Christian Retailing

Retrospective: Looking back on 2013 Print Email
Written by Various Contributors   
Tuesday, 24 December 2013 11:04 AM America/New_York

‘Christian Retailing’ reflects on key happenings in our ‘Year in Review’ of the Christian products industry

Looking back on the year that was, 2013 presented the Christian products industry with new and ongoing challenges and opportunities. If you felt the year went by in a flash, take a few moments to ponder with us the substantive issues, key events and top products in the categories of Bibles, books, kids’ products, DVDs, gifts and music.

 BIBLES: Digital editions complement print Bibles

 DeonneLindseyBy Deonne Lindsey

As the mix between digital and print formats continues to adjust in the Bible market, consumers appear to be viewing digital as the perfect platform to try out new translations. Most consumers still haven’t forsaken printed editions of the Bible with all the extra bells and whistles once they’ve found their preferred translation. 

In response, the top trend among publishers is offering extra study helps, reading plans and other complimentary notes to add value to printed Bibles. Recent shifts among publisher groups also have opened the way for more cross-pollination between translations and established brands.

Reports show modest increases in Bible buying. In fact, one in six American adults reported purchasing a Bible in 2012, according to 2013’s The State of the Bible report published by the American Bible Society and Barna Group. Of the households that had Bibles, the average number was 4.4, which was up slightly from 4.3 in the 2012 report. 

Zondervan looked to six best-selling products to be the foundation for its new powerhouse product. The result, The NIV Essentials Study Bible, draws study notes, maps, illustrations and articles from multiple sources, including the NIV Study Bible, NIV Student Bible and NIV Quest Study Bible.

Tyndale House Publishers took a new approach to the Scriptures, releasing The Wayfinding Bible, created to provide the cultural and historical context readers are seeking. The project allows readers to take three different approaches to Bible reading, depending on the level of detail a reader wants. Another major release for Tyndale was the addition of the King James Version (KJV) Chronological Life Application Study Bible to the popular brand.

Crossway’s release of the Gospel Transformation Bible (English Standard Version) puts Christ squarely at the center of the Scriptures with notes accompanying key passages that highlight God’s redemptive purposes as they unfold throughout history.

Two of Thomas Nelson’s offerings this year embraced the KJV in new ways with a revised and updated edition of The KJV Study Bible with an enhanced concordance, revised maps and charts along with a fresh page design. Another key release was The MacArthur Study Bible, which first became available in KJV and then in the New King James Version (NKJV). The line also benefited from Nelson’s new relationship with Zondervan by adding New American Standard Bible and New International Version editions of the MacArthur Bible as well.

The Common English Bible (CEB), distributed by Abingdon Press, made a major move forward with this year’s CEB Study Bible. The study edition  aims to provide a feel for the historical and cultural presentation of the Scriptures as originally written.

B&H Publishing Group was just one of many publishers that continued to keep women’s buying patterns at the forefront. This year’s Study Bible for Women (Holman Christian Standard Bible) was a key part of a series of resources for women from Holman Bibles, the publisher’s Bible imprint. 

Another key release for the year was The Jeremiah Study Bible from Worthy Publishing, employing study helps from the ministry of New York Times best-selling author and pastor David Jeremiah alongside the NKJV.

Looking ahead, Charisma Media has announced the 2014 launch of the Modern English Version, which is being called the most modern translation produced in the spirit of the KJV in 30 years. This new translation seeks to accurately communicate the Scriptures while maintaining a spirit of reverence by capitalizing references for God.

 BOOKS: Multifaceted productions spur interest beyond print

 KenWalker2By Ken Walker

Some of 2013’s biggest books sprang from earlier seeds that created a cornucopia of products. A&E TV’s Robertson clan of Duck Dynasty fame made a huge splash at Christian retail after Howard Books’ The Duck Commander Family (2012) spawned several titles, most recently the family matriarch’s cookbook, Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen.

Next year’s release of ancillary products is primed to boost retailers’ bottom lines. So will a forthcoming tie-in between two of the Robertsons and best-selling novelist Karen Kingsbury. Korie Robertson and Sadie Robertson will be featured guests at Kingsbury’s first KK Beach Party in October in St. Petersburg, Fla. 

Kingsbury is now in the midst of a 14-title Howard Books contract. Last year she put out two novels, a children’s book and a mass-market release of The Bridge, which hit No. 1 on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) list.

Another multifaceted project is “Purpose Driven” pastor Rick Warren’s The Daniel Plan (Zondervan). The outgrowth of the weight-loss initiative will see a curriculum kit debut this month, with fitness DVDs in the works.

Also picking up the multidimensional mantle is James Dobson, whose nonfiction books on family topics have sold more than 25 million copies. Last year, Dobson crossed into fiction with Fatherless and Childless, the first two of a FaithWords trilogy written with Kurt Bruner. 

Meanwhile, Jonathan Cahn—whose The Harbinger (Charisma House) placed on the New York Times Paperback Trade Fiction list 98 weeks—demonstrated spinoff potential by moving 40,000 copies of a documentary the first day of release.

Not everyone is a multimedia producer, however. Low-profile devotional author Sarah Young remained a favorite last year, with Jesus Calling topping 10 of 12 months’ worth of ECPA lists.

In fiction, Beverly Lewis claimed the No. 1 spot on the ECPA best-seller list three times with two of her Amish-themed novels. Familiar names like Terri Blackstock, Bodie and Brock Thoene, Joel C. Rosenberg and Wanda Brunstetter also made the top 10 on ECPA’s list.

While their followings demonstrate the continuing power of fiction, online releases have created a volatile market in recent years, evidenced by cutbacks or downsizings at several houses. Ironically, although e-books still dominate fiction sales, the triple-digit growth of electronic product leveled off to 22% of overall sales in the Christian and general markets, according to veteran literary agent Rick Christian.

Other high-profile names still capture interest, with attention focused lately on aging evangelist Billy Graham. Last spring, Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing released Billy Graham & Me. W Publishing Group tied his 32nd book, The Reason for My Hope, to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s home-based evangelism campaign in November, when Graham turned 95. 

Meanwhile, Harvest House Publishers released Stormie Omartian’s highly anticipated Prayer Warrior, while perennial favorite Max Lucado partnered with The Salvation Army to celebrate the message of You’ll Get Through This (Thomas Nelson). Gary Chapman added to his Five Love Languages brand for Moody Publishers’ Northfield Publishing imprint with a military edition and the release of When Sorry Isn’t Enough, a retitled version of The Five Languages of Apology. In late November, Heaven Is for Real marked its 156th consecutive week on the New York Times Paperback Nonfiction list, with Thomas Nelson reporting that the book had 8 million copies in print.

Bible teacher Joyce Meyer reached the century mark in number of books published with her God Is Not Mad at You, released by FaithWords on the eve of its publication of Joel Osteen’s Break Out

Andy Stanley’s year-end How to Be Rich (Zondervan) capped a lineup of megachurch pastors’ releases that included Jud Wilhite (whose Pursued reached No. 1 in May on the ECPA list), Adam Hamilton, Jentezen Franklin, Mark Driscoll, Kyle Idleman, Tony Evans and David Jeremiah.

CHILDREN’S: Toy sales boosted, Common Core draws ire

NatalieGillespie2By Natalie Gillespie

The children’s department continues to be a challenge for Christian retailers and companies alike, with bright spots found in big brands and well-known names. 

Quackgoes the duck, and cha-ching went the registers as Duck Dynasty dominated this year. New Day Christian Distributors licensed a line of Duck Commander gifts for kids and adults alike, featuring silicone bracelets, a fake beard and bandana combo, Happy Happy Happy T-shirts and duck calls. A&E TV star Si Robertson voiced the character Silas in the VeggieTales DVD Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas. DaySpring also partnered with the Robertsons, introducing related school supplies in August, featuring spiral notebooks, binders and folders. 

DaySpring joined forces with another big name in the kid biz when it partnered with Crayola last spring to introduce new ColorWonder products featuring the Berenstain Bears, The Beginner’s Bible and Princess Parables from Zonderkidz and The League of Incredible Vegetables and Princess of the King from VeggieTales. 

 In children’s books, several big-name adult authors “down-aged” to the children’s market with Joyce Meyer; Mark Batterson; Todd, Sonja and Colton Burpo; and Colleen Coble releasing books for kids. The Burpos’ Heaven Is for Real for Little Ones released in May from Thomas Nelson. Batterson adapted his best-selling The Circle Maker into a picture book, while Coble joined forces with Robin Caroll to release Rock Harbor Search and Rescue, the first book in a middle-grade series based on her “Rock Harbor” novels for adults.

B&H Kids marked its first full release cycle this year since its launch was announced in July 2012. The imprint now has more than 25 books, including the companion title to the award-winning film The Lost Medallion anda new picture book, Audrey Bunny, from Angie Smith, women’s author and wife of Selah’s Todd Smith. 

Toy sales grew in 2013, retailers report, especially since New Day Christian became the primary distributor for the Christian market of general market brands Melissa & Doug, Fisher-Price and Playmobil. Melissa & Doug is known for its educational offerings and quality wooden toys, while Fisher-Price and Playmobil make figurine sets such as Noah’s ark and nativity scenes. 

For tweens, jewelry that runs under $10 and T-shirts remain popular impulse buys and gifts. Kerusso increased its Cherished Girl line of tees this year, which feature bright colors and designs. Bob Siemon Designs also saw success with its Be line of brightly colored charm necklaces on fabric cords.

Finally, the biggest conversation in the children’s category continues to be Common Core educational standards, which some publishers are trying to figure out how to implement in their products.

 DVD: Hollywood hits, faith-based films dominate

 DeWayneHambyBy DeWayne Hamby

The year 2013 saw an increasing presence of DVDs in Christian retail, thanks to a steady stream of faith-based features and Hollywood connections. 

The Bible miniseries produced by Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice, Shark Tank) and Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) was a must-see event at Easter on the History Channel, breaking ratings records. The series was quickly offered at retail through 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and became the fastest-selling faith-based title in 60 years and the best-selling miniseries ever on DVD, selling 525,000 in the first week of release. The series was accompanied at Christian retail with tie-in products such as books and “inspired by” music products. 

Another pop-culture phenomenon, the television show Duck Dynasty, featuring the Robertsons from West Monroe, La., also spilled into Christian stores. Thomas Nelson released the first two seasons of the show on DVD and Blu-ray to retail.

Other celebrity-related DVDs made their way to store shelves. These include Kirk Cameron’s Monumental documentary on the history of faith in America and Tim Tebow: On a Mission, a biographical look at the football star by GT Media. 

Sherwood Pictures’ Courageous continued to appear on top-seller charts. Alex Kendrick also made an appearance in the kids’ fantasy adventure film The Lost Medallion by Bridgestone Multimedia Group. Kendrick and his brother, Stephen, also made news by announcing they were moving their film production company away from Sherwood Baptist Church, where it began.

Casting Crowns, who provided the theme song for Courageous, made its own film appearance, along with Steven Curtis Chapman and Matthew West, in Provident Films’ Ring the Bell.

Other faith-based motion pictures continued to perform, including the best-selling Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea from Bridgestone, which also received the DVD win in Christian Retailing’s Best awards. 

Bridgestone also released Jimmy, spotlighting ministry to those with special needs. Other releases focused on such needs were Unconditional, the first film by Harbinger Media Partners, which told the true story of Joe Bradford, is forced by his health to move to low-income housing. This puts him face to face with underprivileged kids and he develops the Elijah’s Heart to minister to them. Word Films’ Camp spotlighted the ministry of Royal Family Camps to underprivileged children.

Wesscott Marketing’s Trade of Innocents, featuring Dermont Mulroney and Mira Sorvino, tackled the topic of human trafficking. Meant To Be, released by Pure Flix Entertainment, featured a strong pro-life message about a young man trying to find his birth mother, who is, in turn, trying to inspire others to adoption. 

The FrontLine imprint of Charisma House banked on the success of Jonathan Cahn’s prophetic novel, The Harbinger, and brought to DVD The Harbinger Decoded. The DVD sold out of its first 40,000 copies on release day.

Last-quarter release The Promise was an impressive animated musical retelling of the birth of Christ told with a Broadway-style soundtrack. It is the debut offering from the new company Glorious Films, founded by industry veterans Todd Shaffer and Ronald Mezey.

 GIFTS: Suppliers launch key brands, acquire companies

 ChristineDJohnson_121813By Christine D. Johnson

Gift companies had an active year, introducing key  new product lines, celebrating anniversaries, engaging in acquisitions, changing locations and contracting for new showrooms.

Key products included DaySpring’s Crayola Color Wonder Paints that featured VeggieTales, the Berenstain Bears, Princess Parables and The Beginner’s Bible. 

DaySpring was also among several companies that launched items related to the A&E hit show Duck Dynasty, adding notebooks, folders and binders to its school supply offerings.

New Day Christian Distributors was one of the first in the Christian market to introduce products branded from Duck Commander. Bearing the “Faith-Family-Ducks” phrase, the products included mesh hats, license plates, key chains and T-shirts. 

Carpentree and Art & SoulWorkscapitalized on Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s hit History Channel miniseries, The Bible, with licensed lines of framed art, themed bookmarks and more.

Jayme Brandt, founder of apparel company Gardenfire, is bringing his design expertise to wall art. Aiming to reach a younger demographic, the company started shipping wall art in August.

Spirit & Truth Christian Jewelry Designs has been adopted by many Christian retailers who are pleased with sales and the company’s retail-friendly policies and prices.

While P. Graham Dunn is well-known for its laser personalization program—which will soon utilize touchscreen software—Carpentree is trying out a new type of “no fuss” personalization. Consumers receive custom framed art in minutes, and retailers have no machines to purchase and no significant inventory investment for the web-based program.

P. Graham Dunn’s factory retail store in Dalton, Ohio experienced significant growth in sales in 2013—up about 15% this year as of October. The company also opened a new gallery in association with Kregel Parable Christian Store in Grandville, Mich., and was honored by Parable Group with its Parable Vendor Partner of the Year award.

Roman celebrated 50 years in business, while Abbey Press announced that 50th-anniversary events will be held in 2014.

Slingshot Publishing, known as the “larger Christian poster designer in North America,” changed hands in September, and is now owned by Adam Brodrecht and another investor who was already involved with the company.

Glory Haus acquired two companies in the fall—Brushfire Designs and Simply Southern Signs. Glory Haus also announced the creation of its new “Grateful Heart” collection in partnership with Trista Sutter from ABC’s The Bachelorette. The collection includes wall art, picture frames, a journal, pillows and what Sutter calls the Appreciation Jar.

Lighthouse Christian Products made a move within the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Ill., to bring all operations under one roof, while Halle Joy settled in with its new Carrollton, Texas, distribution center.

A number of companies also now have new AmericasMart showrooms, including P. Graham Dunn and Divinity Boutique.

MUSIC: Christian music sees high-profile partnerships

LindsayWilliams2By Lindsay Williams

Worship, multi-artist tours and big sponsorships dominated Christian music this year. With sixstepsrecords artist Matt Redman sweeping the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards, labelmate Chris Tomlin’s Burning Lights debuting atop the Billboard 200 chart and 60,000 students attending the Passion conference, 2013 revealed that worship music is still one of the industry’s most viable connecting points.

Winter Jam was voted the No. 1 first-quarter tour in the world by Pollstar magazine for the third consecutive year. With a combined total audience of nearly 554,000 people, this year’s tour was its largest. 

This summer, Pepsi MidAmerica unveiled its Christian artist line featuring Matthew West, Francesca Battistelli, Matt Maher and TobyMac on 12 million cans of the soda maker’s products. In addition, the company was a featured sponsor of the K-LOVE Fan Awards and recently announced that it would be a title sponsor of Winter Jam 2014. 

The first annual K-LOVE Fan Awards made history as the premiere fan-voted awards show of its kind. Fans named TobyMac Artist of the Year. He was crowned with that title once more by the industry at the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards, which made a successful return to Nashville. Redman was another big winner that night, thanks to the huge response to his song “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord).”

Christian music unveiled a fresh set of milestones. Amy Grant offered her first album of all new music in a decade. Colton Dixon delivered the best street-week sales for a new Christian artist in SoundScan history with A Messenger (Sparrow Records). West shattered radio records when his single “Hello, My Name Is” remained at No. 1 for 16 weeks. Switchfoot also debuted a highly anticipated documentary.

Mark Lowry and Michael English exited The Gaither Vocal Band, while Bebo Norman and Superchick called it quits.

Natalie Grant performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.