bible should be normative for us,” he said. “While it’s not like an oil change, happening at set intervals, it is our responsibility as believers to those who come behind to update language so that spiritual formation can continue to happen. Some people wonder why we need another translation when there are already so many, but from a missional standpoint, it’s vital. It’s our time now and it will be their time to do the same thing later.”

While it’s difficult to tell if or to what degree readership of the KJV may erode as more modern versions become available, Donald L. Brake, author of A Visual History of the English Bible (Baker Books/Baker Publishing Group), is convinced that the progression with those versions represents advancement for the church.

“Some see any move away from the original KJV as Satan constantly attacking through man changing the text in any way, but I don’t feel that way,” he said.

Brake said he watched his father take his Bible to church and not touch it the rest of the week. Years later, his father showed him a copy of the Good News Bible he’d gotten and was excited because he realized for the first time that it was meant to be read and understood.

With all of the translations available, Bible publishers must do their best to ensure that the Scripture version that gets into Christian retail customers’ hands is one that will be read.


Translation comparison

2 Chronicles 7:14

KJV: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

NKJV: If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

NIV: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turnfrom their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

ESV: If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

MEV: If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.


KJV: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

NKJV: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

NIV: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

ESV: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

MEV: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Empowering the independent author PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ann Byle   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 03:56 PM EDT

CrossBooks-InGodWeTrustedHow writers are taking control of their careers through custom publishing


The glittering, flag-flying Camelot of Christian publishing, with its thick walls and guarded gates, is still an achievable option for authors seeking publication. But the advent of digital publishing and the new ways customers are accessing content has thrown open the castle gates to a variety of new publishing opportunities for authors.

The names are as plentiful as the options: custom, self and independent publishing; print-on-demand (POD) only; e-book only; co-, boutique and micro-publishing. The common denominator is that authors must invest time and usually money—somewhere between $100 and $50,000—to get their books into the marketplace.

New authors are finding that venues such as CreateSpace, an Amazon company, offer quick and easy access to audiences without having to wait for agents and publishers to agree that the book is worth doing. Custom publishing giants such as XLibris are joined by Christian publishers that also are tapping into the market. WestBow Press is a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan and “is designed to empower you to fulfill your dreams and reach your goals,” according to its website (



WestBowPress-RoadTripMixtapesLaunched in 2009, CrossBooks ( is an imprint of B&H Publishing Group, the trade publishing division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Authors have several publishing packages to choose from, generally ranging from $1,299 to $9,499, but the books must meet strict moral and quality standards to become part of the program. CrossBooks has published almost 1,500 titles since its inception.

“CrossBooks was the vision and initiative of LifeWay CEO Dr. Thom Rainer to offer a self-publishing service helping more Christian voices share the gospel through book publishing,” said Deanna Nelson, marketing manager for B&H Publishing Group.

Traditional publishers typically look for certain types of authors and projects, but first-time authors don’t often fall into those categories, she adds; authors retain rights and control of their projects should they choose an option such as CrossBooks.

“Self-publishers are generally quicker to market than traditional publishers and yield higher profits per unit to authors,” Nelson said. “Plus, innovation is easier for an entrepreneurial self-published author than for someone working in a traditional environment.”

Thom Freiling is a consultant with Charisma House and its custom-publishing imprint Creation House, plus the 6-month-old POD publisher Excel ( He’s seen explosive growth in custom publishing in the last three to five years.

“Technology is so much easier for authors to leverage today,” Freiling said. “And now custom-published books are more accepted within the industry by readers, the media and bookstores. The speed to market is so much faster, and custom publishing gives authors much more control over content, design and marketing. This type of publishing offers more control over a person’s future as an author.”

Believers Press is part of 1Source, a marketing brand that offers customers that kind of control. It’s a one-stop publishing experience that offers author training through Jerry B. Jenkins’ Christian Writers Guild, print and publishing solutions through Bethany Press and distribution through Anchor Distributors. Believers Press offers a smorgasbord of services, including ghostwriting, editing, cover design, interior layout and e-book conversion.

“There are a lot of places that provide publishing services, but not a lot of places that help an author become successful,” said Dave Sheets, president of the Christian Writers Guild and Believers Press. “We believe in the strategic partnerships we’ve built. It’s become a wonderful marriage of companies that all believe in the same thing and are moving in the same direction, and, ultimately, the author benefits.”

The allure of independent publishing, said Sheets, is twofold, with control being number one.

“With the proliferation of tools and techniques, the author is now in control of the publishing industry,” Sheets said. “Even five years ago the industry was dominated by traditional publishers. Everything spins out of that control.”

Now an author has the ability to release a book in a few months instead of a year or more that a traditional house takes to release a book. And an author can publish a book that a traditional publisher has declined.

Matthew Green, co-owner of Kudu Publishing Services, agrees.

“Companies like Kudu are popular with authors because of cost, speed of turnaround from manuscript to books-in-hand, and customizable publishing options,” he said.

Green calls the e-book revolution and the speed at which books can be produced and distributed “an amazing reality.”

“A book may be released on a certain day by a traditional publisher [e.g., Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian]and an e-book response to the book will be independently released the very same day [e.g., God and the Gay Christian?, edited by Albert Mohler]. It seems like the line between the one-way communication of print publishing and interactive communication of blogging and social media is becoming a bit fuzzy.”

Green adds that the competitive look and feel of the books themselves are a bonus, due to the increasing quality of print-on-demand technology.

“Based on what our authors have told us, they like the speed, flexibility and personalized experience they receive,” he said.

Kudu ( started in 2011 after author Andrew Jackson approached Green and business partner Martijn van Tilborgh to help him republish his book on Mormonism with additional material on then Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Green and Tilborgh formed the company in time to get the book out before the January primaries, which soon led to other inquiries.

So far they have produced and published about 50 books under the Kudu imprint, in addition to over 100 e-books self-published by authors. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to $15,000.

The cost of custom publishing is one of its downsides. Authors experience sticker shock, but, as Sheets of Believers Press said, “If you set it up properly and get marketing done at a grass-roots level, it can work.”

Also, choosing a publisher is important.

“We encourage authors to focus on the content and quality of their book and their commitment to building a platform to get their message out,” Green said. “Then, choose a publisher who will produce a book that visually and editorially reflects that quality—all at a price that allows the author to quickly get a return on their investment.”


There are variations on the custom-publishing theme. Micro-publishers such as Mountainview Books ( publish titles by the founder and one other author. Gut Check Press ( allows its founders to publish their own niche titles as well.

Two websites— and—offer authors a place to republish out-of-print books as well as new content for specific markets. Started and monitored by MacGregor Literary Agency, the sites are publishing co-ops specifically for Westerns and romance novels.

“Anyone can take an out-of-print book and post it on Amazon,” said Chip MacGregor, founder and president of the agency. “But it’s hard to get noticed. We thought that if we could help authors create a co-op that gets noticed, it’s a benefit to those authors. The site becomes a destination.” held its launch party at the Western Writers of America convention in June in Sacramento, California. plans to hold a launch party in the near future.

“There are two major advantages to indie publishing,” MacGregor said. “First is that the author is in control of their books. Second is that the authors are making money. In doing these sites as a co-op, we are trying to make sure authors have marketing power behind their books.”

Authors may also opt to e-publish their books or publish as POD-only titles. For Cheri Cowell, owner of EA Books, that intersection of technology and publishing is her sweet spot. Begun in 2012 (, EA Books offers authors a flat-fee service to create an e-book and/or for POD formatting.

“We do all of the headache stuff that you would have to do if you were doing it yourself, then we turn the book back to the author,” Cowell said. “We’re filling the niche for those people who want to publish themselves, but who are either technically challenged or who don’t want to take the time to learn. And we do it at a reasonable cost.”

Costs range from $350 for POD services to $500 for e-book services. Cover design is extra. Cowell says she and her six employees who work on a project basis are always busy.

“Publishing is changing so rapidly, and I’m not convinced that the traditional publishing world understands or is capable of making the changes necessary to capitalize on this,” Cowell said. “The Christian publishing world is struggling to figure out how to hold onto the old business model, yet still embrace changes. And I don’t think they can.”

She points to the differences in how various age groups view the published content they want.

“We are used to having the publishing industry say that they are the gatekeepers,” Cowell said. “Buyers can go into a bookstore and say that a publisher has vetted this content and so it’s good. But if you’re under 30, you don’t want your content vetted. You don’t need a middleman telling you what’s a good book. The best will rise to the top and they want lots of content offerings.”


Christian retailers, she said, can help by being open to local independent authors who are willing to send people into stores to buy their books. Christian retailers often have been closed to indie authors—to their detriment, Cowell believes.

“There really are some of us who know what we’re doing,” she said. “Both the authors and the stores could benefit.”

Sheets of Believers Press agrees, saying the independent stores with owners in the store will get the indie trend more quickly.

“Like it or not, independent retailers are expert in publishing,” he said. “They know a whole lot more than new authors might know about the process. We hope that over time the independent retailers become local publishing hubs in their areas. As they help independent authors learn retail—what sells and what doesn’t—they are building the future viability of their stores.”

Green of Kudu adds that while most Christian retailers don’t carry a lot of self- or co-published books, authors who reach out to them find them open to stocking their titles and conducting in-store events.

“This is encouraging for authors, and I think it is also a way that independent sellers can increase their affinity with their customers, as they find new authors whose messages resonate with them,” he said.

Creation House’s Freiling said that bookstores are especially good for local authors, particularly as they build their community of readers and fans.

CrossBooks’ Nelson still sees the need for the printed book, so many indie authors will want to go that route or at least, have print and digital books published.

“Current buyer trends and research supports that most book buyers will prefer to buy printed books. Having a physical book to hold and pages to flip through, is believed to be a valued experience to readers.”

Sheets said 1Source dreams of helping independent retailers have the tools and knowledge to help independent authors get started. He speaks of kiosks or training modules or store-based publishing events.

“It’s about building bridges, about helping authors understand how they can help local retail stores, how they can collaborate and both benefit,” Sheets said.

Nelson sees only growth in the custom-publishing arena: “The number of self-published titles continues to increase year-over-year as more authors see the merit in taking control of their own publishing experience.”

Faith heads to Hollywood PDF Print E-mail
Written by DeWayne Hamby   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 07:04 AM EDT

Christian films dominate box office as retailers assess DVD sales potential

CityOnAHill_ActsofGodThe year 2014 will be remembered as a year when faith hit mainstream movie screens in a big way, thanks to the success of Christian-produced releases such as Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, Mom’s Night Out and Hollywood offerings such as Noah and Exodus

Several of the films, including LightWorkers Media’s Son of God and Pure Flix Entertainment’s God’s Not Dead, surprised Hollywood insiders in spring, rising above expectations and making three to five times their reported production costs. 

In September, The Song will join their ranks as an independent romantic drama based on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. The film will be the first theatrical release from Louisville-based City on a Hill Productions, which until now has focused on small group video resources such as the first-quarter release Acts of God, which probed the ultimate question of pain and suffering and featured pastor and speaker Bob Russell. The Song is a musical drama based on the life of Solomon. Regardless of the story or format, company leaders say every release starts with a message. 

“Kyle Idleman (Gods at War, Not a Fan) is a part of our team, and when we were talking about the next project, he really wanted to delve into Ecclesiastes,” said 

PureFlix_GodsNotDeadMarc Harper, who runs the company’s theatrical and church engagement division. “It’s an important message for our days, finding fulfillment and not denying any pleasure. As the script and the movie idea unfolded, Richard Ramsey, the writer, he considers [the question], ‘What if Solomon was a famous musician following in footsteps of his father?’ ”

With a theme of multigenerational musicians, the casting for the film presented another question for the producers. 

“We thought, ‘Do we get actors who we can portray as musicians or do we get musicians who can act?’ ” Harper said. They settled on the latter, casting Alan Powell, lead singer of the band Anthem Lights, as the lead actor. 

Powell stars as Jedediah “Jed” King, a young musician struggling to get out of the shadow of his famous father, David King (Aaron Benward). When Jed accepts a humble gig at a local winery, he meets Rose (Ali Faulkner), and the two immediately fall in love. Idleman also makes a special appearance in the film, which, in turn, will tie into a small group study being released by City on a Hill in August. 

SonyPicturesEntertainment_HeavenIsForReal“This was the first time City on a Hill developed a resource as a feature film first,” Harper said. “We made a feature film called Acts of God and did a small group study around that, but we really didn’t feel it was a film we wanted to take to theaters.” 

Along with a soundtrack of 10 original Americana songs inspired by the biblical story, The Song uses creative imagery and Scripture narration to chronicle the love story, although Harper said it’s designed for a “broader audience.”

“Some of the films that have come out lately, which are great, they’re more for the church audience,” he said. “The church crowd goes and buys a ticket and is pumped up in their faith. This [new film] will appeal to those who might not go to church or those other movies.”

To promote The Song, the company is leading a theatrical tour to introduce it to viewers, meeting with key pastors around the country. 

“The feedback we’re getting a lot is this is a different type of faith-based film as far as artistic excellence and broad appeal to audience,” Harper said. 

Bridgestone_TheLightofFreedomThe early release of the small group study also will help build awareness before it hits theaters. The grass-roots strategy works better for a film with a limited advertising budget. 

“It’s a longer strategy. It takes more phone calls. Some of these movies come out with huge budgets, but we have to take a little more time to help the church understand (what we’re doing),” Harper said. 


City on a Hill’s strong church connection has been evident since its inception, as Shane Sooter, artistic director and president, began creating films for Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky.

“The first project City on a Hill did was called H2O,” said Tim Byron, general manager. “It was basically ‘Evangelism 101,’ a tool designed for folks to invite your neighbors in, family members, folks you would love to talk about your faith, invite them into your home and talk about the video. Those videos were like independent films asking questions such as who ProvidentFilms_MomsNightOutJesus is, why that’s important and why you should care.”

The first few City on a Hill products, including H20 and follow-up The Easter Experience, were distributed by Standard Publishing and Thomas Nelson. After those releases, the company wanted more control in the process, culminating in its decision to begin self-distributing titles around five years ago. The first such project was Idleman’s Not a Fan.

“Kyle had preached the message to Southeast Christian Church, which was a good test audience,” Byron said. “It was well-received, so we began to think, ‘That might be something we take a look at.’ We developed the modern-day story of a fan and not being a follower after he gives his life to Christ, how that impacts him, obviously, and family and friends.”

Byron said the minds behind City on a Hill are “basically storytellers, and we use media and video to do that.” The company’s desire to resource the church created the new genre of video-based small group curriculum, which continues even through The Song

LightworkersMedia_SonOfGod“We’re not a studio hoping to become a big studio,” Harper said. “Our mission to equip the church and to equip them with great stories and touch people’s hearts and convey biblical truth. I think it’s one of the differences that we engineer the Bible study materials with the movie. It’s all thinking with the church in mind.” 

Byron agreed, adding: “The key product in our portfolio is small group study. Movies are great and entertaining and have a great message, but a lot of times, people see a great film and they move on. All of our products are built around a message.”

While some faith-based films eventually will have curriculum to support their release, City on a Hill’s releases are built first with curriculum in mind, because, as Harper believes, a community study will help extend the message. 

“It’s people in community, spending six to eight weeks together, using a devotional or journal, talking about the subject with others,” he said. “That’s where God can change hearts.” 


While church-going audiences who frequent Christian retail stores may or may not necessarily be the target audience for faith-based content arriving in theaters and home video, the popularity of such titles is creating an opportunity for stores to expand their customer bases. 

In July, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s epic Son of God will arrive in stores, attracting many of the same fans of the couple’s The Bible television miniseries that proved to be a Christian retail success. Having grossed nearly $60 million at the box office, the film had strong grass-roots promotion, thanks to a music tour featuring artists Francesca Battistelli, Chris August, Sidewalk Prophets and Meredith Andrews. Playing mainly in churches, the tour created awareness for the film for the Christian retail customer base. 

“There’s a shift happening. God is moving,” said Burnett of the explosion of faith-based films. 

Burnett will spearhead the NBC miniseries A.D., and he and Downey will produce a forthcoming remake of Ben Hur.

Before The Song hits theaters in September, a small group study based on the film and centering on love and marriage will arrive in stores in August. The study will be divided into six 15-minute segments. A participant’s guide and couple’s devotional tying into the film also will be available. 

“We want to engage the trade,” Byron said. “These products weren’t an afterthought to the film. These products are really the key products that we want people to connect with. The film will be engaging. We’re all about these resources and engaging with their customers. These resources will be a great addition, and hopefully, that will drive traffic to their stores. That’s an important message for the retailers.”

With titles such as The Lost Medallion and The Road to Emmaus, Bridgestone Media Group also is making an impact in Christian retail. Formed in the 1990s, the company consistently releases faith-based family movies.

This summer, Bridgestone will release Light of Freedom; New: The Movie; and Sybil Ludington: The Female Paul Revere. Inspired by actual events, Light of Freedom stars Jade Metcaff and Maxwell Charles Dean, and is a historical drama centering on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. New: The Movie features children staging an arts festival and includes singing and dancing while one of the characters struggles with a difficult choice of seeking fame in Los Angeles. 

Fall and winter releases from Bridgstone include Name in Vain—The Ten Series, My Mother’s Future Husband, Christmas for a Dollar and God Came Near, a Max Lucado Advent series. 

David Austin, Bridgestone executive vice president, said that although the content of faith-based entertainment is getting better and more titles are releasing, the retail category seems to be “flat” right now, even as theatrical releases exceed expectations. 

“We really started seeing significant growth in the category seven or eight years ago when it started exploding,” he told Christian Retailing. “Myron [Deitweiler, director of sales and marketing] and I worked for Family Christian Stores. We were on the other side of the table then. It went back to the days when Word was doing a lot of small theatrical releases and the advent of Sherwood films. That’s where we saw triple-digit increases for a number of years. In the past year, retail has flattened out a bit to some degree after five years of year-over-year growth. There’s probably more product coming to stores than ever before. The number of units per title has decreased and you have the same-size pie.”

Deitweiler sees another loss factor in the pressure to offer pricing competitive with big box stores. 

“You’re still getting the volume, but the pricing point is accounting for some loss,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit of the transition of the customer expecting great deals.”  

“Certainly the consumer has been trained, with films and music,” Austin added. “The going price for entertainment product means that they expect to find films for under $10. The successful movement movers are using value bins. You can buy at $5 and a pretty good one for $5.”

Bridgestone’s philosophy states that the company “is dedicated to inspiring, educating, enlightening and entertaining families and children through the production and distribution of high-quality, faith-based entertainment products.”

For Austin, helping the company fulfill that mission is an “exciting” career choice that was always in his heart. 

“While I was at Family and doing marketing, I was drawn more to music and film,” he said. “That was what ticked my box, so to speak. When the opportunity came to do it full time, that was exciting for me.”

Building on that passion, he also believes the Bridgestone mission of impacting culture in a positive way is a crucial component of his work. 

“This (media) is where our generations are going, where our generations are responding,” Austin said. “The negative influencers are trying to reach them through media. We need to be good at producing first-class productions, entertainment and wholesome, not some cheap or dumbed-down version of it, but world-class entertainment that someone could feel great about and feel uplifted about. A mom can show her family [a film] on Friday night and not be embarrassed.” 

What does the popularity of streaming and on-demand mean for the future of movies in Christian retail? Some movies, such as The Lost Medallion and some Pure Flix films, are hitting Netflix and are available on demand. At some point, Austin believes, digital sales will outpace hard-good sales. 

“Some people think it will happen in next couple of years, and some people think the next five years down the road,” he said.


Deitweiler sees the popularity of faith-based content on the big screen as a plus to curious moviegoers who may venture into Christian stores to find similar offerings. 

“I think it’s a great thing,” he said. “Customers may be out looking for the Christian resources in the places they normally shop. Then they start discussing it with other people, and it increases their chances of finding out about Christian retail where there’s a variety of entertainment options for their families. The opportunity does increase if they get exposed to that.”

Harper likens the “epic,” current slate of faith-based entertainment to the late 1950s and such classics as The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur

“I think the content has gotten a lot better,” he said. “The way faith has been portrayed in a movie has grown leaps and bounds. The money people are willing to spend on it is increasing. They have been inspired by movies like the Passion and Fireproof.”

Byron is pleased to see so many faith-based films releasing. 

“It’s exciting to see other Christians getting into the game and creating real, quality media—story films that have a message in them that connects people with God’s Word,” he said. “God’s Word won’t return void. So that’s the space we’re in, we hope more folks will engage in this form of media.”

One might ask, however, if there is room for movies such as Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.

“I think that some people say it should just be Christians producing films,” Harper said. “Others say it needs to come from Hollywood. I think Hollywood will learn its lessons from movies like Noah. They’ll realize there’s a big audience where faith is important to people. I think storytelling will get better on both sides. Hollywood does a better job with characters and dialogue that’s authentic.”

 Austin said he believes Hollywood’s faith-based ventures make the cineplex a better place. 

“I would much prefer there be 20 Noahs than 20 more ‘slasher’ movies,” he said. “With Noah, if nothing else, it causes a viewer to dive into God’s Word and find out what it really says. It creates good discussion around God’s Word. While Noah had its shortcomings for believers, there was more good than bad.”

City on a Hill also is investing in future generations of filmmakers, hoping to ensure the quality of faith-based entertainment continues on trend. The company is developing and testing an iPad-based high school curriculum called CityU, which guides students through everything from script development to production and post-production. 

“We hope to have a finished product in the next couple of years to release to high schools across the country,” Byron said. “It’s all about creating more filmmakers for Christ. Let’s just take over that space. We’re educating the next generation. That is something that God has really put in our heart.” 

Along with that effort, the company hopes to help introduce film clubs in schools, following the model of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Curriculum will be a key part of the groups, which Byron hopes will appeal to public school students as well as those in private education. 

Reaching the heart of a child PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 03:43 PM EDT

Publishers aim to maximize value for today’s children’s book shopper

BandHKids_CatieConradRecent news reports tout an economic upturn and growing consumer optimism, but Christian retailers still see customers spending cautiously and motivated by value. This includes, of course, parents and grandparents—the primary buyers of children’s products. 

Harold Herring, owner of The Christian Soldier Bookstore in Goldsboro, N.C., sees customers’ spending changing a little. 

“Generally,” he said, “people are coming in more interested in the product, although price is still important.” 

At Prestonwood Kidz Bookstore on the main campus of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, Kelly Graham Flores, manager and buyer, had a similar observation. 

“My customers want products that are a good value, for sure, but I don’t think price is the only thing that matters,” Flores said.

BarbourPublishing_DiaryOfARealPayneOhBaby“Post-recession, we’ve talked about the ‘value-driven customer,’ ” explained children’s market expert Mary Manz Simon. “That usually references great prices. However, there are many forms of value, and consumers of children’s Christian products are looking for content with relevance.”

For Herring’s customers, this is more than simply adding graphics to a book. 

“It must be content that increases the buyer’s perceived value of the product,” he said. 

The children’s books, Bibles and devotionals Herring’s store sells most are visual and deliver a combination of “learning, creativity and imagination,” he said. “When a product has all of that, it’s a winner.”

“A strong story and message are always going to provide the underlying value of the book, but we can then build on that through engaging illustrations and product features,” said Peggy Schaefer, publisher at Ideals. “The reality is that children today are bombarded with all kinds of multifeatured media selections, so adding a little Ideals_GodIsBiggerThanTheBoogieManinteractivity to a book can give it added value.”

The latest trends in children’s publishing reveal that companies are offering value in various ways, leveraging established brands and new partnerships, and providing content kids and their parents appreciate.


Special features publishers incorporate into kids’ products abound, including flaps, cutouts, removable activities, video and pens. In the general market, some items in the children’s book section are actually hybrids, sometimes termed “book-toys.” The My Little Pony brand’s “My Busy Books” each includes a storybook, a dozen figurines and a playmat.

Tyndale_MyPrincessesLearnToBeBraveAnnette Bourland, senior vice president and group publisher at Zonderkidz, reported that “novelty or ‘value add’ type products are on the upswing in all markets for children. … Our team is looking to be innovative and creative when it comes to incorporating interactive elements. Books are more than just bound pages.” 

At Zonderkidz, such elements include stickers, charms, play components and free covers with some storybook Bibles. Yet features can be costly, adding to the tension between price and the “wow” factor.

“We’re constantly balancing the cost versus the consumer value of the product,” Schaefer said. “We publish a number of sound books [such as VeggieTales’ God Is Bigger Than the Boogie Man, October], for example, that can be expensive to produce, so we need to be sure that the content is of value and that the product specs are of the highest quality possible.”

LivingInk_RuntTheHuntedBind-ups provide a cost-effective solution that adds value. These story collections offer multiple books in one package. The Berenstain Bears bind-ups from Zonderkidz include five 8-by-8-inch titles for $10.99 retail, whereas the individual price is $3.99 each.

Activity and sticker books such as My Very First Noah and the Ark Sticker Book from Kregel Publications continue to line store shelves. 

“The fun art and affordable prices have made these a popular option for parents shopping at Christian bookstores,” said Noelle Pedersen, Kregel’s manager of trade and children’s lines.

Even as Christian publishers add special features, the main focus continues to be on the story and message of each book.

Schaefer cites Ideals’ new sticker and activity book format, in which the Christmas, Easter and other Bible stories are told. 

“The activities add a layer of interest for kids, but the underlying story and illustrations can be returned to again and again,” she said.


Publishers often look to authors with proven track records to create new titles. Several such authors have crossed store aisles into the kids’ department as well. 

“For the last couple of years, best-selling authors of adult titles have been dropping into the kid space,” said Simon, who not only tracks trends in society, education and product development that impact children, but also identifies related implications and applications.

“Consumers tend to gravitate to the authors or brands they are familiar with,” Bourland said. “From there, they will venture to new things. Being able to draw a consumer in with a recognizable name is one step to discoverability.”

In October, AMG Publishers, which provides a number of fantasy series for readers ages 8-12 and 13-17, participates in this trend with the release of The Gifted, the first installment in the “Daegmon War” series by Matthew Dickerson. 

B&H Kids is once again partnering with author Angie Smith and illustrator Breezy Brookshire, who created the best-selling picture book Audrey Bunny, for a Bible storybook. For Such a Time as This tells the stories of 40 women of the Bible with period-authentic illustrations, and will be available in October.

Publishers also are releasing youth editions of best-selling titles. Here, the same author or a different one might write the children’s version. Barbour Publishing’s 2-million-copy-selling handbook Know Your Bible by Paul Kent has been extended with three kids’ products by Donna K. Maltese. These resources help readers ages 5-8 understand the Bible with age-appropriate text and colorful illustrations. The third, Know Your Bible for Kids: What Is That?, releases in July. 


Brand recognition can further span categories through partnerships. A brand with a strong following can be licensed for products for additional audiences, extending its reach and life. 

“Big revenue comes from licensing, so licenses are dominant,” Simon said. “Of course, the benefit of licenses is that multiple categories benefit from cross-format awareness. … Any advertising or media mention of one product is a brand reminder for consumers and retailers. This cross-pollination reaches children and the adults who make purchase decisions.”

The folks at Duck Commander have taken to licensing as a duck to water with agreements galore in the Christian products industry. The dynasty dips into middle-grade fiction with a series releasing in October from Tyndale. Written by Willie and Korie’s son, John Luke Robertson (with Travis Thrasher), each book takes readers into the zaniness and life lessons of Duck Commander and allows readers to choose how the story develops. 

In each book is a note from John Luke “highlighting the theme of the book and making it applicable to today’s youth and choices they have to make,” said Patton, who expects adult fans of A&E’s Duck Dynasty will enjoy the books too.

The Beginner’s Bible is a longstanding Zonderkidz brand that the HarperCollins Christian Publishing team has licensed for products such as sticker books, puzzles, figurines and ornaments. In partnership with Crayola, DaySpring used the Color Wonder technology to create The Beginner’s Bible Color Wonder Coloring Pad and many other products.


In fiction and nonfiction, young readers want subject matter they can relate to—topics, stories and characters that accurately reflect their daily lives. And parents want content that aligns with their values for their kids.

B&H Kids aims to include content in all of its books that appeals to children and parents. 

“Our books are each based on a teaching from the Bible and include a Bible verse,” said Rachel Shaver, marketing strategist at B&H Kids. “A Parent Connection is also available for each of our children’s books.”

The Parent Connection gives parents ways to connect with their kids and to dig deeper into the gospel together.

This fall, B&H Kids will release Catie Conrad by Angie Spady as part of the “Desperate Diva Diaries” series, which provides “a healthy alternate for middle-reader fiction that parents can trust and not worry about the content being inappropriate inside,” Shaver said. 

Spady “has a heart for teaching girls not to get caught up in culture, but to look to Christ for a healthy perspective to life,” Shaver added.

Thomas Nelson “is dedicated to researching trends among children and families and creating products that will reach them where they are and meet needs in their lives,” said MacKenzie Howard, acquisitions editor of children’s and gift books. 

The marketing team engages moms through the Tommy Nelson mommy blogger program and social networking to stay informed of market needs.

Likewise, Barbour Publishing seeks to connect with kids on their own turf. 

“We aim for each product to reach kids with the gospel message while touching on topics that matter most to them—and if our kids’ products can entertain along the way, even better!” said Kelly McIntosh, vice president of editorial. 

McIntosh refers to the practice among girls ages 10-14 of keeping diaries as a way to explore what is important to them. Barbour’s upcoming addition to the God Hearts Me” line, God Hearts Me: My Secret Diary (July), is a contemporary alternative to the traditional diary format, giving girls space for writing, sketching and doodling.

One serious concern many children face is bullying. 

“The perennial social politics of middle school and junior high have shifted to a deeper level with sometimes tragic consequences,” Simon observed.

Christian publishers are eager to address bullying and exclusion from a biblical perspective. Best-selling children’s author Nancy Rue tackles the topic in the first book  of her “Mean Girl Makeover” series, So Not Okay (Thomas Nelson). Rue handles the subject “with both grace and humor without making light of what is a very serious situation,” Howard said. 

Runt is a character who faces bullying in Daniel Schwabauer’s “Legend of Tira-Nor” series for middle readers. One theme in the second book, Runt the Hunted (Living Ink/AMG Publishers, April), is the pecking order among children, which can be a type of bullying. 

Dale Anderson, vice president and publisher at AMG, said the Runt books address issues middle-graders might not normally talk about and give parents opportunities to encourage their kids to talk about what’s going on at school. 

For the picture-book crowd, Tyndale House Publishers handles the topic in My Princesses Learn to Be Brave, part of the “My Princess” series. Releasing in September, the story by Stephanie Rische tells of two girls who face a bully at the slide and use a Bible lesson to figure out how to respond.

An emerging value among parents, which Simon identified, is that of co-play and bonding with extended family. 

“We’ve moved beyond the smaller nuclear grouping to include others in the ‘momtourage’: aunts and uncles, neighbors, friends who are like family, etc.,” she said. “At Toy Fair in New York City [in February], companies consistently positioned themselves as family companies, instead of children’s companies.” 

Herring observes this value in his store. 

“We sell a lot of interactive devotionals like Ergermeier’s Fun Family Devotions [Warner Press, 2013],” he said. “Devotionals work well when the whole family can work together.”

Reader comments on Amazon related to Annie Tipton’s “Diary of a Real Payne” series (Barbour) for 8- to 12-year-olds reflect this value. A substantial number of commenters indicate the whole family reads these books aloud together. The last installment, Diary of a Real Payne—Oh Baby!, releases in September.

For many middle grade and young adult readers, not all relevancy will come from the books, but from interacting with the books’ authors. Anderson reported that the books that do the best for AMG are by authors “who get out and embrace social media and market and communicate with readers. 


Simon refers to information as “social currency” for children and moms. For buyers, knowledge is also empowering and fosters the retailer-consumer relationship. 

“When we close the gap between presenting product and showing consumers how to use the product, that adds another type of value,” Simon said. “For example, every single retailer can offer practical tips on their website of ‘How to choose a children’s Bible.’ Every single publisher can provide retailers with video loops to run in-store and online that show a parent what to look for in toy and game packaging.”

Retailers who work at informing buyers set themselves apart from competition. Online connections can draw buyers into the store where face-to-face assistance, coupled with informative product labeling and in-store aids could keep them returning. 

One way publishers could provide buyers with information is by utilizing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS, that had been adopted by 44 states at press time. The politically charged initiative is one that divides publishers and retailers alike.

As an early-childhood educator, Simon has worked with the standards and is eager to establish the facts. 

“CCSS are milestones in English language arts and math that a child should reach, beginning with kindergarten,” she said. “The goal is to make sure all students have the basic skills to succeed in life.”

Simon expects Common Core to stimulate the production of more nonfiction material, particularly in higher grades. 

“Because nonfiction reading is emphasized in the standards, CBA publishers have an opportunity to expand reach into the education marketplace, if they so choose,” she said.

In Texas, Flores’ customers are showing an increased interest in educational products on topics like history and science.  

Even Christian publishers not in the educational market can apply the standards in ways that help consumers.

Zonderkidz indicates on back covers and in catalogs where books align with standards and publishes a quarterly Common Core Newsletter.

“Our goal in providing resources that align with [CCSS] is simply about engagement and offering those who support the standards alternative materials,” Bourland said. “We want Christian products to be in the mix when gatekeepers are looking for resources. … These titles are very much in line with our company mission, so whether people support the standards or not, our titles are great resources.”

Most publishers appear to be neutral so far, mainly because they simply don’t know yet how best to respond. McIntosh expects CCSS to be “a point of discussion in the coming months” at Barbour Publishing. 

At Ideals, Schaefer reported “ongoing discussions around Common Core, but we haven’t really integrated it into our publishing program yet.” 

Patton said the team at Tyndale is actively “looking for the best ways to communicate this information to parents, teachers and librarians.”

Back at the store, Herring said CCSS is not yet an issue. He’s aware of the standards, but not hearing his customers discuss them. He added that Common Core might be more of a factor in homeschooling supplies.

“We aren’t into politics,” Bourland said. “We simply want to provide resources, in any manner, that further the kingdom of God.” 

Beyond the sales floor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Natalie Gillespie   
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 03:37 PM EDT

ICRS2014LogosStackedCBA show offers retailers significant opportunities to learn

The theme of the 2014 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in Atlanta may be “Cause to Celebrate,” but for stores it’s an opportunity to go beyond the sales floor and hone their retailing craft. Taking place June 22-25 at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), CBA’s trade show offers stores the chance to see the latest in upcoming books, trends in décor, entertainment and gift items all in one place. It offers retailers a chance to catch up with old friends and attend some fun film premieres and events, but it also should be seen as a “boot camp” where veteran retailers, suppliers and business experts give store owners and frontliners the chance to learn more about operating a store.

“CBA has taken a new direction in training to help retailers and the industry better understand the future of Christian stores,” said Curtis Riskey, president of CBA, which hosts the convention. “All retailing is going through significant change because of the continuing sluggish economy, the increasing gap between rich and poor, and consumers’ new purchasing habits. It is important for retailers especially to hear what’s happening broadly in retailing to determine how they best might thrive despite all the changes.”

Mary Manz Simon returns to the show to present her popular Children’s Product Trends workshop, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year (See p. 21 for her Q&A). In a survey, the children’s author and educator found that training is a key component for stores to get the most take-home value out of the time and money they spend to attend ICRS.

“Nearly 50% of survey respondents said ICRS is where they ‘get their best ideas,’ ” Simon said. “Walking the exhibit floor, connecting with fellow retailers and attending the children’s trends workshop all contribute to building sales.”


ICRS has changed the annual pre-show “Retail Academy” to a day-long training session called “Moving Retail Forward.” Sponsored by CBA and Spring Arbor/Ingram, Moving Retail Forward will be held 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday, and will help prospective stores, young stores and veteran retailers catch a glimpse of the future of retailing and learn ways they can adapt to the changes ahead. Registration is $49.

Group Publishing founder and CEO Thom Schultz will begin the day with a keynote address called “Retail’s Frightful Kodak Moment.” Kodak missed the opportunity to join the digital revolution, but Schultz believes retailers can learn from Kodak’s mistake.

“Schultz will talk about his findings from talking with pastors, church leaders and Christian store owners and managers,” Riskey said. “He sees retailers in a similar situation as Kodak, which forgot what business it was in, but he encourages retailers there’s still time and opportunity to adapt and thrive.”

Following the keynote, Jeff Michaels, Group vice president of sales, will conduct a workshop called “What’s Missing from Retail? 4 Keys to Winning the Battle of Showrooming & Attracting Millennials,” which will take a look at new retail concepts and proven strategies that other kinds of stores are using to build customer loyalty by creating relationships and experiences.

Another session, “Driving Discoverability and Sales,” is a case study from HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s direct-to-consumer marketing and its findings about spikes in retail sales. 

“Eric Shanfelt, senior vice president of eMedia for HarperCollins, will analyze how its consumer-direct marketing has actually driven sales at  retail, and will give retailers insights into what they can do to capture sales from suppliers’ B2C marketing,” Riskey said. 

Other sessions will explore how retailers can benefit from self-publishing, how data can boost sales and customer relationships, and how lifestyle events can drive traffic and sales.

Also Sunday, international attendees are invited to network at the Atlanta Hilton during the Global Welcome Luncheon, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., featuring a keynote address by Gary Wilkerson, president of World Challenge and son of The Cross and the Switchblade author David Wilkerson. 

Lunch will be followed by a Global Business Training event presented by Ramon Rocha III of Media Associates International. In his decade as CEO of OMF Literature in the Philippines, Rocha led it to become the nation’s largest Christian publishing house. Aiming to help international representatives increase business and ministry profitability, Rocha will share his insights and expertise. Tickets ($49) are required.


Training continues Monday, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., with a new general-session panel at the annual member meeting that will discuss the state of faith in the United States and around the world. Panelists Ravi Zacharias, Phillip Yancey and Ryan Dobson will focus on what Christian businesspeople need to know to continue serving the church. The panel will be moderated by LifeTree Café President Craig Cable and will be held in GWCC #202-204. During the general session, CBA will present the Lifetime Achievement Award to psychologist and best-selling author James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Tickets are required.

Monday afternoon workshops start with Children’s Product Trends and continue through Tuesday. 

“We have added specialty sessions during the week on urban marketing, DVD and film sales through stores, and reaching Spanish-language customers,” Riskey said. “We are excited about providing a broad range of training aimed at building traffic and sales and extending ministry through stores.”  

Simon embodies this year’s show theme as she celebrates the 20th anniversary of her two-hour Children’s Product Trends workshop Monday starting at 3 p.m. The workshop will offer brand-new data this year.

“For the first time ever, we will have CBA CROSS:SCAN data on the children’s market,” Simon said. “Retailers who attended the ICRS workshop during the past two years were invited to participate, so input came from people in our industry who prioritize ministry to children and their families. Attendees will hear what fellow retailers say is the most-effective type of coupon and which children’s product category is growing in their stores.”

The workshop also will include an anniversary after-party with food, fun and free product. Registration is $29.


Tuesday offers four workshops where retailers can learn the latest trends, discover new ways to merchandise and figure out how to display and sell specific categories. For an hour starting at 8:30 a.m., attendees can learn how to reach the urban community in “How to Be Effective Selling Christian Rap in Retail.”  

From 10-11:30 a.m., Film Product Trends will unveil the latest in Christian movies and how retailers can maximize their sales opportunities. This workshop also will include product giveaways. Registration is $29.

From 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., My Healthy Church will present “The Big Opportunity: Attract Your Local Hispanic Community.” According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. Hispanic population, currently at 52 million, will grow from 14% today to 29% in 2050. The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference reports that more than one-third of Hispanics consider themselves born-again believers. This workshop will help retailers get ready to engage and serve Hispanic believers.

The workshop offerings wind up  at 3-4:30 p.m. with the annual Christian Fiction Trends: “Celebrating Story.” This popular event brings together authors, retailers and readers to discuss the latest trends and sales techniques, and it includes questions and answers between authors and audience members. This workshop requires $29 registration and includes free product to take home.

Tuesday’s training opportunities also include the annual Church Store Luncheon, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Church store managers and leaders will hear from Charles Stanley, founder of In Touch Ministries and will have the chance to network and take part in mini-workshops for church-store mission and success.


 As the show comes to a close, ministry leaders, pastors and their spouses have a unique opportunity 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. to take part in a free training event presented by CBA and RBC Ministries. 

“Mission & Community: Embracing the Kingdom Today” aims to give ministry leaders encouragement, fellowship and the opportunity to network, as well as complementary resources and a message from pastor Marvin Williams, senior teaching pastor of Trinity Church in Lansing, Mich. Sessions include “Strengthening the Servant’s Heart” and “Capturing the Millennial’s Mind.” The event includes a free lunch.

To register for training events, visit


DrMaryManzSimon2014-2Educator reflects on 20 years leading show’s children’s market workshop


How did your Trends in the Children’s Market workshop begin?

I presented the workshop at the Canadian CBA in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Aug. 16, 1993. I remember all the mosquitoes—even in the downtown convention center—and also the high interest in the topic. 

Carol Norris, who led the education and training track for the international CBA, asked if I’d present at the next convention, so on June 27, 1994, in the Denver convention center, I started a cassette tape before attendees entered rooms 105-107. The rest, as they say, is history.

Could you reflect on some of the changes in the industry?

Yes. In 1994, one of the trends in the children’s space was that sales of CD-ROMs were doubling! But although we’ve seen a tsunami of change in countless aspects of our industry, some basic elements in the children’s space haven’t changed. Even today’s digi-kids learn best by being mentally and physically engaged. Whether children use print or pixels, they still need to develop the basic skills to maximize their God-given potential.

Although data indicates a downward spiral in customer loyalty, nurturing the consumer-retailer relationship is still important. Retailers invest a tremendous amount of time, money and effort in building connections.

And today, perhaps more than ever, product knowledge impacts sales. I mean, look at the huge swing toward content marketing just in the past few months. Being “in the know” has social currency, especially in the mom market.

What has been the secret to the success of the workshop? Twenty years of the same workshop at the same national convention has to be some kind of record.

There have been several contributing factors. First is our retailers. They take seriously the words of Jesus to “let the children come unto me.” In 1994, they were eager to learn how to build traffic. That’s still true, although we now look at building traffic both offline and online. In 1994, they wanted to know “what’s now, what’s new, what’s coming.” That’s still the workshop focus.

Second, our suppliers. What a generous, supportive group of people! Time and time again, suppliers give workshop attendees their very best—and often their most expensive—new products. Our suppliers truly are partners in ministry.

Third, the program. I begin every year with a blank screen. That’s actually a scary feeling, but by using current research as a framework, everything comes together.

Plus, every year since 1998 when illustrator Thomas Kinkade came to the podium, we’ve had celebrity guests. Children’s Product Trends is always a fast-paced time of education and training—with some surprises.

What’s most exciting about this year’s workshop?

Research! We have new data from our retailers. CBA’s Eric Grimm and I surveyed retailers on issues that matter in the children’s space, so we have fresh stats from our own industry. 

Plus, for this anniversary year, we have an after-party, so although attendees will come to learn and take home new product, they’ll also enjoy food and fun.

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