Christian Retailing

The Year Ahead: Taking stock of trends for 2013 Print Email
Written by Production   
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 10:43 AM America/New_York

Winners of the 2012 Retailers Choice Awards ponder the near future

ToddHoytAUDIO // Demand is still strong for audiobooks despite looming ‘digital cliff’

BY TODD HOYT, chief executive officer, eChristian

Much has been made recently in the national news regarding the “fiscal cliff” in front of us as a country. The automatic cuts in spending and increase in taxes has created such a “cliff” that if we go over it, there will be irreparable damage to the U.S. economy. 

Much has been made of a “digital cliff” ahead of us as well. The digital cliff represents the thinking that physical products will cease to exist and that the world will only consume digital products and negate the need for physical retail stores. 

In retailing, sales data continues to show a migration from physical to digital. This is true in books and true in audio. But there is more to the story beneath the surface. 

Audiobooks have some similarities to the issues that face print: cannibalization of physical sales, medium- to higher-priced retail titles facing severe pressure and declining retail shelf space. How do we as a publisher and you as a retailer work to address these important issues? 

In the case of audiobooks, the good news is that consumer demand is strong and growing, and audiobook consumers tend to remain among the most active and repeat customers. While the 2012 Audio Publishers Association Sales Survey shows a slight decline in physical sales units, the revenue from CDs is still 53%, more than half of the  audio market. There is and will continue to be a demand for CD audiobooks, and the revenue is healthy. The number-one consumer of audiobooks is the commuter, and most commuters tend to listen through their car CD player. 

So, here are some ideas:

Selection. As mentioned, audiobook purchasers tend to consume quite a few audiobooks (and regular books, for that matter). Stock and display a variety of genres and price points that are
similar to the print books your store is successful with. 

Suggestive selling. The primary reason that a book consumer has not purchased an audiobook is because they hadn’t thought about it. Many people want to read more, but cannot fit it into their day. Listening while driving, exercising or relaxing is another way to engage more of the great content from leading Christian writers. 

Sale. Running promotions and sales is a surefire way to attract customers to this category. Retail audiobook pricing has come down in the last several years. In fact, christianaudio has more than 20 titles from popular authors (John Maxwell, John Piper, Stormie Omartian, Beverly Lewis) that start at just $5.98, and most retail-priced titles range from $15 to $25. 

Service. Nothing is more important than a knowledgeable salesperson. Most audiobook publishers are willing to sample audiobooks to accounts specifically so salespeople can better understand the distinctives and unique qualities of audiobooks. 

Sound. When I am in Christian stores, I tend to hear music from leading Christian artists. Have you ever considered playing an audiobook or audio Bible? Playing a dramatized audio Bible or The Screwtape Letters or the latest releases from Karen Kingsbury, Francis Chan or Max Lucado would show the variety available and introduce a captive audience to another reason to come back into your store. 

Audiobooks need to be a part of your overall strategy to retain your customer, grow sales and become a destination. 

Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling took the Audio category for eChristian in last year’s Retailers Choice Awards. 

MarilynLargentCHILDREN’S BOOKS // Communicating powerful truths to the younger generation at their level

BY MARILYN LARGENT, vice president of sales, David C Cook

A young boy wants to give Jesus a gift. But how can he do that when Jesus is in heaven? In Ronnie Wilson’s Gift, children learn that helping others in need is a way of serving Jesus Himself. It’s a truth kids hear in other forms—but perhaps it makes its biggest impact through story.

We were thrilled to win the 2012 Retailers Choice Award for Ronnie Wilson’s Gift by Francis Chan and Jim Madsen. It’s no coincidence that this story is touching so many children and their parents. After all, Jesus Himself communicated truth through story!

From a retail perspective, modern-day parables continue to sell well in the children’s market. The demand for high-quality illustrations is high, and publishers and retailers alike are seeing how children learn through visual art—such as Jago’s and Cory Godbey’s stunning illustrations—as well as the written word.

This is one of the reasons graphic novels continue to soar in both the Christian and general markets. At Cook, we see great sales of The Action Bible, which won a Retailers Choice Award in 2011. Graphic novels are especially popular among boys—a hard demographic to reach. 

We also see a trend in emphasizing the whole of Scripture for kids, not just singled-out Bible stories. Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible (Zonderkidz) and Michelle Anthony’s The Big God Story (David C Cook), for instance, show how God’s plan of redemption has been evident from the beginning of time. Books like these help children see their place in God’s story from the Old Testament through the New Testament and beyond.

We’re also watching as authors of adult books, such as Chan, Kay Arthur (Harvest House Publishers) and Sheila Walsh (Thomas Nelson), take their message to young people. One thing that’s so important to these authors is that their message is not “dumbed down,” but rather is put in language that engages kids. In fact, that’s a clear difference we’ve seen in children’s books over the years: Publishers and stores realize that kids need and deserve thoughtful books that are at their learning level, but are still powerful in the truths they communicate.

One of the great things about being involved in producing books for children is that we see how these parables, visual representations and straightforward ideas speak to adults as well. We come to see that children are really the ideal readers for stories with ultimate meaning—and we often learn the most through the eyes of a child.

So, as you put books into the hands of little ones, be encouraged with the truth that you are making a difference in their lives. These are not just stories, drawings or cute thoughts. Jesus said we are to receive His kingdom as little children. The simple yet profound words and illustrations of kids’ literature today remind us that often faith starts in the pages of a children’s book.

David C Cook published Francis Chan’s Ronnie Wilson’s Gift, which received the 2012 Retailers Choice Award for Children’s Fiction.

DavidLongFICTION // Experiencing a new British invasion with Regency and Victorian drama

BY DAVID LONG, senior acquisitions editor, Bethany House

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a publisher, seeing the rise and success of a new category of fiction, will eventually try to find an author of their own to fit that category. So it has been since the days of Jane Austen and so it is still. In fact, things have changed so little that, all these years later, it is still Miss Austen we’re all chasing. 

Or if it’s not Austen exactly, then perhaps best-selling author Julie Klassen or the popularity of Downton Abbey. A new British invasion is headed this way in the form of new Regency and Victorian fiction, and upstairs-downstairs stories set in the shadow of World War I. Klassen continues to be the category’s runaway voice—her newest novel, The Tutor’s Daughter, will arrive on shelves soon—but expect to see more fiction to warm an Anglophile’s heart. In 2013, Bethany House will be debuting Julianna Deering’s Rules of Murder, an Agatha Christie-esque mystery series set in and around an English estate. 

Mystery and suspense are growing in popularity on this side of the pond as well, particularly in the category of romantic suspense. The best-selling success of authors such as Irene Hannon, author of Lethal Legacy, and Dani Pettrey, whose debut, Submerged, spent its first four months as a best-seller, cemented romantic suspense as a rising genre, even before Dee Henderson’s return, when her novel Full Disclosure put the genre on the New York Times best-seller list for the first time. 

Beyond contemporary romantic suspense, contemporary romance will also see some growth in upcoming seasons. With historical romance and Amish fiction plateauing, readers are seeking new voices in other categories. Bethany House was thrilled to launch best-selling author Becky Wade last summer, and in May 2013 she’ll return with Undeniably Yours

Historical romance may be slowing, but it’s not vanishing. In particular, Bethany House is excited for upcoming releases from established best-sellers such as Karen Witemeyer, Tracie Peterson and Mary Connealy, as well as more fiction from such new voices as Regina Jennings, Elizabeth Camden and Jen Turano. And we couldn’t be more thrilled by Lynn Austin’s return to biblical history with Return to Me, the first in her “Restoration Chronicles” series. 

The challenges of the current market mean publishers are all trying new avenues, hoping not just to follow trends, but to start them as well. We’re among a number of publishers hoping that speculative faith fiction can reach a new generation. Fantasy author Anne Elisabeth Stengl has won two Christy Awards for her work, and the debut of Patrick W. Carr’s A Cast of Stones will make a splash in spring 2013. 

The biggest trendsetters often arrive unexpectedly. We can’t be certain what will be the next Harbinger or Shack or who will be the next Beverly Lewis or Karen Kingsbury, but 2013 will arrive with countless great books. Wonderful stories with the power to change lives—that’s one trend that’s never going away.

Julie Klassen’s Bethany House novel The Girl in the Gatehouse received the 2012 Retailers Choice Award for Fiction: Historical Romance.

SherryMorrisGIFTS // New features, nostalgia mark offerings in framed art, plaques and more

BY SHERRY MORRIS, marketing manager, Carpentree

A preview of the new year offers a host of fresh and fun looks in gifts. Retro patterns, new shapes, textures, a fresh color palette and unexpected embellishments are just a few of what buyers can expect to see this spring.

In framed art, expect to see everything from photography to wallpaper looks to traditional art styles. With high-end looks, framed art trends include dimension-creating channel cuts, innovative decorative mat cuts and deckled edge mats. Watch for vintage patterns and design elements. Patterns like the chevron, ikat (a dyeing technique) and polka dots will add visual texture. 

Individual elements like crowns and angel wings, found in general market designs, are a match made in heaven for the inspirational market. Barn-wood looks and wallpaper florals will add a touch of nostalgia to this spring’s gift lineup. Glittered prints and jeweled art on canvas and burlap are forecast to shimmer with glitzy eye appeal. Fun typography products, reminiscent of hand-drawn calligraphy, extend a homemade or crafty feel to framed art and other gifts. 

Burlap and canvas will continue to hold a place in consumers’ hearts as a lower-cost gift alternative. Usually featuring trend-forward designs, younger customers will relate to these items. 

Color trends include unusual pairings like gray and tangerine or yellow, which is a nod to gray as one of the new neutrals. Spring’s palette promises choices from romantic to theatrical or muted to bold and daring. Distressed paint will be on everything from metal to wood.

New colors and styles of metal products also make their debut this spring. Metal embellishments melded with framed art products create something entirely new. 

Distressed metal flowers can be found on plaques, framed gifts, chalk or magnetic boards and photo frames. Hammered or galvanized metal forges ahead as a new finish that retailers will see going forward. Expect to see plaques in unusual shapes that will update a familiar wall-decor gift item. 

A survey of general gift market publications indicates that interest in Made in America products will continue to be on consumer’s minds. Retailers may want to offer signage or special store sections to tout Made in America gifts.

From trendy to traditional, the forecast for spring looks bright with sales potential. Retailing energy comes from inspiration. Inspiration comes from new products that invite customers to shop. Spring trends will offer plenty of both.

Carpentree was presented with a 2012 Retailers Choice Award for its Prince of Peace wall décor.

JenniferDeshlerMARKETING // Boost sales with product promotions and partnerships 

BY JENNIFER DESHLER, vice president, marketing and publishing process, gift, children’s and new media, Thomas Nelson

The year 2012 brought challenges and opportunities as store traffic decreased and online shopping and e-book purchases increased. But research shows that consumers still want the community that exists with retailers, and that allows us to think creatively about initiatives that can increase interaction and sales.

When thinking about new marketing and promotion opportunities, here are a few key components to consider:

Traffic: What areas of your store are most highly trafficked? For many, one is the gift section at the front of the store. Why not do a test and move several of your top gift books there as well? The impulse nature of that area will also likely lead to increased gift book sales.

What about your children’s section? Consider having publisher-supplied coloring sheets for top brands and conduct coloring contests for prizes. 

Maybe create a scavenger hunt that parents can do with their kids—a fun way to introduce them to new titles or ancillary product around which you’re trying to generate buzz. 

For grade school readers, post signage that lists the titles that have Accelerated Reader (AR) points, as parents are interested in purchasing books that accomplish the reading point requirements most schools have established through the AR program.

Placement: We cannot say enough about strong in-store product placement. At Thomas Nelson, we regularly see how merchandising and unique displays generate interest and increase sell-through. 

Our J. Countryman spinner has been an industry leader, with an average of six turns and 60% increase in sell-through compared to stores without the display. 

Our yearlong KJV400 campaign, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in 2011, offered dedicated retailer solutions, including merchandising, online and print advertising resources, with an anniversary product offering that allowed the campaign to be shared directly with consumers through retailers.

Social media: Being engaged with customers online is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. Ask publishers to send you quote images [quotes with illustrations] from their books that can be posted on your Facebook page, as these have proven successful in increasing “shares” and new “likes.” Use the tools of Facebook and Twitter to provide information about store updates, coupons, exclusive online promotions and limited-time offers. 

Create an online book club and ask authors to participate. Social media outlets should be seen as a place to test ideas that are challenging to implement in-store or on your store website, and as a gathering place for building community around your brand.

Local partnerships: While online engagement is highly effective, being a part of your local community builds in-person relationships that can’t be matched or substituted. 

Consider starting or participating in a book drive that benefits low-income families, or join in with community yard sales and offer one- or two-day sale tables to move clearance inventory and meet potential new customers. 

Cause marketing: Retailers can create loyalty and relationships by supporting a local or national cause. 

Whether giving books away to those in need (Superstorm Sandy left many schools and families without books), donating a portion of proceeds from specific books or gift items to a national charity, or building your own team to participate in a race or food drive, the efforts will have a double impact.

The year 2013 will bring new adventures for retailers and publishers. We are excited to be on the journey alongside you!

Thomas Nelson won four Retailers Choice Awards last year, including the award for its KJV400 Bible marketing campaign.