Written by Dave Sheets
Monday, 11 August 2014 11:15 AM EDT
Work with independent publishers to attract more customers
As a Christian retailer competing with a variety of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce competitors, you understand the importance of thinking “outside the box” when it comes to driving traffic into your store. Likewise, independent publishers typically have an entrepreneurial approach to handling their “traditional” publisher competition. Working together can be profitable for both parties.
Once you start to build relationships with independent publishers, see if there are ways you can partner with them on driving traffic into your store via their authors. Chances are they have some excellent ideas on events, merchandising and special offers that will pique your customers’ interest.
The following are five ways you can work with independent publishers on driving store traffic, but don’t be limited by these. Brainstorm with them to learn even more!
1. Get to know indie authors via their indie publishers. Your independent publisher contacts work closely with their indie authors and understand the importance they bring to Christian publishing. These authors provide new voices to an industry filled with established authors. Independent publishers can help explain their authors’ backgrounds and the types of customers who would benefit most from their books. All you need to do is ask.
You may find that independently published (indie) authors are more accessible as far as the time they’re willing and able to put into getting to know retailers. This gives you a great opportunity to build relationships with them. By and large, they are marketing their books solo (or with guidance from some indie publishers that provide marketing and publicity options), so they need you as much as you need them. Your common goal: to get their books into the hands of your customers who will benefit from their content. Independent authors need you, and your customers need their stories, information, inspiration and insights. Be the conduit that builds up tomorrow’s best-selling authors by connecting them with today’s readers.
2. Go local! Locate indie authors in your community and introduce them to your customers.
Today, creating a sense of community in your store is extremely important to the success and sustainability of your business. This is what keeps people walking into your store rather than purchasing their books via the Internet. They want to be a part of the community—the community in which they live and the community in which they gather. If you’re not instilling that feeling in your store, then you’re basically hanging a sign outside that says, “Stay away.”
A great way to build that sense of community is by seeking out indie authors who live in close proximity and who have become—or are in the process of becoming—active members of your community. Align with them to help build community in your store. If you expect your customers to “shop local,” why not exemplify that yourself by inviting local authors into your store and introducing them to your customers?
ABA booksellers have a long history of encouraging and building up new authors to help sustain and grow the publishing industry, most notably small and independent publishers. They “get” the importance of building a community in their stores, of being an inviting gathering place for people of like minds, of establishing and maintaining relationships with new and local authors. Take a mini vacation from your store and visit area ABA stores, or plan to visit an ABA store or two if you happen to be out of town at a conference or on vacation. Take notes. You may even want to introduce yourself to the store owner or manager and pick his or her brain for ideas. Borrow brilliance!
Likewise, work with your independent publisher to identify indie authors who live close to your store. They can usually help facilitate a meeting between you and the author. Again, you all—publisher, store, author—are indies who should be working together to bring these books to the industry through your store.
3. Invite indie authors to your store to talk about their books. Book signings are great, but independent retailers know how difficult it can be to get traditionally published authors to come to their stores to participate in one. And, book aficionados also are looking for more than just an autograph. They want to engage with authors—get to know them, their thoughts, their backgrounds. In short, they want to learn about what inspires them.
Let your independent publisher know that you’re interested in bringing authors into your store. They may have some ideas for you as far as authors who enjoy doing this more than others. You want your event to be a hit, so you’ll need to make sure the author you invite is dynamic enough to keep a group of customers interested, and wanting more!
Invite these dynamic authors to your store to talk about their books with your customers. Make it a special event. Send e-mailed invitations to your customer list. Put invitations in bags. Focus on the subject of the book if the author is relatively unknown. Make sure that the subject is a draw. Serve light hors d’oeuvres or dessert and coffee. Make it cozy. Encourage interaction.
4. Design a “Local Authors” and/or “Indie Publishers” section in your store. Once you’ve located and built relationships with some local writers, set up a special section, endcap or display table for local authors’ books. Celebrate them as members of your community. If they have their own blogs, include information about them on signage, encouraging your customers to check them out online and then purchase their books in your store.
In addition to your Local Authors section, consider building a new section just for independently published titles. This “Indie Publishers” section will draw attention to these books and authors and give credibility to the importance of independent publishing in today’s market. It may even encourage your customers to put their writing talents to work and attain their dreams of writing a book (see Tip No. 5).
Also, if you don’t yet have a “Pick of the Week/Month” shelf, why not institute one in your store? In addition to the Fiction, Nonfiction, Children’s, Young Adult, Theology and other such categories, add independently published titles to the selection.
5. Start a writers’ group and/or an indie book club. The attention you’re going to draw to indie/local authors might just inspire your customers to pursue their dreams of writing books. This presents a super opportunity to start a writers’ group at your store. Like a book club, a writers’ group brings traffic, sales and increased customer engagement. Be sure to stock books on writing to cater to this group of customers. Become their one-stop shop for all things writing and reading.
Speaking of book clubs, consider forming a club just for independently published books. This will also pave the way for more indie-author in-store events and appearances.
Indie authors provide new voices and books with fresh perspectives, and the partnerships you create with these authors and the independent publishers that work with them are vital to keeping fresh product in your store that will appeal to your community—product that is not as easily available via your competitors. Independent publishers have great ideas to help drive foot traffic into your store—to help you succeed!
A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Bill Nielsen
Monday, 11 August 2014 11:09 AM EDT
Employ a simple data solution to make your store hum
Being productive is something everyone can agree on. But, truth is, many frontline operators do not track the all-important metric of retail productivity. Doing so, however, brings new accountability to how they schedule their staff and how they train and lead their team to sell.
In other words, retail productivity is the art and science of increasing the sales revenue you create for each man hour worked. Drive productivity too high and your customer service will suffer, which is sure to lead to lost sales opportunities. But if it is too low, you are spending too much on payroll and killing your profitability. So let’s review the ins and outs of retail productivity.
First and foremost, we need a clear definition of productivity, which is sales revenue divided by the number of man hours worked. You can either track all man hours worked or only man hours worked on the sales floor. The key is to pick one method and stick with it as your baseline.
Next, we need to make sure you are set up to capture clusters of productivity data. The ideal data set is to make sure you capture sales and man hours worked for every hour of every day. You also need to be able to see this data by store location and by employee. Viewing the data by hour helps you spot when you have too many or too few staff working. Viewing the data by store and/or by employee allows you to compare stores and employees to learn from the best and to help those on the low end grow.
Capturing the actual data is the next step. In order to manage this area of your business quickly and effectively, you must invest in technology. While larger companies will find the top-of-the-line analytics solutions from RetailNext or Trafsys the way to go, smaller retail stores that want 90% of the features in a cost-effective solution that is easy to install and use will appreciate a solution called SWARM, which is offered by CKsystem.com.
Solutions like SWARM can cost as little as $99 down and $69 per month. They not only help you measure and manage productivity, but also can tell you how many people walk by your store versus the number that come in to shop, enabling you to measure traffic and determine what percentage of “lookers” you convert to shoppers. They can even automatically send a message to lookers’ smartphones to give them a special offer or enroll them in your loyalty program.
Generally speaking, you get what you measure and you always deserve what you tolerate. When it comes to productivity, it is important to measure and compare the data to threshold (minimum acceptable metric), target (ideal metric) and peak (maximum acceptable metric) goals. Productivity goals for each business will vary. Specialty retailers often set their threshold metric and peak metrics at 80% and 120% of target, respectively. So, if you determine that you want each man hour worked to generate $150 in sales, that becomes your target. Threshold is then set at $112.50, and peak becomes $187.50.
How do you move the bar? Praise staff who excel. Any store and any employee delivering between $112.50 and $187.50 in sales for every hour they work is to be recognized and perhaps even rewarded.
Conversely, coach those who underperform. Those performing below $112.50 need to refresh their selling skills.
Also, don’t forget that you might be the culprit behind productivity that is too low or too high based on how and when you are scheduling your staff. To avoid this, run productivity reports by hour and by day. Then divide the hourly sales by $150 to determine how many employees you need to have scheduled to work. While creating an acceptable schedule will result in some hours having lower or higher productivity, you should not have any hour scheduled below your threshold or above your peak target metrics. You will likely find that you need fewer full-time employees and more part-time workers with flexible schedules.
Once your schedule is published, you are now set to focus on training and developing selling skills for each of your team members. Another important factor in productivity is to train your managers and/or shift leaders to adjust staffing as needed based on actual hourly sales achieved that day versus the forecast sales assumed in your schedule. Letting people go home early or calling others in to staff up is ideal. At a minimum, reviewing the results each day and then adjusting the next several days is a useful approach.
So, between the science of capturing the right data and the art of coaching, training and adjusting schedules to actual sales patterns, you will find that you are able to provide better service to your customers, maximize sales opportunities and make sure your payroll costs are managed well. The combination of higher sales and lower payroll equals greater profits for you.
NEXT ISSUE: We will focus on the topics of inventory management and improving inventory turn.
Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.
Written by Deonne Lindsey
Monday, 11 August 2014 10:30 AM EDT
Devotional books offer rich spiritual content for the growing Christian
Devotional books didn’t often make headlines, that is, until Sarah Young came along with her 10-million-copy-selling “Jesus Calling” brand from Thomas Nelson. Ann Voskamp of One Thousand Gifts fame also has had success with a devotional based on her best-selling Zondervan book that helped readers cultivate thanksgiving and joy—and this year Tyndale will release her Christmas devotional, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Whether headline-making or not, readers of devotionals often want new titles for themselves and to share with others.
MEETING THE MARKET
With fall and winter the key selling seasons for the category, Christian retailers may be asking what’s trending.
Publishers are releasing to market devotionals that include morning and evening readings, sometimes as a value-oriented pairing of two different previous or classic works—for example, the classics God Calling and God at Eventide edited by A.J. Russell (Barbour Publishing, September)—and at other times as way to offer multiple brief readings such as in the holiday offering All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas (Abingdon Press, October).
Marketers are using words such as “quick” and “convenient” to appeal to consumers as well as pocket sizing for readers on the go. For many readers, devotionals that fit into their busy lifestyles, often promising that they can be read in anywhere from one to five minutes, are a must.
Another focus is encouragement, which seems increasingly to be oriented not around major life occurrences, but simply around the routine challenges of life and trusting God in them. It’s a theme on which Voskamp continues to focus.
In terms of price point, this category hovers under the $20 glass ceiling, as publishers recognize the reluctance of customers to spend much more for the type of book they’ll want to purchase annually. In format, devotionals remain evenly split between specialty bindings and trade paper or traditional hardcover options.
BOOSTING THE BRANDS
While lesser-known names still manage to gain footholds with segments of readers, it’s no surprise that recognized author names and brands, as well as best-sellers, tend to dominate the category.
The popularity of Tyndale House Publishers’ One Year brand has led to new releases under that moniker for September. Capitalizing on the general rise of interest in biography and history, The One Year Women in Christian History Devotional by Randy Peterson and Robin Shreeves (Tyndale) will cover women of significance from biblical times through modern history. The One Year Book of Bible Promises by James Stuart Bell (Tyndale) is the most recent in a series of similar books with a focus on praying the Scriptures, and Walk Thru the Bible Editor Chris Tiegreen has written The One Year Hearing His Voice Devotional (Tyndale Momentum). All three release Sept. 14.
Baker Book House Manager Sue Smith notes that Tyndale’s promotion on its One Year line is one that her store staff looks forward to each year since it allows them to stock up for Christmas and the New Year when sales are heaviest.
Joyce Meyer appeals to viewers of her TV program, Enjoying Everyday Life, with The Power of Being Thankful, coming out in October from FaithWords. Another popular pastor, Joel Osteen, offers Daily Readings From Break Out!, based on his Break Out! trade title, both from FaithWords.
Pastor and best-selling author John MacArthur focuses on the believer’s ongoing communication with God in A Year of Prayer (Harvest House Publishers), releasing Sept. 1. The September releases of Faith for the Journey by Charles Swindoll (Tyndale) and Beside Bethesda by Joni Eareckson Tada (NavPress, distributed by Tyndale) focus on courageously trusting God and on deeper healing, respectively.
Best-selling author and pastor Dr. David Jeremiah capitalizes on the popularity of his Turning Point TV broadcast with Turning Points With God (Tyndale), a year-long daily devotional releasing in October. New York Times best-selling author Steven Furtick—the young but popular pastor at Elevation Church based in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area—delivers The Greater Devotional: A 40-Day Experience to Ignite God’s Vision for Your Life (Multnomah Books, Sept. 9).
Pastor Kyle Idleman is back with a 40-day devotional, 40 Days to Lasting Change: An AHA Devotional (David C Cook, January), which ties in with his AHA book. Also from Cook, Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and grandson of Billy Graham also is set to release his 365-day devotional It Is Finished in January.
John Piper has penned a 25-day Advent devotional, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, released last month from Crossway.
PROMOTING THE PRODUCTS
Apart from the December-February selling season, devotionals comprise a category that lags for many retailers. Digital availability may be a factor that has added to the issue of seasonality.
Manager Sue Smith of Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, asks a good question about the genre: “I’m wondering if the release of new devotionals has declined with increased blog traffic—people using blogs for devotionals or email delivery of devotionals—and the total domination of the devotional section by Jesus Calling.”
Smith and other Christian retailers, including Mark Hutchinson, president of the Blessings chain in Canada, indicated that Jesus Calling and the other titles in that brand have remained top sellers in the last several years. Indeed, three of the top 20 nonfiction and three of the top 25 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association best-seller spots for July belong to Jesus Calling-branded projects.
To keep other devotional options in the mix for their customers, Smith’s team has gotten creative. One successful strategy has been making use of promotions offered by publishers, including the Manager’s Choice Promotions offered by HarperCollins Christian Publishers, which also publishes Jesus Calling.
“This allows us to create a sale around the book of our choosing,” Smith said. “We have a few titles that are continual best-sellers, so we keep those devotionals on a perpetual promotion. One good example would be Cowman’s classic Streams in the Desert.”
Mollie Lassiter Flowers, owner of Gospel Music & Christian Bookstore in Laurinburg, North Carolina, said that several of her top sellers annually are Christmas titles from Guideposts or The Upper Room daily devotional guide (Abingdon Press). These make up about 50% of the year’s sales of devotionals, while the other half comes from a small group of continual customer favorites like Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment (Thomas Nelson), Joyce Meyer’s Starting and Ending Your Day (FaithWords) and Rick Renner’s Sparkling Gems From the Greek (Harrison House).
Renner’s book is proof of the power of knowing your customer and employing hand-selling approaches. The book carries substantial weight at more than 1,000 pages and is priced at $34.95, much higher than typical devotionals.
One title that may be easier to promote than others is Jesus Daily by Aaron Tabor, M.D. (FaithWords, Oct. 21). Based on Facebook’s No. 1 fan page with its more than 27 million followers, it includes interactive devotions. The book features creative elements in its design and uses the author’s posts, fans’ comments and questions, and responses from what Tabor considers “the largest ‘Roman Road’ in history.”
New Morning Mercies (Crossway, Oct. 31) by Paul David Tripp also was born out of a social-media concept. It provides 365 meditations led off by a gospel-centered tweet (140 characters or less).
Another gospel-centered title is Gospel Formed by J.A. Medders (Nov. 27). The Kregel Publications book focuses on the sufficiency of the cross for everyday life.
RELATING TO READERS
Not surprisingly, women’s and children’s devotionals remain popular choices. With a number of the women’s devotionals done in a gift-friendly, fashion-forward style and with many children’s devotionals inviting family participation, these two groups of readers are perhaps less impacted by blogs, e-books and other digital offerings.
Women’s devotionals remain a mix of feminine covers and giftable bindings. The 2015 edition of Daily Wisdom for Women (Barbour), available in October, provides readings for each day in a floral-inspired cover that can be imprinted for personalization. At $14.99, it represents the sweet spot that has become the median price point for devotionals. The annual has sold over 80,000 copies in previous editions.
Other Barbour offerings for women include Encouragement and Hope for a Woman’s Heart (October); Where God Leads, I Will Follow (October); 180 Prayers for a Woman of God (September); and The Woman’s Secret to a Happy Life (October), a daily devotional journal based on the Hannah Whitehall Smith classic The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.
One of Tyndale’s latest offerings was written specifically with busy moms in mind. The September title 365 Pocket Prayers for Mothers applies the successful concept of convenient pocket-sizing along with daily prayers and Scripture readings to the challenges women face as mothers.
Revell (Baker Publishing Group) adds a new devotional from Holley Gerth to the September releases with What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days. Gerth, co-founder of (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring, wrote the devotional as a companion to her book You’re Going to Be Okay after seeing a need among women for reassurance that God is still God regardless of all the hard things that may come into their lives.
That trend is something that Kim Venema, associate at Living Water Christian Resource Center in Big Rapids, Michigan, sees as a key factor devotional sales.
“Many times, people come in looking for something that will help someone through a time of trial, whether that be grief or something else,” said Venema, who pointed out that devotionals must often be in the best-seller range to find year-round sales.
For the younger set, a number of new releases this coming year are part of a larger brand that already has seen success in the marketplace. That may mean building on a brand already connected with devotional products for adults to appeal to parents. For example, The One Year Devotions for Active Boys (Tyndale, October) and Daily Whispers of Wisdom for Girls Journal (Barbour, September) would be familiar to many parents. Another new release for girls is God Hearts Me (Barbour, October), a devotional collection for 10- to 14-year-olds.
Beauty of Believing (Zonderkidz, Oct. 7), a year-long devotional collection connected with the Faithgirlz! line, is a good example of one of the ways publishers such as Zondervan are freshening up their materials with new packaging and fewer ISBNs, yet still keeping a strong brand in play.
Other new releases include the revised edition of Adventure Bible Book of Devotions for Early Readers, NIrV by screenwriter Marnie Wooding (Zonderkidz, Oct. 7) and Devotions for Beginning Readers by author and Mothers of Preschoolers speaker Crystal Bowman and filmmaker Christy Lee Taylor (Thomas Nelson, Oct. 14).
New from B&H Publishing Group in September are 40 Days of Purity for Girls by Shane King and 40 Days of Purity for Guys by Clayton King, both tied to King’s True Love Project trade book.
Another category returning in devotionals is marriage. Tyndale is betting on the value of well-known names with two projects from best-selling brands. The publisher will be releasing The Uncommon Marriage Adventure from Tony and Lauren Dungy (Tyndale Momentum) in October as a companion to the Uncommon Marriage book released earlier in the year.
Tyndale also is set to release The Best Year of Your Marriage, a 52-week devotional with readings from Focus on the Family counselors and edited by Focus President Jim Daly and his wife, Jean. Rounding out the fall offerings from the company is the November release of a tan imitation-leather edition of The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional by Gary Chapman.
FINDING NEW NUGGETS
From the United Kingdom come two voices lesser known to Americans. Angus Buchan, a farmer-turned-evangelist in South Africa, offers Now Is the Time (Nov. 27), available through Monarch Books and distributed by Kregel. Buchan is known to those who watched the 2006 Affirm Films movie about his life, Faith Like Potatoes, available through Kregel.
Simon Guillebaud writes of his life in Burundi, Africa, where the contrast between Christianity, militant Islam and the repressive powers of witch doctors is stark. His devotional, Choose Life (Monarch/Kregel, Sept. 27), releases in September.
Mercy and Melons by Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon Press, September) features meditations that help readers pray through the alphabet in the spirit of the Hebrew acrostic tradition. Also from Abingdon, Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door by Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Mahany (October) offers thoughts on seeing the sacred in the everyday.
Retailers may want to know how to give lesser-known devotional works a fair shot with their customers. For Flowers, one of the biggest aids is hand-selling.
“When people come in looking for a gift, I go and get one that fits what they’re looking for and just about every time I get one and put it in someone’s hands, they end up buying,” she said.
Flowers admits that another part of the equation is having an extremely loyal customer base, but notes that the practice of hand-selling works well with many types of devotionals.
“I like to ask customers what their birthday is and then I’ll turn to that day in a devotional and let them read through the day’s thought,” she said.
Keeping a balance between best-sellers, classics and fresh voices, as well as putting effort into merchandising devotionals near related books or in prime spots for impulse buys and making sure to hand-sell your staff’s favorites will help give devotional sales a boost throughout the year.
Written by Natalie Gillespie
Thursday, 07 August 2014 03:56 PM EDT
Relentless readers drive the twists and turns of Christian-fiction publishing
Talk to Christian retailers, publishers, editors, agents and authors, and they all say the same thing about the state of Christian fiction: Like a good suspense novel, the plot keeps changing.
It is changing because some longtime authors like Bill Myers, Robin Jones Gunn, Angela Hunt and others are trying their hand at self-publishing rather than sticking only to traditional publishing houses. It is changing because readers often devour the latest fiction on their device instead of picking up the print version at their local bookstore. It is changing because a tight economy has forced publishers to make cutbacks—in the number of titles they publish, the new authors they are willing to try, and the number of sales representatives that visit stores. And it is changing because slowdowns in sales have caused retailers to reduce the number of titles they put on the shelves.
That’s one big bunch of twists and turns.
But there are a few key elements that remain the same. First and foremost, people still love to read great stories. Talented Christian authors still want to write them, publishers still want to find them, and booksellers still love to put them in readers’ hands.
“The publishing houses have changed,” said Robin Jones Gunn, author of 85 books, including the best-selling Young Adult (YA) “Christy Miller” series. “The trends have changed. The bookstores have changed. The genres my agent has contracted me for have changed. But my readers have not changed. They are loyal, and they are relentless.”
Chris Jager, fiction buyer for Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for 17 years, has this assurance for stores: “If you carry fiction and do it well, you will make money at it. My customers come back because I love fiction and I read fiction, so they trust what I have to tell them about it. It takes time. You have to work at it and build your reputation, but when you do, readers will trust you, and your fiction sales will grow.”
TRENDS IN TRADE
Today’s Christian fiction continues to generate subgenres within traditional genres—for example, Amish with a twist such as a mystery element; suspense, but with a legal or medical bent; biblical fiction written like action-adventure stories; or dystopian with biblical themes.
“The readership is changing, both in taste and in how and where books are being discovered,” said Daisy Hutton, vice president of fiction for HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “We can never sacrifice the soul of who we are as Christian publishers, but we simply must address the changing needs of our readers. A core aspect of that, I believe, is that our readers want their faith to be engaged with the world they live in and in conversation with it. They crave a faith that is unafraid of challenge, of struggle, of controversy, and they want to read novels that, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, ‘make belief believable’ in the larger world.”
Readers’ tastes have become more sophisticated, yet they also long for old-fashioned values and lasting love without erotica and one-night stands. In the wake of the overwhelming success of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey and as anticipation builds around the Fifty Shades movie, some readers are turning to Christian publishers and retailers to find love stories that do not center around explicit sex scenes. Regency romance also has seen a resurgence, perhaps for the same reason, but also because of the popularity of the PBS television series Downton Abbey.
Suspense is another growing category, with veteran authors like Dee Henderson and the recent breakout author Dani Pettrey gaining ground. And while there are fewer new authors signing with big Christian publishers for their first book, those who have something unique can still make the cut.
“We are really excited about suspense,” said Amy Green, fiction publicist for Bethany House. “Dee Henderson has been the big name for a long time, and she is back, plus we have Dani Pettrey coming up and expanding that genre.”
“Romance, Romantic Suspense and Suspense remain the strongest categories for us, and we are also seeing success publishing writers who ‘defy category,’ ” Hutton said. “We are profoundly committed to publishing new voices and helping them find readership. Some recent debut authors we have published who have seen early success include Sarah Ladd (The Heiress of Winterwood) and Katherine Reay (Dear Mr. Knightley).”
SOON TO COME
Retailers can expect a strong fall fiction season, with Bethany’s September releases including The River by best-selling author Beverly Lewis, as well as Mary Connealy’s Tried and True, a “humorous historical,” Green says. Lynn Austin’s Keepers of the Covenant (September), the second installment in the biblical fiction series “The Restoration Chronicles,” centers around the Old Testament prophet Ezra. Bethany introduces the Regency romance-laced-with-intrigue The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen in late November, followed by some big names with biblical fiction titles coming in early 2015.
“There was a time when biblical fiction was out of fashion, but in 2015, we will have Angela Hunt’s Esther: Royal Beauty (the first in the “Dangerous Beauty” series, January) and Cliff Graham’s Exodus, the story of Caleb and his conquest of the Promised Land (May),” Green said, adding that the success of biblical themes at the box office and on TV have helped bring back the genre fiction.
“This seems to be a time when we are looking for heroes, and the closest thing you can get to a superhero without Marvel or DC comics is biblical characters,” she observed. “They are flawed heroes, and that resonates with people and adds depth to our Bible reading.”
WaterBrook Multnomah releases Cindy Woodsmall’s Amish offering A Love Undone (September), followed by Kim Vogel Sawyer’s Mennonite tale When Mercy Rains (October). Carrie Turansky’s latest “Edwardian Brides” title, The Daughter of Highland Hall, also hits stores in October.
From HarperCollins’ Thomas Nelson side, contemporary suspense offering The Promise by Beth Wiseman Thomas releases in late September, followed by the anticipated Playing Saint thriller by Zachary Bartels and Austen-flavored Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay (October). Mystery Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton hits store shelves in November.
In September, Tyndale House releases contemporary offerings The Story Keeper by best-selling author Lisa Wingate and Driftwood Tides by Gina Holmes. The Story Keeper centers around a New York City editor who gets caught up in the story after a mysterious manuscript appears on her desk, while Driftwood Tides brings together an isolated widower and the daughter his late wife gave up for adoption—whom he didn’t know.
“We’ve always been strong in contemporary women’s fiction, but historical is still selling, and romance is making a comeback,” said Jan Stob, senior acquisition editor of fiction for Tyndale. “We also have a debut dystopian novel coming out next year by Rachelle Dekker (daughter of award-winning author Ted Dekker). The nice thing about Tyndale is that we have always been very diversified.”
While Bethany, HarperCollins, Tyndale and WaterBrook Multnomah all report holding steady this year in the number of titles they are releasing, Moody’s fiction imprint, River North, has cut its list to just a handful.
“We are trying to publish smarter,” said Janis Backing, publicity manager. “Before, if we found a good story we thought people should read, we would publish it. Now we can concentrate on finding out what people want to read and find the right stories.”
River North’s two fall offerings include debut novel Farewell Four Waters by Kate McCord (October), author of the nonfiction title In the Land of Blue Burqas and the business fable Sync or Swim by Gary Chapman (of “Five Love Languages” fame), Paul White and Harold Myra (November).
Kregel continues to make slow and steady inroads with its own fiction as well as imports from U.K.-based publishing partner Lion Hudson. From Kregel, The Bachelor by Stephanie Reed is the second title in the “Plain City Peace” series (October).
“Kregel fiction has focused on stories with a strong sense of place and history,” said Adam Ferguson, chief publicist. “For example, The Bachelor is the second in an Amish romance series, but it’s set in Plain City, Ohio, during the Vietnam War era. All of these elements add chances to pique the interest of the reader and provide bookstores with more merchandising and grouping possibilities.”
Lion Hudson releases The Heretic by Henry Vyner-Brooks (October), a post-medieval mystery set against the backdrop of the Reformation, and Dead Gorgeous by Elizabeth Flynn, a modern mystery set in the world of high fashion (November).
On the independent side, Robin Jones Gunn has revived her beloved characters Christy and Todd with the new “Christy & Todd: The Married Years” series. Forever With You released in May, while Home of Our Hearts will be available to consumers in November (Robin’s Nest Productions/Anchor Distributors).
“When publishers were reluctant to take on this series, my husband persuaded me to self-publish the books,” Gunn said, but she admits that getting the word out to retailers has been a bit of a challenge.
Kirk Blank, president of Munce Group, is addressing the author-retailer disconnect at the Writing for the Soul and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conferences this month. He wants authors to know that Munce’s 420 independent retail store members need to be remembered.
“Fiction can still be a traffic driver, but authors need to stop focusing their readers to purchase at Amazon,” said Blank, who has conveyed to hundreds of authors a desire to see a change in their message.
Rather than stating that their books are “Available at Amazon,” he asks authors to use this phrase instead: “Available at Your Favorite Bookstore.” Blank noted that the advertising campaigns to “Shop Local” work to draw customers to stores, but it helps tremendously if customers are reminded by their favorite authors to go to their local Christian bookstore.
“Authors can help by joining into the conversation with consumers,” he said. “Authors should have a relationship with retailers. That’s what we are doing at the Munce Group—building strategic relationships with authors from Christian Authors Network (CAN), ACFW and the advanced Writer’s Guild through Writing for the Soul conferences.”
CONNECTED WITH CUSTOMERS
While fans follow their favorite authors on social media, book buyers at stores often don’t have the time to research and chase down every title. Sales reps used to stop in stores to describe upcoming titles and promotions. Now buyers spend their days on the computer, reading Christian publications, scouring websites, blogs, Facebook pages and online catalogs in order to figure out what they need to order.
“Because there are not as many sales reps on the road and because some authors are self-publishing, I have to work harder to chase information down, but I try very hard to do it,” Jager of Baker Book House said. “There is so much information online now that readers do not need to ask me when the next book is coming out because they already looked it up, but they do trust my blog and my reviews.”
To grow sales, she posts reviews and author interviews every weekday on her blog (bbhfiction.blogspot.com), tries to stay on top of the novels coming out, reads as many of them as she can, and holds plenty of in-store events.
One event that has grown during her tenure is Librarian Day, held each April and October. Jager invites church librarians to attend a full day of seminars and shopping. She reviews recent books, gives away books and offers extra discounts that day. She said Librarian Days significantly boost fiction sales at the store.
“The first year, I had four librarians show up,” she said. “Now I have 80 to 100 each time. And I don’t do any outside advertising, just a few email blasts.”
Publishers agree that in the fiction category, old-fashioned hand-selling and word-of-mouth are still the best sales drivers.
“There is still no more effective vehicle for fiction sales than a passionate, well-educated salesperson or reader,” Hutton said. “Personal recommendation—whether through a friend, a social-media contact, or through a knowledgeable and engaged salesperson—is still the most effective way to sell fiction. Fiction reading is highly personal and subjective, and a strong recommendation from someone the reader trusts is unrivaled in its persuasiveness.”
Munce Group’s Blank knows the value of relationship in sales.
“Customers want a relationship and to be known by who they are—not just a sales history,” he said. “They want recommendations for books based on the relationship the local retailer has with the customer, not by Amazon’s algorithm.”
Written by Michael R. Briggs
Thursday, 07 August 2014 03:41 PM EDT
Launching a new Bible translation in the spirit of the venerable version
This fall brings the release of the Modern English Version (MEV) Bible—the first update of the original Bible texts in the King James tradition in over 32 years. Passio, an imprint of Charisma House, will release several offerings in the September launch of this significant work.
It’s amazing to realize it’s been so long since the last update of the King James Version (KJV), yet in those decades, the English language has changed continually, evidenced each year by the addition of numerous new words to English-language dictionaries. As a result of changes in the language, you’re invited to kick off the flatforms, adjust your jorts and review those buzzworthy words along with accompanying emoji on your phablet—and it won’t cost you one bitcoin to do so. Yes, it’s a new world.
So why does the market need another Scripture translation? Don’t we have enough to service the needs of every Christian alive today? With the abundance of riches for Bible availability in America, we have experienced firsthand the Word of God becoming somewhat of a commodity, if not also a fashion statement.
Truth be told, that’s not a healthy perspective to have—considering that the call to serve the church through Christian retail is founded on passion for and dedication to the Bible. In fact, nearly every product offered in Christian retail stores offers truth rooted in God’s Word. The Bible is important to us because it is more than just a book. The Word of God in all forms represents the one item we are most honored and humbled to offer to those who come looking for one. No other book is more important or as life changing.
Yet active attempts to marginalize Christianity in these United States—and by default, the Bible itself—are reaching fever pitch. Cultural battles rage in many arenas, and attacks against God and His Word seem to be permeating several areas of society, our schools, courtrooms and even our laws. We seem to be fading into the woodwork of our local communities. So when consumers do engage the Christian retail store for a Bible, it is most important for Christian retailers to be able to offer expertise on the most significant of all books—one that brings light and love to their lives unlike any other. After all, having a Bible is one thing, but being able to understand it is another.
Indeed, Americans today, and especially millennials (born 1980-2000), are looking for God’s Word to be more than just a bunch of words compiled in a book. They want to actually experience the Scriptures. We tell them the Bible has the answer to all of life’s problems and gives them directions to follow God’s perfect plan for their lives. They long to find personal application, experience understanding and seek to hear the still small voice of God through the pages of the Bible. The desire for a translation that carries the reverence and beauty of the original, yet is easy to read and apply, is ever apparent.
As an industry, it’s easy to see that Christian retail plays an important role. It is truly a privilege to respond to consumers searching for help and hope by meeting their needs by providing an expansive selection of Bibles from which to choose.
BATTLING SPIRITUAL DECLINE
Just prior to June’s International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta, a handful of leading retailers were gathered to learn about the changes in society as it relates to Bible acceptance and understanding, as well as the need for a new translation. This article will share much of that detail, so you will gain the same insights as those who were in attendance.
As a basis for understanding the state of this foundational product to our industry, illuminating information was shared from an annual study commissioned by the American Bible Society (ABS) and designed by the Barna Group: The State of the Bible 2014 (full report available at americanbible.org under Bible Resources). The study clearly gives cause for pausing to consider how societal and generational changes in trends are impacting the Bible’s place in culture.
From the outset, the study provides distinct insight into the challenges in America today. Amid spiritual decline in a nation that is abandoning biblical absolutes, ambivalence toward Bible reading is alarmingly clear, and the need to re-engage Christians has become imperative.
“The typical American actually has 4.7 Bibles, yet only 37% of Americans use the Bible in a typical month,” said Barna Group President David Kinnaman. “So we have a huge gap between awareness, penetration and usage of Scripture.”
What is disturbing is that many Americans don’t read their Bible more than a couple times a year. Barna reports that while 80% of those interviewed will say they believe the Bible to be holy or sacred literature, less than half actually admit to reading it more than a couple times a year.
“Can you imagine a ‘Bible-less Christianity’?” asked American Bible Society President Roy Peterson.
When you come to grips with the reality that more and more Christians are spending less and less time engaging the Scriptures with consistency, these observations from ABS and Barna become even more disquieting. The State of the Bible 2014 study reveals that three out of five adults wish they read the Bible more. Worse, only one in five (19%) admit to being regular readers (four or more times per week). While they state their belief that doing so will bring them closer to God and allow His Word to influence their worldview, paradigms and daily life, Bible engagement among Americans still suffers.
The study also indicates that the majority choose not to read the Bible not because they don’t have time, don’t comprehend its teachings, fail to understand biblical history and have difficulty understanding the language as well as locating specific passages or stories. Rather, many have become skeptical regarding whether the Bible’s teachings really can bring direction and peace to their lives.
“In our work with American Bible Society, we’re seeing that those who are skeptical of Scripture are now equal to those who are engaged with Scripture,” Kinnaman said. “And what this means is that there are just as many Americans now who say that the Bible is just another book written by men, there’s no God behind the Bible. There’s a sense of skepticism, of alienation, of antagonism in some cases with Scripture. And over the last four or five years, as we’ve been doing this tracking on the state of the Bible, we actually see that this percentage of skeptical Americans has increased every year. It’s almost doubled in the last five years. And so we can actually see that Americans today, a good chunk of them, are actually becoming more skeptical toward Scripture.”
Clearly people need resources to help them overcome such uncertainty coupled with translations they can read and understand by themselves. There is a chasm between knowing what tools exist and how to use them. Christian retailers can fill that gap in the market as well as the gap left by the local church. Christian retailers should work to fill that gap, partnering with Bible publishers whenever possible to raise awareness and distinguish Christian retail as a resource of expertise.
This becomes especially obvious when you consider that for most Christian retailers, the call to ministry is based on their love for the Bible. It is the foundation to every product found sitting on the shelves or hanging on the walls in their stores. While Bibles can be found elsewhere in retail, including online, seldom will a consumer be able to find a more knowledgeable resource than their local Christian retailer when it comes to explaining the differences across such a broad product selection. Finding the right “fit” is important, lest the consumer never crack open the cover of their copy of the Scriptures.
However, when Bibles are being positioned in stores as a commodity, regulated to a section at the back of the store or left for self-service shopping alone, the risk of minimizing the importance of the Bible, and with it, the need for consistent Bible reading, increases. In other words, if the Bible doesn’t appear to be the most important book to the Christian retailer, will it translate to being as important to the consumer?
ENGAGING AMERICA TODAY
America was founded upon the teachings of God’s Word, yet today, many of our church leaders will tell us we’re chasing Europe and quickly becoming “post Christian.” Across the nation, many see the Bible as simply historical with spiritual teachings far removed from daily life. But, if studies show fewer people are engaging with God’s Word, what difference can yet another Bible translation make? Why bother to invest in developing another translation and greater product extension in an already saturated market?
When you consider that the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed that the majority of households have a Bible, it’s easy to conclude that regardless of apartment, home, mansion or dorm room, there is a Bible likely sitting somewhere on a shelf. The challenge is that the Bible is actually sitting there and not actively read because the consumer isn’t compelled to take the initiative to engage with God’s Word.
When the MEV publishing team sought answers to this and other trends in Bible engagement, they turned to Joel Ceballo, a research and Bible engagement consultant who has experience with Bible publishers and agencies, as well as research design with Barna. They asked Ceballo to further substantiate the need to update the King James Version (KJV).
“In a society where relationships exist primarily on Facebook and advice is dispensed by those whose own lives seldom reflect anything approximating joy or purpose, the Bible is all too often viewed as irrelevant and its wisdom outmoded,” he said. “For too many, the riches of a life reflecting the Bible’s wisdom is locked in a book to which they do not have a key.”
Ceballo went on to cite these sobering statistics:
- Over a quarter of Americans (26%) never read the Bible.
- Although the Barna 2014 study reveals that almost 80% of Americans cite the Bible as a holy book or sacred literature, only 46% report that they read it more than a couple times a year. Comparatively speaking, 12% of Americans cite the Muslim holy book, the Quran, and 7% cite the five books of Moses, the Torah, as sacred literature.
- Between 2011 and 2014, those engaged in Bible reading have remained stagnant, ranging from a high of 21% to a current 19%.
In a world rife with conflict and with the very fabric of American society stretched nearly to the point of tearing, the fact that over a quarter of adults state they have never read the Bible ought to be upsetting to the church and to those of us who supply local congregations with resources to grow in their faith.
Ceballo crystalizes this point.
“When we take a moment to consider the majority of Americans are just within a few steps of the words written by their Creator for the express purpose of inspiration, comfort and instruction, proximity is obviously not the issue,” he said. “There are other reasons why people are not engaging in daily Bible reading.”
He further cites the key frustrations as to why the Bible is not part of their daily life, including the following obstacles to engagement with the Scriptures:
- Comprehension: Difficulty in understanding the Bible’s language and context
- Context: Failure to know or understand biblical history of background
- Ease: Incapable of locating specific passages or stories
- Relevance: Inability to connect content to everyday life or challenges
Additionally, the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed that the weight of skepticism in the U.S. about the Bible has nearly doubled in just a few years. Imagine that! With the increased exposure to the gospel message via television, cable, satellite broadcasts and the success of recent biblically based movies impacting everyday culture—incredulity is still growing.
The study indicated in 2011, 10% said they were skeptical of the Bible. Yet today, in 2014, that number has almost doubled with 19% reporting they were skeptical.
The current crisis is clearly spelled out in the pages of the State of the Bible 2014 report. As an industry, the challenge is to increase awareness not only of Bibles, but also of the relevance of Bible reading for Christians looking for finding God’s plan for their lives.
To effectively build this awareness, retailers need to understand the critical questions emerging regarding the Bible’s relevancy in our nation’s fabric. This is especially true among two of the largest demographics in terms of age and heritage, millennials and Hispanics. Both are rapidly and indelibly changing the face of Christianity in America. Amid changes in society and the challenges they produce, Bible publishers—as well as churches and others—must work diligently to leverage technology and inquisitiveness to promote the Bible’s relevancy in this century.
“One of the generations that we study a lot are millennials,” Barna Group’s Kinnaman said. “These are individuals who are in their teenage years or young adult years. Millennials are actually more likely than older generations to tell us they’re interested in what the Bible has to say on things like parenting, finances, sex and romance, all sorts of like, cultural issues, how to live well in today’s society. So while millennials are actually more skeptical of Scripture, they’re actually more hungry for scriptural insights and ways to live well in today’s sort of complex culture.”
Today, the Bible is available in nearly 2,300 languages. Hundreds of millions of downloads on mobile devices provide interactive ways to discover, study and share God’s Word across the social-media spectrum. In light of such wide availability, it is surprising that many Christians struggle with engaging the Bible and applying its relevancy to their lives.
American attitudes are being shaped by these now-young, but future leaders.
Millennials make up the largest generation in the U.S. at nearly 95 million strong, 22% greater than the baby boomers. Much like their “me generation” parents, Generation Y is going through its own journey spiritually and is less likely to say that the Bible is inspired by God. They don’t read the Bible like their parents and grandparents, and are more doubtful as a result. They need a translation that is rooted in the church but is easier for them to read and comprehend so they can apply it to their own lives and situations.
Awareness, interest and confidence in God’s Word appear to be dropping rapidly among those who are the future shapers of our country. Our society is defined increasingly by an absence of biblical principles and presence. Whether the growth of progressive agendas, dismissing biblical absolutes from our courts and schools, or believers’ apathy about the Bible, engagement in Scripture reading is sorely needed and provides Christian retailers with a unique opportunity to be used mightily on this front. The need has perhaps never been greater. The time is now.
MAKING SCRIPTURE CLEAR
Millennial Chelsen Vicari, evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, has a significant mission in mind for the church and believes the MEV can help.
“The MEV Bible is so relevant right now because America’s Christian churches are facing a crisis, whether we realize it or not,” said Vicari, the author of Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel & Damaging the Faith (FrontLine). “We’ve so long been focused on what’s going on outside of our walls that we haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on within. And within our own sanctuaries, there is a group and movement that’s repackaging the gospel, that’s distorting Christian teaching. We’ve got to start addressing this problem by equipping millennials, and to do that, we can help them with the MEV version of the Bible.
“Because the MEV version of the Bible is so easy to read, user-friendly, it can really help millennials understand what their faith is all about. And because of that, it will prepare us and equip us to go out, evangelize and incite revival in a new generation.”
As a leading voice among her peers, Vicari’s comments ought to present a clarion call for Christian retailers to realize the opportunity to engage the future of their business continually rests in reaching this growing and spiritually hungry demographic. The Bible’s perceived lack of relevancy is due to a lack of experience with its application. For too many, the untested is the untrue.
There are a lot of modern translations, but the MEV is the first updated version of the King James Version in decades. It fills a void and has a place within the church, especially for those hungering for updated language that still provides the reverence and distinctiveness of the KJV.
There remains a strong loyalty to the old King James Version. When asking Bible leaders which translation is their preference, Christian retailers may find it surprising to learn that the results may differ from their in-store experience. Just over one-third (34%) claim the KJV is their favorite, 13% cite the NIV, 7% NKJV, 6% ESV, 4% NLT, 3% NRSV and about 2% for all others. What the MEV brings to readers is a loyalty to the beauty and poetry of the KJV along with the reverence, yet in a language that modern audiences can readily understand.
“On a personal level, I think it’s an amazing thing for somebody to be asked to take part in the translation of the Bible from the original languages, to be able to render the Bible in a new and a fresh way, not only for that generation, but for generations to come,” said Rudolf D. Gonzalez, Ph.D., professor of New Testament and dean of The William R. Marshall Center for Theological Studies, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Gonzales is an ordained minister (Southern Baptist Convention) and one of the scholars on the MEV translation team.
“What the Modern English Version committee sought to do was to take the King James and be faithful to the language of the King James, to recognize that it has a venerable place in the history of American Christianity, of English-speaking Christianity,” Gonzalez added. “And we wanted to maintain that, and yet we wanted to somehow bring the language forward to make it meaningful and relevant to our people today.”
Gonzalez finds what he calls a “biblical pattern” in that process.
“The New Testament, for example, was written by inspired men,” he said. “And it’s interesting, a lot of people don’t often realize this, but whenever the apostolic writers were quoting the Old Testament, often in the New Testament they’re not quoting the ancient Hebrew script, but they’re quoting the Septuagint—the Greek rendering of the Hebrew text. It’s as if they understood that the Old Testament was authoritative and had its place, but they needed to quote it in a language that was meaningful for the day.
“Well, that’s what we’ve tried to do with the Modern English Version. We realized that it has a place in history and it continues to have a very important place in the community of faith today, and yet there are so many people that probably would never turn to it because of the language barriers. And so what we wanted to do was to revisit the original text to see if somehow we could modernize the language, bring it up to date, make it more contemporary for the reader today.”
The King James Version is anchored in Western culture, but today, not as many people realize it. There are a number of idioms in the English language that originated with the King James Version, for instance, the phrase “apple of my eye.” As that understanding is lost, people aren’t familiar with their origin from the Bible. So the King James Version needed to be updated to keep it accessible to today’s culture.
In 1604, in response to the need for an accessible version of the Bible, King James I commissioned 47 clergy and scholars to publish what became known as the King James Version. While last updated in 1982, the English language has gone through so many changes that the necessity to update the KJV was overwhelmingly apparent, resulting in the multi-year process of bringing the Modern English Version into being. Once again, 47 of the world’s most qualified Bible linguists responded to the call for a clear, reverent and accurate translation for their time.
In recognition of the breadth and depth of the global English-speaking population, these translators were selected to represent a cross-section of the English-speaking church. As graduates and professors of some of the world’s most prestigious colleges, seminaries and universities, the translation committee is uniquely qualified to produce a translation able to not only satisfy those who have long treasured the King James Version, but to engage the next generation. From inception, the new translation was to be applicable and transformational for the entire English-speaking world. Like those who have gone before them, the linguists devoted themselves to ensuring the Modern English Version is an accurate and responsible update of the King James Version.
Bound by Christian unity and cooperation, the interdenominational committee adopted the philosophy of formal equivalence. This more literal approach employs a word-for-word rather than a thought-for-thought translation philosophy. Also at times, the MEV updates some of the archaic idioms that are found in the King James Version for modern readers so that they’ll have an easier time understanding what these idioms mean. For example, in Mark 2:18-19, the people ask Jesus why His disciples do not fast like the Pharisees do. The original Greek used in Jesus’ response was, literally, “Can the sons of the wedding hall fast when the bridegroom is with them?” The KJV translates this idiom into English as, “the children of the bridechamber.” Now, the idiom “children of the bridechamber” makes little sense to us today, but the MEV translates it as “wedding guests,” which is much easier to understand for today’s reader.
N. Blake Hearson, M.A., M.Div., M.Phil., Ph.D., an ordained minister, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor-in-chief, Old Testament, explains it this way: “This is an update of the King James Version. The basis of our text was the Textus Receptus as well as the Ben-Haim version of the Hebrew text. And we brought all these things together in a way that was very true to the beauty of the King James Version, and yet brings that forward with clarity and accuracy that will enable a whole new generation to appreciate the beauty of the King James in a language that they can understand. And that’s what makes the MEV such a great translation for today.”
Some may question how different the MEV is from the NKJV released in 1982. The MEV translation committee observed that the MEV is a direct descendant of the KJV (1611, 1769) and seeks to carry forward the KJV tradition, but to do so in a much more modernized language while remaining faithful to the original texts.
Returning to the original texts and translating them anew from the Textus Receptus as well as the Ben Hayyim version of the Hebrew text provides authenticity that will be readily understood and accepted among scholars and most pastors. Christian consumers will find the difference mainly in the updates to the English language itself. While some well-known verses such as John 3:16 seldom reflect change in various modern translations, it’s the updated language throughout the MEV that will bring clarity and greater understanding to the Scriptures.
EMBRACING THE NEW
Just as the King James Version has been the standard since the 17th century, the Modern English Version meets the needs for today’s generation and for those to come. It presents a tremendous opportunity for the Christian retailer. Today a consumer can go into any bookstore and find any number of translations that appeal to people of different preferences. Who will the MEV appeal to? It is a translation that is pre-eminently practical and useful not just for the theologian, but also for the pastor, lay leader and the Christian seeking to draw closer to God in order to know Him better and love Him more.
The MEV is user-friendly from the pulpit, the classroom, the kitchen table or anywhere one enjoys personal devotion time. The scholarship is first-rate, and it is rendered in a language that makes it easily applied in the hearts of anyone seeking to hear God’s voice.
The differences between the MEV and the KJV are distinctive. As with many modern English translations those differences have a tendency to appear less so when one skips across a handful of favorite verses in a cursory comparison. It is important to recognize that the changes to the English language through the years are more significant than can be found by skimming highlights in the new translation. Publisher support material will assist retailers with drawing distinctions between the MEV and other translations—especially those that also employed a formal-equivalence approach.
Dr. Michael Brown, president and professor of practical theology at Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism School of Ministry, raised a good question when he first read the MEV.
“When I first saw it, and it was being compared to the King James, I said, ‘This is really similar. What’s the point?’ Then, when I understood the point was to have something with the feel of the King James in modern language, I thought, ‘This is really well done!’ So, then I spot-checked, because biblical scholarship, that’s my field. My degrees are in Semitic languages and things, and I’ve worked on a few translations over the years as a reader or giving input or things like that. So as I went through it, I said, ‘OK, let’s see how they render this. Let’s see how they treat it.’ They were not just taking the King James and trying to put it in modern language. They were going directly from the Hebrew, the Aramaic, the Greek in light of the best manuscript evidence that we have in harmony with the King James translation’s philosophy. I thought, ‘They’ve really done a good job on this!’ And even if I wanted to memorize verses now, and if I wanted to go back or quote passages, or read them publicly, this really works.”
It would be easy for retailers to simply view the MEV as just another translation and wait to see if anyone walks in asking for it. Unfortunately, so much of retail today has become “point and shoot” style. “Sure we have that—three aisles down on your left, should be on the second shelf.” This leaves the whole service-and-sales proposition in the hands of the consumer alone. While some may prefer the solitude to explore on their own, Bibles are far too important and too specialized to be left for someone to guess about. Besides, it’s the Christian retailer’s opportunity for ministry—the basis on which such a store exists.
Consistent reading of the Bible leads to the ultimate goal of Scripture engagement, which takes readership to another level as the Holy Spirit illuminates through God’s Word where their lives require alignment with His will. As they grow through God’s Word, their hunger to learn more brings them back to Christian retail to discover more of what their local store offers. It starts with the right Bible in their hands.
“We are living in, arguably, the most difficult times spiritually our nation has ever experienced. Great cultural decadence. Spiritual apathy. Moral relativism. Ecclesiastical lukewarmness,” said Samuel Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “What we need is to re-engage God’s Word. We need the Word of God to once again emerge as the quintessential standard of morality, righteousness and justice. The Modern English Version serves that very purpose.”
Therein lies a great opportunity for Christian retailers to engage the church in their local communities. Traffic is down, and competition is up. The local church faces the same challenge! While Christian retailers are fighting to find ways to attract consumers (especially millennials) to their stores to grow their future, the local church is doing the same to grow the kingdom. Why not work together to celebrate the release of this all-important Bible translation?
Adopting an event mentality for the MEV allows Christian retail stores to embrace churches in their neighborhood that perhaps they have not spoken directly with in some time. As the old adage goes: If you get the church, you often get the people in the church. Given that the ABS study shows the largest percentage for preferred translation is the King James Version (34%), and this is the first update in over three decades—inviting pastors and key leaders in the Christian retailer’s community to discover this significant update gives the store the opportunity to re-engage the church on a subject for which both share a great love.
Whether that means door-to-door visits to the church, sending a personal letter, hosting a Bible reading group, taking a pastor to lunch or hosting a breakfast for several church leaders at one time, returning to this basic means of marketing can only help to grow awareness of the store. It’s about relationships and re-establishes the local Christian retail store front-of-mind as a leading authority on Bibles and encourages partnership with the church to help congregants grow in their spiritual walk.
Assertive retailers will use any viable opportunity to engage their communities with a call to action—if it meets needs and helps customers grow spiritually. Today, customers have come to expect functional features and benefits, product quality and a positive brand image. What they want in addition are products that touch their hearts, answer their questions and stimulate their minds.
The release of any new Bible translation is worth celebrating because it helps readers draw closer to their Creator. Shelving the product as “just another product” becomes a disservice to the customer. In contrast, featuring in a key focus area brings increased awareness and helps build the trust experience customers receive when they visit their local Christian retailer and see the value placed on the Bible.
Enthusiasm for the MEV is contagious, so such efforts won’t be in a vacuum. Major ministries and denominational heads already are embracing the MEV. Demand for an update to the KJV has been growing for years and is being welcomed by those working to engage society in reading the Bible.
Rob Hoskins, president of One Hope (Ministries), sees this translation as important for the younger generation.
“Our mission is to affect destiny by providing God’s Word to every child in the world,” Hoskins said. “This year alone, we’ll reach nearly 100 million children around the world with God’s Word through print, visual, audio and digital platforms. But it’s not just the distribution of God’s Word that we’re concerned about: it’s about scripture engagement because it’s not the distribution of God’s Word, but the entrance of God’s Word, that’s so important to us. And that’s why we invest so much time and energy in making sure that the right translation is found for every particular audience, and that’s why we’re thrilled with the MEV. Not only is it incredibly simple for children and young people to understand, but it’s also very credible with the churches that we’re working with here in the U.S. and around the world.”
King Solomon said of making books, there is no end, and sometimes it feels that way with Bible translations and formats. The Christian products industry certainly offers many opportunities for Christian consumers to engage God one-on-one in the reading of His Word. It is important to have a translation that consumers can not only trust, but also find value in for the direction of their own lives and for those they love, those they teach and those they lead. The beauty of the Modern English Version is that it not only preserves the cadence of the King James, but it also remains true to the message of holy Scripture and is worthy to pass on to future generations.
MEV Publishing Director Jason McMullen perhaps sums it up best: “Psalm 118 reads in the Modern English Version, ‘This is what the Lord has done; it is marvelous in our eyes.’ Everything God does is marvelous. Everything He does is great. When I think about the conversations and the meetings and all that went into bringing us to this point, it’s simply marvelous. We didn’t do this. God did this. God brought these 47 scholars together at this point in time to provide this updated translation for His church, and that’s something special.
“So, I’m calling upon Christian retailers,” McMullen said. “I’m calling upon leaders, pastors, discipleship directors, Christian education directors, moms, dads and students to help us spread the word. Help us spread the word about this translation, the Modern English Version. This is something to be celebrated because God has provided this for His church.”
Written by Bill Nielsen
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 01:28 PM EDT
Assortment and environment help drive holiday sales
Christmas is the Super Bowl of retailing. The degree to which you begin now to prepare for Christmas will determine your success—regardless of the bust or boom of the season for everyone else. As with any other strategic issue, I recommend beginning with the end in mind.
Close your eyes for a few minutes and envision what your store will look like during the next Christmas season. How does it look and smell? What sounds surround the customer? What do your stock levels look like? How many employees are available to serve your customers? What items are your customers coming in to look for? All of this and more should be part of your advance planning and can be addressed in the following focus areas:
How can you drive customers into your store? The potential for traffic and sales is such that I recommend you invest 40% of your annual advertising budget in November and December. Be sure you feature some mass-appeal items that will help bring in those who do not normally visit your store. Remember too, that your average transaction will likely grow by 50% or more during these two months, so plan to invest in some special product offers or coupons.
Above all, remember that you are competing for the consumer’s disposable income, so pull out all the stops to get them to shop with you. When it comes to media, don’t rely on catalogs alone. Thanksgiving is the single best time of the year to invest in free-standing newspaper inserts.
What are your customers looking for? More than ever, this season you must be in stock on what your customer expects to find. Plan your purchasing so that the majority of your goods are received by early November. That way your staff will be free to focus on service and selling. Go heavy on best-sellers, new releases and advertised items, and then round out your assortment with other seasonal items—lower-priced impulse items to help increase your average transaction and higher-margin products that can make your profits soar!
As you set your assortments, assess your open floor space and make plans to fill it with free-standing displays, compliments of your suppliers. This is the time of the year when your store should be bursting at the seams. Secure the relevant, high-appeal items in floor displays, clip strips and spinner racks that can help maximize every square inch. Your projected higher sales volumes should provide the inventory budget necessary to make this possible. Be sure to position seasonal items in your highest-traffic locations near the front of the store or on a power aisle for easy shopping.
How can you make the customer’s experience more enjoyable? Taking time to make your store a soothing but seasonally relevant environment will create an atmosphere that compels your customer to linger longer and buy more. Scented pine cones near the front door will greet your customers with a wonderful aroma. Seasonal decorations and point-of-purchase signage in traditional reds and greens are always a winning combination. Top it off with Christmas music such as an instrumental collection that inspires, but does not detract. Having the same available for purchase is a must!
How can you best serve the Christmas shopper? We know how tiring and frustrating it can be to secure just the right gift for every person on our list. Having trained, friendly staff available can set you apart from your competition and make sure no one leaves your store without their needs being met. Begin recruiting seasonal staff in September and starting training them in early November. Analyze your sales from last year—by hour—and take time to create work schedules that ensure you have the right number of staff when you need them and not when you don’t.
What about the 13th month? The holiday season does not end Dec. 24 at 6 p.m. when you close your doors. January can be a significant revenue period if you plan ahead. Again, plan with the end in mind. Develop a life-cycle pricing plan for seasonal goods that includes full MSRP, an early markdown if necessary and then clearance.
One key is to buy items specifically for clearance. You are more apt to become known as a good place to shop in January if you have some great items at great prices rather than a bunch of leftovers no one wants. Seed your clearance selection with items you bought at high discount just for this purpose.
Another key is to estimate what percent of each item you will see at full, marked-down and then clearance pricing. Selling 100% at full retail is ideal, but not practical. It also probably means you did not buy enough and as a result, lost sales. A healthy mix is to see 50% at full retail, 30% at a reduced price and 20% on clearance at 50-75% off. Once you have a plan, monitor sales and move to a marked-down or clearance price based on your sell-through rate. Items that are moving well can wait, but those collecting dust need pricing action right away.
NEXT ISSUE: In the September issue, we’ll look at retail productivity and how to reduce labor costs.
Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.