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Industry Roundtable
E-book sales build in the Christian market PDF Print E-mail
Written by C.J. Darlington   
Monday, 05 August 2013 03:56 PM EDT

RickChristianDigital publishing expands into Bibles, juvenile fiction and other categories

E-books are here to stay. As readers tuck smart phones in their pockets and iPads in their purses, many believe e-publishing is great news for retailers and publishers. Others see cause for concern. Will consumers even be reading hard-copy books 10 years from now? What does the exponential growth of the e-book mean for struggling brick-and-mortar stores?

Now that Christian products industry has had a few years to watch the market, publishers and retailers can rest assured the paper book’s doomsday is not on the immediate horizon. In fact, some industry professionals believe retailers can breathe a sigh of relief since e-books have the potential to generate even greater readership—if all concerned continue to embrace change rather than shun new technology. 

Even with e-books’ promising numbers, there are still issues to be addressed and questions to be asked. We discuss these concerns and developments with RICK CHRISTIAN, founder and president of Alive Communications and e-book publisher Bondfire Books; ALAN HUIZENGA, senior director of digital publishing, Tyndale House Publishers; MATT WEST, vice president of general market sales, B&H Publishing Group.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What are some of the differences you’re seeing between e-books in the Christian versus general markets?

RICK CHRISTIAN: Christian houses generally report the same ratios as their general market counterparts, with e-book sales accounting for about 22% of overall sales, plus or minus.

AlanHuizengaALAN HUIZENGA: And overall, trends suggest that e-book sales are leveling off from the three-digit growth we have seen over the past several years. Our experience indicates that the digital mix of product is dependent upon the line of products a publisher carries.  Fiction continues to dominate e-book sales, and in those categories, our mix can be as high as 50%-60% on some lines. The growth in e-books we saw this year were in the Bible and juvenile fiction lines as we put more of those titles in the market. Another important trend we see is that tablets have now become the preferred reading device over e-ink devices.


CR: In the Christian market, how do sales of e-books compare with sales of print books?

MATT WEST: In the Christian marketplace, I do see that e-book sales compared to print sales are at a much lower percentage than with the general market retailers, but I haven’t quantified the split. At the author level, e-book sales are in line with those of authors for other categories, though newer titles and best-sellers are posting nearly 50/50 splits between print and digital sales. Some categories, like fiction, trend higher.

CHRISTIAN: A few years back, certain individuals bloviated that e-book sales would surpass print sales within a few years, and one still famously—or infamously—says print is doomed by 2015. But he’s like a lonely scarecrow in an open field because the exponential growth of e-book sales in years past plateaued in 2013. We expect the e-book market share to remain pretty level for the near future, with great prospects for more growth as younger readers grow up.

HUIZENGA:  I agree. Years ago, many “experts” were predicting that digital would overtake physical sales. Now, those same pundits are more reserved in their statements, suggesting that “e” and “p” will exist side by side for many years. I believe it comes down to the type of content. Picture books, reference works, children’s products, Bibles and more graphically intense works are still preferred in the physical format. Fiction and other straight narrative works are more popular in digital format, particular with those products whose content is quickly “consumable.” Certainly, the quick-to-market potential of e-products also lets digital products capitalize on timely and current events. We saw success with Joel Rosenberg as his e-only title did well for us and helped build interest and sales in his other titles. 


CR: Do you think there’s still room for growth in the e-book market or has it stabilized? 

HUIZENGA: The growth of e-books is slowing, which is a natural outcome since it cannot continue to grow at the rate it has been for the past several years.  

CHRISTIAN: Right. The audience size can’t grow by several hundred percent every year.

MattWestWEST: I’m not sure I would characterize it as stabilization though. The growth rate appeared to slow in the last half of 2012, to something like 30% over the previous year, compared to growth rates in the 150%-200% range for the two or three years previous. That sounds like a big fall-off, but 30% is still a huge growth rate in comparison to the traditional rate of growth for retail in general or for book retail. And some channels—library, education, international—aren’t anywhere near the same level of saturation as the U.S. domestic retail market, so the next waves of growth could come from either the next disruptive technology in hardware or from publishers expanding into new markets that we are just now developing the infrastructure to service.

HUIZENGA: There is always a new innovation just beyond the corner, but I believe that e-book technology has settled for a while. 

CHRISTIAN: More people will adopt the format as they learn they can access e-books on devices they already own. I expect people will become more agnostic about these choices over time, shifting between digital reading and analog reading without much thought. 


CR: What are the responses you’re hearing from retailers about e-books?

WEST: There is an understanding that digital sales are a critical part of the industry’s future, and I sense a genuine spirit of partnership between the publishers and retailers.  We’re beginning to hear success stories, either through coordination of e-book and print merchandising efforts, or targeted merchandising to reach niche audiences within the Christian community, like the pastoral market. More retailers are also at least in talks with, if not already signed up for, services like Ingram’s CoreSource or in talks with Kobo about using their platform, which we see as healthy progress for e-book growth in the Christian retail space. 

HUIZENGA: We are ministering in greater numbers to people’s spiritual needs, giving voice to more authors through our digital-only endeavors, and spurring on the sales of our physical products in retail stores across the country. It’s been difficult for individual retailers to participate because of the burden of infrastructure investment. Also, once a reader is committed to a particular platform, it is difficult to entice them to a new platform (although tablets might be a possibility to break this barrier). There are a number of companies that provide retailers e-book support, like Matt mentioned: Ingram, ACM Digital, Kobo, Overdrive, etc., but pressures on downward pricing make things difficult. Anecdotally, the retailers for which we have seen good results have positioned themselves as curators of Christian content in a safe Internet environment.

CHRISTIAN: Some retailers we talk with are yet pretty chirpy about getting into the e-reader game. It’s fun and different, and it makes everybody feel like start-up entrepreneurs with a new gizmo. But that’s how it was at B&N a few years ago when they began pitching Nooks with evangelistic fervor. 


CR: How important is pricing in this ever-changing market? 

HUIZENGA: This is a real issue that the entire industry must face. We have seen e-book revenue grow, but the number of units sold has grown as well. This reflects the fact that many products are sold in the 99 cents to $2.99 range. We all need to work together to make sure that our content is not devalued. We will promote our products to gain exposure, but we do not radically discount e-content because digital is only another “edition” of the product.

CHRISTIAN: Pricing is huge. If e-books are roughly a quarter of the market and poised to grow at even a modest rate, then we must ensure the price is right for everyone involved—authors, readers, publishers, retailers and libraries. 

WEST: Pricing is certainly important, but maybe not as all-consuming a factor as we might have historically believed.  Does pricing need to be competitive? Yes, absolutely.  But what we’re seeing is less price-sensitivity in some niche markets—Bibles and Bible reference, academic and on pastoral ministry titles—as well as less need for permanent deep discounts on e-book prices, and instead more opportunities with flexible pricing or short-term price promotions. Discoverability is still a far greater issue to continue wrestling to the ground than price.


CR: What’s the biggest misconception about e-books?

HUIZENGA: That e-book content should be cheaper because there are no costs of goods. While there are no costs of goods associated with e-books, that is the least amount of expense in bringing a product to market. Publishers must still pay large advances, edit the content, design interiors and covers, and market and promote their products. There is also a very particular development and conversion process that publishers must acquire to produce these products and upload them into the channels.  

WEST: People think that the infrastructure is too costly or too complicated to be implemented effectively by retailers. But the tools and platforms available from some of the larger players—Kobo and Ingram, for instance—are improving constantly and show a true aptitude for simplicity and ease of implementation. In addition, there is a great opportunity for some smaller tech retailers that have been dabbling in Christian e-book sales to partner with other retailers.


CR: Is the future of e-books bright? 

CHRISTIAN: We’re already living in the bright future of e-books, and it will get brighter still. E-books lower the overall cost of goods, which is scary for some publishers, but very good for readers and the long-term health of the marketplace. E-books allow for faster-paced publishing, which is good for authors and readers and can lend new titles a timeliness that is often missed by the slow pace of traditional publishing. 

WEST: Yes, the future of e-books is positively bright. From a missional standpoint, there has never been a more incredible opportunity for spreading the gospel, both here in the United States and around the globe. The ease with which the message God gives an author can be spread and distributed around the globe is a marvel.

HUIZENGA: No one is an expert in terms of predicting what is going to happen, but I believe that e-books will continue to be a viable option for those readers who desire that type of content. I also believe that physical books will continue to be a large and important part of the business as well. 

Retail Roundtable: Preparing for an uncertain future PDF Print E-mail
Written by Troy Anderson   
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 09:33 AM EDT

Christian retailers anticipate impact of Obamacare rules and regulations

As the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, Christian Retailing spoke with some key Christian retail store owners and managers to find out what they were doing to prepare for the impact of Obamacare regulations.

Publisher's Roundtable: Changing with the times PDF Print E-mail
Written by Natalie Gillespie   
Tuesday, 09 October 2012 02:01 PM EDT

VBS publishers employ more digital content to reach the younger set

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a product that connects stores with local churches, and churches to the families in their communities. As VBS comes into the digital age, suppliers are utilizing technology to connect retail, church leaders and consumers, and keep the VBS dialogue going all year long.

Christian Retailing talked with three publisher representatives about the ways that VBS products are evolving and expanding.

Taking part in the conversation were:

  • ROBB FAUST, assistant brand manager, Standard Publishing
  • ROBERTA LEHMAN, marketing specialist, Lifeway Kids
  • CRYSTAL MCDOWELL, VBS editor, Urban Ministries Inc. (UMI)
  • KAREN MCGRAW, associate managing editor, VBS for Gospel Light
  • SHANNON VELASQUEZ, public relations/special events manager, VBS/women’s ministry, Group Publishing

CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What makes VBS continue to be a viable product for churches and Christian stores?

VBS is the most effective outreach event of the year for many churches. VBS gives churches opportunities to cultivate and establish ongoing relationships with all who attend. On average, 10% of kids who attend VBS are unchurched. For the average VBS, 10% equals 10 people. Discovering new 10 people plus their family members is a big deal!

CRYSTAL MCDOWELL: I think VBS remains popular because you still have children who are available over the summer, and parents are always looking for something different and fun to make Jesus exciting.

KAREN MCGRAW: VBS is a prime opportunity for churches to reach out to unchurched kids and their families—and it’s a great program for kids who go to church on a regular basis. Any time God’s people can get together and lavish love on God’s children—that’s a great place to be.

SHANNON VELASQUEZ: I think there is that one point in a life where someone can be reached with the gospel message, and we know that often the easiest time to receive it is as a child, so to get children to have one entire week of VBS, where the gospel is the focus, is just huge.

CHRISTIAN RETAILING: How much is VBS still about evangelizing unchurched kids?

RobbFaustFAUST: The great thing about this year’s VBS for us is that kids are 

learning how to practically serve every day. The first day they are learning to serve their families. The second day they are serving their friends, then their neighbors, then their community, then Jesus. Every day they have a lesson on the topic of serving, then a service challenge to go home and do, so it doesn’t matter if the kids are in church, they can serve others and learn to serve Jesus. We are also introducing a missions component this year with Back2Back Ministries ( They help orphan kids in Mexico, and the VBS offerings will go to Mexico to help these kids. All week long at VBS, kids will see the missions DVD in the opener. It is the story of Joel, and they will follow his story all week long.


LEHMAN: We call LifeWay’s VBS “The Evangelistic VBS.” All aspects of our VBS include age-appropriate outreach. Everything we do in VBS ties into the biblical content, and there is a special message on day three designed to teach grade school-age kids the ABCs of Becoming a Christian. The VBS scripture for 2013 is 2 Tim. 1:7.

MCDOWELL: I have seen that VBS brings in a lot of the kids already in the church, but leaders are still encouraging them to bring friends to VBS. If they bring a friend or two, you are teaching the kids to reach out to other kids with the gospel. By even just inviting them, they are practicing evangelism.


MCGRAW: At Gospel Light, we definitely develop VBS curriculum for unchurched kids. We realize that a number of churches have more “churched” kids attending than not, but for many, many churches, VBS is still their biggest outreach event of the year. We write all of our materials to address the needs of unchurched kids. And every lesson in Gospel Light’s VBS has evangelistic opportunities written for VBS leaders to talk to kids about becoming members of God’s family.

ShannonVelasquezVELASQUEZ: We have tremendous success reaching out to kids who have never been to church before because we design our VBS with one simple Bible point that is reinforced in every rotation activity. It appeals to kids who go to church, but is also simple enough that even kids who have never heard of any of this before can get it. The one simple daily Bible point is pivotal for us.

CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What brand-new elements are you introducing for 2013?

FAUST: We have two themes this year, which is new for Standard. We have God’s Backyard Bible Camp: Under the Stars and God’s Backyard Bible Camp: Under the Sun. Fifty-three percent of churches now hold VBS in the evenings, so the Under the Stars kit is geared specifically for that timeframe, although it can be used during the day too, but all the Bible stories in that kit take place sometime in the evening. We also decided this year to offer everything in one kit. We used to offer a basic kit and a power kit, but now everything you need to hold VBS is all in one kit and is still just $199.99, although it includes more than $500 in resources. We completely redesigned our materials, so that instead of a big leader’s guide, we are offering leaflets, booklets and cards for each day that you can tuck right into your Bible. There are newly formatted bundles for each age group, including a preschool bundle, elementary/preteen bundle and teen bundle. We also include a DVD set that contains a missions DVD, planning DVD, music DVD, bonus music CD-ROM and an exportable media disc with all mp3s and mp4s of the music and videos. Another disc set included in the kit contains all the teaching resources and leader’s guides as pdf files, so if you need an extra guide, you just print it off. Everything you need to lead and plan our VBS is now in one kit.

LEHMAN: New for 2013 is the Backyard Kids Club. Many churches are looking for ways to take VBS outside their church and into their communities. Our VBS 2013 Backyard Kids Club Director’s Guide and Backyard Kids Club Kit provide portable resources that can be used easily wherever there is a group of kids gathered. The VBS 2013 Backyard Kids Club Kit is an all-in-one box designed for a club of about 20 kids. The VBS 2013 Backyard Kids Club Director’s Guide provides step-by-step guidance to the person or team who will be coordinating and planning the Backyard Kids Club. It’s all based on the Colossal Coaster World theme and coordinates well with the numerous accessories, decorations and promotional tools available.

MCDOWELL: I think our new element would be our DVD. Our theme for 2013 is Jesus Family Reunion: The Remix. We had a Jesus Family Reunion VBS in 2006, and it was very successful. This year, we are taking each theme and relating it on the DVD to a family situation. In the lessons, we also picked family situations in the Bible that can be used to understand things like forgiving and obeying.

MCGRAW: In addition to adding more resources to some of our electronic products, we’ve created a brand-new Parent Pocket Guide to help churches extend the VBS lessons beyond the threshold of the church. The Parent Pocket Guide gives parents all the information they need to reinforce the lessons their kids are getting at VBS. Our student guides also include a fun family activity to further promote involvement of the whole family.

VELASQUEZ: We introduced Imagination Station last year, and it is coming back this year. We reimagined crafts and introduced science, fun gizmos and experiments that flew off the shelves. This year, for our Kingdom Rock VBS, we are reimagining our student books and how to get them back home so kids can continue learning and talk to parents or friends and family member. We are also reimagining our Bible Memory Buddies.

CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Is your VBS focused primarily on elementary ages? How does it work for nursery kids and teens?

FAUST: We have a book called Beyond Your Backyard that is an adult VBS curriculum. … Our kits also have preschool, elementary/preteen and teen components and leader’s guides. We have a VBS designed for preschool through adult.

LEHMAN: LifeWay’s VBS provides content for all ages. Babies, 1s, 2s, 3s through Kindergarten, Grades 1 and 2, Grades 3 and 4, Grades 5 and 6, Youth, Adults and also children and adults with special needs. We also provide a full line of Spanish VBS resources. LifeWay’s Youth VBS is perfect for preparing youth to serve during children’s VBS. It’s also great for retreats, Bible studies or as a weeklong youth VBS program.

MCDOWELL: We want VBS to reach the whole family. We created lessons with family situations from the Bible that can be used from preschoolers all the way to teens. Our VBS is geared toward the black community, and that is shown on our DVD and in the music. I think about where the black community is when I write the lessons, but the message is for everybody—it’s Jesus.

MCGRAW: We don’t think of VBS as a program just for elementary children. It’s a program for the whole family. Whether as a team member or as a kid attending VBS, everyone can be involved. Even those parents who can’t participate by volunteering can be involved through our Parent Newsletters, the new Parent Pocket Guide and the family activities provided on the student guides. Not to mention attending Closing Programs and other family-oriented VBS events. Gospel Light has a number of products for preschoolers. The Pony Corral Teacher’s Guide has Bible stories and Bible Learning Activities geared for children from 3 years old through Kindergarten. We also have Pony Corral Fun Pages for each child for each day of VBS. Also included in our Director’s Planning Guide is the Nursery and Toddler Guide. We recognize the need for churches to provide quality care for the little ones whose parents volunteer at VBS. We also have youth and adult guides provided by our Regal book division. These Bible studies are designed to take the Bible content covered in VBS to a deeper level. Our focus is always on providing curriculum that is age-appropriate.

VELASQUEZ: With our VBS programs we really encourage older kids to come back and help. We call ours the easy VBS program because you just have to learn one simple Bible point. And if you are a crew leader, you have a group of five kids that you are taking through the rotations. If you are a helper at the Imagination Station, you stay there the whole time. We also offer a program for teens every year called Unlimited Youth that comes out with our traditional VBS.

CHRISTIAN RETAILING: How is VBS turning to the digital age? Are you, the developers, putting more online? In addition to websites, how are you utilizing the web in other ways as well as media?

FAUST: It’s exciting for us that Yancey did our music again, and she produced all the music videos herself. Some have kids doing motions. Some feature Yancey, and some just have the words, so churches have a variety of options. Yancey has already posted clips on YouTube and is getting a lot of hits there. We are also putting some on Facebook and seeing traffic increase. There are eight new songs from Yancey, and they are reproducible.

LEHMAN: Many of LifeWay’s VBS resources are available for download from Clip art, videos and other helpful free resources are available at We also have an ongoing Lifeway VBS blog that offers ideas and creates community ( You can follow LifeWay VBS on Facebook and Twitter, and our VBS Blog has something new each day.

MCDOWELL: I know that we are working on media right now, using Twitter and Facebook more this year. We want to try to be more out-of-the-box.

Online and other electronic resources are something we are constantly working on improving. In addition to our reproducible Music & More CD, which churches are free to reproduce for every family that attends VBS, we have a CD-ROM in our Director’s Planning Guide that includes dozens of forms and checklists for the director, volunteer and parent newsletters, as well as training articles that can be either printed out or emailed to team members. We also have a variety of music and skits DVDs and a brand-new Rip-Roarin’ Multimedia CD-ROM that churches can use in conjunction with presentation software to display images on screens during large-group assembly times. As far as social media goes, we have our websites, and We also have a Facebook page, Pinterest page and Twitter accounts (@Gospel_Light; @HenriettaMears).

VELASQUEZ: Technology is so big for kids these days, so we reimagined our Chatter Chipmunk puppet, and he went digital because animation is so cool to kids. We also have an online presence ( that kids can go to every day after VBS and see video trailers and play games to reinforce the points they’ve learned. For our friends in ministry, Facebook has become a huge thing for us. We have seen a tremendous increase, I think because it’s an easy, informal way to communicate. Also, we have all of our decorating tips on Youtube, and the videos are a big hit. Families who participated in our VBS find us on Facebook too. Recently, a mom wrote to tell us thank-you for VBS, because her 3-year-old daughter attended last year and then was diagnosed with cancer. The little girl—even at 3—remembered our Bible point, which was “Trust in God.” That is just one of example of why I love VBS.

Publisher's Roundtable: Reaching the ‘thoughtful’ reader PDF Print E-mail
Written by Production   
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 09:58 AM EDT

Stores with knowledgeable staff stand out, but customer service training is key

Reaching the “thoughtful” books reader takes a retailer committed to stocking appropriately and building a reputation as the “go-to” outlet for such titles. It also doesn’t hurt stores to have someone on staff willing to answer the questions of inquiring customers. We discussed some of the key players in this category and its future with representatives from four publishers of “thoughtful” and academic titles in the Christian market.

Taking part in the conversation were: 



LAURA BARTLETT, academic marketing manager, Kregel Publications





JEFF CROSBY, associate publisher/director of sales and marketing, InterVarsity Press (IVP)







DAVID DOBSON, executive director of publishing and editorial director, Westminster John Knox Press





JESSE HILLMAN, marketing director, academic and reference, Zondervan



CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What types of books do you classify as academic that Christian retail stores would sell?

JEFF CROSBY: Within any of the academic lines represented by the four of us, there is a broad range of disciplines covered and a spectrum of academic levels (undergraduate, graduate, seminary, doctoral) within them. What those of us in academic publishing call “core texts” probably would not, for the most part, be strong additions to a Christian retail store. Exceptions might be Bible background works, such as a major series Zondervan publishes, or a two-volume series that IVP publishes, among others. But what are known as “supplemental texts” often would be, particularly in categories that are of importance to—or should be—the church at large. 

When I owned and managed a Christian retail store from 1983 to 1996, books such as James Sire’s The Universe Next Door and Colin Brown’s Philosophy and the Christian Faith, or Jesus studies titles by J.P. Moreland and resurrection studies by William Lane Craig, all were a regular part of my assortments—and success. And none of those were thought of as purely “academic books.” But times have changed, obviously, and today they typically are thought of that way and slotted in academic lines such as those we work with. But they still speak to their original audiences, which are both inside and outside the academy. 

I find that titles in categories such as apologetics, preaching, commentaries, reference works (both mass market “pocket” titles and larger, one-volume works), political science, theology, vocation studies and books addressing pressing issues of the day, such as the problem of evil, war, poverty, immigration and others, often do find homes in Christian retail stores. And when they do—such as at Hearts and Minds in Dallastown, Pa., or Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kan., or Logos bookstore in
Dallas—they become a part of the store’s image and attract an expanded clientele.

LAURA BARTLETT: There are many academic books that thoughtful Christians pick up and will enjoy and benefit from. Academic books don’t have to be inaccessible. For example, many “armchair theologians” enjoy our “40 Questions” series of books. Similarly, pastors are increasingly viewing themselves as pastor-scholars, and so exegetical commentaries and other biblical studies books are very relevant to them and other lay church leaders.

DAVID DOBSON: While Westminster John Knox Press has generally not had the same presence in the Christian retail market for our academic books as for our laity books, some of our academic books do cross over there. These tend to be reference works in Bible and theology, along with some of our homiletics books. But our academic books mainly sell through stores at mainline seminaries and graduate schools and, of course, online booksellers.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What are the publishing seasons in this market?

CROSBY: Traditionally we had two (rather than three, as with the trade) publishing seasons—February and October. Catalogs were geared to those months for course adoptions in the autumn and spring semesters, respectively. However, about three years ago, we moved to three publishing cycles, in tandem with our trade catalog. The additional “touches” of professors—through our IVP Academic Alert bulletin and the printed catalog—have helped us stay in front of them and the institutional stores they are connected to, and we have become more timely in getting our information out. The autumn selling season is typically larger than the other two because the major conferences—the Evangelical Theological Society and the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature—are held in November.

JESSE HILLMAN: The announcement of our academic releases are driven by our three trade sales cycles as well. We do maintain a flexibility, however, to set release dates based on what’s best for each individual project. And we are always revisiting this due to changes such as those brought on by the Textbook Provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act and the increasing ease through social media to reach out to both consumers and key academic buyers. Digital-first releases also require more nimbleness than the traditional trade season structure.

BARTLETT: While we announce our academic books to the trade on a three-season cycle, our consumer-facing announcements remain on a two-season cycle as this feels most natural to professors on a two-semester class/textbook planning schedule.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: While the academic market is probably not very trendy, what publishing patterns are evident?

CROSBY: It can actually be more “trend-conscious” than you might think. Publishing follows (and sometimes guides, we hope helpfully) conversations about core aspects of religious faith and engagement in the broader culture. Of late, there have been trends in the study of the historical Adam, the study of the doctrine of the Trinity, atonement, studies related to the apostle Paul and his writings, the resurrection and, of course, the so-called “new atheism,” which really wasn’t new at all, just a bit more sensational in the Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens’ version. But beyond that, there is a growing issue that I call the “Google effect” whereby many students and people in the church believe (mistakenly, in my opinion) that research and reading on the Internet will suffice when it comes to studying and working through critical issues and concerns. Additionally, there is a significant trend toward “digital lending libraries” of academic and reference works, and “value-added” features for digital versions of those works. So, as with trade publishing, there are trends, and all of us are trying to stay on top of and respond to—and guide—them.

BARTLETT: Often, trends in popular culture follow trends in academia—but months or years behind. Not all academic trends filter down to popular culture, but an academic emphasis today on, for example, the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament may result in homiletics books next year on preaching the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, which may result in popular-level books and sermons on the subject the year after that. Digital publishing, e-learning and self-publishing are examples of patterns that are increasing in prominence within academic publishing.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What traits make an academic publisher strong in the Christian market?

CROSBY: It’s important to know both who you are, as a publisher, and who your audiences are, and publish into that with excellence on a consistent basis. That builds trust and repeat buyers, whether professors, students or consumers outside of the academy. And that excellence includes a very strong editorial process that regularly has peer-reviewed vetting of manuscripts to ensure the scholarship is up-to-date, accurate and presented in a clear, well-articulated manner. As with trade publishing, a strong academic publishing program will feature authors who are genuine experts in their field, but are able to communicate to their target audience. And that looks, feels and reads very differently at the undergraduate level than the graduate or post-graduate levels.

BARTLETT: It takes consistent and open communication with quality Christian booksellers. That is certainly more natural for those of us publishers with a trade division than it is for university publishers. Further, there are certain academic authors who know how to speak to a lay Christian audience as well as they do to a scholarly audience. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “If you can’t communicate clearly, you don’t really understand your subject.” We think that this is usually true and we use this as a filter in our acquisitions process.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Do we see new publishers entering this market, or is it pretty stable?

CROSBY: Absolutely. We see what have historically been “trade” publishers vying for the same authors and books as those that IVP Academic has long been working with, and we also see an expanded presence of university presses publishing evangelical and other Christian voices into the religion category—places such as Indiana University Press, the University of North Carolina Press, Baylor University Press and Oxford University Press, among many others.

BARTLETT: An interesting new entry to the market is Asbury Theological Seminary, with their Seedbed publishing venture. They have begun publishing Wesleyan resources, written primarily by their own faculty.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: How are academic trade publishers competing with university presses?

CROSBY: Our prices tend to be lower than a traditional university press, our print runs higher, and our marketing budgets larger. Additionally, we have a stronger ability to reach into the church, and … many of the books in our academic lines really do speak to concerns that pastors and church leaders and lay people are grappling with.

BARTLETT: The fact that each of us also publishes books in areas other than academic publishing means that we have better and wider distribution relationships than university presses do.

DOBSON: Price has always been a competitive advantage for us, whether competing with university presses or other academic publishers. This continues to be the case. Quality is another advantage—the quality of the editing, the copyediting and the entire book production process sometimes helps us draw authors who might have otherwise gone to a university press.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What associations and conferences are important to academic publishing?

CROSBY: The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and American Academic of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) are the three core societies that we are a part of. We also take our publishing program to the Society of Christian Philosophers, Christians in Political Science and the International Conference on Patristics, among others.

HILLMAN: Other related societies also plan meetings in connection with ETS and AAR/SBL. … Compared to events such as ICRS [International Christian Retail Show], which is important for other areas of our business, the ETS/AAR/SBL meetings bring together a wider array of people that are central to our academic publishing business—our current and prospective authors (we have several hundred authors in attendance); consumers (instructors, scholars and students); and important trade/industry contacts, both domestic and international, digital and traditional. 

BARTLETT: Preaching/pastoral conferences such as the Evangelical Homiletical Society and the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference are significant ways we reach readers and gatekeepers.

DOBSON: AAR/SBL continues to be the key event for us each year, both from a bookselling/course-adoption standpoint and from an author-recruitment standpoint. ETS is important, as is the Catholic Biblical Association annual meeting. We also attend smaller conferences, like the Society of Christian Ethics and Academy of Homiletics.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What key partnerships are evolving?

CROSBY: We have for more than 15 years been in partnership with the theology department at Wheaton College as a co-sponsor of the Wheaton Theology Conference. Last year’s theme surrounded the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Prior conferences featured J.I. Packer, N.T. Wright and other prominent voices within evangelicalism. And in the realm of Christian psychology/counseling studies, we have a formal publishing partnership with the Christian Association of Psychological Studies, which has led to publishing five core textbooks in that field.

HILLMAN: We are gearing up for a major announcement of a new partnership this September. For us, professors, schools and decision-makers in the academy are some of the most important partnerships to foster. We have a staff person whose sole responsibility is to build rapport with professors and proactively seek ways to inform and help them.

BARTLETT: Kregel also has a forthcoming fall announcement of a significant new publishing partnership. Our partnerships with schools that use e-learning resources have been mutually beneficial. We can in some cases tailor our resources to the needs of a particular school.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What is the place of Christian academic e-books?

CROSBY: Our best-selling academic books in print—such as Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes—are, likewise, our best-selling e-books. Digital lending libraries, driven by institutions more than professors or students, is another force within academic digital publishing. But even more than digital trade publishing, academic books are increasingly loaded with “value-added features” for classroom use as well as personal study.

DOBSON: We’re seeing a definite growth in our sales of academic e-books, but it’s not yet clear that a single standard is emerging. Do students and teachers want a regular e-book, an enhanced e-book, web-based content, PDFs or some other format that hasn’t been developed yet? We’re looking carefully to see where most of the growth seems to be happening, so we can be ready to address it.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What are Christian academic booksellers doing right?

CROSBY: For what are largely academic stores, the Dallas Theological Seminary Bookstore (DTS) and the online store are among the locations that stand out. Both know who their audiences are and cater very strongly to them. They have knowledgeable people working behind the scenes and behind the cash wraps. In the case of DTS, it is merchandised in a very organized, attractive manner and they have a rigorous customer service training program in place that makes the exceptional service happen. In the case of, they are uncommonly creative in their pricing and promotions. 

For trade stores stocking academic-oriented products, I have already referenced three exceptional examples: Eighth Day Books in Wichita, which caters especially to a more literary and reference academic clientele; Hearts and Minds in Dallastown, whose assortment of books is perhaps the broadest I have encountered in recent years, and whose staff is among the most knowledgeable about what is on their shelves; and Logos bookstore in Dallas, which has for more than 30 years serviced students, pastors and church leaders of the Southern Methodist University area.

HILLMAN: Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Mich., is another strong academic store. They excel at hosting community lectures and events featuring thoughtful discussions, reaching out to church leaders and stocking a wide selection of biblical-theological books, used and new, that bring in academic customers from all over the region. They also have knowledgeable staff dedicated to this area of business and an online presence through their Baker Book House Church Connection blog.

BARTLETT: One great example is Signs of Life near the University of
Kansas. They are a bookstore/coffee shop/art gallery, which serves as a gathering place for discussion groups and has many academic books which are attractively merchandised by topic.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: How can Christian bookstores maximize their reach to academic readers?

CROSBY: By stocking an assortment of titles that reflect well upon the store’s commitment to the category of “thoughtful” or “academic” books, and staying in it for the long haul; by finding ways to reach out to pastors, professors, university students and church leaders and letting them know the store is committed to stocking this type of product; and by working with academic publishers to find out what our best-selling titles are to fellow trade stores, and asking about special pricing and terms to help the stores integrate the product into their assortments and promote them to potential buyers.

BARTLETT: Bringing in a staff member who is conversant in biblical and theological topics and trends can help a store build a reputation as a go-to place to discover new books in those areas.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: How can academic titles best be promoted at Christian retail?

CROSBY: Christian retail stores can choose two or three categories of books and work with publishers to bring in an assortment with special terms that allows stores to feature them on an endcap with discounted pricing. Ask about sample copies to give to pastors or instructors of Christian schools, colleges or universities in their communities, and drop them at their offices or in the mail with a special offer.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What else do Christian booksellers need to know about this market?

CROSBY: The store I ran in the ‘80s and ‘90s was two blocks from Indiana University, a Big 10 campus of some 40,000 students. I was privileged to engage with pastors and students about the kinds of issues and thinking and scholarship reflected in what we now would call “academic” books (though we didn’t then, often) and seeing the proverbial “light bulb” come on. ... Those readers are still out there. They are looking for someone to engage with them, and provide good books for their academic pursuits. CR

Fiction and the e-book trend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andy Butcher   
Thursday, 11 August 2011 04:30 PM EDT

How digital publishing is changing the category—and what stores can do

Fiction remains a strong category for Christian publishing, with new genres emerging while old favorites continue to perform well. But the category is facing changes, especially in the light of the growth of e-book sales.·We discussed some of the issues with representatives of leading Christian fiction publishers. Taking part in our conversation were:

Allen Arnold, senior vice president and publisher, fiction, Thomas Nelson

Mary Burns, vice president of publishing, Barbour Publishing

Don Gates, vice president of marketing, trade books, Zondervan

Nathan Henrion, national sales manager, ABA and digital, Baker Publishing Group

Karen Watson, associate publisher, Tyndale House Publishers


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